The Spectrum of Clutter || Why Having Too Much "Stuff" isn't Always the Problem

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A few weeks ago, I asked my Instagram followers which “type” of clutter most weighed them down. The answers were, as you’d expect, all over the board, with most saying that physical clutter distracted them the most. But regardless of which type bogged an individual down more, one thing stood out to me as I read the comments of the photo.

Not one person said they felt like clutter didn’t affect them.

No one said that they had all aspects of their lives squared away and didn’t struggle with at least one area.

This struck me because, despite our obsession with Kon Mari-ing everything, downsizing, and ensuring our wardrobes are neatly edited and capsuled, it’s still not enough. We still feel stressed. We still feel overwhelmed…sometimes (for me at least) it’s an overall feeling of overwhelm that I can’t peg on anything in particular.

These moments of “general overwhelm”, I’ve learned, usually boil down to an excess in one of the following areas that I haven’t recognized until it’s too late.

Sure, we can’t weed out every aspect of stress or “extra” from our lives, but we can do our best to recognize when we’re doing too much, owning too much, or taking on too much and learn when to cut back. It’s been one of the healthiest mental exercises I’ve started doing for myself, and I hope that once you’ve become more aware of which area of clutter stresses you the most, it will do the same for you too. Learning to think of clutter in a broader sense can be much more helpful than you’d realize.

I’d love to hear which clutter-style you most relate to in the comments below ;)

*Disclaimer, I don’t claim to be an expert in any of these areas, nor am I a psychologist. The following areas are simply describing things I’ve noticed both in my own life and in the lives of those I love.

  1. Physical Clutter

The first “pillar of clutter” gets the worst rap of them all, likely because it’s the most visible and the most publicized. Physical clutter is out in the open, for you (and everyone who enters your home) to see. Our possessions are a reflection of what we value, so of course, they’re the first thing that gets attention when we get stressed or in need of a detox.

For some, myself included, untidiness is a major area of stress. I usually feel like I can’t sit down to write or be creative unless my space is at least a little bit cleaned up and I have a cup of coffee in hand. I’m drawn to aesthetics, so I like my space to reflect the kind of creativity I’m trying to conjure up. That’s likely why I was so drawn to minimalism after becoming a mom — it felt like the only way I could regain a sense of control and identity. Lots of you said the same thing on Instagram. You feel like you have too much stuff, too many clothes, too many unnecessary “junk drawers”.

Clearing out this clutter is a great and important step towards feeling more free, but it only scratches the surface.

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2. Mental Clutter

It usually takes a bit of a “self-discovery” journey to figure out whether mental clutter weighs you down or if you’re able to stay more or less “on task” when it comes to your thoughts. Through learning more about myself via the Enneagram, I’ve learned that as a type 9, I have an exceptionally hard time learning which tasks to prioritize. This often leads to a brain fog where I’m aware of everything I need to do, but can’t quite nail down which item needs checked off first. Usually, I end up doing something less important (scrolling Instagram or picking up after the girls for the thousandth time) instead of doing the more intimidating but important things first.

Mental clutter can look different for everyone though. Some people are able to mentally keep track of everything (Type 1’s i’m looking at you), but for others, it’s really their mental clutter that weighs them down more than anything else.

3. Calendar Clutter

Oh, the glorification of staying busy. We get bored, so we schedule more. All too often, we subconsciously assign ourselves value through how many playdates, or meetings, or business calls we schedule for a particular week. How much we do, or achieve, instead of who we are. Having things to do somehow makes us feel more important/valuable/validated.

I wrote a few years ago about this “glorification”, making the case that being busy isn’t better. In this post, I break down a list of “why’s” for doing something — for example, I sometimes sign up for something because I think it will make someone else happy, instead of doing it because I want to do it.

I try to use the same “spark joy” mentality that I use for the belongings I keep when it comes to the way I schedule my time.

4. Emotional Clutter

Physical clutter gets a bad rap, but it only scratches the surface when it comes to other types of clutter than can weigh you down. Which type do you relate to most?

For those who feel before analyzing (feelers vs. thinkers), emotional clutter can be debilitating. Oftentimes, this boils down to drama with family or friends or stressing over an important decision and being unable to prioritize anything else.

In cases like these, it’s so important to recognize which relationships are an added weight to your life without adding joy or edification. Of course, some relationships we can’t cut out fully, but there are most certainly times when saying goodbye to a toxic or unhealthy relationship is just the thing to help your mind heal and de-clutter.


Clutter, being the buzz word that it is, can be tricky to nail down. Clearing your life from clutter completely isn’t necessarily possible (or healthy), but being aware of your clutter stressors can help you live life more fully and simply.

De-Cluttering without Wasting — 5 Tips for Conscious Downsizing

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The topic of living a “clutter-free” lifestyle isn’t a new one around here. I’ve been through several downsizing/minimalism phases, each one varying in severity and longevity, and bits and pieces of my journey are littered throughout the online pages of this blog. Getting rid of stuff, it seems, comes and goes in trendy waves. I’ve ridden several and, I hope, crossed over into a balanced lifestyle of intentionally living with less without the guilt or restriction I once felt about the label “minimalist”. (A label I don’t subscribe to, by the way).

With the recent success of Netflix’s rendition of Marie Kondo’s not-so-new method of tidying up, it seems minimalism is on another trendy high, with folks all over the world declaring which items do and don’t spark joy in their lives. I love lots of things about Kondo’s method, especially the subjectivity, but one thing I’m hesitant to love about this “mass exodus” of ex-hoarders into minimalist territory is the sheer amount of waste that’s bound to be created, despite the KonMari warnings to dispose of things mindfully.

It’s inevitable, somewhat, creating waste initially when you begin to live a more conscious lifestyle. But I think it’s possible to Marie-Kondo your life without throwing all of your non-joy-sparking possessions into a landfill.

This blog post could go much more in depth, but, for sake of time and practicality, here is my quick two cents on how and why to de-clutter as mindfully as I think we should do anything else. Whether it’s your first bout of downsizing or you’re a veteran minimalist, living with intention requires you to be mindful in all areas of life, including where you put the things that don’t serve you anymore.


Infographic via  Trade Machines.  See the entire image  here  - it’s very eyeopening.

Infographic via Trade Machines. See the entire image here - it’s very eyeopening.

  1. Get rid of clothing responsibly

    Americans purchase one article of clothing per week and we keep our clothes for only half as long as we used to 20 years ago. It’s estimated that Americans toss about 70.5 pounds of textile waste into landfills each year, with a measly 15% ever being donated. The pictured infographic is wonderfully helpful for explaining more.

    Here are a few simple ways to be mindful with your downsized clothing:

    • Host a clothing swap

    • Sell or re-gift them

    • Send pieces to relevant charities

    • Send them to a certified textile recycling center (a full post is coming soon on textile recycling, but here’s some great info in the meantime!)

  2. Purge Heirlooms Carefully

    Sentimental clutter is one of the hardest areas for most people to purge. The memories associated often seem to attach themselves to the physical item. I’ve never ascribed to the “rule” that you can’t keep any sentimental items, but here are a few rules that I follow when getting rid of anything with sentimental value.

    • Send the most valuable to other family members

    • Keep what you love without guilt

    • Host a garage sale or “free sale” to purge the rest

  3. Declutter your Kitchen without Throwing it all in the Trash

    Things like spices, mismatched sets, and appliances that you never use all probably fall in the category of “not sparking joy”. Be careful that you don’t lump it all into the trash when, chances are, each item needs individual consideration.

    • Sell/donate appliances and supplies in good condition

    • Combine extra spices/herbs or use them up before recycling the packaging

    • Compost food waste

    • Recycle as many containers as possible

  4. Find charities/organizations that may need your miscellaneous extras

    For odds and ends that you don’t use and aren’t sure what to do with, there may be a charity or organization that will take it off your hands. Many schools will accept musical instruments, office supplies, or children’s toys. Homeless shelters often take clothes, unused food, and the like. Do some digging into local organizations and send some items their way.

  5. Carefully consider future new belongings

    The cornerstone of a mindful lifestyle with less clutter (which ultimately means creating less waste), is what you do moving forward. If you purge your belongings only to replace them shortly after with “new and improved” ones, you’ve missed the point.

    That’s not to say you shouldn’t shop or buy things that do, indeed, spark joy or fill a gap. However, once the initial purge is over, being extra cautious of what you buy/accept/bring in means that you’ll have less clutter and less to worry about downsizing later.

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As you Kon-Mari your belongings, remember to do it without creating unnecessary trash. Here are a few ways to de-clutter without waste.

Of course, none of us do this perfectly. It’s impossible to exist without creating waste of some sort. However, I hope these tips inspire you to Kon-Mari your life away and dispose of the joyless items responsibly.

Did I miss anything? Leave me a comment below and let’s chat more!

50 Things To Get Rid Of Right Now

Whether your new year's resolution is to de-clutter your house, or your just looking to do a quick cleanse, getting rid of "stuff" can be incredibly freeing. It can be hard to know where to start if you're staying at a whole house full of things you don't necessarily use or need. 

Taking baby steps is by far the easiest way to tackle minimalism. As tempting as it may be to start tossing out everything without looking back — it is possible to go overboard (just as my husband after I accidentally "de-cluttered" his entire winter wardrobe). 

Working through this list is a great way to immediately reduce the clutter in your house, take inventory of what you have, and get a better sense of why you love the things you do love about your home. 

Adopting a minimalist lifestyle can seem daunting, unless you tackle it slowly, bit by bit. This list of 50 things to get rid of right now is a launch pad for jumping into a simple life with less stuff. And you can start right now.

50 Things to De-Clutter RIGHT NOW:

  1. Old batteries
  2. Old cell phone/accessories/chargers
  3. Cardboard boxes
  4. Old toiletries and make up
  5. Expired foods/condiments
  6. Extra magazines and subscriptions
  7. Those socks that don't have matches
  8. Shoes/clothes your kids have outgrown
  9. Broken/worn out toys
  10. Old costumes/special occasion wear
  11. Used up notepads/coloring books/journals
  12. Expired/unused prescriptions/medicine/vitamins
  13. Old gift wrap/gift bags
  14. Old calendars/planners
  15. Movies you don't watch
  16. CDs/records you don't listen to
  17. Board games you don't play
  18. Cookbooks you never use
  19. Used gift cards
  20. Old paint and craft supplies
  21. Appliance manuals (you can find them online)
  22. Appliances you never use
  23. Random bottles and jars
  24. Puzzles with missing pieces
  25. Plastic tupperwear with missing lids
  26. Worn out bedding/blankets
  27. Clothes you haven't worn in a year
  28. Extra hats/gloves/scarves
  29. Decor not on display
  30. Almost-gone cleaning supplies
  31. Dying houseplants
  32. Books you won't read
  33. Random keys
  34. Receipts
  35. Vases
  36. Extra hangers
  37. Extra totes/hampers
  38. Old purses/wallets
  39. Jewelry you don't love
  40. Spare buttons/thread from clothes
  41. Broken pens/pencils/markers
  42. Extra coffee mugs (you probably won't need to use all 20 at once)
  43. Old coffee/tea you won't drink
  44. Memorabilia that doesn't hold the same value it used to
  45. Old nail polish
  46. Anything that makes you sad
  47. Anything that's broken
  48. Anything that doesn't fit
  49. Anything you have duplicates of
  50. Anything you don't love

*Note: This post isn't meant to encourage waste. Please dispose of your items responsibly through gifting, selling, donating, upcycling and recycling. If you're looking for ways to responsibly get rid of things without throwing them in the trash or tossing them in a Goodwill bin, check out this post from Life, Style, Justice.*

Sentimental Clutter: 5 Tips To Learn To Let It Go

*This post is an excerpt from our course The Art of Simple Living, an all-encompassing guide to simplifying your heart, home, and wardrobe*

It may be difficult to de-clutter in general, but, in my experience, the most difficult area for most people is the items with special memories attached to them. The boxes of old photos from your childhood that you rarely go through or display. The antiques that aren't really your style, but that you keep around to honor their previous owner. Your old prom dress or jersey, or a stack of letters from an old pen pal. The thought of letting go of even one of these items may be unfathomable.

I know the struggle, really I do. Before I began my minimalism journey, I had boxes full of old birthday cards — not just recent ones either, like fifth birthday party old. I kept everything that my mom had saved for me, and anything that had any kind of sentimental value. An old t-shirt that I wore to my first concert? Check. A hoodie than an old crush once bought me? Kept it for five years. It took me a long time, and lots of moves where I had to haul all of these sentimental items around, to realize that my memories didn't have to be attached to things, and that it didn't mean I wasn't grateful for the special place they had in my heart if I got rid of them.

Letting go of most of those things wasn't an overnight process, and I don't expect it to be for you either.

Sentimental clutter is one of the biggest things keeping people from simplifying their lives. With these five tips in mind, you'll be able to determine what pieces can go and learn how to let go of things without letting go of the memories attached to them.

If you're especially sentimental, or have a large amount of keepsakes, mementos, or "knick-knacks", this section might be the hardest part of simple living. Because, unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all method for learning how to downsize these items. It will look differently for each person.

One very difficult example is if you've lost a parent, grandparent, or loved one and are left with their belongings. I remember watching my mother go through the pain of sorting, purging, and donating my grandmother's things after she died, and thinking that it was a burden that no one should have to bear. Unfortunately, the scenario of being left with a large amount of special items from a loved one isn't uncommon, and the grip those objects have on our hearts can be tight and hard to loosen.

After researching a bit, and combining it with my own experience of letting go, I came up with five steps to help you through the process of learning to let go, a bit at a time.

1. Let go of guilt:

More often than not, the first thing that holds us back from letting go of sentimental clutter is guilt. We feel guilty about moving on, or like we're somehow loosing a piece of the memory or person the thing belonged to. However, that's simply not true. Chances are, the person the item belonged to would never want you to feel that way, and letting go of something doesn't make the memories any less real. 

Knowing that you're not a horrible friend/daughter/mother/sister/etc. for wanting to downsize something that may have a great deal of emotional weight is the first step in letting it go.

2. Separate the memory from the "thing"

It may feel like the item is your only way to remember. Whether it's a photo, an article of clothing, or a keepsake, your memories may be so intertwined with it that you forget to separate the two. The trinket/object is nothing more than a thing — objectively speaking. The memory you hold won't be lost just because you choose to get rid of an object.

3. Start small, go slow

You don't have to jump off the deep end and get rid of all of your sentimental items at once. In fact, keeping a few is a great way to compromise and make it easier on you. Start small, maybe choose to get rid of one thing each week, and soon, you'll realize that it gets easier and easier. 

4. Keep a few:

Don't feel like the pieces in your home can't hold any sentimental value. A home is supposed to be sentimental. It key is striking a balance between too much and just enough. Keeping one or two photos and uploading the rest, or choosing your favorite of a set of items will help it feel less dramatic. 

5. Donate:

Donating or selling the items you choose to downsize is a great way to give them a second life, where even more memories can be made. 

Want more tips for simplifying your whole life? Sign up for The Art of Simple Living for all our best tips, lessons and more in one place. 

It's More Than Downsizing: Why Minimalists Should Care About the "Big Issues"

Let's interrupt our normal slough of posts on practical simple living tips to talk about what I believe is the heart behind minimalism — or at least, one of the many benefits of it. 

I could talk about why I love capsule wardrobes, or the benefits of de-cluttering your house all day long. I probably have, in fact. But one thing I don't talk enough about on this little corner of the internet is the why behind it all. Besides benefits like less stress, a more cohesive home and wardrobe, and (I would argue) the ability to enjoy life more fully, why do I preach simple living night and day? 

Although it's not the only reason to jump on the simple living bandwagon, I believe that living with less and adopting a simpler view of life opens up the doors to care about issues beyond your home. 

Minimalism is about more than capsule wardrobes and perfectly styled houses. Once you've done the hard work of downsizing, there's room for far more important things. Read why I believe minimalists should be champions for the causes they believe in.

Even though most of the pieces we share discuss topics within the walls of your home, as you become more content with where you're at in life, there opens up a whole new realm outside of your home. A realm where injustices occur and life is far from simple. 

I believe that the minimalist should be a champion of these causes — regardless of your religion, or social or political status. When we're not focused on accumulating more, how can we not speak up for the issues laid on our hearts? 

In the coming weeks and months, you're going to hear more and more about topics near and dear to my heart — as uncomfortable as they may be to discuss. Things like human trafficking and the injustices of the fast fashion industry, namely. 

I don't think this is a shift in focus from where we're at now. On the contrary, I think it's the natural progression of the discussion we've been having. As I worked tirelessly to minimize my physical clutter, I also downsized my "heart clutter" as well (a topic we discuss frequent on SL&Co.), and with less overall clutter in my life, I had room for passions bigger than my home and my closet to ignite.

...as you become more content with where you’re at in life, there opens up a whole new realm outside of your home. A realm where injustices occur and life is far from simple.

Obviously, I'm not saying that you have to be a minimalist to care about social injustice—  far from it, actually. I'm simply noting the correlation I've noticed between simple living and taking action. Once you've simplified, don't be content, at least not fully. 

Be content with what you have, but remember that the willpower you used to downsize (because we all know it takes actual guts to get break the hold our "stuff" has), to speak up for the voiceless, to shine a light on the issues not everyone knows about, to be a champion for whatever cause tugs at your heart. 

Because if we de-clutter only for the sake of de-cluttering, is it really worth it? 

This fall and winter, although you'll still see our usual content full of tips, tricks, and real life stories, I'm going to use this platform to raise awareness for the 4.5 million victims of sex slavery worldwide. I will be participating in Dressember (you can join my team, read more, or donate here), using the funds from my still-in-the-works course to donate to the cause, and sharing facts, interviews and stories from women and brands who are committed to making a difference. 

Will you join me? 

I truly believe that your voice matters. What will you use it for?