Clear the Clutter! Basics of Decluttering

By Brian Dutter

The weather’s getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and soon flowers will be blooming. As winter initiates its annual retreat, signs all around us show that spring has nearly sprung. That, of course, means it is time for one of spring’s most beloved ceremonies—the highly anticipated ritual of spring clean-up. What…you do not look forward to spring clean-up?!? You don’t have birds and forest creatures come in to your house to help you clean like a Disney Princess would? Ahh, if only it could be so easy. Well, fortunately, there are some easy ways to declutter. And no, we are not suggesting that you pack up and move. That would be cheating.

One of the easiest ways to get started on your journey to a more organized, less cluttered living space is to check out the advice of an expert. There’s been quite bit of buzz lately regarding spring cleaning expert, Marie Kondo. Mrs. Kondo calls herself an “Organizing Consultant,” and she is the author of several best-selling books on that topic, including The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo recently graduated from bookshelf to TV screen, starring in a popular Netflix series called “Tidying up with Marie Kondo,” in which she visits families struggling to keep their homes clean and organized and shows them how to “declutter and find joy.” While watching this series, I found it interesting to observe how emotional people can get about their belongings and how hard it seems for them to part with their stuff. People, it seems, tend to hold on to their possessions for three basic reasons: 1) sentiment—things remind you of a person or place from your past; 2) usefulness—things you believe might come in handy someday; and 3) aesthetics—things you just find pleasing or beautiful to behold. All three can be valid reasons for hanging onto something but, in her show, Kondo mentions that there seems to be a general frustration among her clients over the perception that their “stuff ” has begun to take over their lives. “Stuff ” does not come into our lives all at once. Little by little, it creeps into our homes, surreptitiously filling spaces under beds and in closets, in attics and basements, and in garages and sheds, to the point where you might begin to get the sense that instead of you owning all that stuff, all that stuff owns you!

You don’t NEED to declutter, you say? Well, ridding yourself of unnecessary items actually has many potential benefits. Consider the following: 1) It might present you with an opportunity to make a few bucks. Some of your more valuable stuff might fetch a pretty penny in a garage sale or through Ebay (you can use your earned cash to buy new stuff…no, just kidding…don’t do that); 2) It can help a good cause! Purple Heart and Green Drop are just
two of many charitable organizations that will accept used clothing, shoes, useful household items, and more, and both organizations will pick up directly from your house; 3) How about decluttering as an opportunity to work on your fitness? Giving your living space a good spring cleaning can really get you moving and your heart pumping and serve as a great workout;
4) It can cut down on household allergens. Did you know that the infamous allergen power duo, the dust mite and the cockroach, LOVE piles of boxes, clothing, and other junk? Yep, all that clutter provides those nasty critters a place to flourish;1 and finally, 5) If decreasing the likelihood of a dust mite and cockroach home invasion isn’t reason enough to get rid of stuff, consider this: decluttering your home is good for your mental health. According Psychologist Sherie Bourg Carter, “Messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed.” Apparently, clutter can cause our brains to feel over-stimulated, which can inhibit productivity and creativity and increase feelings of guilt and anxiety over not getting things accomplished.2

If the thought of decluttering your home feels overwhelming, start small. Consider tackling that shoebox of photographs in your closet. There are services offered by Costco and Walmart that will turn all those dust-mite covered photos into digital pictures you can store on your computer or in the cloud. If you have lots of time on your hands, there are also apps that allow you to do the work yourself. If that sounds too daunting, how about start by cleaning the inside of your computer? By that, we mean unsubscribe from old email lists and e-newsletters you no longer want, purge emails older than two years or maybe just from people you don’t like (consider it a spring cleaning for toxic relationships), and/or delete outdated contacts from your digital address book. You can also purge files from your computer (do you really need to keep your kid’s old homework assignments from school? I didn’t think so).

Speaking of kids, we understand the challenges of trying to clean and declutter when there are crumb catchers running about. It has been said that cleaning a house that has kids in it is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos. But there are still plenty of ways to declutter. Outgrown toys and clothing, even furniture, can be donated (or sold). And that huge box full of every single drawing and scribble ever put on paper by Junior—you know the box I’m talking about—it’s time to get rid of it. If parental guilt is pulling too much on the heart strings, then consider selecting one or two favorites from each school year or developmental stage to keep, and then ditch the rest. I promise, the Bad Parent Police won’t haul you away (though it might upset the dust mites and cockroaches).

Spring signals the renewal of the growth cycle for most of nature. Plants sprout and animals have babies. Hopefully, the magic of spring will inspire you to clear the clutter from your life.


  1. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences site. Dust mites and cockroaches. Last reviewed 28 Dec 2018. health/topics/agents/allergens/dustmites/index.cfm. Accessed 14 Feb 2019.
  2. Carter SB. Why mess causes stress: 8 Reasons, 8 Remedies. Posted 14 Mar 2012. Psychology Today site. us/blog/high-octane-women/201203/why-mess-causes-stress-8- reasons-8-remedies. Accessed 14 Feb 2019. NHR

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