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Is your house always a mess? Chances are you have a clutter problem. Here are four common reasons for clutter and effective solutions to eliminate clutter for good.


Updated on 5/1/17 from an article originally published 11/27/2012.

Four ways to overcome a clutter problem for good life storage pin

A cluttered home makes us feel out of control, doesn’t it? You might start blaming yourself for not having your act together. You could start thinking something is wrong with you. Maybe you’re just a messy person. Maybe you’re lazy. Maybe you belong on a reality TV show.

But what if we are just normal people with a few legitimate reasons for the state of our home? Once we understand why the clutter occurs, the solutions might be easier to solve than we think.

Here are four reasons you might have a clutter problem and simple solutions to begin to overcome it.

Problem #1: You have too much stuff.

This might seem like the most obvious reason for clutter, but it is usually the one we have the most trouble with. We can’t find clothes to wear when our closet is overflowing so we buy new ones. We have to get new tools because our garage is so full, we can’t find our screwdrivers. We love finding great deals at yard sales so we store everything in our already crowded basement until we can find a place for it. We have emotional attachments to things and we don’t want to get rid of them. Too much stuff always creates more clutter.

Solution: Eliminate the excess.

While we might feel like the solution is to get containers to organize it all, it really makes more sense to do the obvious and more painful — eliminate the excess. You really can’t and shouldn’t organize an excess of clutter in your home. Make it a game to get rid of 10 things every day. If you are emotionally attached to things you don’t have room for, look for creative ways to preserve memories without keeping every single item on display.

Items to get rid of right now:

  • Old magazines and newspapers
  • Extra cooking utensils and small appliances you don’t use
  • Old and expired toiletries like makeup, nail polish, and medicine
  • Anything that is broken that you haven’t gotten around to repairing
  • Excess bed linens beyond two pairs per bed
  • Old technology like VHS tapes, DVDS, and CDs

Read Also: How Owning Less Can Make You Happier

Problem #2: You are in a transitional season.

Every time we have a change in routine, go through a stressful period of time, have a baby, lose or start a new job, experience a financial setback, move to another home, get sick, or have any other life-altering experience, clutter multiplies. We tend to let things pile up because we figure we will get organized once things “settle down.”

Solution: Start with small tasks.

Don’t wait for ideal circumstances. Life is a series of transitions; so find simple ways to get things in better order even in those crazy seasons. Focus on areas that frustrate you the most every day, like perhaps your dresser or closet. You can make today a little better by spending just a few minutes decluttering and organizing things you use every day.

How to remove clutter in less than five minutes:

  • Do a walkthrough of your entire house with a box in hand, and place any item that is out of place inside it. Put items back where they belong as you continue through each room.
  • Pick one small section and focus on decluttering just this area. This could be a bookshelf, junk drawer, or linen closet. Get rid of anything you no longer need or doesn’t belong there. Then organize the rest.
  • Create a “donate” box. Scan your home for items you’d be willing to give to charity. The key here is to not replace these items with new ones because the idea is to get rid of clutter, not trade like for like.

Read Also: How to Let Go of Things With Sentimental Value

Problem #3: You don’t have simple organizational systems.

One of the fastest ways for your home to become disorganized is you simply don’t know where to put things. And when you don’t know what to do with something, you set it down anywhere. And those areas become clutter magnets.

Solution: Identify the problem and address it.

Stop and take notice when you find yourself gravitating towards clutter spots with yet another pile of stuff. Why are you setting things there instead of putting them away? Maybe your bills pile up on the coffee table because you don’t have a bill paying or recycling system. Maybe your kids toss coats and papers on the kitchen table because they don’t have designated hooks or routines to deal with things they bring home from school. Once you can identify why the problem is occurring, set aside time to set up a new system to take care of it.

Simple organizational systems that make a big difference in clutter control:

  • A designated spot for junk mail and your keys
  • Hooks by the entryway for coats
  • An organized pantry and fridge
  • A laundry system that makes sense for your family

Read Also: 5 Ways You Can Improve Your Home Every Day

Problem #4: You are a perfectionist.

How could a perfectionist have clutter? Perfectionism paralyzes us. While we know we have clutter, we don’t feel equipped to deal with it perfectly so we do nothing. Maybe we don’t have the perfect organization system yet; we don’t have time to clean out the entire closet, or can’t decide what is most important to do first.

Solution: Learn to how to get through the rut.

Tell yourself it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be better than it was. You may never have enough time to clean up or reorganize an entire room at once, but try spending 15 minutes a day tackling one small area like a counter or table top. It doesn’t matter which one you start with, just start with something and make it better than it was.

More ideas to get out of a clutter rut:

  • Scan a room in your home and visualize how you want it to look. Making a mental note of furniture and decor you definitely want and clutter you don’t want ahead of time will help streamline the decluttering process. If your room is really out of hand, visualize one corner at a time.
  • Create to-do lists. Start with tasks that are attainable in the moment. Setting realistic goals for yourself will help keep clutter at bay. You’ll also feel satisfaction every time you can cross a task off the list.
  • Make sure everyone in the family is on board. There’s nothing that will take the wind out of your sails like when you spent all weekend decluttering your home to find it a disaster again the next day. A decluttered life is all about building daily habits for you and your family that will eliminate clutter for good.

Read Also: How Adding Hygge to Your Home Will Improve Your Life

What are some reasons you have clutter problems? What could you do today to get started on a solution?

Share your solutions with us in the comments below!

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About the Author

Melissa Michaels

Melissa Michaels is the author and creator of one of the top home decorating blogs on the web, The Inspired Room. She has been featured on such sites and publications as, Apartment Therapy, and Ladies Home Journal.

  • Krys72599

    #3 is me to a T!!! Things mean something to me, not the $ value, but the emotional value. It used to be so-and-so’s, so-and-so gave it to us, I like it even though it doesn’t fit/go/match, it’s a waste if I just throw it away…

    • Betsy

      I have taken stuff that I love and put it in a box and removed it from a certain area. I have found that when I remove the clutter I feel so much better and I never miss any of it. It feels like freedom when you look at a clutter free space. It feels way better than looking at stuff no matter who gave it to you.

  • Pinky

    I know I have too much STUFF for this house and am planning on joining our community garage sale in the Spring. I am packing thibngs as I go through them for that sale. This is a new house, we were in our old house for almost 29 years, so accumulated alot. I also have trouble getting my hubby to let things GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Pinky

  • Maria @ Inspiration Affirmation

    Every one of these ideas resonates with me — you really hit the nail on the head, Melissa! I think something that I do that really makes the clutter worse is that at the beginning of every season, I tackle the clutter, but it takes so long because I didn’t just deal with it as it amounted. There aren’t a multitude of cluttered spaces in our home, but each season I find different solutions for different problems that have come up since the season before. I think that by doing this on a more frequent basis, I could free up some time and also enjoy our home that much more! So looking forward to this new column!

  • Mrs Mac

    Large dining table/office, so everthing gets done there! How to make ourselves clear the top? Hubs loves newspapers, and I always have a pile of books, a couple of bills, the laptop, the mail, and a pair of scissors. Why can’t we get organised? The rest of the house is not bad at all!!!

  • Marie

    I can relate to all four reasons! This is in our office, my dumping station! Iam retiring in December so I’m waiting till then. I don’t know where to put stuff so I ‘ll just wait. I have tooooo much stuff. And I am a bit a a perfectionist so it overwhelms me. Looking forward to your column to help me find solutions!

    • Melissa @ The Inspired Room

      Thanks Marie, too much stuff and being a bit of a perfectionist can definitely make things tough! I’m looking forward to sharing some solutions we can all use!

  • Betty

    Great column! Downsizing to a new home creates a lot of clutter and a lot of organizational challenges. I could use all the help I can get! I’m looking forward to more posts from this column!

  • Amy Driver

    Congrats on the new article! I alway have two piles in my kitchen that everyone stacks papers etc on!!! Drives me nuts bc even though I think I have a system for all those random papers, nobody uses it. Need a foolproof way to declutter those hot spots…

  • Pete

    Good analysis. I’m guilty on all of above. Lately tho have been following these things, and it’s helping, tho I’m not done yet. I also enjoy collecting a lot of vintage stuff –and I walk that balance between too cluttered and interesting..I really like the Anthropologie look…one suggestion for others which helped me, my latest collection has been vintage steel boxes and old index card boxes…they look cool and provide hiding places for all kinds of stuff ranging from toiletries to DVDs to office supplies..if you like to collect it’s good to collect something that also has a function..the other problem i’d like to hear other people’s ideas on is dealing with all the mail and bills, especially the ones you don’t pay as soon as they come…i’ve tried a few approaches, but it’s not working great…this could be an interesting column

    • Melissa @ The Inspired Room

      That is a great idea to combine both your love of collecting vintage boxes with a system for organizing things! Having both beauty and function in your home and accessories is the way to go!

  • Elizabeth

    These are SO true, Melissa! We just moved and are getting ready for our third son so we are definitely in transition. I think the move has us needing to get new systems in place to keep ourselves organized. I’m working on that now. The whole perfectionist thing can definitely paralyze me, but I’m working on that too. I’m thinking I need to start a blog to motivate me in taking the baby steps necessary to get things moving in the right direction.

  • Lisa Frank

    Mrs Mac, I hear ya! Our dining table is often a clutter magnet too–my latest craft project, kid projects, mail, and misc “stuff” I want in plain view so I can take action on it.

    One tip that has helped me was to clean out half of our built-in china hutch/buffet that’s next to the dining table. We’ve had most of the shelves filled with cocktail glasses that we seriously hadn’t used once in the 8 years we’ve been married…time to clear ’em out! So I lined the inside of the upper glass cabinets with burlap (to hide the randomness inside) and put baskets and storage containers on the shelves for my kids’ art supplies and projects, my frequently used craft items, candles, a few serving dishes, etc. Once the doors and drawers are closed, you have no idea the space has an unconventional use. The same could be done with a dresser or armoire, or even some large baskets with lids.

  • dm

    after our refrigerator ice maker threw a party for a week while on vacation we had to replace hardwood floors, trim, drywall and cabinet. I am frustrated on my acculumation of groceries from pasta to can goods that I had stored away and didnt realize I had so much until this water damage. Do you have suggestions for rotating refrigerated food to flour, can goods, etc. I need a system!

    • Melissa @ The Inspired Room

      I’m sure we will be able to address pantries and refrigerators too in a future column! Thanks for commenting!

  • Terry Detrick

    #1 and #3 both spoke to me. As far as transition, our two 20-something sons keep coming and going, along with all their stuff, including one hairy Golden Retriever. And last year we moved my in-laws into assisted living and sold their home, so I’m dealing with the clutter of some of their stuff — a WWII trunk and an end table in the dining room, (2) unused dressers in the spare bedroom, Rubbermaid containers stacked in the garage and master bedroom, etc. My father-in-law passed away a month ago and when we cleaned out his apartment, we brought all his clothes home. Just this very morning, I am sorting through those items, separating into piles for trash, Goodwill, or my laundry room to be washed and given away. You’ve helped me realize that I just keep waiting for my sons to get settled (somewhere other than here!) and this season of caring for my in-laws to come to an end, and THEN I’ll get my house in order.
    Perfectionism plays into this, as well. I realized a long time ago that I tend to put off doing anything that I know won’t be perfect in the end. I know I need to get over it, but it is easier to procrastinate than to change my attitude/mindset. Your “just start with something and make it better than it was” is good advice.

    • Melissa @ The Inspired Room

      Thanks Terry, seeing that tendency in yourself is a good step. I know I have to remind myself to “just get started with something” advice often to keep myself from being paralyzed and doing nothing towards my goal!

  • Evie

    I’m afraid once the clutter is removed I will be responsible for keeping it that way and I don’t have the where-with-all to maintain a cluttee-free environment.

  • Jean

    Clutter often represents for me a combination of indecision, procrastination and not being able to let go of the past.

  • Lisa T

    you are all speKING TO & FOR ME – I Have been through all of the above and I am a collector of many different things salt & pepper shakers,all manner of Christmas goodies *espeially blown glass ornaments, my DH’s company moved us out of the country and back, we had a much harder time finding a house than expected, so we got a temporary 2bed apartment til we find one so almosyt no way our 3bed house ful of stuff will fit heere, so everything we own is in storage util we do find a house to buy so in the meantime we are trying to get buy w.a bare minimum of towels, sheets, etc so lots of laundry dutyick!I think it was Frank Lloyd Wright who said”have nothing in your home you do not believe to be beautiful, or know to be useful” words we will live buy in our new &hopefully last home cheers all, thanks for your inspiration!

  • Mary Beth

    My mother is recently going through stuff that my grandmother had since she did crafts. There is no way I will have time to do the crafts I like to do yet alone the ones my grandmother did and never finished. I created a box in my garage for ‘grandma’s stuff’. But my mother is one to say ‘we might need that one day’. UGH! Plus she is a perfectionist and makes piles of crafts according to color. HELP!

  • Lynn

    Several years ago I had to close my parent’s home where they had lived for 20+ years. They grew up in the Depression so “we might need this later” was the motto. I am an only child and going through this exercise made me determined not to put my children through this. I am in a season of transition due to medical situation and am determined to rid myself of clutter and as Frank Lloyd Wright said “only have usefull or beautiful things” in my home. Really looking forward to more on this subject. Thanks for doing this.

  • Lola Shireman

    Life altering experience; when my husband died suddenly, I began buying things I did not need and had no place to put them causing severe clutter problem. I also didn’t take care of incoming mail and that piled up to become overwhelming. I have just begun a total purge of paperwork with the use of my shredder. It is a good feeling to see the boxes empty and the bags fill with paper. This is ONE project. My next project with be to go through my house and put a label on anything I do not really want and other items that I do not really need. With the labels attached to these items, I can start the process of removing them from my home. This did not begin overnight and I am not going to solve it overnight. Patience and seeing your vision is the key!

  • June ramirez

    Just found your site today. Great info. Been wanting to de clutter for a long time now. Found great ideas from you and comments from others. How do I get more info from you? Thanks!

  • Heidi Helgerson

    Ahh, you are preaching to the choir! You haven’t said anything I don’t already know, but I appreciate it being stated in such a way. An overwhelmed mind doesn’t think all that clearly. Perfectionism really does paralyze me. Being the organizational master that you are, you seem to have organized my thoughts for me. Thank you so much for the Pep-talk and Game-plan; I now feel ready to tackle this mess and make it a home.

  • Tad

    When I first started decluttering I had four easy questions I asked when evaluating everything in my home. I have included those questions below. I still laugh about them. Today, I have simplified those rules to one simple question. Do I love it? If I don’t love something, I probably shouldn’t make room in my life for it and it’s time to part with it. It takes a clear mind to hear what the heart tells you but when you open up space in any area of your life for love to enter, you will benefit. If you surround yourself with things you don’t love, you close yourself off from the source of your joy. That’s the ultimate form of decluttering. Anyway, here’s my original rules for decluttering. This is a good starting point for anyone.

    1. What is it? If I don’t know what it is, why do I own it? This is especially useful for cleaning out drawers.

    2. Is it broken? If it is broken, fix it, take it to someone to fix it, or trash it.

    3. Would I make an effort to hide the fact that I own this thing if company were coming over?

    4. Would I see this in Architectural Digest? This is not meant to be taken literally. No is a fine answer, the bigger question asks is it something that looks like it fits or is out of place. You wouldn’t see something out of place in A.D.

  • Lisa Vennetti

    My cluttering got started due to years of multiple traumas , including loss, illness, and legal problems. I’ve been stuck in a state of procrastination and avoidance since. Recently, I had a false positive mammogram and a pretty bad concussion as well. These actually were my wake up calls !! I realized life is too short to be so unhappy because of something under my control – my messy house ! Also, I’m reading a book by Barry Yourgrau called “Mess” . It’s his story of how he cleaned up his apartment. It’s very validating and helpful to read a full detailed story of someone else’s journey in the same area. Also, reading the entries here is helpful !! I thought I was the only one who had this problem! All my friends’ houses are so clean all the time !! Uh!

  • I think the main problem is having so much stuff! Thanks for sharing Melissa! It’s an eye opener post. By the way, what is your best tip to avoid clutter to build up? Would love to know. Thanks in advance! 🙂

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