Is Your Life Too Cluttered?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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Pack rat - yep that's me.

I work at it - but I think it is a character trait - and not always a bad one! Report
Interesting story/blog here. I find myself quite often stoppping and wondering what in the world I am thinking.

I am military and used to moving. I lived in an apartment in Japan (probably a little bigger than the one in Seoul) and then American apartments. That apartment time has covered approximately 8 years. In those 8 years, I have also lived onboard a ship in a rack where my belongings filled up about 2.5 sea bags.

Late 2010, I bought my first house for my husband and myself. We hadn't even lived together yet but I bought our house which is about 1800 sq ft and more than adequate for two people (and now to pets as well). I have family who live in less sq footage than I am living in. I was raised in less square footage.

We have pack rat tendancies as well but that is mostly because my husband lost all of his memories through a series of moves by himself and his family. So, I try to stop and think about what I have. Honestly, half of my life has lived in boxes so when we did move in together I was able to get rid of a lot of stuff (I haven't used it in 8 years then I really don't need it). The other side I am working on is just realizing I am in a good place and a little bit of clutter isn't necessarily a bad thing. I've been so mobile for so long maybe it is just me adjusting to being able to stay at home or more importantly have a home for a family to grow up in. Report
I have recently started to de-clutter and do feel like a weight is lifting - I find a few items that jog wonderful memories are treasures, but any more than that is just more "stuff" to take care of, move around, clean, etc. I've always saved everything thinking I MAY need it at some point in time - but no more! It feels great! The best THINGS in lfe are not THINGS Report
Enough friends? I guess that one does not seem like clutter to me. The rest, yes, but friends are waaaayyy more important than even my workout routine. And there are new friends waiting around every corner. Report
Thank you for you sharing. My son and I moved into an apartment from living in two bedrooms in a townhouse and I'm STILL amazed at how much clutter we have, even though we threw out/donated several things as we packed up. I have been attempting for the past month now to get back to decluttering more, but get overwhelmed just thinking about it and then sit and do absolutely nothing. It's driving me crazy, but I have a hard time focusing on cleaning anything. Hopefully, this will inspire me to get something done over the next few days after work in the evenings. I'm trying to break down the daunting tasks into one section at a time. Report
100% guilty !! I toss, but then hit those garage sales/flea markets and bring home for junk. Report
This is so true for me. I get overwhelmed and then I do nothing. Thanks for the inspiration. I just wish I had read it yesterday instead. Report
Thank you so much for sharing all your thoughts and great ideas
We moved five years ago due to my DH having alzheimers we moved across the street from our son and his partner after having been in a home for 22 years and an accumulations of 55+ years of marriage
Our children helped us get a 30 yard dumpster and we nearly filled it had some help from a few neighbors who had things to get rid of
But still moved way to much stuff am still sorting and downsizing and getting rid of things and yes it is just things that are no longer needed or used
Am finding can do with less and less and yes it does feel so good to be free of stuff
One day at a time Report
OMG .. how did you get in my garage to take that picture !!! Report
Last summer we traded homes with my brother and his wife for a vacation. They had 3 sets of towels for the guest bathroom, all the same color and 4 sets for their bathroom, all the same color. Their whole house was simple like that. I've been working on mine ever since. I need to use my computer less and work on simplifying my life more. What a thought! Report
GUILTY!! Report
My issue with gathering excess "stuff" was very evident when I left a job last year and had to clean out my office. My oh my, the stuff I had accumulated. The office was pretty big and that just provided me with more drawers, corners, surfaces in which to store things. I did purge a lot; but also carted a lot home with me to deal with another day. I think you have inspired me to tackle it. Wish me luck!

Thank you! Report
As a former professional organizer, can I hear a big, "Oh, YAH!" Good job for making the connection. It might be difficult to get started, but when you start peeling off the layers, life is so much better. As one of my clients told me, " I feel like a burden has been lifted off my shoulders and I even breathe easier." Report
I am doing this right now. Another good book to read that touches well on this subject is The Happiness Project. Check it out. Report
Thanks again, for the inspiration, Stepfanie! Report
Thanks for the inspiration as I continue to streamline my own life. The more I let go, the better I feel. I appreciate you for sharing your experience. Report
I am unfortunately a procrastinator who now has a terminal illness, making it even more difficult to deal with all the excess stuff--even though due to multiple financial struggles, compared to many of you, "this excess stuff" probably would not be considered that much. It is still a daunting challenge for me. I have, however, made the decision to seriously consider EVERY item brought in to my home to determine if it is something I REALLY need, and will still appreciate a year from now. Report
WOW !!!! Great article, great inspiration to me.....thanks for sharing.

I am about to start uncluttering my life NOW... Report
I did the same thing when I moved recently and realized when I got to my new place that I need to do more. It's odd - my Mom thinks I've already given away too much and I think I haven't given away enough. My previous apartment was smaller (but with much more usable space) and I've found I prefer that. In fact, I miss it. So, I will continue to get rid of stuff.... Report
I'm constantly sorting through things in our home to pare down those we don't "need". Eleven years ago, my house was burned to the ground. A lot of well-meaning people donated and gave me things I didn't need but I took anyway, feeling guilty if I didn't that I was ungrateful. Divorced since and now happily remarried, I still have some of those things and am slowly separating them from my life, giving away to the Salvation Army, local shelters, and christian centers that sell items to benefit those in need. I prefer to DO things with those I love and care for instead of getting things that will collect dust on a shelf. Most of my family and friends understand this and we do dinner instead of gifts. Pictures take up less room, commemorate the event and last longer. I still have a ways to go with decluttering, but progress is progress. :) Report
This is a constant struggle for me, but I see myself making progress.....slowly but surely! Report
Thanks I needed this article. This website surprises me everyday. My garage looks like the photo above. I'm collecting my old military uniforms and clothes from the 80s. They no longer have a purpose so its time to make time to do the de-cluttering. Report
Four months ago I sorted out books and put them into a box to donate them...this box is still standing in my room...

At the beginning of the summer I HAVE to declutter my stuff because at the end of the summer I want to move out from home and neither do I want to take all the stuff with me nor do I want to use my parents' house as a free storage. Report
I declutter and within a short period of time - I'm right back to being buried in "Stuff".

Thanks for the blog - I DO have a hard time saying NO to projects/ volunteering etc....
Clutter yes at times it is a problem.We are getting closer to moving from the country to the outskirts of a city and clutter is a real big problem.We have so much unnecessary stuff that it will take us months to figure out what to do with all of it also I am an artist and have a studio just full of art stuff.I am starting to cut back and reorganize my things but need to do so much more.We also have other peoples clutter to deal with.Ahhh but life is very good and it will all happen in good time. Report
My method to de-clutter my kithcen was to take it one cabinet at a time. When I would clean up the kitchen after dinner, I would empty one cabinet, sort, and them wipe out the inside and only put back stuff that I used. It's great to have things you use handy without having to dig through all the junk first. Report
I seem to have the opposite problem of clutter. Sometimes I wish I could leave my bed unmade for a day. I love a neat and clean house and I think that it is sort of ingrained in me. I am not unpleasant to live with, I just want a place for everything and everything in its place. One good rule of thumb is: when you buy something new, get rid of something. I do that with clothes and it really works. Report
Great Blog! I moved from a three bedroom home with a finished basement into a one bedroom condo. I really decluttered then, but now I need it more than ever. I keep making lists to address the cleaning out, but seem to only cross out the easy ones. Ater reading your blog I have a new sense of crossing out the hard ones. Report
I really like the cross-over -- physical clutter isn't the only thing that can "weigh" us down. Mental clutter, emotional clutter, commitment clutter, (heck, even debt / finance clutter) can all have a negative impact on our life.

It's not just a matter of saying "No". It's a matter of first finding out what IS important to us so that we know what to say "No" to and have the inner values that make us want to clean away that which doesn't need to be held onto. Report
I'm going through all my cds & putting the unnecessary ones up for sale. I already have done so for part of the book collection, but there is unfinished knitting & needlepoint. And yarn for further projects! But that's *most* of the clutter. Report
This is a great idea. I know I can be a bit of a pack rat. Not really, really bad....but I do save too many books, too many shoes, and too much paperwork. I'm working on it though and someday I think I'll have it under control. The hardest thing is parting with stuff from my kids' childhood. I know that stuff means more to me than it does to them - but I just can't part with it! Report
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. Report
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?? Report
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 ... Report
I am working on 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. Report
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... Report
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. Report
I need to save this one and re-read. I have too much stuff. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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)! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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... Report
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. Report
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. Report
Thank you for inspiring me! This weekend the decluttering begins! Report
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. Report
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! Report
Wonderful blog. This puts things really in perspective. Report