20 Types Of Clutter (And How To Address Each One)
Since last year, we’ve all been spending more time at home. Way more time. As you look around your space, has clutter been piling up?
Do you stare into a closet full of clothes but feel like you have nothing to wear? Is your desk so piled with papers that you don’t want to sit down to work? Are your drawers so jam-packed that it’s impossible to find what you need? Living with clutter can be frustrating, overwhelming and time-consuming. But there’s hope!
I’m a professional organizer, based in New York City, with over 15 years of experience and I’ve seen every type of clutter you can imagine. No matter how your clutter accumulated, how long you’ve had it, or where it is piled up, you CAN let it go. De-cluttering your home can be easier and faster than you think! You don’t have to examine every single item in your home to determine if it sparks joy. You don’t have to start a radical new minimalist lifestyle to be free of clutter.
Here’s the proven method I’ve used with thousands of clients over the years: Start with the stuff that’s easiest to deal with and work your way up to the things that are hardest to part with. Give yourself permission to let go of the clutter that’s been weighing you down and that you’ve been struggling to release.
Check out my article “Why Is Getting Organized So Overwhelming?”
I get it if you feel overwhelmed – that’s the word that almost all of my client use. I’m here to clarify the de-cluttering process and help you through it, step by step . Here are 20 common types of clutter and advice on how to let each type go, in order from easiest to hardest to deal with:
#1 Things that are expired or out of date.
Anything that is expired or outdated is clutter. It’s no longer useful, and there’s no reason to hold on to it. (Don’t you sometimes wish everything had an expiration date on it?) Let go of the 2009 Let’s Go Europe book. Toss the cough syrup that expired in 2018 and the dusty spices you haven’t used in years. Woo hoo! You did it!
#2 Things that are actually trash.
If you’ve been avoiding dealing with your clutter, it can be a nice surprise to find that some of your stuff is simply trash that can be tossed. Get rid of the plastic dry cleaning bags from your closet (they’re bad for your clothes and take up more space than you think). Recycle the empty cardboard boxes in the basement.
#3 Things that don’t work or are worn out.
Don’t hold on to items that are broken, worn out, or are missing parts and pieces. Especially if you’ve already purchased their replacements. I bet there’s at least one broken umbrella in your front hall closet. Get rid of the flip phones in your bottom desk drawer. Let go of your lid-less food storage containers. Toss chipped mugs and bowls. Retire tired towels.
#4 Things you forgot you had and don’t need or want.
If you come across something you forgot you had and don’t need or want it, get rid of it and free up some space. Donate the clothes your youngest kid outgrew years ago. Toss the fabric swatches for the couch you no longer own.
#5 Things you once needed to save but no longer need to keep.
As time passes, items and information that were once useful and important become obsolete. If you’re like most people, you probably have a lot of stuff lying around that you no longer need to save. Recycle the manual for the crock pot that you gave away. Shred your insurance policies from 3 years ago.
#6 Things that haven’t been returned to their “homes.”
When useful items are left out and about, they masquerade as clutter. Put them away; no difficult decisions required. Your bedroom will feel more serene when you hang up the clothes piled on the chair. You’ll have space to work when you file the papers covering your desk.
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#7 Things that don’t have a “home.”
Useful things can pile up, looking like clutter, if you haven’t designated a place to put them. The mail sprawled on the kitchen counter seems like clutter but it’s actually important; create a place for it. Put it in a tray in your home office or wherever you process the mail. Contain sunglasses, hats and gloves in an open bin on a shelf in the hall closet.
#8 Things you think you need to save, but don’t.
Your file cabinets, cupboards and closets may be cluttered with things you don’t need to keep. One client had saved all her old electric bills, going back years, thinking she needed to keep them for tax purposes. She didn’t. (Check with your accountant if you have tax-related questions.) Shred old pay stubs once you have the year-end summary; you don’t have to keep every one. If you’ve had something for a few months and don’t intend to return it, there’s no need to save the packaging. Let go of the boxes that electronics came in. Unless you really are going to sell the item on eBay. Really soon. Like, today.
#9 Perfectly good things that you never use.
If you’re not using something (that isn’t a purely decorative item), why hold on to it? Especially if someone else can put it to good use. Re-gift or donate the picture frame that you’ve never put a picture in. Technology has made a lot of items obsolete. Let go of the travel alarm clock you never travel with. And the Walkman CD player you never play.
Need some encouragement to let go of these items?
#10 Things that you have too many of to ever use.
When it comes to items that you have multiples of, be realistic about the size of your stockpile. How many do you really need? Get rid of surplus food storage containers. How many leftovers even fit in your fridge? Do you ever use more than a few re-usable tote bags at a time? Determine how many of these items you truly need, keep the best and let go of the rest.
#11 Things that have outgrown the space available for them.
If you have more items than will fit in their storage space, things get cluttered. It’s time to let some stuff go. When your books overflow the bookcase, it’s not time to start stacking them on the floor, it’s time to donate or sell some. When your closet is jam-packed, it’s time to purge some clothes, especially if you feel like you have nothing to wear. You’ll be able to see and access the clothes you truly like.
#12 Things you need to do something with.
Do you leave things out to remind yourself that you need to take care of them? How’s that working? If your visual to-do list has been sitting around for more than a couple of weeks, it will feel like clutter. Channel your inner Nike and just do it. Bring the boots with the broken heel to the shoe maker. Have the tailor replace the missing button on your jacket. If you can’t take care of something soon, schedule the task in your calendar, and put the item away until then. Committing to an action is energizing. Having clutter taunt you is draining.
#13 Things you will probably NEVER do something with.
Life is too short to hold on to this kind of clutter. It feels oppressive when you’re surrounded by things you feel you should do – but don’t. Letting go of things that aren’t truly a priority is liberating. Most of my clients say they feel “lighter” after we work together and they let go of things that they don’t really want to do. Let go of the half-finished knitting project that’s been taunting you for years. If you actually had a few spare hours, aren’t there other things you’d rather do than repair that old chair in the garage? Can’t bear to toss the item? A quick social media post may entice a friend or neighbor to take over your project.
#14 Things you used to use, but no longer do.
Holding on to stuff that you’re no longer using can keep you focused on the past, not on the present or the future. These items continually remind you of activities that you’ve set aside and goals and roles that are no longer meaningful. Get rid of the roller blades that haven’t rolled in years. Donate the suits that you haven’t worn since you left that old job.
#15 Things you are afraid to throw away because you don’t know what they are.
Don’t let fear keep you from letting go of clutter. What’s the worst that could happen if you let go of mystery objects? Be brave – toss random cords, cables, keys and parts. If you don’t know what they are now, you probably won’t remember later. And, clearly, you’re not using them – whatever they are.
#16 Things that might be useful “someday”.
By definition, “someday” is never today. Don’t hold on to things for some hypothetical future purpose. They take up physical and mental space. The likelihood that you will ever use the extra buttons you’ve been saving: slim to none. Determine if the item is even really that useful? That box of rusty screws and nails – no. Is there someone else who could actually use the item now? That picnic set backpack you never unpacked – yes. Give it away and give it a chance to be useful today.
#17 Things you “paid good money for” and that are “too expensive” to get rid of.
It can be really difficult to let go of expensive items. We feel that we should use or like these things, and we can beat ourselves up for spending a lot of money on something that we don’t truly want. But everyone makes shopping mistakes. You don’t have to live with them. The silver lining? These are actually the easiest things to sell! Cash in on your clutter and sell the designer clothes and jewelry you never wear; local and online consignment shops will be happy to take them. Contact auction houses and dealers to sell other items, like art, furniture and home decor.
Need help selling valuable items? Email me!
#18 Things that you have an emotional attachment to.
Are you holding on to things because you have an emotional attachment to them, even though intellectually you know that you don’t need or want them and may not have room for them? By all means, keep the keepsakes that are truly meaningful to you. But when your emotions keep you from letting go of things you don’t really want, it can make you feel particularly stuck. Connect with your logical brain to challenge your emotional reasons for holding on to these things and let them go. Books are not actually your friends. Getting rid of your father’s old tools is not getting rid of your memories of your dad.
I offer more advice on dealing with “emotionally difficult clutter” in this Real Simple article.
#19 Things that make you feel bad because you don’t use them.
These things are toxic! Don’t surround yourself with things that make you feel badly. And in a cruel twist of fate, these can be among the hardest things to part with. Go within and connect with the most compassionate part of yourself. You deserve to be free of these things. Give away the clothes that are two sizes too small and that remind you of the past. If you do lose the weight, wouldn’t you want to celebrate with new clothes? Let go of the 15-year-old tortilla press that’s still in the box (true story!) – and let go of the fantasy that you should be someone who makes home-made tortillas.
#20 Things you feel guilty letting go of, but don’t want … or even hate.
Guilt is a punishing emotion. There is no physical thing out there that’s worth making yourself feel guilty about. Your possessions should make you feel good! You CAN give away the itchy sweater your sister gave you four years ago. No one gives you a gift to make you feel badly. Liberate yourself from your grandmother’s dishes that you don’t like; you get to set your own sense of taste. Toss the almost-full bottle of styling cream that doesn’t work for your hair – it doesn’t mean that you’re “wasteful”. You’re not a bad parent if you throw away some of your kid’s artwork. I give you permission to let all these things – and the guilt – go. You deserve to be surrounded by things you actually want, use, and enjoy!
GO for it! Let go of some clutter!
I promise that when you let go of the things that are cluttering your home and weighing you down, you’ll have more space, your home will look better, and you will feel lighter. Why not start now? Set aside 15 minutes today (set a timer) and see what you can let go of. Celebrate! Then, continue as necessary.
Need more help to get out from under your clutter?
Contact me. We can work in-person or remotely to clear out your clutter.