The Challenge of Decluttering

by Katy on August 10, 2012 · 35 comments

I started decluttering my house in 2007-ish, and only now is the house to a happy equilibrium. Why did this process take so long? Because I approached this gargantuan task piece by tiny piece; decluttering a drawer here, and a horizontal surface there. Mind you, it’s far from perfect. I have secretly stashed bins of Legos and Brio train tracks hidden in my back room; but for the most part the extraneous crap is gone. Sure, the basement still resembles a construction demolition site, but that job I’ve lovingly gifted to my husband. (Thank you, dear.)

Luckily, I know I’m not alone in the bizarrely difficult task of decluttering.

This comment recently came in from Candy on The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook Group:

“I have a confession. I have too much clutter! I have just hung up and tagged over 100 items for a community consignment sale. And it seems like I haven’t even made a dent. It’s all things my youngest son (4) and only daughter (1) have grown out of, and maternity clothes I hope to never need again. And all the related baby equipment, you know how that goes. I have to say, at least it’s a start!”

This comment garnered many comments from group members, the favorite of which was

“Decluttering is like eating a whale. Seems impossible, but you just have to keep taking bites.”

To which I responded:

“Whale, the other white meat!”

Wait a minute, that was totally off-topic. Sorry about that.

My guiding mindset for what gets to live in my home is from William Morris.“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I love this quote because it allows for interpretation. You may think my cherub ashtray is a piece of junk, but I think it’s hilarious and find beauty in its tacky grandeur.

I totally understand how a person can easily get frustrated with the monumental task of decluttering a home. Because it takes a burdensome amount of work before progress becomes apparent.

You know, like eating a whale.

Do you have any advice or words of inspiration for Candy? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Carolyn August 10, 2012 at 11:55 am

As a professional organizer, I encourage Candy to keep at it. Slow and steady wins the race long term when it comes to decluttering. In addition, be very careful about what you bring into your home. Additional bins or boxes won’t make you organized. Getting and being organized is about what you do, not what you buy. Best wishes!


Katy August 10, 2012 at 11:57 am

I love this. So many people try to organize their homes with different storage options, when the real answer is to simply have less stuff.



Renee CA August 10, 2012 at 8:23 pm

I’m leery of advice that begins “purchase x number of rubbermaid bins” or needing a special notebook that costs a small fortune. So many great boxes and containers out there for free. Love a good apple box. And sometimes I don’t mind spending a little more at the grocery store for something that comes in a wonderful jar.

I do admit I have several plastic bins, but I could have gotten by without them. Some we got at a garage sale for $1 and use for recycling. The ones I purchased are used for some clothing.


Carolyn August 11, 2012 at 3:23 am

Amen! And 90% of my clients do not need to buy anything to get organized.


Stephanie August 10, 2012 at 11:57 am

It’s kind of funny that you post this because just last week I was buying (much needed) new running shoes. I had found a few that I liked, but none that I LOVED yet. The salesman asked me what was wrong with them and I replied that I just didn’t LOVE them, and that I don’t buy anything that I don’t LOVE. If I just kind of “like” something, it isn’t going to 1) get as much use or 2) bring me as much joy as searching and waiting for “just the right thing” to come along. I’ve always been that way. The shirt would be okay but not “just right” so I wouldn’t get it, much to my mother’s frustration. But if I don’t love it, I either won’t use it or will replace it with something that I do, leading to more waste. This mindset has drastically reduced the amount of input into our home. The things that I purchase tend to stay around for many, many years. So maybe it’s not a way to help de-clutter your home, but it’s a surefire way to help keep the clutter from building back up.


Judy August 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm

De-cluttering is an on-going process. We just had some unwanted help with getting rid of stuff. Our house was broken into while we were
on vacation and most of my costume jewelry was taken. Fortunately
my really good stuff was either with me or hidden away, but mostly this was a matter of losing momentos from childhood and travelsand items to be given to my granddaughter in a few years.
But it also has spurred me on to go through more stuff and de-clutter some more once I get rid of my unsettled feeling.


Katy August 10, 2012 at 12:08 pm

So would you say that taking control of your stuff through decluttering was therapeutic for you?



Mr. Everyday Dollar August 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm

The US in particular is in a clutter EPIDEMIC!

I wrote about this recently

For me, I love the clutter free lifestyle so it’s easy to do and maintain. It would drive me crazy if I had to sit in my living room surrounded by piles of “stuff” because it stresses me out!


Carolyn August 11, 2012 at 3:26 am

The UCLA study was fascinating.


Robin August 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Wait you have Brio trains?! Don’t get rid of those without contacting me!! They wouldn’t be clutter in our house 🙂 of course you could do what my parents did and save them for grandkids.

We have systematically been cleaning out out loft every weekend with the goal of having it done by the end of August. I have been listing items on CL and what doesn’t sell by the end of the month is being sold in a garage sale. There were things up there that I had forgotten we had! After the yard sale any leftovers are getting donated. I’m done with clutter!! Too much STUFF from my days of needing stuff to make me happy. Funny how it never really did. Seeing my savings account grow, now that makes me happy 🙂


Katy August 10, 2012 at 5:12 pm

They are not clutter, as I bring them out whenever we have guests with little kids. But that doesn’t mean that I want them underfoot.



Renee CA August 10, 2012 at 8:27 pm

I saved my kids Fisher Price little people sets and the grandkids love them. I even have one wood little people. Will be sad to see them go when we don’t need them any more.


Megyn @MinimalistMommi August 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm

People generally ask me why our house is so bare, and this is always my response:

“I hate dusting.”

I often encourage people to look at their stuff and ask if it’s worth the time it takes to maintain and clean an item. I have a high standard of care, so in order to keep that standard, it leaves little room for ownership of items. Is it worth the trade in your precious time? Simple as that!


Cyndi August 10, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I suggest taking a break from actively decluttering. Sometimes it does just get to be too much and our brains and bodies need a break. Instead focus on making sure nothing that is not to be used right away (food…) comes in to the house. Use up some of the things you have as you go about your life. Make it a point to have some great experiences.

I’ve found that when I take a break, I come back and get twice as much done in half the time!


Scribe August 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I declutter every Monday, right after the new episode of hoarders! That show really makes me think about what I have in my house!


Katy August 10, 2012 at 5:12 pm

That show is certainly very inspiring.



EcoCatLady August 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm

My suggestion is to get a rambunctious cat who likes to climb furniture and knock things on the floor! Seriously, I’ve been decluttering for years and I’m under no illusions that I’ll ever “be done,” but once the adorable, yet challenging, Smoky Bear came into my life it reached a whole different level.

That cat thinks that anything not nailed down was put there for the express purpose of giving him more things to play with. I finally had to get rid of all the houseplants (gave them away on FreeCycle) and the vast majority of the knick-knacks. I packed them away in boxes to keep them safe from him, and after they’d been out of sight for a few years I decided that I didn’t miss them at all, and flat surfaces were really better. So, with the exception of one or two items that I really loved, they all got donated.

Even if you don’t have destroyer-cat to help you out, you can always just try packing things up and putting them into storage. If you haven’t missed it in a few years, chances are you don’t need it.


Lucy August 11, 2012 at 4:31 am

Ah, we have 3 feline declutterers, We also have a china cabinet but no china; it houses the knick-knacks we adore. If it doesn’t fit it doesn’t stay.


EcoCatLady August 11, 2012 at 10:56 am

Now there’s an idea… to keep it out of feline paws, put it behind glass!


Rebecca B. A. R. August 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm

But then, you’d have to clean the glass all the time, b/c there would be little smudges all over it from the kitty pressing it’s little nose up against it, trying to figure out how to get in!


EcoCatLady August 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Just like all of my windows!

Erin August 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I keep a bag or box near the front door. When I discover/realize I’m not using an item, I put it in the box. When the box is full, it goes to the thrift store.

This way, I don’t have to have “declutter day” or expend a lot of time on it – I just move items as I notice them.


Amy August 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm

We’ve had the *gift* of moving cross-country three times to help keep the clutter down, even with three stuff-accumulating little children.

But for me – and I suspect for others – doing a little at a time just won’t cut it. I need to see results to continue with a project, above and beyond organizing one drawer.

Some ideas:
– the 40 bags in 40 days project during Lent (or August, or whenever it works for you) – really challenge yourself to fill and remove 40 bags worth of stuff from your home
– give up the notion of cashing in on your belongings. Once I let go of the $1 or $2 that the toys/clothes/junk would bring in, I was able to clear out in advance of our recent move with abandon. I did set aside the more valuable items for resale, but for there rest I found good homes or took them to a local charity shop.
– be relentless about what comes into the home. You have to be a gatekeeper for clutter, otherwise you’re just running on a treadmill.


Mary August 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I just started the decluttering process, and it terrifies me how much I have being a single woman in her 20s who lives alone and previously moved twice a year for a decade. My tactic is to spend one evening a week tackling one small thing: one set of drawers, one cabinet, one bookshelf. It’ll take me forever, but better to enjoy the process than overwhelm myself.


emmer August 11, 2012 at 6:45 am

i, too, have a decluttering cat. orion has been very helpful in removing excess goods from shelves. 🙂
for those fragile items that i actually prefer to keep, i got some museum putty and used it to fix items to their shelf. it does remove easily and can be reused–and for all it looks like playdoh, keeps swishing kitty tails from knocking china on the floor.


EcoCatLady August 11, 2012 at 11:04 am

Museum putty? I have never heard of this magical substance! I may have to check it out! I wonder if I could use it to help stick the pictures to the walls… Smoky likes to jump for them and try to knock them down. So far he’s broken one frame. I wasn’t terribly concerned about the frame, just worried that he might hurt himself or one of the other cats!


Kris-ND August 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

I have had two factors in my life that kept my clutter in check, a)outside of the last five years, we were a military family and you were only allowed a certain weight limit for your household goods. b)I have Epilepsy and my brain just cannot tolerate chaos so I can’t have books, dvd, papers or knick- knacks all over the place. Everything has to have a proper place and live in that place 😉 .

Those two factors have led me to a few “clutter control” rules. I try to make sure all my furniture has built in storage. My entertainment center has a wide/deep drawer that holds our wii controllers and all the wii games. It has a cabinet under the drawer that holds all our dvd/vhs and there is enough space under it to slide my wii fit step out of sight 😉 When there are too many videos/dvd then I cull them. My children are almost 18 and 21. They long ago grew out of their “kid” video/dvds. ,culling those kid movies frees up space for new(er) movies we might want to have in our collection. I have alot of books but they are confined to my bookcases. If the bookcases get out of control or I run out of room, I cull the books. It allows us to have the things that make our house a home w/o mom’s poor brain shutting down 😉

We just refinanced our house. You would not believe the “stuff” I got rid of, even though I am not a big clutter bug, because I didn’t know if the inspectors were going to go through closests and the like, so we did a rapid clutter buster session and thinned out our closets..just in case they were to peek 😉

The best tip I was ever given was to NOT take alot of time while decluttering whatever it is you are trying to tackle. I was told that you should set a firm time limit for the entire drawer or closet(whatever) and stick with it, trying to avoid the reality that if you take too much time on each item you, a)will find a justification for keeping every single thing you pick up, and b)you will get discouraged because it is taking so much time with so little progress.

Works for me 🙂


Jean August 11, 2012 at 6:20 pm

I too love Lent–40 bags in 40 days!! I didn’t quite achieve that goal this year, but made it to close to 30 bags or their equivalant. I also keep a donation bag going all the time that I put things in as I come across them, and when it’s full it gets dropped off to the DAV on my way to work.
My advice to Candy would be declutter by category–clothes, shoes, kitchen utensils, etc. This works better for me than room by room, or an entire closet.
I am currently purging my books. I’ll be honest, it isn’t just about decluttering, it’s about having room for more–or different–books and I do not have room for any more bookcases. Some of these will be posted on PaperbackSwap or Bookmootch to be traded for my current desires in books. Others will be donated to our Friends of the Library booksale. But three sacks of books are ready to go, and I am less than halfway there!


Constance August 12, 2012 at 6:23 am

We are moving to England (from the US) at the end of the year. We are selling/gifting/getting rid of everything we own except some clothes and mementos – I mean everything! We have been craigslisting and yardsaling for 3 months and are getting close to being ready for our final moving sale in a few months. It has been an amazing process to essentially let go of everything. I can’t think of a single thing I will miss. My husband left everything when he left his previous marriage and I had/have been living like a college student my whole life (I forgot to grow up and get into debt) and we don’t have kids. So, we don’t have anything really worth keeping. We look forward to consciously adding back in all that we will need – second hand – of course!


Elizabeth M. August 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I do the same thing as one commenter said above, I don’t buy anything unless I absolutely love it, this helps to keep things out of the house. Also every spring and every fall, while I am putting away and taking out seasonal clothing, I go through my closet and get rid of anything I know I will never wear again.


Monica August 14, 2012 at 6:15 am

My biggest problem in the battle over clutter–which I have not seen addressed here–is my HUSBAND. I am sure other readers have the same problem with their spouse or partner: They refuse to give up THEIR clutter! I have given away half my belongings, constantly pare down my 5 year old’s toys and artwork, but he refuses to part with anything. I’ve tried every argument I can think of (how de-cluttering will give us more space, provide a calm living environment, how we can make $ selling things on eBay), but nothing seems to penetrate that Male Mindset. Katy — any advice on how to deal with this type of roadblock?


MJ August 16, 2012 at 10:23 am

These comments turned out to be discouraging for me. I was hoping to major declutter before my first baby is born (due Sept 29) but everything I’d get rid of, I don’t know if I’ll need again. Maternity clothes, shoes my swelled feet don’t fit, even underwear sizes may change and not revert back to where I was. So when to buy items that fit and when to wait? I only have one pair of shoes that still fit me right now, but won’t my feet unswell and go back to their original size? Not helping me nest right now! I know hubby would love for me to get rid of clutter but with baby showers we’re just getting more!


Monica August 21, 2012 at 5:29 am

Hi MJ — immediately post-birth, I went out and bought a few shorts and t-shirts to wear, as I went up a size from water weight. And I distinctly remember taking my pre-pregnancy clothes down from the attic about 3 months after giving birth — and it was too soon. I was going back to work, and thought some of them might fit. It took me about 9 months for my hips to return to their regular placement and breasts to return to normal. I was very lucky that I only gained 14 pounds during pregnancy, so I didn’t have to lose a lot of baby weight. What I found was my back and shoulders were bigger from carrying the baby around all the time. I noticed this in my sisters as well. I think you’ll be able to fit into your shoes some day, probably the underwear and tops…but pants and jeans sizes may have gone up a size forever…Hold onto your pre-pregnancy clothes for a year, and then see where you are. You are entering totally unknown territory after your first baby is born, and you don’t have to pressure yourself with decisions about your clothes right now. And keep all those baby things from shower — sort the baby clothes and put them in drawers by month/size/time of year. Enjoy all those presents and the generosity of your friends!


MJ September 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Monica, thanks so much for your comments! I found them very helpful. I guess I’m not really in a season of getting rid of things. I like to think “if you bring something in (to our home, to my schedule, etc.) you have to take something out”. That hasn’t been very possible with accumulating baby items. On the other hand, we have found things that we don’t use anymore that we’re parting with, in the interest of having the space for baby items.


jennys645 June 10, 2014 at 10:18 am

I pray that one day I could actually declutter my garage and my kid’s rooms! The problem is my kids (aged 21,24 & 27) live on their own (small apartment) and still don’t want we to get rid of their video games, wooden doll cradle, doll sets, books or train sets, etc. They have an attachment to these items and whenever I whisper the words sell or donate, its like being on trial. Thanks to A-1 moving and Storage and their professional storage services, I was able to keep their childhood alive and claim my home back.Check out their website at

[WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1294239638 which is not a hashcash value.


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