Clutter’s Last Stand

What would we do if we actually had to use everything you own, including all that stuff in the drawers, cupboards, closets, shelves and boxes in your kitchen, bedrooms, living room, basement, attic, garage, rafters, driveway, patio, side yard, and cars?

Box on side with contents falling out

Could we do it? It’s not likely.

Instead, we pack it, stack it and pile it away–even pay rent to store it–and keep accumulating even more. More stuff dilutes the quality of our lives.

Every possession carries two price tags—the original purchase price and the continuing toll. That second amount is paid in upkeep, time, maintenance and storage. It can charge its toll in anxiety, depression, relationship conflict, financial distress and even impaired function.

Moving and storing clutter

I’ve done it. Perhaps you have, too. I’ve packed it all up and paid someone to move it to a new place. “I’ll sort it there,” I told myself. Years later, I’m still hounded by unpacked boxes which I’ve moved from one house, one floor, one room or just one side of the closet to another.

Who could calculate the number of hours we’ve tossed down the drain because of clutter? Simple tasks turn into search-and-rescue missions. There are some people in my neighborhood who empty the entire contents of the garage onto the front lawn to retrieve holiday decorations. Then, they take the rest of the day cramming it all back before dark.

Judging junk

Ask yourself these questions to decide if it’s clutter or not:

Does it work? So much of the clutter in our homes is made up of broken things we plan to fix and clothes that might someday fit.

Do I really need it? Determine the impact of this item disappearing from your life.

Do I enjoy it? If this item brings beauty and joy to your life, it is not clutter. Sentimental belongings and things that bring true beauty to our lives should be treated with great care and respect–not packed away in the attic to be forgotten.

Am I using it now? If it doesn’t fall into the 20 percent of things you use on a regular basis (most Americans use 20% of what they own. The other 80% is made up of items we don’t use, feel we should use or think we might use someday), it is suspect.

Will I use it in the next year? If you are not certain you will use it soon, it’s clutter!

Move it out

Sell it, give it away or throw it out. One of the best solutions for “good stuff” is to give it to someone who wants or needs it.

The more seriously you take this matter of de-junking, the greater the positive impact it will have on your life. Important stuff will be easier to find when you don’t have to rifle through piles of worthless clutter.

Question: So, what is your experience with clutter? Have you spent entire weekends moving junk around? Have you found a way to make money from your clutter? I love to read your comments.

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36 replies
  1. victor hanson says:

    whoah whoah….were not all turning into alchemists here. Aslett’s book is good, but its not the be all end all. This is a process, and I actually re-read certain sections of the book from time to time.

    Reply
  2. DebbieLee says:

    I loath excess! If I have not used it in six months it goes! (Obviously not seasonal stuff) but on the other hand. I hate seasonal stuff. I have but one box of Xmas stuff. That’s it! One box. If I could get rid of the tree all together I would. Everything in my car I have used this week. Every article of clothing is rotated. Shoes, socks, shirts, jeans, everything. If I have not used it, read it, or wore it…it is gone. Gone I tell ya! My husband hates it! But he knows the rules. All the same goes for his stuff. I love the minimalist life style. Excess! A dirty word.

    Reply
  3. diannec1945 says:

    One of my tricks (and I probably learned it from you or flylady.com: move everything out of one or more cabinets or drawers. Move it into easily accessible boxes in a near by room or counter. As you use things out of the boxes, place them in the cabinet or drawer. After a week or two, place the box of remaining items somewhere for 6 months or so. If you haven’t used any of the items – give them away (checking, of course for the items you might only use once a year (candy thermometer for Christmas candy; apple slicer in the fall; strawberry huller….)

    Reply
  4. liz953 says:

    I am in the process of moving from a small condo into a single family house. I’ve been in the condo for 12 years and am astonished at what I have accumulated. I had a yard sale and got rid of a full two room’s worth of things I haven’t touched in 2 years. I plan to keep things simple and easy to keep tidy. I am tired of dusting and cleaning things I don’t use. Further, I only need 2 sets of sheets, towels, etc. When they are worn out, then I’ll replace them. Simplify, minimize, and spend more time on things like knitting beautiful sweaters and cooking good food.

    Reply
  5. Toast Points says:

    Am working on this diligently. Moving many of my late mother’s things to my house (to sort, of course) has slowed me down. But I’m slowly making progress.

    Reply
  6. LinBar says:

    It’s like dust bunnies under the bed. You don’t know where they all came from but you have a giant pile of them after a while. Although getting rid of things you don’t use or wear for a period of time, keep in mind those things needed on a limited basis. There are a number of “things” I have stored in the garage that are gathering dust but sometime you just need one piece out of a set of screw drivers to fix a problem. They may not be needed on a weekly basis, but when they are needed ya just gotta have ’em.

    Reply
  7. KSTigerfan says:

    LLee, you stole my thunder! I tried to post from my computer at work yesterday but my browser wouldn’t open the comment box. I was going to say: Mary, I believe you should give credit to Don Aslett for using his book title as the title for this article. 🙂 He is a fabulous author, and his book, Clutter’s Last Stand, reads as much like a humorous novel as it does a how-to cleaning/de-cluttering book….invaluable info and an inspirational message!

    Reply
  8. Cathy says:

    We found a perfect way to get rid of the clutter.
    We have a large bin on a shelf in the garage. When we want to get rid of an item, it goes into the bin.
    Every year, we have a garage sale and for a few hours of work, we make $200 to $400. If we decide an item in the bin is still needed, it’s there for the taking. However, we never have had to retrieve anything from the bin yet!

    Reply
    • Estelle says:

      I’m curious. How does anyone make $200-400 at a garage sale? We never make much money and we have NICE things to get rid of! We live in an upscale area of So. California too! It’s always more effort than it’s worth! I would really like to know what we are doing wrong. 🙁

      Reply
  9. Cherie says:

    De-cluttering for me has been like peeling back layers. I get rid of some stuff and keep some stuff, then a year later, I wonder why I kept the stuff I did and more goes out. This has been going on for about five years. We have recently completed a house remodel in which EVERYTHING had to be moved from the house to accomodate new carpet, new flooring, wall painting, and even then I couldn’t believe all of the stuff we still had. I so enjoyed walking througth rooms that were cleared out and fresh and clean and spacious that I decided that there was no way all of the stuff was coming back in. So this time I was relentless and I think we may have finally reached the point of keeping only what is useful or beautiful. I am loving the new clean look and feel.

    Reply
    • Angie says:

      So any suggestions on getting rid of old World Book encyclopedias etc? These are from later 80s. Hate to get rid of them, but by gosh, we haven’t cracked a book in years.

      Reply
      • Raine says:

        Recycle them. They are bad for your health. It is hard to get rid of books, trust me I know, but I promise two things. First, you won’t miss them since there is far more up to date information on the internet. Second, once you get rid of those, it makes getting rid of all the others much easier!!!

      • Toast Points says:

        I have a full set of Compton’s Encyclopedia volumes from 1953. I remember the autumn day when my parents ordered from a friend who had lost her job.

  10. abookandabeach says:

    I’m a self-confessed keeper, but I’ve come a along way! I firmly believe you have to de-clutter your brain first and then the process of eliminating actual stuff comes so, so much easier. Recommending a website, www.optimindshaping.com, and more so, the publication offered “Easy Life Skills You Never Learned in School”. We get into mindsets (about ourselves, others, our stuff, etc.) that are detrimental to leading less stress-free lives. Simplicity and clear-thinking bring peace, joy, contentment…and the skill to actually grasp what is weighing you down.

    Reply
  11. Ruth says:

    I pay $63 a month to store stuff I haven’t looked at in 7 years. No excuses. Just stupidity. Thanks, Mary for this kick in the butt!!

    Reply
  12. Ernestine Summer Bonicelli says:

    In my case, old age and bad health caught up with me and now I am not able to de-clutter. It has continued to pile up for years while I was “too busy” to do it and now I’m in this impossible mess. People have offered to help, but I have to be in attendance and I have very few stretches of time that I even feel like doing it, that it just hasn’t worked yet. Don’t let this happen to you – get it done while you can, because the day may come when you don’t have the option!!!!!! It is the bane of my existence – it is depressing, expensive, time consuming, and anxiety producing.

    Reply
    • Cherie says:

      Thank you for sharing this. I have been trying to convince my parents, both in great shape, but in their late seventies, to start the de-clutter process while they can. I think they still possess every item they have ever owned. I can’t imagine what it will be like if or when they need to leave their home someday. I may have to show them this column.

      Reply
    • JoAnn says:

      Many I’m sure can relate to this. My husband and I have had life
      threatening illnesses. Thank God, we are well now and active.
      However, before and during diagnosis and treatment, the clutter
      overcame us. We spent several weeks in the garage, sorting,
      cleaning and putting items we are keeping in tubs. Afterwards,
      we loaded his longbed truck with items and took them to charity
      organizations in our area. Now that we have made that one step
      toward decluttering, we are even more motivated. Just take one
      step, and you are on your way.

      Reply
    • Toast Points says:

      Thank you for your candid assessment of may await us all if we don’t get cracking. Am sure you’ll be feeling better about this as you make progress, however slow. All the best to you.

      Reply
    • liz953 says:

      I can so relate to your situation. The idea of trying to deal with the whole “household-full-of-meaningfulness” situation is overwhelming. And depressing. My advice is to try to chop it up into smaller pieces. Start with one room, and give yourself a month to do it. Take the pressure off yourself and it can become more manageable. Spend only an hour or two each day, and try not to reminisce over each photo, each piece of memorabilia. If you think about it, just a handful of these items will satisfy your memories, which, frankly, will always be be in your heart. Toss out (or give away) what doesn’t meet those standards.

      Reply
  13. Victoria Ficco-Panzer says:

    Working through the clutter issue now(newly married)combining two households,both”savers” of many and varied things…it is a struggle,but if we both are flexible about what we keep and what we toss,it will work!

    Reply
    • clair maiorano says:

      My parents were brought up in the depression and never threw anything out. I am glad they didn’t, now i am making a fortune selling antiques that they had and boy does it come in handy. Little by little i have been going threw the attic and basement and slowly making a lot of money. I am so glad they never threw anything out, because when you do you are throwing away money. Everything has a dollar value and trust me, go out and buy something today it is a lot of money. Craigs list, antique stores, etc. are great buyers. Do it a little at a time with patience and respect and boy it is like an “annuity” in your old age…

      Reply
  14. ABC says:

    My problem is, I’ve sold a few things on ebay, gotten a taste of getting a good bit of money for some of it, and want to repeat that! LOL But it takes time and energy that I don’t currently have to do all of that, so I recently gave away two boxes of things I had been saving for ebay (they weren’t going to sell for enough to make up for the time). I’m pretty proud of myself (pats back). But there is still more to go….and this reminded me that there are a few things left to sell that will bring enough to make up for the time! Need to get busy…..

    Reply
  15. Katybee says:

    Freecycle has been a great friend for me in my de-cluttering journey. I gave away so much stuff when I was moving from a house into an apartment 4 years ago. It was so liberating and receiving the gratitude of people who picked up that crib my son outgrew or the rocking chair or a set of mattresses I no longer needed was great. I know it takes a while to get used to giving away things you paid for at some point in your life, but believe me once you do it, it becomes easier and easier as you are shedding years of clutter off your back

    Reply
    • SRollins says:

      I agree! Giving it away to someone who actually needs or can use it is soooooo much more rewarding and encouraging to keep de-cluttering. Just try it, you won’t be disappointed!

      Reply
  16. LLee says:

    Mary, you may know the book by the same name as your article, Clutter’s Last Stand, by Don Aslett. It is a funny and inspiring book on getting rid of clutter. When reading it, I often wanted to put the book down and go get rid of some things. It will make you think twice about possession.

    Reply
  17. Maureen Reynolds says:

    Oh, too funny! I laughed out loud at the visual of the Christmas decoration scenario! That would be us!! I am just starting my own personal 31 Day Challenge to de-clutter and organize my life! This was perfect timing 🙂

    Reply
  18. Mary Rogers says:

    We recently moved (after 13 years) and we found two policies to avoid war. If either of us said “yes” we kept it, if either said “maybe” we put it in a maybe box, if we agreed on “no” it went to charity. Next we went through the maybe boxes and asked if it was better for us to have it or for a veteran or breast cancer awareness thrift shop to have it…..we gave away 90% of the maybe boxes.

    Reply
  19. Danielle Gates Rush says:

    I sometimes have a hard time giving up my daughter’s outgrown clothes. I’ve started taking pictures of her in favorite outfits, and then passing them on to a friend whose daughter is about a year younger than mine. A lot of the time I get to see pictures of her daughter wearing them on Facebook too.

    Reply
    • rockytopp says:

      My husband recently passed away, so I have been sorting and de-cluttering. I am just as responsible for part of the clutter, and am sorting through both of our “collections” as I go. Some is hard at first, until you think about it. Things like every birthday, Mother;s(Father’s) day card you have ever received. We have them all. When have we ever looked at them again? Not until now. So they are going. Also going through my file cabinets. I don’t need old bills and receipts and bank statements…anything older than a year is going through the shredder. Dishes….does anyone really need 3 dozen coffee mugs? 6 sets of measuring cups? Every magazine you have received for the last 15 years? I now take magazines to the local hospitals, nursing homes and library book sale room. I am giving away Family Circle magazines from 1972 that were read once and stored. Look like new. Never read by me again. It is hard to get started at this cleansing frenzy, but every day it gets easier, and the extra room in your house is so refreshing.

      Reply
  20. jan says:

    I am trying to rid myself of excess clutter. I just took a relaxation quiz recently, and I realized the only truly peaceful room in my house is my tub! That is th the only place I can go to get away from all the clutter! Another tip I have read is to pack things you are not sure about into a box or boxes and seal. Store for 1 year, and if you don’t miss them ( or even remember what’s in them), give away, still sealed! I am going to try this with those things I don’t currently use, but am afraid I might need “one day”.

    Reply
  21. Angie says:

    I like to live clutter free but am married to a man who likes to keep stuff. Its a constant battle! I have to admit I have donated items that he didn’t know about and never missed. LOL!.

    Reply
    • Emjay says:

      I too am married to a “keeper.” (Yes, to both meanings.) He is also a handyman extraordinaire. Right now, he’s finishing up a bump-out to our family room and replacing old, old single-pane windows there. The entire extra cost of doing so were the windows themselves. He had everything else on hand, including the steel beam he used to replace the old, termite damaged wooden beam that had been across the top. (Termites were treated/gone.) So, he’s now going to insulate the bump-out using insulation he had leftover from a previous project, tape/texture that wall using materials he had on hand, create a two-drawer chest with display top to go into the bump-out using materials he had scavenged from …and so on. Total cost: The cost of the windows. So, I guess my keeper can keep on keeping in his shop.

      Reply
  22. Just1Cyndi says:

    I am moving now. I am selling junk on a “yard sale” Facebook group, but I’m pretty sure the effort and annoyance is more than the money I’m making. I am trying to convince myself to just donate it all and be done!

    Reply

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