Tackling Clutter: Is Your Home Overflowing with Too Much Stuff?

House Overflowing With Stuff

The late comedian George Carlin said, “Your house is a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get… more stuff!” Carlin’s satiric comedy routine was a comment on many things, namely the American consumer’s need to accumulate possessions and shop. Let’s be honest, even those of us who are not shopaholics probably have lots of stuff—stuff that sits in little piles; stuff that overflows closets, cabinets and garages; stuff that goes by the name “clutter.”


The late comedian George Carlin said, “Your house is a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get… more stuff!”

Carlin’s satiric comedy routine was a comment on many things, namely the American consumer’s need to accumulate possessions and shop. Let’s be honest, even those of us who are not shopaholics probably have lots of stuff; stuff that sits in little piles or overflows closets, cabinets and garages. This is what we call clutter.

Tackling clutter in your living space

These days, an Internet search for “tips for reducing clutter in the home” will produce more than two million results. Lots of people are talking about clutter and offering helpful suggestions!

One expert, Cynthia Ewer, editor at OrganizedHome.com, offers advice in her article, “Strategies to Cut Clutter,” that includes the Four-Box Method. Here’s an excerpt from her article:

The Four-Box method forces a decision, item by item. To apply it, gather three boxes and a large trash can. Label the boxes, “Put Away,” “Give Away/Sell,” and “Storage.” Items to be thrown away belong in the trash can.

Take the four boxes to the declutter area. One at a time, pick up each piece of clutter. Ask yourself, “Do I want to put this away in another place, donate it (or sell it at a yard sale), store it, or throw it away?” You may not release your grip on the item until you have made a decision.

At the end of the decluttering session, reserve 10 to 15 minutes to empty the boxes. Put your “Put away” items in more appropriate places. “Give Away/Sell” items should be stored outside the house, in a garage, or in the trunk of the car for drop-off at a charity donation center. As each storage box fills, make a brief inventory of the contents and put the box into the storage area. Finally, empty the trash can quickly to prevent second thoughts!”

Four Box Method
The Four-Box Method can work well for a lot of people committed to reducing clutter. But some folks have difficulty making decisions about certain items in their homes.

Using your imagination

In his Science of the Imagination blog for PsychologyToday.com, Jim Davies, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Director of the Science Imagination Laboratory at Carleton University, talks about using imagination to reduce clutter.

Dr. Davies points out that parting with items can be hard, in part because of “the endowment effect: when we own something, we value it more than we would have been willing to pay for it when we didn’t have it.”

To overcome the endowment effect, Dr. Davies suggests that if you imagine that you do not own the item in question, you get a better sense of the actual value you place on the item. Here’s his example of how to apply this technique:

Let’s say you have a digital camera that you are thinking of getting rid of. You can go onto eBay and find out the price for similar cameras sold. This gives you a good idea of what you could get for yours if you sold it. Now, ask yourself: “If I didn’t already own this camera, would I pay that much for it?” If the answer is no, then sell it immediately. Indeed, if you have remorse you can always buy another one, probably for a cheaper price.

If you take part in this exercise, you’ll realize how little you actually value some of your things you think you need.

READ ALSO:  15 “Do It Now” Decluttering Habits

Sell or give away stuff. Throw some stuff away. Now, you’re left with items that will be stored – either in places like closet, cabinets, drawers, or storage boxes and containers.

Box Full of Stuff
Are home organization products the answer for your stuff?

The online magazine, ClosetDaily.com, offers insights into a home organization products study by the market research firm the Freedonia Group. This study estimates that $8.6 billion will be spent on home organization products by 2015. Storage bins, baskets and totes make up nearly $3 billion of the estimated amount, while shelving accounts for another $2.2 billion.

That’s a lot of coin. However, prices for individual items can be quite modest. Big box retail stores offer a variety storage bins and boxes of different shapes and sizes. On average, the larger-sized plastic bins cost about $10 each – prices may be less when they are purchased in sets of 4 to 6 bins.

Is it time to seek out more space for your stuff?

Once your home and garage are organized into storage boxes and other containers, you may find your storage needs exceed the space you need for other things – things like actually parking your car in the garage.

In George Carlin’s routine, A Place for My Stuff, he mentions another solution for your stuff – self storage. Here’s what George had to say, “Maybe put some of your stuff in storage… Imagine? … There’s a whole industry based on keeping an eye on your stuff.”

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  • C.J. Sauerbrei

    I’ll try a declutter method.

  • Irene

    Why store something you can’t use???? WHY? In rural Mississippi where people live in little clusters and far apart, people just put any item they do not want outside their house or by the road coming into their house with “free” stuck on it. Item usually gone in 30 minutes by people who obviously can use it. GIVE your stuff away to anyone who might need it. You will be glad you did.

    • Carol

      I can’t be bothered selling stuff or having tag sales. I figure I got my money’s worth from the stuff so I give it away. It’s a great feeling, when you know the person really needs it.

  • Cube

    We’ve gotten rid of many items by placing them by the road in front of our house. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

  • D Cook

    When the cost of storage exceeds the value of your “stuff”, it’s time to stop storing it.

  • Ann

    Freecycle your clutter. http://www.freecycle.org/

  • Johanna

    Clear directives for some of us who have bought clutter & organization books. The books are clutter.

  • sharon kell

    Lot’s of cities now have freecycle.com for stuff you can’t leave at the curb, like electronics, clothes, books.

    • sharon kell

      oops. freecycle.ORG

  • laura m.

    I have done the same thing especially with larger items..even an old water heater and bookcase was hauled. Anything on the “right away” which is usually ten feet from the curb, is up for grabs in most subdivisions and elsewhere and most everyone knows that it’s theirs for the taking. When my father in law died, I put things out at the curb and donated some to charities. If I have too much stuff stored/piled up at home, I know it’s time to purge and donate.

  • Katherine

    I had a “clutter” problem. I realized I was dangerously close to a “hoarding problem”. I bought a load of 20 gallon plastic storage containers for $6 each at a local discount store. I sorted stuff, threw away stuff, shredded lots of old papers (if I’ve shredded anything I might need later, bet I can get a copy from my bank or credit card company!), and I was able to build a “wall” of stacked storage boxes in a large, unused room. It looks great, and can easily be reconfigured if I need something different from that space! I was also able to construct a “window seat” of storage containers with bright cushions on top. And a luncheon cloth covered plastic container became a “lamp table”. Now I am about 80% on my way AWAY from “too much clutter to make sense”. I also made the decision to purchase another gently-used china cabinet. I have lots of lovely old glassware and crystal stored in boxes- and it isn’t very pretty there! I want all that stuff visible so I can drag it out and use it! (Otherwise, what’s the point of keeping it?) If I break something, I can buy another one! There’s something very sad about hiding lovely things, rather than taking a chance at life and using them! I dedicated one plastic storage container of “weird old stuff” for my grandchildren to play with when they visit- and they love it! Got rid of all my “just-in-case fat clothes”, too! That’s incentive to watch my diet and exercise! I feel much better, now! Happier, calmer, and more in control. Don’t let “stuff” control your life!

  • Carole B

    Hi, all,

    As useful as the free ‘curb service’ mentioned above can be, I tend to rely more on my local branch of FREECYCLE, a nationwide recycling network that keeps stuff out of the landfill by letting those who can use it know where they can pick it up.

    The email group is free to use. It’s got some rules, like “avoid obscenity, no illegal substances,” etc. It’s all grassroots, volunteer-run.

    Email subject lines contain either “OFFER,” “WANTED” or “TAKEN.” .

    To join, goto FREECYCLE.ORG and type your city and state in the search box on that page. Once you’ve joined and start reading the emails, you’ll see how smoothly it works. And yes, it’s entirely free.

    Your trash –even that shattered mirror– can be a treasure for artists and craftspeople, people moving from one part of town to another, single moms with toddlers outgrowing their shoes so fast that there’s no money even for crayons and paper, folks whose pots and pans were lost to fire or flood, etc.

    But I’ve also seen offers for newly-replaced microwaves, dishwashers, clothes dryers, house plants needing TLC, and the leash that scared someone’s brand new puppy …as well as big bags of metal bottle caps, leftover pieces of fabric, leftover carpeting, paint, paper, etc.

    A toddler’s mom might bag and leave her son’s outgrown toys on her front deck with the pickup person’s name on it while she goes to someone else’s place to get another child’s outgrown toys more suited to the age her child is now.

    Hope this helps.

  • I_Rate

    Never purchase a storage bin that would weigh too much for you to carry if fully loaded.
    A lot of people throw away durable plastic open mesh ‘milk’crates. Even if you don’t want anything in the crate, empty it into a nearby receptacle, then take it home to steam clean there, or to a car wash. They’re small, but they can be stacked, and can hold a lot of weight. That’s great if you store anything heavy, like vinyl records, car parts, or books.
    WARNING: rubberized plastic crates cannot hold anything heavy, and unless filled with pillows cannot be stacked.

  • doc maverick

    What about cities in southern California where it’s against code enforcement’s rules to set disgarded items @ the curb?

    • Irene

      We lived in CA for 40 years before we moved to MS. We didn’t have Freecycle then but sounds like a great idea! Back then, I had a garage sale once a year with the intent of getting rid of stuff. I gave most of it away. Where there’s a will…there’s a way! Storage facilities are great for preparing for moves..in deference to the nice people who are allowing us to voice our opinion on their storage site! 🙂

      • Uncle Bob’s

        Thanks Irene for the shout-out! 🙂 Storage facilities are definitely a useful tool when preparing for a move. Also, anything that you’ll want to use later on but don’t use regularly (items you are saving for children as they grow up, or seasonal equipment décor for example) can also be stored in a storage unit to free up your living space. But we’re big fans of keeping your home decluttered and giving/selling/throwing away items you’ll never need again! Decluttering your home makes your life more enjoyable and your home more hospitable.

  • mjg

    I’ve even dismantled an old washer to make it easier to get out of the house and people pick it up to sell as scrap metal.

  • Hello. The article is full of useful information. For people who do like to use containers to keep their rooms, closets, offices, and gardens organized, and provide more storage space in garages, basements, attics, and sheds, consider visiting my website for more ideas. In the catalog and monthly flyer section you can find top quality high-end containers for those in upscale residential areas. If you’re just starting out in a first-time home or condo, check out the Longaberger at Home section, where you will find containers on sale and considerably discounted.
    This is just another venue to gather more ideas to help keep spaces organized on a long-term instead of short-term. Creating a fun, easy living in your space is your ultimate goal to achieving a long-lasting, stress-free environment. I agree containers can be fun and trendy in the future, if properly used for the correct function, and the size of the container is used properly for the big or small project. People tend to think a heavy load can be held by a big container for a long time. This is only true if the quality of the container’s material is long-lasting. Then there’s meldow issues that most people don’t give a second thought about. There’s more about a container product than just thinking about how is it going to look in my room, how functional is it, and what type of container do I really want? Once you have the container, did you decide to store on the floor, on a table, on a counter, or on a shelf before you bought the container? So there’s some planning involved even before thinking about what container is needed. These are things that I think people would be more benefited by before rushing out to get a container that may not be functional in the long run. This will also help to save lots of money instead of buying multiple containers that either didn’t last over time or didn’t provide the best function for the project.
    Thank you for your time in reading this comment. Take good care. Happy New Year! Rosella Young, AA-1 Designs, 2012 BPW/NTTF Entrepreneur of the Year Award

  • As a real estate agent I often have to gently nudge people to de-clutter when they list thier home for sale. Often I get the response, ‘Well this is my house and I live here’ and I respond, ‘you are correct, but right now you want someone else to live here’.

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