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.


29 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!

  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.

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