• Carrie Higgins

What Exactly Is Clutter?

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

Scanning the room you are in right now, what do you see? How do you feel sitting in your chair? Do you feel peaceful, serene, comfortable, and joyful or do you feel suffocated, overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed? If you feel the latter, it may be because your space is filled with clutter. We are all too familiar with it. Clutter creeps into our spaces and multiplies, magically attracting more clutter the longer it sits on a surface. Try it. I promise; clutter cannot sit alone for long. But what is it? I think understanding what it is and how it accumulates is actually the mind shift needed to prevent and control it.

As defined by Dictionary.com, clutter is “a collection of things lying about in an untidy mass.” I think we can all agree, that’s what clutter is… but what types of things make up clutter? And why do we have so much of it?

"Clutter is postponed decisions" -Barbara Hemphill

Barbara Hemphill of the Productive Environment Institute coined the phrase “clutter is postponed decisions.” I love this, because it’s simple and applies across the board. Clutter is only clutter if it doesn't have a place to live - and we have to make decisions about things and either throw them out, or give them a home. Quick, scan your room again. How many things sitting out are there because you’ve delayed a decision about it? A junky kid’s toy from a fast food restaurant that you’re not even sure your child likes, lying on the kitchen floor. Or maybe there are papers piled on top of papers because you haven’t decided if you should keep or throw away. Better yet, perhaps it’s a stack of papers that need action – homework that needs signing, a bill that needs to be paid, a holiday card from your parents that you feel like you should keep but don’t know where it should go. We all do it. We open a piece of mail and then realize we need to do something but don’t have the time to do it right now.

Clutter is only clutter if it doesn't have a place to live

While I agree with Barbara in saying that clutter is a result of postponed decisions, I would also argue that clutter is a result of not maintaining your current organizing systems. In other words, items are lying out because you are being lazy or just too busy to put them back… sorry. I say that with no judgment attached. I’ve been there. I know life gets crazy and we have to prioritize and sometimes, putting things away, gets put on the back burner. Regardless of your current situation and whether it’s your bedroom or your bathroom or the kitchen, you’ve got to set time aside to maintain the organization system that you worked so hard to create. What does that look like? It’s setting aside 5-10 min to make your bed, put dirty clothes in your hamper, return makeup and creams to their cabinet or drawer and wiping down your counters. Stop rolling your eyes; I know what you’re thinking! A little truth about me; I wasn’t born organized and I certainly know what it’s like to live in chaos (3 kids, hello!) and I think you will agree that if you haven’t taken the time to declutter and organize your space, trying to maintain your space will be an exhausting, time consuming task.

If you haven’t taken the time to declutter and organize your space, trying to maintain your space will be an exhausting, time consuming task.

But we will get into the meat and potatoes of organizing in another blog post. For now, I only want to challenge you to sit with this perspective for a while. Go about your day. And instead of getting frustrated and overwhelmed with all the things and all the clutter and all the little people in your home, take a second to ask yourself, “have I delayed making a decision about the clutter I see or do I need to return items to their home?” Shift your thinking and I can bet you will start to feel more empowered to handle the things that are sitting out on your counters, on the floor and in your closets.

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