Is Your Life Too Cluttered?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Seven years ago, I lived in a 240-square-foot apartment on the 15th floor of a high-rise building on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea. Just 10 feet wide and 24 feet long, my furnished apartment had a galley kitchen with two burners, a bathtub that was about the size of a utility sink, and a bedroom that doubled as an office and living room.

Everything I owned could fit in two suitcases and a couple of carry-ons, and for over 12 months, I bought only those items I could either mail home, donate, or use after my time in Korea was up.

I baked cookies in a toaster oven, hung my laundry on a rack near the foot of my bed, and had only a small closet for my clothes.

I loved it.  I felt safe, cocooned, and comfortable in that cozy little apartment. I had everything I needed and little more. It was easy to clean and I never wasted time searching for objects.

I hate clutter, but I struggle to control it. It stresses me out to amass objects that I don't need, and I don't take comfort in having more "things" in my life. I'm terrible at decorating, and truthfully, my apartment is barer than most. Still, I felt like I had too much stuff, especially when faced with the prospect of packing and moving all of it.

Before my last move, I set out to get rid of 25% of my belongings.

I hosted a clothing swap party, gave clothes and shoes to friends and family,  then donated the rest.

I sorted through my books, DVDs, and magazines. Anything I hadn't watched in a year or that I wouldn't consider re-reading (or consulting for reference), I recycled or sold at a used book store.

All the boxes of stuff--photos, letters, train tickets, and scraps of paper--I've collected during my travels were whittled down to one box. I had saved every train ticket and Metro stub from a half-dozen trips to France almost a decade ago. They heat-sensitive ink had faded, and they weren't legible. Into the recycling they went.

Not even the kitchen, my favorite room in the house, was exempt. I shed all the single-use gadgets (like a shrimp deveiner--I'm vegan!), any duplicates, and moved all my bulk items into jars and plastic containers.

I still have enough clothes to wear in any situation, enough photos to remember all my trips, and enough kitchen gear to whip up a multi-course meal.

Getting rid of all that stuff felt good. Very good.

So I kept going, aiming to strip down other areas of my life as well.

But why?

Today I read this: "Most of us have little idea how many things in our lives keep us from enjoying life more. But one’s life can be cluttered by more than household objects. The irritating extras can include activities that are no longer rewarding but are continued out of habit or guilt. Perhaps it’s time for a more extended kind of housecleaning."

New York Times writer Jane Brody has been documenting her own battle with clutter, and this week she checked in with a column that explained that clutter goes beyond yarn collections and overflowing closets.

All that stuff keeps us from enjoying life. The more stuff you have, the more time you spend organizing it, cleaning it, and maintaining it.

Though I don't have any physical collections, I realized that I "collected" in other areas of life: friends, activities, social and volunteer obligations, online life.
I felt like I couldn't fit it all in, and I wrote about my struggles and sacrifices while balancing all of life's demands.

So I started saying NO. (Politely of course.)

No to the people I really didn't want to see, to the volunteer projects I really didn't want to work on, to the invites to events that interfered with my yoga and running schedule.

It feels good.

These days my life is smaller and less cluttered in all senses of the word. Still, I always look for opportunities to continue to shed what I don't need.

I don't need to be lifelong Facebook friends with every person I meet. I don't need to have 16 bottles of nail polish (or 4, even). I don't need to buy extras of everything, just in case.

While I have a lot more than I did when I lived in that 240-square-foot apartment, my life feels more manageable.  Just enough friends, just enough clothes, and just enough stuff. With plenty of time left for everything that really matters--like healthy eating and fitness!

How about you? Do you struggle to manage all the stuff in your life--friends, obligations, objects? How do you deal?
Do you try to shed unnecessary objects from your life?


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I keep getting rid of stuff. I am trying to simplify and minimize all areas of my life. Report
CD24069739 4/6/2021
I needed this Report
JPRUST6 4/6/2021
These are older comments.But this rings true for me. We are updating our will, have both celebrated 70+ birthdays. Yesterday I started Putting extra dishes into boxes to donate to the Thrift store. I have a long way to go, but one cupboard and one closet at a time.
It feels like I am cleaning up my life! Report
SUNSET09 2/23/2021
If we don't do it, SparkFriends, someone else will Report
RYCGIRL 11/26/2020
thx Report
But...I like my stuff. Report
I'm slowly making my way toward a more minimal lifestyle but it takes undoing years of habits and attitudes. Report
thanks Report
You hit on a hot button. I too need to do that to my house Report
At times, I am a struggler. I struggle just as most of us. Report
doing this now Report
As you wrote "just enough", that's the key! Report
Interesting article, trying to de-clutter my life, finding it much stressful way to live. Report
Love This, Thank You! Report
It sounds like a lot of people understand my desperation at clutter. I will not be able to downsize as much as I want to till my husband dies. This is not really a nice way to feel as sometimes I look forward to doing it. But in the meantime I shall do a little at a time and see how much I can get rid of. I really love my husband and I would miss him a lot. But when it comes to friends there will be no downsizing. I love them all and even though I can't spend too much time with a lot of them I will not love them less. Report
The old man across the street has moved to assisted living and his children are trying to go through his stuff. I need to do that before the same fate befalls me. Report
It's an ongoing project for me at the moment. Report
This was helpful to me because this is a major weakness for me. Report
I am definitely a struggler! Report
I would love to live a clutter free life. Will certainly work on it. Report
I have been de cluttering thanks for the reminder Report
Wow! I am trying to get where you are in my mind. Thanks! Report
Interesting Report
Great article! Report
great article- Report
Sometimes, it can be however, I've decided right now, I don't want for anything. If I do, something has gotta go! Report
Great article, Thanks! Report
My hubaby is a pack rat....just like his mother was. I wait till he goes to work on days I really declutter. He has no idea of half the junk I got rid of Report
I got rid of 8 large garbage bags of clothes last year. I went from size 18- size 10,so as I lost weight I bought clothes and immediately got rid of my bigger clothes so not to go back to them,every time I changed a size I donated a bag of clothes. As for my apartment I live alone & have lots of stuff & so do other people I know, they like to have lots of pictures,ornaments and other memories & buy videos on sale, cheaper then going to a movie, not many people I know have a computer & I look up things for them. I do not plan on getting rid of a lot but do go through my stuff to check 4 times a year and have got rid of kitchen items like extra dishes,extra cutlery. I only have 1 real friend,so do not spend a lot of time with other people & do not bother with people on facebook that call me friends that I do not really know. Report
Clutter can be overwhelming. I try to cull things a little at a time. My next goal is to cull the spring clothes. Hopefully, I will be able to get rid of the fat clothes. Report
I don't like clutter, so try to keep things pared down Report
Great article !!! Report
Just found this and it sure came at a good time as I've been overwhelmed lately with the amount of "stuff" we have accumulated. We moved 3x in 4 years and still have stuff in boxes in the garage as we are renters and working fulltime doesn't leave much time to get through the mountain of boxes. But we sure need too and soon.... Report
I don't like lots of stuff. Also don't like having to many commentment s. I do enjoy having the stuff I use. I continuously am getting rid of things that no longer serve me. Biggest problem is Mother who's love of her life is genealogy and her rememberances. Siblings are a bit like that too. Seems they want me and mine to be the ones to take some of it and hold it forever because it belonged to such and such. Report
Wow... Did this hit home! Great Blog!!!!

I moved from a small one bedroom apartment probably a bit bigger than yours. I had just what I needed. However, over time, I have married and moved into a nearly 3000 sq ft home and have accumulated so much "stuff", plus he has tons of "stuff" he will not part with. Now I am overwhelmed. How do I get rid of all this "stuff"? I don't know what I want to keep. I have "stuff" every where. I'm probably a borderline hoarder! I have unfinished counted cross stitching, I love doing it, but I can only work on it a few mins at a time because I can't stay focused on it due to poor eye sight! I have learning books and dvds that I got when I was trying to learn to play the guitar (I paid good money for them, but probably won't get much back if I sold them). I have leather coats, and other jackets that I rarely wear (mainly because I was too fat to wear them). Perhaps I just need to say No and set limits on my computer time and get busy, put things I haven't worn in a year in a box for donation. If I haven't used it or don't plan to, donation or recycle bin.
You have inspired me now. Perhaps that is what I'll do to get organized. I feel so out of sorts.


Nola Report
I saw this article a few months back, and was so happy to be able to find it again! Like so many others, it really hit home with me and I decided that I needed to do more than just purge all of the extra weight I've been carrying, but all of the extra crap in my life as well. I'm a single parent, and never would have dreamed just how much stuff one little kid can accumulate in a few short years. We had a yard sale yesterday, and didn't even get rid of half of what I'd dragged out, but we did manage to get a lot out of our home. I'm still debating between a second yardsale next weekend or just taking the left over clothing to the consignment shops to let them deal with it - what they won't take can join the other 18 bags of clothing that I donated yesterday - I'm not looking to bring any of it back into the house!
Another great incentive for me to purge the excess was the death of my grandmother back in July - she was 96 and had lived in the same home since 1947 - I've always loved going to her house- the furniture was the same & in the same place with the exception of two rooms my entire life. The one room, her den, she would move the sleeper sofa from one wall to the other when we got her set up with her first computer, the other room was mine - when I moved in with her when I was in college -I re-arranged that one, not her. But after she was gone, my mother complained about how much crap there was to go through & how she doesn't have tons of garbage like that for my sister & I to contend with when she dies. It's funny how people perceive their own belongings - from where I sit, she has one whole room lined with bookshelves & those decorative boxes just filled with all sorts of crap.
Looking around my house, I have way too many of my sons school papers saved, too many of my own documents that need to go and that's just the tip of the iceberg. My mother doesn't help - she's always bringing envelopes filled with coupons, recipes or decluttering/organizing tips or magazines, etc. I've told her repeatedly - I'm not bringing another piece of paper into my home until I get it under control, she stops for a little while, then she starts to bring them in & just leave them on the counter or the coffee table without saying anything. Now I just need an article that tells me how to declutter my life from people that continue to sabotage my efforts with their 'good intentions'! Thanks for the article though - definitely a help! Report
This certainly is a true fact and a struggle. So the last few years I been purging things as well. The kids have moved on so it became a question why am I housing it. I can only handle so much clutter and de-organizing. So I try to handle a few boxes and executive decisions. It is surprising how much more real estate is in my house by getting rid of things. Report
Simplify Clarify Economize is the mantra on my fridge.
I inherited my mom's house and clutter. For 5 years now I've been slowly donating her collections as well as going thru my own stuff. I don't want my kids to have to go thru the same thing. I feel lighter every time a batch leaves the house. One box/cabinet/drawer at a time; if I focus on more I get over whelmed and stop completely. Report
I used to keep my house clean but always had one room or one closet full of clutter that I just couldn't seem to get around to wrangling. Unfortunately, now my house isn't clean and there is clutter everywhere. I'm embarrassed at the thought of anyone coming into my house. I make plans to get up early on my days of and tackle the mess but never seem to be able to make myself do it. I'll even get partial cleaning and straightening done but just can't stick with it and finish the whole house. Lots of excuses or deals made for doing things later. I know what started this trend but I don't know what it will take to end it. Report
Right On!! I'm in the process of whittling down my belongings....that fill a 12' X 60' mobile what I can fit in my compact car. Load after load I've taken to the library and thrift stores. Although I've been through large stuff-reduction episodes in the past, never to this extent, and it's liberating!!

I'll be moving from Florida to Oregon to start a new life...a new life that I intend to fill with people and meaningful activities and love of all kinds. There's no room in that life for distracting clutter: hobbies that have lost my interest, books collecting dust, artifacts from a past that's dead and gone.

I'm keeping only the most favorite clothes, meaningful objects, and item that serve essential functions.

The freedom already feels awesome!! And when I arrive in that new life, moving into it will take only hours instead of days. I won't need a large apartment; a studio or efficiency will be sufficient. I'll be able to focus on what's REALLY important instead of where to stash 8 boxes of books and 3 garbage bags of fabric and yarns.

Thank you for your blog!! I get it!!! Report
It's so funny that I'm commenting on this article, because I was attempting to declutter my email box when I stumbled across it... it's been in my inbox unread just like the other 328 unread messages I have that have arrived in the past 2 months!!!! That's almost 14 pages... and I have a total of 52 pages of emails with the oldest email from 1/8/00 from somebody named shelley from school that wrote teacers in the subject line with a link I'm now afraid to check in the body of the email!!!! Why!!!! I'm asking have I kept this for 12 years!!!!!

Until now I thought I don't really collect "stuff" I dont have a "closet" to keep it all in... I had to move back home 6 years or so ago, after moving around on my own every year since I left for college at 18. (I"m now 31 and living at home.) I was proud that everything I cherished I could pack up in 10 minutes, and be on the move again, now I look around and I feel like I have crap everywhere... I live in the family den that's more like a studio room. with 3 walls made of windows. I have a cluttered, paper strewn desk, a small book case filled with old outdated text books (I haven't finished school yet... life distractions and all), I have an Ikea wardrobe for a closet that acts also as my storage space, and a shelf in it for my toiletries, a turtle with her own box of crap, and a dog bed that has a blanket and a pillow... the rest of my space has one sisters desk, anothers treadmill that's only being used to hold folding beach chairs, a large tv hutch with a tv, and more outdated books, and another tv stand with old cd's on it's shelves, and a cat carrier sitting on top of the tv... the funny part is I dont use any of it!!! I netflix on my computer which has a spot on my bed!!! I live in a fishbowl/storage unit, that still has just drywall and plaster on the walls... we haven't been able to paint because the contractor disappeared 3 years ago before he finished!!!! LOL...

My friends love to come over, and dream about what they would do with my room, they love the openness, the space, the view of the pool, and sense of homeiness i've etched it into... I have solid light green sheets that I made into curtains that "puddle" on the floor (I was too lazy to cut them to size)... that give an airy light, and dreamy type feel to the place... Or at leat that's what I've been told... I just put them up so I could get some privacy from the neighbors lol.. I'm telling you all this becasue I think I need to do more than just declutter my email box... Maybe it's a good thing I was reading my old emails... becuause maybe its finally time for me to start to get rid of all the other clutter in my life that i've been holding onto that's just causing me to lose sight of my life... as for toxic friends well I'm all for the delete them from FB, and kindly start saying no thank you... I did that 2 days ago to an old friend that I finally realized had been making feel unjustly horrible about myself for the past 3 years... I deserve a better friend!!!!... Today is the day I open my eyes... I think it's time for me to yet again take control of my life, and give myself the ok to let go... after all its all just stuff... It's a reminder of a bettter time, but so are the things I learned, and the memories I gained from that time, and those things are all neatly stored in my head, and at the ready whenever I need them... cause well that's why we keep it all right...for the memories??? Well it's time for me to put my memories to use, and regain that happiness I felt when I could pack up all my treasures in 10 minutes... well lets say 20 now, after all I do have a turtle, a dog, and a cat to pack up as well :) Report
I have a huge mess with clutter in my bedroom.I need to go through everything and decided what is needed and what is trash.And then I will have more room to workout.

I am planning on doing it this evening.Hopefully I can get somewhere with the mess. Report
Plus, it's good to deal with your clutter yourself rather than leaving it for your relatives to deal with. I am at the age where relatives are passing away, and then the poor grieving adult children have to not only mourn, but deal with (and sometimes fight over and create permanent family rifts) over clutter that isn't even theirs, while still trying to work their own jobs, deal with their own households AND the loss of a parent. I don't think it's right to do that to your kids. Report
Wow. I needed to read this today. I read Flylady and keep the kitchen,laundry,bathroom clutter free and clean. My biggest issue is the office and wardrobe.Flylady suggests to start at 15 mins a day to start to de-clutter. Report
I don't like clutter either, but I do collect certain items. This article helped me to see that maybe I need to let go of certain "habits" also. Thanks for sharing! Report
I hate clutter!! It makes me feel angry, worthless, and disrespected. So, I follow a 6 month rule: I have I used it in the last six months? Will I use it in the next 6 months? Living in Montana, we definitely have 4 seasons, and everything for those seasons. So, things like camping gear, skiing, hunting, fishing fall under the 6 month rule with an exception: catastrophe didn't allow us to use it (forest fire, loss of house, loss of job, failing health of family member) and we plan to use it this year. At the end of the season, if it did not get used again and there was no catastrophe in play, the stuff goes. Garage sale season is a great time to donate to local groups who are doing fundraisers, etc. In many cases they will pick up!!

I keep boxes and bags set out in an easy place to get to so when I decide that something needs to go (really, do I need to wear uncomfortable clothes for fashion's sake? NO!! Even if it is cute, expensive, whatever, it goes). When the box or bag gets full, off it goes to local charities.

Another rule I have had to recently put into effect for my husband and daughter is if I have to pick it up, it becomes mine. Then I hold it for ransom, like cleaning the house, making the bed, doing dishes, vacuuming the car, etc. :-) We are definitely making progress!!

These steps have been a long time in coming, so give yourself time to decide what path is best for you....and it is ok to stumble and fall sometimes! :-)
The digital age is great--I don't need to hold on to books, cds, dvds, photos, papers, etc the way I used to. I can keep all of it on a computer, back it up on a hard drive and keep a spare copy in my bank safe deposit box just in case. But the truth is, I rarely look back at these things...

Services like Netflix and Pandora have helped me to enjoy more and buy less. Rentals (ie a boat, a vacation house, a bike, a video game, a car, a video game etc.) are often much better to purchase--less maintenance & expense.

I've been trying to limit things that don't add to my health in an attempt to further simplify--alcohol, sugar, toxic friends, mindless entertainment, etc.

And the thing about friends--if you don't walk away from the majority of your friends with a positive experience, the paring down is the BEST thing you can do for yourself. Your time is the most precious thing you have; who you share it with should be equally as precious (even if that means hanging out by yourself!!) Report
Great blog! I've lived in my house for 13 years now & am remodeling my kitchen. As I started putting things back in my cabinets, I'm donating duplicate items & those that I haven't used forever. I'm also doing away with having a "junk drawer." Report
I appreciate this article because that was me. I especially would do things out of guilt. When I went back for my masters degree and continued to teach and be a mom, I quickly realized that stuff had to go. I stopped doing a lot of stuff at my job and church. Even my extended family. By learning to say no and tell my husband I needed time (mostly family activities are with his family because they live close by) life got better! Even though I am done with school. I keep in mind about what I agree to do. I have taken on more responsibilities with work but they are all things I want to do! Report
I loved reading this. I hate clutter and would get rid of so much if it were just up to me. Too many things around me stress me out to no end. The trouble is that I have two boys who are constantly given toys by family members. It's not that I don't appreciate them for thinking of my children, but it's gotten out of control. We live in a smaller house and I feel like I am suffocating. I have some Boyd's Bears that I had tried to collect a number of years ago that are packed in those big plastic rubbermaid boxes. I wanted to donate those but my husband looked devestated. I bought those as presents for you! he tells me. Some day I will get rid of stuff I hope. Report