How to Make Letting Go of Clutter a Little Easier

Naming your clutter can be the first step on the road to freedom.

I finally checked out The Happiness Project from the library. I know everyone else has already read it and discussed it in all three of your book groups, but it takes me a while to get around to reading the bestsellers. At any rate, I enjoyed the chapter that addresses clutter. While working to reduce the stuff in her house, author Gretchen Rubin identified types of clutter she and others have trouble getting rid of. Several categories I immediately identified with.

Types of Clutter
  • Bargain clutter: things that you bought because they were on sale
  • Freebie clutter: things you have because you were able to get them for free
  • Nostalgic clutter: momentos from the past
  • Aspirational clutter: things that you own and aspire to use someday
  • Buyer’s remorse clutter: things that you bought which you later realized you didn’t need or want, but you hang onto it rather than admit that you wasted your money on a bad purchase. 
  • Conservation clutter: things that are theoretically useful but currently useless to you

I have moved enough times that I am pretty good about passing up bargain clutter and freebie clutter. I know now that owning these items really does have a substantial cost in terms of just dealing with it being in your life. As my Grannie used to say, "A thing of beauty is a job forever." On a related note, I now often take photos of momentos rather than save the actual item. Moving helped with that too. For one thing, when you move a bunch of times, breakable things break. 

I used to have a serious problem in the aspirational clutter category, particularly with books. It took me years to admit I was never going to read on my own some Latin texts I had picked up at a used book store in my college town just before graduating. I often used to buy used books that I wanted to want to read because they were important books, but never actually wanted to read at any particular moment. My mom once told me that she thought owning a book was the next best thing to reading it. I used to think that too. Until I moved 4 times in 4 years. 

My number one reason still for keeping things is that I actually do not enjoy shopping much, so I keep things just in case I might need to use them someday to save myself from having to purchase the item (maybe) at a future date. I think this is a type of conservation clutter. But I have determined that if someday I will miss one of the 100 items I think I might want someday, it's worth it to get rid of the 100 items and rebuy/ borrow/ find at a thrift shop that one item someday down the line. 

Green guilt can result in buyer's remorse clutter. It's not just the money wasted that haunts you, it's the energy and resources wasted in the creation of the product, maybe the plastic created that will live on forever in the environment. And, in fact, for many items of value that are difficult to dump in the Goodwill bin, it has been helpful for me to find a home for them, through friends, Craig's List or Freecycle. It's easier to let go when you know the item has found not just might find a useful home. 

I am lucky to have many folks in my life that are happy to help me de-clutter. My sister is always ready to watch me try on clothes and tell me which I should never wear in public again. My husband hates clutter and has been an excellent influence on me. He is particularly ruthless when it's time to pack and move. He often helps me get rid of things by saying, "When was the last time you used that? Someone else could be using that." Also, "I'm not moving that again."

Why bother getting rid of clutter? Especially if you have the space to store it?
  • That clutter could be useful to someone else! And then that person might not have to buy something new, resulting in less production of new products and less consumption.
  • Dealing with your clutter will make you realize how much stuff you have.It seriously dampens the desire to accumulate. I speak from experience.
  • Clutter uses up mental and sometimes physical energy, especially if you have to keep moving it to clean or to find what you need.
  • You will have to deal with that clutter eventually when you move. And if you die before you move, your poor descendants will have to deal with it. 

I do think that finding a name for particularly intractable clutter can be a useful first step in letting it go.

What kind of  clutter do you have trouble avoiding and getting rid of?

Related Posts:
If you struggle with paper clutter, consider checking out my series Goodbye, Junk Mail.

Photo credit: puuikibeach

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  1. Thank you for the inspiring post!
    I admit- I have a problem with getting rid of clutter, most of the times thinking of "what if I wear/use that some time again?" That mostly refers to anything from clothes to tea cups, to paint, to books..
    I also share your aspirational book clutter issue, I have many of the booka I bought while studying (and now I'm studying completely different topic). It's hard to let go, because they are very good, important books, and very expensive too. But I'll never read them, I know that. So I just have to get over the idea that selling them on Amazon is difficult.
    Clothe problem is kind of between conservation and nostalgic clutter I think, because I own many pieces that I'm just sad to let go, they remind me of the events or people. And other pieces are "to be worn again someday". I keep justifying myself with the ideas of themed parties or carnevals even. Ridiculous. This made me want to go to my closet and pull out at least couple of dresses that someone else could enjoy.
    Another clothe issue is "garden clothes" and "home pants and Tees". Every piece of nice clothing at some point becomes a garment to wear either at home or in garden. But how many garden jeans do you really need huh? I've ridded my closet from many of those and try to make the remaining last..
    Nostalgic clutter is difficult, but I recently realised that I don't miss any of the ones I have left in the boxes when moved last time, so I think I'll finally get my courage to donate, regift or sell them.
    Thank you so much for the reminder. I think naming the clutter like this really does help. It helps to realize WHY I hold on to certain things and that is the first step to discuss the issue with myself whether this reason is really important. :)

    1. You're welcome! I've sold some books like that on Amazon. Sometimes getting a little money makes letting go, but it's also nice to know that the book went to someone who actually wanted it. I've had similar issues with "home pans and tees" as you say. My sister pointed out that it is useful to have one or two of those outfits, but probably not 10 or more.

      Actually, it's helpful just to admit that one has clutter and to even think about whether you want it or not. Many of us don't even get that far, I'd say.

  2. Nostalgic clutter is my weak spot. I've learned to deal with conservation clutter by telling myself that if I need something I can always go through my friends' clutter and relieve them of it! Two years ago I resolved to push 25% of our stuff (by volume) out of the house. I did. It was a fantastic feeling. I think we're ready for another round.

    1. So true -- plenty of clutter in the world to choose from. I love that volume goal. I should have a goal of filling up a box/ bag every month.

  3. This post screams "me!" I struggle with clutter of all types. Sadly, paper and nostaglic clutter are the worst.

    How we deal with it? Mail goes straight to the recycle bag, and we have a donations box in plain sight for anything outgrown. Not perfect, but it is a start!

    1. I think it's helpful to always have a donation bag/ box somewhere where you will see it often. Make paring down as easy as possible to do whenever the mood strikes!

  4. Great post! I definitely have the "green guilt clutter"--our basement is large, so it can hold things I'd rather not send to the landfill. I also have problems with "deep storage clutter", which I wrote about in this blog post:

    Paper clutter is an ongoing struggle--mail just keeps coming in, even with all of the requests to stay off lists and discontinue catalogs. I'm getting much better at it, though--it needs daily attention so it doesn't build.

    -- Joy @

    1. Ugh, the junk mail. We recently moved and I've had to cancel everything (magazines/ catalogs/ circulars from the last owner) all over again. It never ends.

  5. So happy to find your blog! I am in the midst of decluttering in a big way. I have a huge issue with trying to be "green" and decluttering. I do my best to get stuff out of the house, but if I can't find a green way to deal with it, I tend to keep it. (Green guilt strikes again!) Ugh.

  6. Aspirational and Conservation clutter are my big enemies. Green guilt totally plays a role! I don't feel like I am bringing loads of stuff into the house, but somehow it accumulates. Thanks for the inspiration. I recently cleaned out my children's craft closet and was able to donate or recycle most of it. I wrote about it here:
    There are so many other spots in the house that need this same attention.


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