Your Awesome Stuff? It’s Just Stuff — Musings on Decluttering

by Katy on February 14, 2022 · 47 comments

I first published this blog post in 2013. Enjoy!

Decluttering. Overwhelming, yet boring. Anxiety producing yet cathartic. Simple yet multi-tiered.

Why, oh why is it so much harder to get rid of stuff, than it is to acquire it in the first place?!

I’ll tell you why. Because once you bring something into your home it imprints on you. It becomes your responsibility, and that sense of responsibility takes over.

“Can’t just throw this advertising ball-point pen away, I have to make sure it goes to someone who can use it.”


“This enormous platter probably has some value. I should open an eBay account and sell it.”


“My great aunt Ethel gave me this set of cheese forks as a wedding gifts. I love her, therefore I should love the cheese forks, even though I’ve never used them in twenty years of marriage.”


“I should keep this huge pile of scrappy towels, as I might need to clean up something messy some day.”

Multiply this by a thousand, and you’ve got an insane number of decisions to make. And if it takes you an hour to get rid of each and every unused and cluttery item in your house, you will never get to the point of a decluttered home.

How do I know this? Because I have gone through this, and continue to go this this mindset. I see potential in less than perfect items. Those thin magnets that come attached to the phone books? They would look cute Mod-Podged with old maps. And that wobbly dresser I plucked from a curb? It would be super easy to re-glue and turn it into something spectacular.

The creative mindset that sees potential in everything is the same mindset that creates a home overfilled with stuff.

The answer for me lies in being hard on myself. This may sound borderline masochistic, but being my own taskmaster is the only method that works. I’ve even noticed that being in a bad mood actually aids the process, as it cuts the sentimentality in half. (Not that I’m ever in a bad mood, as puppy dogs, butterflies and baby unicorns usually float through my clutter-free home. Oh, who am I kidding?)

And once I get an area decluttered with a system for order in place, I want to keep it that way. My bedroom closet, with its matching Goodwill wooden hangers is a pleasure to behold. Everything is easy to find, and easy to keep clean. And that drawer organizer that I made for my desk? It’s as tidy as the day I first placed the sharpies into their own special cubby.

Hello, lover . . .

Do I have an answer or specific advice for wannabe declutterers?


Recognize that the stuff in your home is just that. Stuff. Some of it useful, some of it beautiful and some of it with potential. But it’s still just stuff.

And what would happen if you did get rid of something that you later needed, would the world come to an end? Or would it be possible to borrow that infrequently used item from a friend, neighbor or family member.

This is all coming from me, the woman who salivates over the perfect lamp, the perfectly textured cloth napkin and studies the weather forecast for possible spray paint friendly days. (FYI: between 50° and 90°.) I love my stuff, but I know it’s just stuff.

And after countless donated loads of stuff to my local Goodwill, I have zero regrets.

Because once it’s out of my house, it’s no longer my responsibility.

Ahhh . . .

Do you have a hard time getting rid of stuff once it enters your house? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Twitter.
Click HERE to join The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group.
Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Pinterest.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsey February 14, 2022 at 11:56 am

I don’t have trouble being ruthless about getting rid of stuff. However, my husband is very sentimental and hates it when I start looking around speculatively to see what I can haul out of the house next. Sometimes I’ll be sitting there, mentally clearing out a shelf, and my husband will say, “Hey! Stop looking around for things to get rid of!”


A. Marie February 14, 2022 at 12:19 pm

Back after a long absence. My bad, and I hope I’m forgiven.

I’m addressing this very issue during days this winter when weather has confined me to the premises, mainly in regard to DH’s impressive stash of stuff in various glory holes–mainly the basement and the new garage. The garage (see my recent “Meet a Reader” profile on The Frugal Girl) was the man cave of DH’s dreams, and I only wish he’d had a few more years to enjoy it before Alzheimer’s caught up with him. Sigh.

But I’ve been boxing up a lot of the stuff in the basement for sale or donation. And once spring has finally arrived here, I’m giving friends and neighbors first dibs on the garage stuff–and then I’m planning to donate most of the rest of it to our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.


Patricia Koernig February 15, 2022 at 6:45 am

I’m so glad you! I have missed your comments, and sense of humor!


Patricia Koernig February 15, 2022 at 6:45 am

**are back!


bettafrmdaville February 15, 2022 at 9:06 pm

A. Marie: I loved both reading your profile and I look forward to reading whatever/whenever you post. I wish I had your creativity!


Katy February 16, 2022 at 10:00 am

You are welcome here, forever and always!


Jill D February 16, 2022 at 4:37 pm

Those tomatoes!!! Looks like a photo spread from Food & Wine or Bon Appetit.


Jen February 14, 2022 at 1:05 pm

Thanks for (re)posting this, Katy! Ahh, the struggle. Always trying to declutter, but then acquiring new for fixing or selling, craving, the house, or for the kids… Thanks for the new mantra of “No longer my responsibility”. Will use that as I forge ahead today….or maybe tonight, as I am spray painting a piece for my office and it is perfect conditions today. 🙂


Bee February 14, 2022 at 1:07 pm

I have tried to only bring things into my home that are beautiful or useful. (Try not to laugh at how pompous this sounds.) Unfortunately, I also see the potential beauty, latent usefulness and dollar signs in too many things.

There is a fine line between reseller/upcycler, and I have been in grave danger of crossing it. I have spent the last 6 weeks organizing twisty ties and rubber bands. Clearing closets, listing things on Buy Nothing, and making trips to my favorite charity store. Thank goodness I came to my senses in time!


Bee February 14, 2022 at 1:09 pm

* A fine line between reseller/upcycler and hoarder….
Even my thoughts are cluttered!


Heidi Louise February 14, 2022 at 3:13 pm

A friend told me she was helped in triumphing over her habit of saving buttons by reading a suggestion that you should figure out how many of these items you need for the rest of your life and get rid of the rest. She chose six white shirt buttons, I believe, which is six more than I have ever needed to replace.
In any case, it is a way for us children of depression era parents to tackle rubber bands and twist ties.
This sentence of yours was particularly accurate: “Unfortunately, I also see the potential beauty, latent usefulness and dollar signs in too many things.”


Bee February 15, 2022 at 5:17 am

That is good advice. I should take it. Coincidentally, I went through my sewing supplies last week. I have close to 100 spools of thread. Most were “inherited” from my mother and are so old they are on wooden spools. I kept every last one. I know this is irrational, because I sew very little. However, if I need to sew a button on, I may not have the right color. Then what? Ugh!


Heidi Louise February 16, 2022 at 8:02 am

I like the idea of keeping all the thread. Think of all the different places it has been used already!
But keeping it or not– those are the kinds of individual choices we face.

Coral February 14, 2022 at 8:35 pm

William Morris is responsible for the “ Have nothing in your home but that which you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful “ I love it too! My all time, most useful, anti clutter question is “ Do I already have something that does that.? “ If the answer is yes, the next question is “ Is this instead of, or as well as?”If it’s as well as, why do I need another one, and where will the new one go?”
These questions have stopped a lot of stuff coming into my home since my decluttered, ! The other useful task is to decide what your biggest temptation is( shoes, pretty doodads, T-shirts) and COUNT the ones you have already!
KNOWING you have 23 t-shirts already, 7 of them white, helps you to put one back and walk away!


Bee February 15, 2022 at 5:22 am

William Morris was extraordinarily gifted wasn’t he? I wish that I could reach this point.


Jill A February 15, 2022 at 5:54 am

I just threw out years worth of saved bread tabs and twist ties. I’m not sure what I thought I was going to do with all of them. I just saved them without thinking about it. Now on to the gigantic vase full of take out condiments that have accumulated since my daughter and her fast food loving fiance moved in to save money for a house.


Katy February 16, 2022 at 9:58 am

I use those condiment packets in marinades, meatloaf and soups.


K D February 14, 2022 at 1:27 pm

It helps me to use Freecycle to get rid of stuff we no longer want/need. I also use the bi-annual community yard sale as an opportunity to give away things.

Since we our in our 60s it feels imperative to us that we pare down and we have been doing that.

Since the pandemic started there has been very little coming into our house, we don’t go to thrift stores and not even stores that much.We have managed to pare gift receiving back to almost nothing. It all helps.


Ruby February 14, 2022 at 1:36 pm

I have for the past few years begun the morbid little exercise of asking myself: “If I dropped dead tomorrow, what would be done with this?” This is most often followed by wondering “Is it possible to die of embarrassment after death?” Not only does doing this vastly speed up decluttering, it also has helped me conquer the bottomless mending pile.


Coral February 14, 2022 at 8:41 pm

When my 92 year old mother went into care, I was the envy of all my friends,Both of her garbage bins were almost empty, AFtER we cleared out!
Her mantra in later years was “ one shelf or drawer every week”, and she stuck to it religiously! AaMAZING woman,, I’m in my 70s, and trying to follow in her footsteps, it’s the most loving gift you can give your children !


Bee February 15, 2022 at 5:29 am

I do not want to leave a mess for my children. It took my husband, son and me nearly 8 months of Saturdays and Sundays to clear my MIL’s 1600-square foot house. The family room/office took an entire month. It was tough.


Ruby February 15, 2022 at 6:39 am

That sounds like my mother’s house, and I had already decluttered it once several years before she went into assisted living. It took me five months of nearly full-time work to get it cleaned out, the floors clean and the walls painted. The experience completely changed how I look at “stuff.”


Heidi Louise February 15, 2022 at 8:46 am

Papers are the worst. Must things like my Mom’s record of the trips we took be re-read, or can they just be thrown out? What should I do with the 1970’s tourist brochures? (I will put them in the free pile at my next yard sale, in case anyone wants the pictures for school projects or such, yet that is months away. Should I recycle now?).
Dad’s cell phone contract? Replies to letters from constituents? Photos?

Rose February 16, 2022 at 9:39 am

You could put the tourist brochures on eBay and see if there are any takers. I live in a tourist town and collect old tourist memorabilia from my town. Other people collect tourist stuff from vacation spots they love.

Bee February 16, 2022 at 11:51 am

Junk Journalists also love brochures, old cards and magazines.

Katy February 16, 2022 at 9:59 am

I applaud your mother’s forethought!


Jill A February 15, 2022 at 5:59 am

I was talking to my daughter and son-in-law the other day about their move to another state…he looked around my house and said to my daughter “Can you imagine having to move all of this stuff”. Ugh. I’m not even much of a collector or a stuff person but it’s a big house and it’s amazing how much you can accumulate without thinking about it.


Vickie February 14, 2022 at 3:01 pm

This is so timely. Just came back from Savers after dropping off a bunch of stuff. I’ve been admiring the empty space.


MB in MN February 14, 2022 at 4:11 pm

Getting rid of stuff is one of my favorite things to do, along with bringing it somewhere that will benefit from having it. Knowing that our heirs won’t be burdened with it also feels right. My husband is a good sport about it and jokes that he’s surprised that I haven’t put him at the end of the driveway with a “Free” sign taped to his forehead.


Patricia Koernig February 15, 2022 at 6:51 am

Your husband ‘s comment…. full on belly laugh! Thank you!


Kara February 14, 2022 at 6:58 pm

When our kids were young we sold/donated everything everything that we owned and moved continents. People were generous in gifting us with things in our new country, and I have never forgotten the feeling of receiving things which seemed so precious to me when we had nothing (and no money).

Since then I don’t have any trouble letting things go because I know the joy of receiving when you have huge needs. I also don’t acquire as much because I NEVER want to have to go through the experience of getting rid of so much stuff again. I like to say that I “live lean.” My weakness is not the thrift store, but free stuff. That I have trouble saying no to. My kids know that I have lots of useful things saved for myself, for them, for grandchild, for someone in need, all for free. I think the experience of having nothing has given me a bit of Depression-era-type habit of squirreling useful things.
My husband has 2 sweaters that he alternates wearing to work. Just 2. The right hand sleeve has worn so thin and has several large but mended holes after 10 years. But I darned it again last night. It will last this school year (teacher) and I laid in bed last night and wondered what I would use it for once it was no longer fit to be worn to school. Conclusion was a “house sweater” for me. Because there’s still wear in that wool sweater and it’s not going in the bin.


Bee February 16, 2022 at 4:31 am

Kara, this is inspiring! You have mastered the art of simplicity.


Jill A February 15, 2022 at 6:04 am

Every winter I say I’m going to go through every room and get rid of stuff – donate or have a yard sale. I usually do a little but it’s never enough. I’m waiting for my kids to move into their own places so I can give them stuff. Everything is organized but I have organized containers of expired over the counter medications and organized bins of flower vases when one or two would do. I’m not a shopper but I’m an Ebay seller so I see the value in so much.


Bee February 16, 2022 at 4:56 am

I still have quite a bit of children’s “stuff.” I would like them to make a decision about what stays and what goes. One of my son’s is quite resistant. This process seems to cause anxiety for him. Once he removes everything from our home, this means that he is officially an independent adult. Perhaps he isn’t quite ready to face this. The psychology of stuff is fascinating. We attach so much emotion to things.


t February 15, 2022 at 8:06 am

Stuff museums….go spend the day, hang out by the stuff you think you want, then go home stuff-less.


Lesley February 15, 2022 at 9:10 am

I have been reading lately (maybe it’s Joshua Becker?) about taking our decluttering mindset one step past “is it useful or beautiful” to be “if I didn’t have this _____ , what would I use in its place?”

This has been really helpful for me to further declutter, especially in the kitchen.


Rebecca in MD February 15, 2022 at 9:51 am

I have gotten a lot better over the years of not holding on to many things that I don’t use/wear anymore. I keep an empty box in the closet to receive things that I identify as being no longer used/useful. However, I still could do more………

The thought of not leaving my only son with a house stuffed to the rafters with things he would not want is very motivating.

Recently I went through all my garden seeds in preparation for starting new plants for the garden this year. I identified 15 packs of seeds that I knew I would not use this year and offered them for free to my local gardening group on Facebook. They were claimed within the same day. I have plenty of seeds left for this year’s garden, and I am exercising HUGE restraint to use up what I already have and not buying more seeds. Recognizing my weaknesses really helps.

I also make use of the Buy Nothing Group on Facebook for our local community. I love getting things into the hands of people who want them rather than just taking everything to Goodwill, although I do still donate a lot to them.


Selena February 15, 2022 at 11:34 am

We’re due for another “cull” of items. Kids have been either taking their items or putting in the donate pile. Of course during COVID, nothing got donated so it is stacking up a bit. My “estate” plan is the majority of items left are ones I *know* the kids want (read: I will ask them ahead of time) OR should garner decent cash when sold. Normal household items with remaining usability should have no problem finding a new home (at no/little cost).


Christine February 15, 2022 at 2:14 pm

Over the past few years, I have really taken the concept of Swedish death cleaning to heart and sold, consigned and donated various items I don’t use. My neighbor and I are planning a yard sale for this Spring and I hope to be able to sell more things. I have cleaned out two houses after my parents moved out of their homes and it was no joke. I don’t want to put that on our kids and grandkids. The one thing I have the biggest problem dealing with is old photographs. I recently came across a medium sized box mostly full of photographs, many of people I don’t recognize. I saved the ones I know. I have one child and one grandchild who have an interest in family history. The rest are simply not interested. Sad to say a lot of the old photos of people I don’t know were thrown away. Maybe this happens to every family. It is a sad process though.


Mary in Maryland February 16, 2022 at 10:16 am

All photos from my family of origin are labeled. I was shocked cleaning out my husband’s parental to home to find no labels on any photos. They tossed the ones where no one could identify anyone.


Roberta February 15, 2022 at 2:20 pm

We inherited a lot of things from my husband’s family. His siblings were wonderful, there were no fights over multiple people wanting the same thing… but we did come home with things that had to “stay in the family.” My father-in-law had a half-size surfboard from 1961, that he used like a boogie board before they were a thing, and someone in the family had to keep it because it was “important.”

Last weekend, we donated it to a surfing museum. No one used it, but the museum was really happy to get it! Donating it made them happy, me happy, and the family happy because this piece of “history” was being preserved!

Now: my grandfather-in-law’s foreign coin collection.


Jill A February 16, 2022 at 7:34 am

I love that the surfboard went to a museum. That’s wonderful that it will be able to be enjoyed by others and not take up space in your home at the same time.


Mary in Maryland February 16, 2022 at 10:13 am

I’m deviant. I read Don Aslett’s Clutter’s Last Stand in 1984 before a cross country move. He gave me permission to get rid of anything I didn’t need or want. The associated divorce made it easier to release the wedding presents that weren’t for my life. I’ve never looked back. My sisters claim I didn’t inherit any of the family valuables because if I haven’t used something in a week I get rid of it. (I’ve told them a million times not to exaggerate.) Not inheriting the china or the grandfather clock or the piano or the tchotchkes has not proven to be a hardship.
That said, I am attracted to empty glass jars especially when I have more than one. I was at a Zoom meeting this am with other quilters complaining that they have so much quilting stuff that they have no room to sew. And no time to deaccession.


Alison February 16, 2022 at 10:34 am

This resonates with me so much, especially now! My sisters and I are dealing with my 87 year old Dad who lost his wife in October, and almost immediately decided he had to downsize and move to a one level house. He sold it in 4 days, at $246,000 over asking price. Now we have the painful job of getting rid of years of junk (my stepmother was a spender!), and it is very painful, as he thinks everything in the house has way more monetary value that it does. Sell this old battered firewood box for $10? Sure why not! He is exhausted, and irritated and still grieving, and unfortunately has a lot of time to get into his new place, and to vacate the old. It has definitely put things in perspective for the rest of us, and I am on a radical decluttering mission, and while I don’t really get a sentimental attachment to items, I do have a problem with things just going into the trash. So I do need to get over that to really do a good job.


Heidi Louise February 16, 2022 at 12:10 pm

Sympathies to you, Alison! Not an easy job.


EssexFish February 23, 2022 at 4:52 pm

I tried the Marie Kondo method of holding my things and asking if they spark joy and if they don’t, out they go. It turns out they do. Every. Single. Thing. I. Have. Sparks. Joy. Maybe I’m too easily entertained. Fortunately my wife is less sentimental about stuff or I’d either need a bigger house or a shovel and a machete to get around.


Indigo Lamb March 3, 2022 at 3:52 pm

I grew up moving a lot so I routinely left 99% of my possessions behind. I have somethings I have somehow held onto, a few things inherited from my Grandparents, and some gifts from friends that I am sentimental about. For everything else it is useful and I try to find one I like that will last so I don’t have to replace it, like my pottery and cast iron. I still routinely go through things, removing books I know I won’t ever reread, odd things that somehow wandered into the house, objects that have worn past usefulness. As an artist I do go through the shabby rags though!

The hardest part is my partner had lived in this house for over a decade before I came along, and their ex was definitely a clutterbug but not quite a hoarder. So even years later I am culling out things as the attic was stuffed, alcoves were stuffed, closets, and my step daughter’s room were stuffed… just so much stuff! I also have to do it in layers as they have to be ready to let some stuff go. So first went the obvious rubbish. Organization took place. Then returning later to discover what they have come to terms with letting go. Like my step daughter holding onto puzzles from early childhood, many missing pieces and unused for years. She wasn’t ready to let go and realize the cardboard isn’t the memories. If I had forced that too soon it would have only been harmful.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: