Do You See Clutter?

I think one of the most dramatic changes you can make in your house is clearing out the clutter. If you look at pictures of beautiful homes, the one thing they ALL have in common is that they aren’t cluttered. There may be many items in the picture but you can still see and touch everything.


Photo courtesy of Clearly this isn’t MY garage!

Now these pictures are staged for the photograph so realistically, a person living there would have a few more items about: a mug or two on the desk as well as a stack of bills to be dealt with. I’m not talking about living unrealistically; I’m talking about being able to breath and function in your own home.

I was trying to organize my thoughts about organization (yeah, I just said that) and I thought, “What are barriers to being organized?”

  • Mindset
  • Time
  • Space
  • Ability

Mindset is a broad category. I broke that down even further:

  • Don’t think it is a problem
  • Overwhelming
  • Want to keep it because:

-It’s valuable
-It means something to me
-I (or someone) might need it

Looking at these lists, there are so many good subjects that I think we’ll just make this a series. To make the information and discussion valuable, I’ll try to keep the ultimate focus on solutions.

Now I don’t mean to give any kind of impression that I’m this super organized person who is going to whip anyone else into shape. That is laughable. My house is ridiculously dis-organized and if you saw my car you would be horrified.

My garage before The Great Clean Out of 2013

However, I do LOVE to organize and organizing things is something I do well. It is something I do for a living. I’m an instructional designer which means the biggest part of my job is taking a LOT of information and organizing it into comprehensible and digestible chunks that people can remember moving forward.

I’m really a big nerd with organizing information. A huge revelation for me was in grade school when we learned about bar charts and pie charts. I swear that I heard the angels sing. This idea that random information could be gathered into a way that communicated something? Fantastic! I immediately went home and created a big binder charting everything in my room. It was really just an inventory of how many records, books, and toys I had but I absolutely loved it!


You should have seen how happy I was when I discovered workflows!

But I’m like everyone else who has to look in several places before I can find something. Because I enjoy digging out of the clutter and putting things to rights just means that I do organize well and can capture some of the processes for others who think organizing is about as entertaining as watching grass grow.

Our solutions will focus on three phases:

  1. How to identify
  2. How to pare down
  3. How to put it back

Let’s talk about identifying the areas that need to be organized.

My space isn’t the only space I’ve been working on this year. This Spring my family had to step in and give my grandparents a hand with their space. My grandparents are 95 and live in an independent-living retirement place.  Their apartment is significantly smaller than the house they lived in for 35 years.

A lot of things came to the apartment that probably shouldn’t have. I think we all make that mistake when we move. We go to the trouble of packing something up, moving it, and then unpacking it at the new place. Many times I’ve unpacked something and thought, “Why did I bring this? Why didn’t I just get rid of it?” We keep things out of habit.

My grandparents are the generation that went through the Great Depression and WWII so they don’t throw anything away. Everything is precious because they did without for so long. My Grandpa has a saying his mother taught him, “Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without.” He’s told me this more than a few times and I do appreciate this thinking and really try to be less disposable myself (I could do SO much better though) but you pay a price for saving everything. When my Grandpa had to finally start using a walker this Spring, we had to clear a lot of the clutter from their apartment so he could safely get around with his walker.


This task was really hard for all of us. It was difficult for my Grandparents because they didn’t see a problem. It was difficult for us because we had to overrule them and make my Grandparents unhappy because we were in their personal space and messing with their things. It’s a terrible feeling to know you are invading someone’s privacy and hurting their dignity. Especially when it is someone you love.

There was a lot of discussion as we tried to show my Grandparents what we were doing and why we were doing it. The most effective argument was the question of safety.

“Can you move around safely?”

Having them move through the room and showing them when they were having some trouble getting around piles against the walls helped them see where some of the trouble spots are. These little piles against the walls are common in all of our homes because I think we stop seeing them. I know I do!

We also started a litmus test of when something could leave the house.

“How much dust is on it?”

If it was really dusty, we got rid of it. Sometimes you unearth something they genuinely need that is really dusty because they couldn’t see or get to it anymore. That gives us the third question:

“Can you see and touch what you need?”

If you can’t, then you have an area you need to address.

That was the only criteria we followed when identifying areas to tackle and identifying items that can leave the house. We never made judgment calls on items. If we thought it was stupid that there are 100 back issues of Town and Country but it wasn’t in the way and it wasn’t dusty, it didn’t matter because those passed the test and stayed. Most of the time, the dust question will cover things you KNOW need to go (such as all the jars and coffee cans Grandpa had saved).

If you are like me, you can identify at least one area right now that doesn’t pass one of these three questions. (purse, I’m looking at you…)

One recommendation I would make is not to try to tackle all your cluttered areas at once (unless it is a question of safety and then please, jump on those right now). You’ll have more success if you work through these methodically. Just identify one really bad area right now. Some place that has gotten really bad and you are dreading the job of shoveling it out. We’ll make a project of going through this together. Maybe it won’t be so bad if we all work on a bad area together.

As we look at the how, we are also going to look at the why which I think helps create that sustainable change in the long run. Let’s try to break some of the habits that gave us trouble in the first place.

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3 Responses to Do You See Clutter?

  1. Robyn says:

    I’ve been doing a major clutter clearing. There are a ton of guides on the Zen Habits blog ( that I have found to be pretty useful Good luck with your quest!

  2. Sue says:

    Would your family like to come to my house, and overrule both my hubby and I?

    • LoveThisSpace says:

      We could just send you away and de-clutter out of your sight. You’d probably never even miss most of what left the house.

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