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Is Your Life Too Cluttered?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
5/2/2012 6:00 PM   :  117 comments   :  33,503 Views

Seven years ago, I lived in a 240-square-foot apartment on the 15th floor of a high-rise building on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea. Just 10 feet wide and 24 feet long, my furnished apartment had a galley kitchen with two burners, a bathtub that was about the size of a utility sink, and a bedroom that doubled as an office and living room.

Everything I owned could fit in two suitcases and a couple of carry-ons, and for over 12 months, I bought only those items I could either mail home, donate, or use after my time in Korea was up.

I baked cookies in a toaster oven, hung my laundry on a rack near the foot of my bed, and had only a small closet for my clothes.

I loved it.  I felt safe, cocooned, and comfortable in that cozy little apartment. I had everything I needed and little more. It was easy to clean and I never wasted time searching for objects.

I hate clutter, but I struggle to control it. It stresses me out to amass objects that I don't need, and I don't take comfort in having more "things" in my life. I'm terrible at decorating, and truthfully, my apartment is barer than most. Still, I felt like I had too much stuff, especially when faced with the prospect of packing and moving all of it.

Before my last move, I set out to get rid of 25% of my belongings.

I hosted a clothing swap party, gave clothes and shoes to friends and family,  then donated the rest.

I sorted through my books, DVDs, and magazines. Anything I hadn't watched in a year or that I wouldn't consider re-reading (or consulting for reference), I recycled or sold at a used book store.

All the boxes of stuff--photos, letters, train tickets, and scraps of paper--I've collected during my travels were whittled down to one box. I had saved every train ticket and Metro stub from a half-dozen trips to France almost a decade ago. They heat-sensitive ink had faded, and they weren't legible. Into the recycling they went.

Not even the kitchen, my favorite room in the house, was exempt. I shed all the single-use gadgets (like a shrimp deveiner--I'm vegan!), any duplicates, and moved all my bulk items into jars and plastic containers.

I still have enough clothes to wear in any situation, enough photos to remember all my trips, and enough kitchen gear to whip up a multi-course meal.

Getting rid of all that stuff felt good. Very good.

So I kept going, aiming to strip down other areas of my life as well.

But why?

Today I read this: "Most of us have little idea how many things in our lives keep us from enjoying life more. But one’s life can be cluttered by more than household objects. The irritating extras can include activities that are no longer rewarding but are continued out of habit or guilt. Perhaps it’s time for a more extended kind of housecleaning."

New York Times writer Jane Brody has been documenting her own battle with clutter, and this week she checked in with a column that explained that clutter goes beyond yarn collections and overflowing closets.

All that stuff keeps us from enjoying life. The more stuff you have, the more time you spend organizing it, cleaning it, and maintaining it.

Though I don't have any physical collections, I realized that I "collected" in other areas of life: friends, activities, social and volunteer obligations, online life.
I felt like I couldn't fit it all in, and I wrote about my struggles and sacrifices while balancing all of life's demands.

So I started saying NO. (Politely of course.)

No to the people I really didn't want to see, to the volunteer projects I really didn't want to work on, to the invites to events that interfered with my yoga and running schedule.

It feels good.

These days my life is smaller and less cluttered in all senses of the word. Still, I always look for opportunities to continue to shed what I don't need.

I don't need to be lifelong Facebook friends with every person I meet. I don't need to have 16 bottles of nail polish (or 4, even). I don't need to buy extras of everything, just in case.

While I have a lot more than I did when I lived in that 240-square-foot apartment, my life feels more manageable.  Just enough friends, just enough clothes, and just enough stuff. With plenty of time left for everything that really matters--like healthy eating and fitness!

How about you? Do you struggle to manage all the stuff in your life--friends, obligations, objects? How do you deal?
Do you try to shed unnecessary objects from your life?

 
 


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Comments

  • 67
    definately a wake up call. I struggle with clutter (Only in America do we leave out cars worth thousands of dollars out while storing junk in the garage) and have much to much of many things. Learning a new motto - The more you have, the less you are. Will be reflecting on this and imagining what I could live without (as in a disaster or fire) so that I can donate more items and live happier. - 5/3/2012   12:48:38 PM
  • 66
    Completely agree! I have chosen not to be defined by "stuff" and I can say I ;love it. Oh, I have things and a decorated home but most of the pieces I've held onto have meaning or represent a time, person or place in my life I want to remember. Oh, and have I mentioned how nice it is not to have to dust as much?? - 5/3/2012   12:18:21 PM
  • MISPLACEDORCHID
    65
    I, too, am struggling with this. Thanks for the reminder to simplify. The clutter in my life is beyond the stuff that take up space in my life, I need to think about how I can pare down on the things that take too much of my time without feeling guilty about it ... baby steps ... - 5/3/2012   12:17:44 PM
  • 64
    I am working on this....it drives me crazy to know I have something but I can't find it. The problem is I moved a year agao plus condensed 2 households into 1 and we are still unpacking boxes. - 5/3/2012   11:59:29 AM
  • HEALTHYBOOMER
    63
    I'm one of those people who move every few years to a different home and each time, I get rid of a lot of clutter!
    My parents were depression era and they saved absolutely EVERYTHING! It took us three years and 4 dumpsters to clean the house after they passed away. I'm sure I have a little bit of that in me, but each time I move, I weed out a little so my kids won't have the same problem after I'm gone... - 5/3/2012   11:42:20 AM
  • 62
    There is a saying I had heard before...if the devil can't have you, he will keep you busy and distracted! Losing the clutter throughout our lives will help us lead a better life. - 5/3/2012   10:55:37 AM
  • 61
    I need to save this one and re-read. I have too much stuff. - 5/3/2012   10:52:57 AM
  • 60
    I can see and do need to declutter my house, badly, as I am a pack-rat; however, I would never consider my friends as a thing that needs to be decluttered. I consider my friends to be to valuable. - 5/3/2012   10:45:48 AM
  • 59
    I love this attitude. It's a bit awkward for me as I live with a wife and two kids who are all people who hang onto everything. I clear out, they bring in. It causes some conflict, but I am able to declutter quite a bit when they're not around. It turns out that most of the time they don't even know what they have. I have to walk a delicate line between cleaning out the junk and traipsing on their personal space. It usually works, so we live in a compromise space. Public spaces are fairly clear. Their personal spaces have much more stuff. It works. - 5/3/2012   10:27:34 AM
  • 58
    I love it...

    I learned a long time ago that decluttering means people, things, and even some emotional things. It is life changing. I like to think of it as a new beginning each time (making a choice when you come to that fork in the road)! - 5/3/2012   9:58:08 AM
  • 57
    So funny. When I lived in an apartment, I seemed to hoard it all, then I moved into a house, which ib bigger than the apartment, I started to de-clutter quite a bit of my stuff. Been bugging my dad to go through my old room at his place (told him just to pack it up and send it my way, whenever he's travelling from his town into the city to take a flight), I have stuff there I want to keep, but most is probably just donations or a possible garage sale. - 5/3/2012   9:45:56 AM
  • 56
    I would never have thought that discarding people was a part of decluttering one's life.

    I have some clutter, but it's all things I use daily. My storage areas are neither over-flowing nor emtpy. If my home and friends reflect my life: I have a good life. - 5/3/2012   9:43:03 AM
  • 55
    WOW - what time for this to fall in front of my eyes. I've been struggling with some of the same things for a while but couldn't put my finger on it. Thinking of all the time I've wasted on the less important things, I begin tonight when I get home the physical and mental decluttering!!! Thanks so much for sharing... - 5/3/2012   9:42:57 AM
  • 54
    My husband and I were both raised by packrats. Our house is a bit on the spartan side by comparison but I still think we have too much stuff. I have a kindle now - no more books. We burned all the CD's onto a drive we can access from the entertainment center - no more CD's. We only print pictures we want to hang on the wall, the rest of them are saved on a drive. While our cyber lives are still cluttered, the house really isn't. - 5/3/2012   9:40:17 AM
  • 53
    I need to de-clutter and it's a struggle, simply from the mental aspect of it. It's the problem of the emotion tied to the things. I fear becoming like my 84 year old mother, who refuses to throw things out. - 5/3/2012   9:32:07 AM
  • 52
    Thank you for inspiring me! This weekend the decluttering begins! - 5/3/2012   9:23:48 AM
  • 51
    De-cluttering is good. I go in spurts of getting rid of things. I think it would be different if I lived alone, but with a large family stuff is a part of life. But we all try to be careful not to let that take over the house or our lives. - 5/3/2012   9:16:33 AM
  • 1NEWJANAMICHEL
    50
    A few weeks ago, I started de-cluttering my bedroom. I hate to work when other people are home, so I got off track with spring break, hubby home sick, I got sick, my PT got in the way, etc. Loads of excuses. Time to make a new plan and start anew. This article has motivated me to do that! - 5/3/2012   9:16:01 AM
  • LDMCNIEL
    49
    Wonderful blog. This puts things really in perspective. - 5/3/2012   8:51:03 AM
  • 48
    It's an ongoing struggle. I could blame my husband (and I do :-)) but I've got packrat tendencies myself. There is always that fear "if I throw this thing out I will need to use it next week, even though I haven't used it in ten years".

    Some things that clutter up my house have to do with "going green". Plastic containers for lunch - I don't know how I can have 5 containers and 5 lids of the same size and none of them fit. Cloth shopping bags. Umbrellas for taking the bus - somebody always loses one but they keep multiplying.

    I'll keep working at it - we just redid our bathroom. I've already chucked a bunch of stuff and I'm determined to only let items back in that we really and regularly use. Wish me luck! - 5/3/2012   8:39:09 AM
  • 47
    I grew up homeless and poor. I have such a hard time letting go of what I now have. I cannot imagine my sons having to declutter this place they would undoubtedly over look the few things of any value. Thanks i will start with the books magazines and paper. I needed this I am only procrastinating. Thanks for the reminder it needs to be done. - 5/3/2012   8:26:34 AM
  • TURNINGTABLES21
    46
    Clutter in the open areas of our house isn't too bad but, oh man, open a closet or a drawer and it is an entirely different story! Not to mention we have cleaned out the barn twice and still need to declutter some more! Thanks for the great advice! - 5/3/2012   8:26:33 AM
  • 45
    Thanks for the advice. I'm living in the house we moved into the day after we got married 38 years ago. Talk about clutter! We keep saying we need to throw it out, but somehow never get around to it. My husband says the kids can just throw it all away after we are gone! LOL! But after reading this, I'm going to try to just do a box or a drawer or something small. Maybe it will motivate me to do more. - 5/3/2012   8:22:14 AM
  • IVFNURSE1
    44
    What a great blog! Food for thought..... - 5/3/2012   8:16:41 AM
  • 43
    Yes..I struggle to declutter.....but I need the 16 plus bottles of nail polish. Just seeing the colors of them brightens my life and fingertips up. I also like just plain bare nails. I hope to have a display made for them One Day! :-) - 5/3/2012   8:10:44 AM
  • 42
    Great article. I live with my husband the pack rat! - 5/3/2012   8:05:36 AM
  • 41
    Ahahaha - I'm a declutterer who lives w/ 3 packrats. My cross to bear.... - 5/3/2012   7:50:10 AM
  • SUNSET09
    40
    I've realized the more I give away, the more it comes back to me. I have the physological approach that if I purchase something, something has got to go however, I am so behind the power curve. I do this on my job, (e-mails as well) at home and friends seem to be taking care of themselves as I do have needy friends and family. Thank you for putting it all in perspective! - 5/3/2012   7:45:17 AM
  • 39
    You must live alone. I would like to do a lot more de-cluttering and simplify things at home, but my husband likes to keep everything. It can be very frustrating! - 5/3/2012   7:45:17 AM
  • 38
    Hi my Spark name is Tihaitien and I'm a pack-rat-aholic. I seem to always want. Not sure if it stems from my aunt and her daughters taking away my new things when I had to go live with them during the school for six years from the time I was 6 or having moved around a bit when I was younger. But every time I de-clutter, I bring more things back in. I just keep finding ways to reorganize and store. Thanks for the inspiration. - 5/3/2012   7:26:02 AM
  • 37
    That is a great blog. Oh! Do I understand the feelings you were going through when leaving for Korea. I felt te same when I was emptying my 2000 sq ft home to move in our little 3 bed townhouse here in Japan. Living in an over-populated area has made it necessary for us to have the bare minimum in our house. We need this in order to keep our sanity sometimes.

    Also, having to change friends regularly when you are an expat makes you realize that you need to let friendships with people who are not where you are as a person go. Whether they are your neighbors or old friends or acquaintances from across the world. Sometimes you do need to say no to some friendships in order to form new productive unexpected friendships.

    Thanks for sharing... From what I read, you've reached a wide audience with your blog. Bravo! - 5/3/2012   7:22:18 AM
  • 36
    Perfect timing. I have put a box in the garage and am slowly trying to get rid of things. Things and more things that I don't need, don't want, and someone else could possibly want or need. Clutter that makes my world overwhelming because there is so much stuff. So, I have started and plan to move forward.

    THANKS so much for the inspiration!!! - 5/3/2012   7:08:33 AM
  • SBNORMAL
    35
    I am trying to do this now. - 5/3/2012   6:49:06 AM
  • 34
    I'm with THINKPINK06. I declutter twice and year and as time goes on. I want to be a good steward so I do try to declutter responsibly...recycle, give away, sell, etc. But if push comes to shove...I either sit it on our curb for someone else to pick up or throw it away. Life is short. People are what are important. - 5/3/2012   6:46:33 AM
  • 33
    I declutter at least twice a year. I go through everything and either throw it away or donate it. - 5/3/2012   6:30:35 AM
  • 7WORSHIPS
    32
    This article on clutter is right on time for me as I struggle to remove all types of clutter from my life. After Hurricane Katrina I vowed to never again accumulate so many things, yet here I am struggling to get rid of books, clothes and other items that I do not necessarily need. You are so right about how time consuming it can be to try to keep up with too much "Stuff." It truly becomes a matter of stuff owning you instead of you owning stuff. - 5/3/2012   6:25:34 AM
  • 31
    I started decluttering when I sold my house and moved. I knew I couldn't keep it all. Just recently did another declutter and it was very theraputic. I don't want my things to end up controlling me! - 5/3/2012   6:23:32 AM
  • 30
    As I prepare for retirement, I'm decluttering my classroom and trying to work on decluttering my office and my garage. It's a monumental task, but I appreciate the encouragement to keep at it that your blog provides . - 5/3/2012   6:07:00 AM
  • 29
    I've started decluttering recently. - 5/3/2012   6:02:14 AM
  • 28
    I'm with you on this one. If I haven't used something in the past 6 months it's gone. I just got rid of five bags of clothes that were too big. Our work place has silent auctions quarterly. I donate all of my stuff to that because it helps our agency, which is a non-profit, to make some extra cash... Love it! - 5/3/2012   5:29:31 AM
  • 27
    I'm with you on this one. If I haven't used something in the past 6 months it's gone. I just got rid of five bags of clothes that were too big. Our work place has silent auctions quarterly. I donate all of my stuff to that because it helps our agency, which is a non-profit, to make some extra cash... Love it! - 5/3/2012   5:28:26 AM
  • 123ELAINE456
    26
    I have a lot of new kitchen things I need to get rid. Will be selling everything I don't need. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week. - 5/3/2012   4:07:40 AM
  • 25
    I appreciated a lot Brody's article as well - especially the part about food as clutter. Indeed, gifts that are experiences rather than objects are a wonderful idea! - 5/3/2012   3:33:04 AM
  • 24
    I keep waiting for the producers from Hoarders to show up at my house. The two really bad rooms in my house are the kitchen and my room. My room seems to be the place that everyone puts stuff when they are cleaning other rooms in the house. I go through piles and get rid of things only to find more junk in their the next day. I also think their is a HUGE junk magnet under my table that sucks all the junk to that spot.

    Our property also has a huge junk magnet. My husband is a mechanic and works on small engines (lawnmowers, tractors, etc) on the side. At one point I stopped counting at 100 lawnmowers just in the front yard. I keep threatening to send him to a 12 step program for his problem. To his credit he does fix a lot of them and we sell them.

    I'm also a big proponent of removing clutter from my email inbox. I unsigned up for 5 email newsletters that I never have time to read. - 5/3/2012   3:26:03 AM
  • ANNIE4ANNIE
    23
    I too have clutter of past generations that I am working on.[Pray for me!]
    However I do have one tip concerning my clothes that I would love to pass on. When a piece of clothing that I have worn goes back into the closet I hang the hanger backwards. At the end of the season with one glance I can see what I have worn and what to donate.
    I have found that decluttering objects in my life rolls over to decluttering calories!
    - 5/3/2012   3:23:52 AM
  • 22
    DH is a clutterbug and collector, so we have a house too full of stuff. One of our ongoing issues. But this weekend past, I was able to get rid of some of my clutter. For medical reasons I was confined to bed for the weekend, and I decided to use the time well, and decided to declutter my overflowing email inbox. A ridiculous number of emails (many non personal, just daily messages etc), sometimes read, sometimes not, but never deleted.

    It took two solid days to do it, but it was so worth it. I found some very important emails that had been buried - and some were important contacts for different things. I feel so much lighter having done this. I know that the same thing would happen if we tackled our house the same way. But DH is impossible to budge on this - one of those hot button issues.

    But I also have my clutter (just not as much). That would be a good place to start. - 5/3/2012   1:36:51 AM
  • 21
    Decluttering is part of my everyday life. When I run across items, I question when I used it last. If I am unsure what to do with it, I place it on the garage sale shelf in the garage. If I know right away that I have no use for it anymore, I have choices to make like recycle it, give it to someone I know that can use it of or I put it on the garage sale shelf. - 5/3/2012   1:10:44 AM
  • 20
    I'm working on this but in reverse.
    I started by getting rid of toxic people
    and putting more quality into life
    now I'm on to dealing with four generations of stuff - 5/3/2012   1:00:37 AM
  • 19
    story of my life..... - 5/3/2012   12:33:11 AM
  • KDMAMA2
    18
    Thanks! :0) - 5/3/2012   12:32:11 AM

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