What Is Clutter? What To Know (2024)

Updated: Nov. 29, 2023

Books, toys, tools. Clutter builds up in no time. What is clutter, and why is it important to reduce it?

Everyone deals with clutter. Even extremely organized people declutter periodically. That’s probably why they’re so organized. And maybe they know clutter doesn’t just make a home look messy; it negatively affects our mental health.

“A cluttered and chaotic home often reflects a cluttered and chaotic mind,” says Brenda Scott, owner and operator of Tidy My Space. The inability to find things, constantly moving one thing to find another, being late for jobs or appointments — it all can lead to stress and frustration, Scott says.

“Clutter can have a negative effect on your emotional wellbeing,” says Lauren Saltman, a professional organizer and owner of Living. Simplified. “Looking around your home should give you a sense of peace, knowing that everything you own in your home is useful to you and your family.”

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What Is Clutter?

“Clutter is anything you are keeping in your home that doesn’t serve a purpose, that you don’t use and that doesn’t bring joy to your life,” Saltman says. That could be items handed down by family members, gifts you received but don’t need, clothing you no longer wear and books you won’t read, Saltman says.

Scott adds: “Clutter is anything that doesn’t have a home. It’s the stuff that no one knows where it belongs, so it gets dropped anywhere and everywhere.” You’ll know it by the constant act of moving it around to find what you’re actually searching for, Scott says.

Clutter vs. Hoarding

When should you be concerned that your messy home might signal a deeper problem?

Scott says one distinction between clutter and hoarding is whether you can still use the space for its intended purpose. If piles of items haven’t been moved in a while, hindering your use of the room, you may be approaching the line between clutter and hoarding.

Scott recommends comparing your rooms to the images in Randy Frost’s clutter rating scale. Frost is a hoarding expert and psychology professor at Smith College, and the author of many definitive books on hoarding.

It’s important to reduce clutter before it becomes a massive problem. Hoarding can lead to pest infestation, health issues and even eviction, Scott says.

What Your Clutter Is Trying To Tell You

“Clutter buildup is usually in the areas with the most traffic,” Scott says. That means near your home’s entrances, where we tend to drop things like mail and packages. Also kitchen and bathroom counters, nightstands and the floor. This can point to an absence of good storage solutions to keep it under control, Scott says.

Clutter can also indicate a connection that goes beyond the physical. “People tend to hold onto things because of past memories or guilt,” Scott says.

Keeping things that are useful and needed is OK. When when we keep something out of obligation — maybe because it’s from a deceased loved one, or it cost a lot of money — it’s time to sell, re-gift or donate it. There are tactics to help, too, like taking a photo of the item, or passing it on to an appreciative new home.

Either way, it’s important to think about what you bring into your home. If you’re trying to reduce clutter, pause before you buy new or even used things. At gift-giving season, remind friends and family you prefer experiences to things, Saltman says. And it’s OK to decline hand-me-downs from relatives if you can’t use them.

How To Declutter

Getting started on your decluttering journey can feel overwhelming,” Saltman says. But don’t worry. Your entire home doesn’t need to be decluttered in a day, or even a week.

Scott says people struggle to start because we tend to focus on the enormity of the problem and how long it’s going to take. To make it more manageable, break up your decluttering project into small chunks or areas at a time. Be sure to read up on these decluttering tips for hoarders.

Here are some other tips to help:

Put it on your calendar

Saltman says to schedule several 15-minute sessions per week. Pick days you know you’ll be home, and don’t forget to set reminders. Start with one flat space (like a section of countertop), one shelf or one drawer. Remember: You don’t have to tackle this all at once.

Sort and donate

Once you decide what space you’re going to declutter, Saltman says to bring three boxes and a trash bag with you. Label the boxes “donate,” “recycle” and “relocate.” Go through the area and sort the clutter into the three boxes and the bag. Then organize what’s left. Over time, use this method to go through your entire house, room by room.

Use the 20/20 rule

Can’t decide whether to keep something? “If you can replace the item within 20 minutes for less than $20, then it’s time to let it go,” Scott says. This works great for multiples of small things, like stacks of notepads, hair accessories, rolls of tape and a drawer full of pens.

Stay on track

Saltman says to follow the “one in, one out” rule. If you buy something new, get rid of whatever you’re replacing. New pair of shoes? Donate or trash the old pair. This goes for everything in your home, from kitchen utensils and books to clothes and toys.

What Is Clutter? What To Know (2024)


What Is Clutter? What To Know? ›

Clutter is anything we don't need, want, or use that takes our time, energy or space, and destroys our serenity. It can be outgrown clothes, obsolete papers, broken toys, disliked gifts, meaningless activity, ancient resentments, or unsatisfying relationships. We may be selective in some areas, but not in others.

What qualifies as clutter? ›

Clutter and collecting may be confused with hoarding. Clutter: Possessions are disorganized and may accumulate around living areas. Collecting: Possessions are part of a larger set of items.

What are the three types of clutter? ›

There are a few different categories of clutter, according to Hemphill:
  • Physical.
  • Digital.
  • Emotional.
  • Spiritual.
Jan 14, 2024

What is the root cause of clutter? ›

Signs That the Root Cause of Your Clutter is Transitional.

Transitional Clutter is usually a temporary, albeit overwhelming dilemma that occurs as a result of a major life change. Some examples of transitional clutter can be a move, a divorce, an illness, a job change, or a family member's death.

What is clutter a symptom of? ›

Behavioral/psychological: Clutter caused by depression, attention deficit disorder, low self-esteem or lack of personal boundaries.

What is the one touch rule for clutter? ›

This rule is “so simple, yet so life changing”. Simply by dealing with an item immediately, whether it is your shoes, incoming mail, or your used coffee mug, less clutter will be created. One touch, one movement, equals less effort overall. This rule can also be applied when you are purging, editing, and organizing.

How do you know if you have too much clutter? ›

5 Telltale Signs That You Have Too Much Stuff
  • You find things from elsewhere in the house in rooms that don't make sense.
  • You constantly have paper clutter strewn on your kitchen counters or table.
  • You find yourself avoiding tasks because you don't want to have to gather what you need to get them done.
Aug 17, 2021

How do I decide what clutter to get rid of? ›

How to Decide What to Keep or Toss When Decluttering
  1. 01 of 07. Will This Be Important to Me in the Future? ...
  2. 02 of 07. Has It Passed Its Expiration Date? ...
  3. 03 of 07. Do You Have Sentimental Attachment to the Items? ...
  4. 04 of 07. Do You Have Duplicates? ...
  5. 05 of 07. Do You Use It Regularly? ...
  6. 06 of 07. Was It a Gift You Wanted? ...
  7. 07 of 07.
Nov 1, 2023

When clutter stresses you out? ›

Clutter can affect our anxiety levels, sleep, and ability to focus. It can also make us less productive, triggering coping and avoidance strategies that make us more likely to snack on junk and watch TV shows (including ones about other people decluttering their lives).

What does your clutter say about you? ›

Clutter in the living room might suggest blockages in your social life, as well as your relationship with yourself, while a cluttered bedroom might relate to issues surrounding your sexual self, fears of intimacy or gender roles.

How to declutter properly? ›

10 Creative Decluttering Tips
  1. Start with 5 minutes at a time. ...
  2. Give one item away each day. ...
  3. Fill an entire trash bag. ...
  4. Donate clothes you never wear. ...
  5. Create a decluttering checklist. ...
  6. Take the 12-12-12 challenge. ...
  7. View your home as a first-time visitor. ...
  8. Take before and after photos of a small area.

What does clutter do to the mind? ›

The human brain has trouble focusing while in the presence of clutter because of the number of different objects, like how multitasking lowers focus. This diminished focus also makes it harder to deal with clutter because the brain keeps jumping from item to item, with no clear place to start.

What causes someone to be messy? ›

Psychology says that messiness can indeed be a sign that a person is having trouble. Just like someone who is suffering from OCD and has to control everything, being a messy person might show that they are dealing with depression or some other mental illness.

Does trauma cause clutter? ›

People who have suffered an emotional trauma or a brain injury often find housecleaning an insurmountable task. Attention deficit disorder, depression, chronic pain and grief can prevent people from getting organized or lead to a buildup of clutter.

What is clutter personality? ›

Clutter personalities deal with the psychological reasoning that anchors us to our clutter. They are the excuses and wrong-thinking that enslaves us to our stuff, making it difficult to part with things that no longer have value in our lives.

What are some examples of clutter? ›

What are some examples of clutter?
  • Items that are broken or worn-out or outdated or expired or no longer usable.
  • Toxic relationships that are bringing you down.
  • Blurry, duplicate, or meaningless photos.
  • Clothes that no longer fit you, that are not your style, that you never wear, or that make you feel bad about yourself.
Jul 5, 2023

What is the difference between hoarding and clutter in a house? ›

You might go through busy periods of life where cleaning isn't a high priority and clutter builds up, but this isn't hoarding. Some of the differences between clutter and hoarding include excessive disorganized piles of objects and extreme difficulty getting rid of items.

How much clutter is too much? ›

However, if a substantial percentage of your belongings gather dust and are rarely or never used, it's an indicator that you own too much stuff. Unused items not only consume physical space but also mental space as they add to the clutter around us and contribute to a sense of disorganization.

How do you identify clutter? ›

How To Be A Clutter Buster 5 Guidelines To Identify Clutter In Your Home
  1. Too Many Of A Particular Type Of Thing Can Be Clutter. ...
  2. Items That Used To Be Functional Can Turn Into Clutter. ...
  3. If You Don't Have Room For It In Your Home It's Clutter. ...
  4. If You Don't Love Or Use It, It's Clutter.

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