Tips for Organizing Clutter

My Story

Cluttered_Room Attribution: Shadwwulf at English Wikipedia

Confession: I was a hoarder. Yes, it’s true. There was a time in my life when every surface in my home was piled so high with stuff that I couldn’t function. Dirty dishes took over the kitchen counters, along with groceries that were never put away. That scrapbook that seemed like a good idea was lost somewhere under the magazines that I planned to read later. Unfinished projects littered my floor, junk mail entangled with important paperwork covered my desk, and once-worn clothes were mingled with those that needed repairs and lay on top of piles of clean laundry on my bed. My endless clutter made it difficult to eat, sleep, or pay my bills. My whole life was utter chaos!

Not only was I overwhelmed and unproductive, but I felt ashamed of the way I lived. When the mailman knocked on my door with a package, I was too embarrassed to open the door more than a tiny crack. I didn’t want anyone to see how I lived so I avoided people which made it difficult to make friends. This led to loneliness which only caused a deeper attachment to things. I had no self-esteem and I was depressed. I desperately needed to change! Little by little, I dug my way out and now I’m here to share my tips for organizing clutter in hopes that it might help you.

From Clutter to Clean

By Aaron Logan [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Aaron Logan
Getting things in order didn’t happen overnight. I tried and failed many times before I made any progress at all. One problem with being immersed in stuff is that there’s no place to work. There’s no open space to place boxes for sorting things into and there’s no place to put things once they are sorted. It’s also easy to get lost thinking about each item and not make any progress at all. It’s very overwhelming!

My biggest breakthrough came when I decided to get married. I needed a major overhaul and I needed it fast! Armed with dozens of boxes and trash bags, I began to fill them with armloads of stuff only occasionally setting something aside that I couldn’t part with. As soon as one box or bag was full, I shoved it aside and started on the next one. When I had enough boxes to fill my car I hauled it to the nearest donation center and dropped it off. I left the trash at the curb and then I began all over again. By the time I was finished, everything I owned fit inside my little two-door hatchback. I moved it to a tiny apartment and added a husband and his stuff.

It didn’t take long to start accumulating things again. First, there were the wedding gifts. Although most of the items we received were put to use right away, we did have a few things that were either duplicates or just not “us”. Since our closets weren’t very big, those items were just tucked into various spaces wherever we could fit them. Soon after that came the first baby and wow, babies sure come with a lot of stuff! Not only that, but they take up a lot of time which makes it even harder to be organized.

Getting organized became a tool of survival! With all of my responsibilities as a working wife and mother, I had to get organized in order to keep my sanity. It was the only way I was going to get through the stress of day-to-day living. I read books and blogs, sorted and tossed until I finally had some semblance of order. Finally, I felt like I could breathe! Now I inwardly chuckle every time someone exclaims, “You’re so organized”! If only they knew how I used to be!

My house still gets its fair share of clutter, but I know where things are and my bills are always paid. When it starts to get out of hand, I know what to do and I jump right in. It gets much easier with practice and it feels fantastic! Following are some tips for organizing clutter.

Here’s The Thing

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The easiest way to organize clutter is to have less of it. I know that’s probably not what you wanted to hear but it’s the truth. If you can’t get your stuff organized, you probably have too much of it. Sure, I could recommend some great storage containers and shelving systems and try to sell you more stuff for organizing your stuff, but is that really what you are looking for?

Having so much stuff that we are drowning in clutter drains our energy. It’s hard to function. When I enter my kitchen with the intention of creating a tasty meal and see that the counter is cluttered with dirty dishes, too many kitchen tools, and unrelated items, I lose interest in cooking. Likewise, if I want to sit down and relax and enjoy the company of a friend or family member, I find clutter very distracting.

On the other hand, imagine a space where you are surrounded only by the things that you need or love. When you glance at a picture on your wall, do you smile or does your heart sink a little? Are you living in the here and now or is your stuff creating ghosts of the past? Can you sit and relax, create a meal, sleep well at night, and enjoy a full and productive day or are you spending your time wishing for something better?

I’m not suggesting that you rent a dumpster, empty the contents of your house into it and start all over but it’s okay if that’s what you want to do. However, if you want to experience the freedom and happiness that less stuff can give you, you’ll need to start somewhere.

Are you enjoying your stuff or are you enslaved by it?

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

How to Get Started

If you are ready to experience the freedom that comes with having less stuff, then this is what I would suggest:

Pick an area in your home that you want to de-clutter and get some boxes. Label them as follows:

  • Keep – These are the things that you need, use regularly, and/or love.
  • Give away – Sometimes I separate this into two boxes, one for donating and one for items that I want to give to specific people.
  • Sell – I rent a small space in a thrift/consignment store to sell things I no longer want or need. This has become a fun hobby! There are other alternatives such as Craigslist and yard sales. I prefer to get it out the door right away because holding onto things for a future sale drags me down because it’s still clutter.
  • Unsure – It really helps to be able to postpone a decision. I go back through it when I am done sorting and if there’s anything left, I will put it aside for a couple of weeks or months. In most cases, it’s much easier to decide later. Sometimes it’s motivating to give yourself a deadline and write it on a label to put on the box.
  • Trash/Recycle – I had an embarrassing amount of stuff that really was better off given new life through recycling. It took many trips to the dump to free myself of the mounds of cardboard boxes and grocery bags I had saved “just in case”.

Questions to ask yourself

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

If you do not automatically know which box to place an item in, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this make me happy?
  • Do I need it?
  • When was the last time I used it?
  • Does it add to the quality of my life?
  • Can I easily replace it?

Getting rid of stuff should not be painful. It should be freeing!

Additional Help

I have read and found both of these books to be helpful in learning to let go of my stuff and how to go about getting rid of it.

You’ve Got This!

Getting rid of your clutter is an ongoing process. Sometimes it seems as if stuff has a will of its own and appears when we aren’t looking. Once we experience the joy of a life uncluttered, it becomes easier to intercept things before they become a permanent part of our environment. I wish you well on your journey.

I would love to hear from you! Please comment below if you would like to share your trials and triumphs along the way.


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10 thoughts on “Tips for Organizing Clutter”

  1. Great post and super helpful!
    The best advice is one step at a time. I have been purging since summer after helping my mom declutter and downsize for a move. I did not want anyone to have to help me declutter like that for my next move (soon!).

    I have printed off a habit tracker to help me work on each room of my home. When one room is completely done, I will move on to the next. This helps me keep from getting overwhelmed and I can also really appreciate that one room that looks great!

    I will be bookmarking your site for future reference. Thank you for this!

    • I like your idea of a habit tracker. I might use that in other areas of my life, like exercise! It’s amazing how easy it is to accumulate stuff and how hard it is to get rid of it. My mother-in-law is downsizing, too. I’m trying to avoid having to do it when I’m older and less able. Thanks for your input!

  2. Thank you for your post. I am not a ‘bad’ hoarder but can be a great procrastinator when doing house work, or fixing things. Can’t wait to read more of your story.

  3. Hi! I loved your personal story before you began with giving advice. It really resonates with people, even if they aren’t hoarders yet. 🙂

    Btw, maybe check out the various habit tracker apps. There are some fun ones I’ve tried as they say it takes only 21 days to develop a habit. Some fun organization apps have started including them as well.

    I find myself spending too much time trying to get organized and not enough time being productive. That’s a goal I have this year.

    Thanks for the story and ideas!

  4. Theresa,
    This information is very helpful as I am setting up a new work space. I will look at your steps and see what will work for me. I have in the past cluttered up my desk in the drawers and behind the roll top desk top. I need to get boxes and sort through things on my old desk before moving to my new desk.
    I am getting a smaller work space, a secretary’s desk and leaving behind my bigger roll top desk. The new desk only has one drawer, I hope this will help with the de-clutter of things.
    Do you think a smaller work station will help with having too many things on my current desk.

    • Oooh. Roll to desks are so wonderful for hiding things! You have quite a challenge ahead of you. I have had good results with trays that stack for sorting things, a rectangular basket to hold current projects that can be sorted into file folders, and a small box nearby that I refer to as my “procrastination station”. Best of luck to you!

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience. My dad is a hoarder, and is going to be selling his house soon, which is currently a big mess of clutter! This article came at the right time, and I will refer to it when I help him sort his belongings. I’m a therapist, and often times when problems seem big and overwhelming, breaking them down into little chunks can help them seem so much more manageable. You can make a plan to work on each chunk separately, and before long, be well on your way to tackling a bigger issue.

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