12 Reasons Why We Clutter and How to Stop It

What to Do About Decluttering for Good

Messy bedroom with drawers
La Bicicleta Vermella / Getty Images

Are you overwhelmed with too much stuff? Just about every home has some clutter. It might be out in the open or tucked behind closet doors or in a garage, basement, or attic.

You know where your clutter lurks. And even if it's not visible, too much clutter might be causing you stress. Reasons why we clutter vary from person to person. But regardless of what causes a person to clutter, there are some universal solutions to help you motivate yourself to declutter your house.

Here are 12 common reasons why we clutter and what to do about it.

  • 01 of 12

    You're Unsure What's Clutter and What's Not

    pile of books

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    Sometimes there's a fine line between what is clutter and what isn't. For example, something can be valuable but not very useful, so it ends up being clutter. Or you might be hanging on to something that once was useful in the unlikely event that you'll need it in the future. Weighing all these factors can be the reason why you struggle to get rid of stuff.

    What to Do About It

    Determine and abide by your own clutter meaning. Here are some questions to ask to help define what clutter is to you:

    • Do you find the item useful right now?
    • Do you find the item beautiful to look at?
    • Are you willing to repair it right now if it's broken?
    • Will you feel guilty tossing or donating the item and why?
    • Is this an item that simply needs to be properly stored?
  • 02 of 12

    You're Unsure How Long to Keep Things

    deciding when to part with items is a big part of avoiding clutter

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    It's common to feel confused about how long to keep items, whether it's clothing, sentimental items, gifts, or financial documents. You might be hanging on to something because you think it's special or important, but you don't actually use or need it.

    What to Do About It

    How long you keep something differs based on the item.

    • Clothing that's out of style, worn, faded, or ill-fitting is a likely clutter candidate to toss or denote.
    • Sentimental items and gifts don't have a predetermined shelf life. So try handing down sentimental items and gifts if you don't find use or value in them.
    • When it comes to paper, make sure you know how long you need to keep documents, such as tax papers, and when it's OK to shred them.
  • 03 of 12

    You Need Storage Strategies

    items neatly organized and stored

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Storing items can be overwhelming. You might not have enough room or the right storage containers to properly fit your items. And consequently they can become clutter just by being disorganized or in the way.

    What to Do About It

    Learning how to store things properly will help the decluttering process.

    • Purchase storage containers and organizers to fit your specific items. Don't just purchase something because it has a lot of storage space; it needs to have the right space for your needs.
    • Consider labeling or color-coordinating storage solutions.

    Tip

    An abundance of storage containers can be overwhelming. Keep it simple and stress-free by buying clear bins. That way, you'll know what's in each box without having to remove the lid.

  • 04 of 12

    You Need a Home Organization Routine

    making the bed as part of a daily routine

    The Spruce / Lucianna McIntosh

    If you just straighten up your home haphazardly and not on a regular schedule, you're likely allowing clutter to unnecessarily pile up. A routine is key to prevent decluttering from feeling like a massive undertaking because you'll do little bits at a time.

    What to Do About It

    Establishing a quick routine to organize and declutter your house is easier than you might think. And once you have your routine down, you'll be on autopilot when it comes to staying clutter-free. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    You Don't Have a System to Capture Small Clutter

    trays for storing paper

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Little items strewn about can easily turn into clutter if you have nothing to contain them. But fortunately, all it takes are some small tweaks to prevent that clutter from forming.

    What to Do About It

    Trays, bins, baskets, jars, and hooks are all excellent tweaks to corral everyday clutter.

    • Place small containers where they're needed to group like items, so they're easy to find. For example, gather strewn mail on one tray, remotes in a basket, and small toiletries on a tray.
    • Make sure everyone in your household follows the organization system, as small items can become scattered and turn back into clutter quickly.
  • 06 of 12

    You Compare Your Clutter With Other People's Clutter

    photos and mail

    Rirri / Unsplash

    You might see other people's clutter and compare it to yours. Maybe your friend's house is full of clutter, and this gives you permission to be a little messier at your home. Or maybe you see another person's house that looks spotless, causing you to feel stressed and embarrassed by your own clutter. But what you don't know is that person has totally disorganized storage spaces.

    What to Do About It

    We all have individual reasons for why we clutter, and that's what we need to focus on.

    • Stop comparing your space to another person's. That's likely just going to give you misguided views about their organization habits.
    • Figure out what motivates you to stay organized. Maybe you enjoy how relaxed you feel in an organized space or how easy it is to find things. Use that feeling as encouragement to keep up with your decluttering routine.
  • 07 of 12

    You Buy Things You Don't Need

    paints and colored pencils

    Westend61 / Getty Images

    If you love to buy items you don't really need just because the deal is too good to pass up, you might be unintentionally cluttering your home. Even if you think you'll use those items eventually, stockpiling too many can cause you to feel overwhelmed with too much stuff.

    What to Do About It

    Two thought patterns can help you curb this problem:

    • If you don't have an immediate idea of how to use a sale item or whom to give it to as a gift, then don't take it home.
    • If you're stockpiling items you will ultimately use, plan out how long the items will last you to determine how much to buy. Also, pick exactly where you'll store them, and avoid going beyond that designated storage space.
  • 08 of 12

    You're Unsure How to Let Things Go

    sentimental clutter

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Letting go—especially of sentimental items—is a big part of decluttering. It's possible to clear your home of this type of clutter while keeping cherished memories.

    What to Do About It

    Accept that you'll feel many emotions going through the items and parting with them. These tips can help ease the process:

    • Set a goal (time and date) to tackle a box of sentimental items.
    • Take it slowly when sorting, so you don't feel rushed or overwhelmed.
    • Pass items down to family and friends.
    • Donate items to a charity that's meaningful to you.
    • Choose a limited amount of items for display.
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    You Pick Up and Then Drop Hobbies

    Learning a new hobby or skill should be fun and exciting. And while it's completely OK to change your mind and decide the hobby isn't right for you, you don't want to be left with a mountain of hobby-related items.

    What to Do About It

    You can always give away or donate unwanted hobby items to prevent them from cluttering your home. Or you can ease into purchasing them.

    • If you want to try something new, buy the bare minimum of items or rent them if possible. For instance, sometimes you can rent sporting equipment until you decide it's worth purchasing your own.
    • Consider giving it a few months to see whether your hobby becomes a regular part of your life. As a bonus, by then you'll have a better idea of what you'll actually need for your hobby versus when you were a complete novice.
  • 10 of 12

    You're Not Thinking About Your Space

    You've collected some great bins, baskets, and other storage devices. But then you find they don't actually fit anywhere in your space. So your storage solutions themselves have become clutter.

    What to Do About It

    Not only do you have to fit the items you want to store in your storage devices, but you also have to consider your living space.

    • When shopping for a storage solution, always bring a tape measure.
    • Know the measurements of the room where the storage solution will go. And consider whether you plan to move or rearrange your home in the near future.
  • 11 of 12

    You Don't Regularly Take Inventory of Your Items

    You might think you only need a regular cleaning routine to stop cluttering. But if you're not periodically taking inventory of your items and determining whether they still have meaning and value to you, you might be cluttering your space without realizing it.

    What to Do About It

    Decluttering and setting up an organization system isn't just a one-time affair. Over time, your tastes and needs will change. And items you never would have parted with in the past might now be clutter to you.

    • Consider setting a decluttering date (or week) for your home on your calendar for at least twice a year. During that time, take inventory of your clothes, toys, and any other items that you or family members might have outgrown. Sort them into keep, sell, and donate piles.
  • 12 of 12

    You Put Things Off

    If you're a procrastinator, you might have some clutter in your life. Or maybe you're excellent at keeping up with your regular cleaning routine. But any atypical tasks, such as bringing clothes somewhere to donate or hanging artwork you have piled on the floor, get pushed off because you just can't find the time to slot them into your schedule. Pushing off too many of those tasks will almost certainly result in clutter.

    What to Do About It

    The key is to acknowledge when you're procrastinating part of a project, and then write it down as a priority on your daily to-do list.

    • Whenever you start a project, finish it completely before you move on to something new. For example, if you've sorted clothes into a bag to donate, take them immediately to drop off at a donation center.
    • If you need extra motivation, do any necessary-but-not-fun part of a project before the satisfying part. For instance, drop off your clothing donations before returning your newly sorted clothes back to your closet and drawers.