5 Reasons We Have Clutter

5 Reasons We Have Clutter
{via Dimitri on Flickr}

Ask 5 people about their clutter problems and you will get 5 different answers. 5 different sets of circumstances, 5 different reasons it’s too difficult to begin.

The common theme you would find is that the clutter is there and they want it not to be.

Despite this, it’s not as simple as defining all clutter as junk and telling people to toss it. There are many, many reasons we hold on to things well beyond their usefulness, and understanding some of those reasons might just be the beginning of your journey towards a simpler life.

5 Reasons We Have Clutter

Reason: We are Still Keeping Up With the Joneses

We buy stuff to fit in. To be comparable. To appear worthy.

We still care what the neighbours think, what the next trend is, what must-have item we need for the wardrobe. We want our kids to lack for nothing, to appear like we have it all together. We still need to compete – even though there is actually no competition. This is not a race you can win because there is no finish-line. There will always be more, better, bigger, faster, flashier, and there will always be the Joneses.

Anti-Reason: Take yourself out of the competition. The fact is, the Joneses don’t care about your TV. They’re probably too stressed about their own mounting debt to notice. And if they do pay attention – who cares? We need to be able to say ‘enough’. To find contentment with what we have and step off the merry-go-round of mindlessly and endlessly acquiring ‘better’ stuff.


Reason: Just In Case

We keep the jeans that no longer fit – just in case they fit again one day and are still fashionable.

We keep the toilet roll tubes/used wrapping paper/ribbons – just in case the kids need it for a craft project.

We keep the kitchen appliances we’ve never used – just in case we need to cook rice and don’t have any saucepans.

We keep the paperwork from 10 years ago – just in case we’re audited and the internet is broken.

Anti-Reason: We hold on to things ‘just in case’ a need arises. But honestly, how often does that happen? We are far better off ridding ourselves of the things we don’t need now, and very occasionally have to go and buy the thing we do need.


Reason: We Feel Obligated to Keep Things

Gifts, heirlooms and hand-me-downs are hard to let go of – we feel obligated to keep them simply because someone cared enough to give them to us. We feel this way even if we don’t like the item, it’s impractical or a duplicate.

We feel a duty to care for this item until there is a time where we can use it or pass it on to another.

Anti-Reason: This is one of the most difficult clutter issues to work through. And while it’s true that sometimes we are made to feel obligated by family or friends, you do need to work out if that is a real obligation, or if you’re simply imagining it. Often we are given items by well-meaning family because they no longer want them but can’t bear to completely get rid of them – and passing them to you softens the blow.  Understanding their motives can make it much easier to let go.


Reason: The Items Evoke Strong Memories

Souvenirs, photos, old school uniforms, baby clothes, toys – we often feel these items contain our memories. That if we no longer have the item, the memory disappears too.

Anti-Reason: The memory is held in our hearts and minds – not a dust-covered tchotchke or baby clothes in the garage. Decide what really is valuable and display it. If you won’t display it, then ask yourself why you’re really keeping it – maybe it’s time to let it go.


Reason: We Feel We’re Wasting Money

We spend money on clothes that don’t get worn, movies that are never watched, kitchenware that stays in its box – and even though these things languish, unused, stressing us out by simply being there and cluttering up our space, we feel that to give them away is a waste of money.

Anti-Reason: Unfortunately, that money is already wasted. It was wasted when you bought the thing you never used. If it’s sellable, sell it and recoup some of the losses, otherwise let it go.


It’s true, creating a simple life is complex. Working out the reasons behind your clutter and complications isn’t easy. But once you can identify the reasons for holding on, for being weighed down, for feeling stuck, you can start to move ahead.

Do you have any reasons behind your clutter that I haven’t listed here? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget – creating a simpler life is not a race or a competition. Just go at your own pace and you will start reaping the benefits.


45 Responses to 5 Reasons We Have Clutter

  1. I used to be addicted to a show called “Neat” which featured a Canadian organizer named Helen Buttigieg. She had a saying that I thought was spot on: “Clutter is postponed decisions.”

    For me, that’s generally what’s at the heart of it. It may have components of all the things you listed, but in the end, the main problem is that I’m just afraid of making a decision.

    • Thanks EcoCatLady….never thought of it that way before but sooo true…postponed decisions! I am in the process of moving from my small one bedroom cottage to a smaller studio apt. Downsizing once again…but yesterday I moved 2 boxes that I have moved many times before, & I said to my son “Just put these in the back of the closet,I’m really too tired to deal with them now”
      Well, I am going to pull those boxes back out and “deal with” them today!

    • I know in my case I’m so caught up in my thoughts and making sure certain things at work etc. are perfectly organized I don’t even notice the chaos at home and in my car.

  2. This is perfect and absolutely identifies most of the reasons I have clutter. Hubby and I both tend to be ‘just in case’ people, and he keeps a lot out of obligation. I need to get him to read this!!

    P.S. isn’t tchotchke a beautifully ugly word?!

  3. My reason for the remaining clutter here would be from not being inspired enough to sort though it all, or having the patience to find the best ways to get rid of everything.

  4. I have seen this so evidently in the last few weeks. We are downsizing to a motorhome. Yep, we’re going to be fulltimers. I have always thought of myself as a minimalist, but…..

    We sold a few things but gave most away to a needy family. It was a weird (but nice) feeling to watch someone drive off with all of the stuff you’ve spent a lifetime collecting.

    As I sorted through my things I found that I am guilty of keeping things ‘just in case’ and because I felt obligated to. I’ve had to take a crash course in overcoming these habits. I swear I’ll never let so many things own me again!

    Dan @ Zen Presence

  5. While all of these reasons are ones I can relate to through personal experience, a reason I see (and have to fight in myself) is a true love of things. I love vintage things–old books and furniture and paintings. But too much of a good thing is, well, too much. I’m constantly reminding myself that everything I bring into our home has a cost beyond the price on its ticket, and that I can more fully appreciate fewer things.

    • I’m with you…it dawned on me recently that having fewer photos or momentos or anything, really, makes the few you keep all the more precious.

  6. I think all the clutter gets into my house because I believe that this stuff has some kind of power to transform my life. If I had the right whatever-it-is, my life would be better. But in the end, it’s just cluttered.

  7. These are the exact reasons I identified for keeping all the clutter in my home and closet when I started Project 333 last month! Except for the keeping up with the Joneses. I’ve never cared much for the Joneses :P

  8. Thank you! Christina you are a kindred spirit. I am also consistently adding stuff in order to reinvent myself as a better person – no luck so far. All I have done is encase the me I don’t like in mountains of stuff.

  9. Timely post! I am ever so slowing de-cluttering my not so cluttered home. But my MIL recently passed away and she kept everything. Family needs to read this as we sort her personal belongings and all the other stuff!

  10. I used to have a framed quote by Quentin Crisp which I hung on the wall by my front door,it read “Don’t keep up with the Jones’s drag them down to your level,it’s cheaper” It reminded me that I didn’t need “stuff” and to only buy and have in my home the things essential to life.

  11. What happened when the problem is my boyfriend (we live together)?

    I’m always trying to trash stuff, that create clutter in our little home, and he stop me.

    The most funny thing? Sometimes he told me: “I can’t find my old t-shirt (for example), I’m sure you trash it when I was sleeping!” Ahahahhah

  12. There’s another reason that we have clutter – things don’t have a home.
    We moved house last year and are still building storage as we go. Until something has a consciously decided home, it often languishes where it really shouldn’t!
    Janie x

  13. We have clutter because we have 5 people living in a 970 square foot home. Most of our clutter consists of kids’ clothes, shoes, school papers, and toys. The clutter is better now that school’s back in session.

  14. its like you’re reading my mind! I literally laughed out loud at the toilet paper roll remark. I used to hoard them like they were a dwindling resource! After I realized the insanity of it I actually would find them still kicking around in their old “nesting spot” and wondered if they were sneaking back in from the recycling. After telling my husband about it he said HE was the culprit and actually liked that I stored them because it was easier than taking them too the garage! :-) I’ll have you know now they are promptly sent to school with my daughter to be used for crafts at school!

  15. I can totally relate to a lot of these reasons, but I am very sentimental. I think that it is important to hang onto momentos from your life. I often go thru things and find myself remembering things I wouldn’t have thought about if I had not touched the object. I think these cues are important for us to reconnect with memories, our brains need these to stimulate our memories.

  16. Growing up in a financially unstable situation has turned me into a “just in case-er.” I didn’t know if I would be able to afford to replace something if I needed it after getting rid of it, so I hung on to EVERYTHING. I’m starting to break myself of this habit, most especially with clothes.

  17. Thanks Brooke! I think we all have our breaking points when we feel overwhelmed with all our stuff! We start questioning, “Where did all this come from?” What a great resource when this question pops up! I will be sharing this for my readers! Have a great week.

  18. Yes to all the reasons above.

    I keep stuff with the intention of doing something with it (donating, selling, whatever). However, I rarely get around to it, but I can’t throw it out either because I feel guilty about it ending up in the landfill.

  19. The main reason ‘I’ have clutter is because I don’t have a specific ‘place’ for the item, and don’t know where to put it. (So it sits out)

  20. This is ABSOLUTELY me: “I keep stuff with the intention of doing something with it (donating, selling, whatever). However, I rarely get around to it, but I can’t throw it out either because I feel guilty about it ending up in the landfill.”

  21. I also also keep things because they do make me remember things i wouldn’t otherwise remember…like coming across that old stuff DOES bring back things I’d entirely forgotten, and it pains me to think that without the item, that memory would just be… gone.

  22. Thanks for this. My children said yesterday I need to get our house decluttered….I keep stuff to have memories of my parents who I lost too young.But must get stuff recycled or pass it on to someone who actually needs it . We got given a new ish sofa n chairs but still have old ones.charity shop didn’t want them … I am going to be more determined now.great artical ..H elen x

  23. i think i hoard because i am broken. my childhood was stolen and i was an adult at 11. moving from foster home to group homes to foster homes i was only allowed to take what they packed for me. i tried so hard to please the nice ones so that they might keep me. but twice i found a case worker at the school bus stop with my stuff in the trunk ready to go to yet another “home’. no explanations no goodbyes. i am 54 and widowed twice as of last Easter he had a massive heart attack. the children’s dad died dec 23 1993 of a sigw. the only family i have is my disabled son 29 and daughter 31 married with 3 children under 8 yrs old and living 7 hrs from my home. i also have a very needy very damaged mother 79 who calls me weekly to ask why i dont come to see her as ALL her friends kids come weekly and call daily. its hard to deal with her when she refuses to admit responsibility for the pain that her selfish choices caused me.

    i think clutter is using things to replace the act of grieving and forgiving. i think getting more yarn is like getting more love its also a control issue. now that i own my home and never plan on moving again this is where i raised my kids and its mine and no one can take it from me. you may call it clutter but in all honesty mine is a hoard. not like the show hoarders with out working plumbing and rotten food in the frig.and nasty piles of animal crap everywhere. mine is a wall of totes and boxes labeled with marker pink fingerling yarn, greens, earth tone sports weight, kid sweater patterns, ect.

    so many things, and people, and closures have been stolen from me. i had to start over so many times new

    address new friends, new school, new church, new abusers. and a new set of rules and unrealalistic expectations or just their anticipated and projected thoughts of my failures. no one wanted me there was never unconditional love in my live never a constant steady one person i could go to. i was never in a family picture until i was married and it was my own fam.

    i have been “just fine” all my life working hard and concentrating on raising my kids. now they dont need me any more and i am unemployed and very possibly unemployable. i can no longer pretend to be just fine. i think that its complicated by my ptsd. but reading this post was God thing. i struggle to do anything that requires me to leave my home. just getting showered and dressed each day is a job. i crochet well enough to sell a few items and can never get enough yarn or patterns or old tee shirts to cut into strips to crochet rugs. i am glad for my kids and 3 grands they are what keeps me going that and fortunatly the crochet orders are steady enough to give each day a purpose. I guess im on the pity pot. but yet at this time it feels so justifiable. i thank God and those that tolerate such a rambling post. I am seeking health and an understanding of my illness and this is my first step/post. if i spent as many hours organizing painting and constructing on my home as i do imagining how it should all look as i have planed out in my mind i would have a truely lovely home. its odd how posting this is causing me to process a few of those painful memories of always feeling like im watching life
    go by like life is on tv or the other side of the window and i am not wanted or needed or invited or welcome to join. i have been such a bore effectively alienating everyone from my life because a new friend will for just turn into another painful memory. be careful what you wish for as now that i am a hermit i am lonely and have no one but the person in the mirror to blame. yesterday i was on facebook with my daughter and tought of posting a statis update but did not. some how it is easier sharing my thoughts with strangers. I guess i have started my journey to health spelling and typos included by admitting that i need to make changes and get on my big girl panties. I pray anyone who reads this may have few bumps on their own journeys and and be blessed that we crossed paths here.

    • Dear Peggy,
      Thank you so much for taking the time (and the courage) to post some of your story here. I don’t know you personally but can say that making the time to share this with us was an incredibly brave thing to do.

      I’d really encourage you to bundle up that courage and make another step towards the kind of life you want to create, and perhaps reach out to someone in your local community for a helping hand or a kind ear. If there’s a doctor you visit or a community centre that might offer some options, that could be a good place to find some initial support and assistance.

      Like Debbie said, people do and will care. If you can reach out to us, strangers on the internet (and I’m so glad you did), you might be able to do the same by making a phone call.

      You’ve been through so much pain, sending all the thoughts and prayers your way that you will be able to find some healing.

      Much love,

    • Hi Peggy,
      Wishing this note finds you better in all aspects of your life: dreams, desires, accomplishments, struggles overcome, struggles still to overcome are fewer now, new friends (including me, an Internet friend, if you wish), your health (that is our most important thing to do for ourselves…no one can do it for us…each person needs to make sure our bodies/minds can carry us through our life, of ups and downs – and I too have had my share), family :), that you are still crocheting, not only for a purpose to your life, but the joy you are bringing to the ones who enjoy your works of art… I am glad my friend sent me the site on “5 Reasons we have clutter”…for reading it has lifted my heart a bit :) I have confirmation I am not alone…much was taken from me by the ones who say they love me most…and I am hurt. I wish you strength, each and every day. Embrace your LIFE…and cherish your memories and your most prized mementos too…(I need to “down-size” my quantity too…you are not alone…but one baby step at a time…and we can do it)…and do your best…that is all any one should expect of any one…we are all different…even if we share common traits and experiences… no one is “me” or “you”…but with the help of others, we can become stronger, and carry on to a new day :) I am grateful to be on a common journey with you :) and that our paths crossed. Take care :)

  24. Dear Peggy,
    I almost never respond to a post, but your story touched my heart. Please try reaching out to a nearby church organization, social service, or mental health agency for help. Getting involved in a support group just might motivate you and help you to let go of the hurt and pain, and maybe find a friend in the process. People care, you just need to venture out of your comfort zone. Prayers and hugs.

    And Brooke, great article!

  25. Dear Peggy, thank you for your post, it’s so sad but also inspiring. I think you have helped me. Good luck.

  26. There’s so much honesty in this post. I’ll be sending it to my mom, who LOVES “collecting things” so they collect dust.
    I’m all for simplicity, and the more you simplify your life, the better.

  27. Dear Peggy,
    I read your post with empthy and can only speak from where I’ve been in the past. Try very hard to let go of the hurt. It cannot be changed, so it serves no purpose, but “clutter” your mind. Ask God to help you, He will because He loves you unconditionally. I will remember you in my thoughts and prayers. God bless you.

  28. Peggy. Thank you for sharing. I struggle witl hoarding & getting started to go through things. My husband asked me to put spices on chicken to marinate. I did not stsrt on my project but i did marinate the chicken. I celebrate the small things i did. At least i did something. Sometimes we have to be patient with ouselves. Hang in there please pray for me & i will pray for you.

  29. Peggy
    I am just seeing this 3/4/2018. Prayers for you ongoing. Take that first step and ask for help. There are real people out there just to help you. Please come back and post and let us know you are doing better. I am so happy to have found this place. I have to downsize after moving 2-3 times and to smaller homes. Boxes crammed in a garage to deal with later. Its an awesome task. We were asked to move out. I was in warp speed to get things packed organized and ready to go. With our house walkways FULL of boxes and the garage left to do. The owner changed his mind. We are still here! Just so awesome! But we now have boxes everywhere. Garage full that we did not deal with. We cannot move boxes ANYWHERE.
    Out of funds,holding items for good weather yardsale. Son-in-Law leaves daughter and his great organizational skills gone even if we paid. So here I see others. I am holding for $$$ and trying to organization and downsize. But how do you go into a craft room with 4 bookshelves with knick/knacks/ books/kitchen stuff cause its small/ Holiday flowers/scrapbooking pencils/etc. Boxes never unpacked etc. How do you organize when you cannot move but 3 feet. So, so , so overwhelming.
    Condemnation from 3 kids. No help just mouths!!!! I am a go getter, so this place is so inspiring to get it together. My main wish is to organize and actually see how much I have. Give away the things I no longer do and minimize. I love my books. I have not bought any more in 2 years. But I want to keep those I have now. I would love to live in a library. LOL. Thanks for being here everyone. I am on this. My husband and I are 73/72.