Busting Clutter

What Is Clutter?

Anything in your home that you love, need, or use, is not clutter. Everything else needs to go.

Emotional clutter, however, is far more complicated, with deeper roots. Consider the host of emotions you might feel when facing purging something:

“I just know as soon as I get rid of it, I’ll need it.”

“Nobody notices that crack in the frame except me.”

“You can never have too many dog toys.”

“My grandmother gave that to me right before she died. I can’t just throw it out.”

“I wear that every other December when we host for the holidays. It’s getting snug.”

Do you recognize yourself in any of them? How can we bust through the clutter in our homes when the thought of letting go of anything causes such turmoil? The answer may lie in unearthing the reasons for the clutter.


From Clutter to Clarity

One place to start might be Kerri Richardson‘s book, From Clutter to Clarity. Of all the resources available on reducing clutter, Richardson gets at why we have clutter where we do. Her “common clutter hotspots” cheat sheet at the end of the book pointed me toward two chapters that speak volumes.

I recently realized that I have two clutter hotspots: our home office (what Richardson refers to as the money center) and my mind. Once I identified the truths in those two chapters, I was able to shed grief, guilt, and shame before I could tackle the immensely popular KonMari method. Now that I have embraced the why behind the clutter accumulation and have created a strong plan to deal with it, I can move forward with the how.

Choosing a Path to Reduce Emotional Clutter

Brooks Palmer, author of Clutter Busting and Clutter Busting Your Life, offers some practical advice for getting rid of clutter. He stresses the importance of asking yourself curious questions about the items in your home. Questions such as how do you feel when you read/hold/see this item? Does it represent someone you no longer feel you are or something you want to change? Who pays the highest price for holding onto the item beyond its welcome?

If the answer is you then it’s time to let go.

Marie Kondo, Japanese consultant and creator of The KonMari Method, suggests that items in your home which don’t “spark joy” do not belong in your home. She asks participants to commit to tidying everything all at once, whereas KC Davis, author of How to Keep House While Drowning, insists that you are not lazy if you struggle to keep a clean house and you can take as long as you need to.

When considering the right path for you, remember that whatever system you choose must work for you or you won’t follow through. Perhaps you could use a five-minute action to get over any inertia. This is my plan.

KonMari Method

Kondo suggests a clutter-busting method that includes going through everything in your house, garage, shed, and car(s) in five steps, in the following order:

    • Clothing
    • Books
    • Papers
    • Miscellaneous items
    • Sentimental value


She suggests pooling together similar items so you can see everything you have, all at once. As you go through each pile (you can have each member of your household do their own clothes, books, and papers), ask “Does this spark joy?” Keep anything you love or that makes you happy. Put the rest into “Maybe” or “Discard.”

You might also want to consider whether items in the discard pile should end up in the garbage, in a garage sale, as a donation, or to trade. But initially, your priority is to look for what you will keep.

And don’t overlook the option of starting small: your desk. A drawer in your file cabinet. A shelf behind your desk. If doing the entire household all at once stresses you out, commit to what you CAN do to move forward.

NoCluHoMo to Reduce Emotional Clutter

Try conducting your own experiment. I’ve dubbed November 2022 to be “NoCluHoMo” or No Clutter in the House Month. I have no problem letting go of clothing.  Less so, books. Where I really get stuck is Kondo’s third category, papers in my office.

In particular, manuscripts. I always mean well, but whenever I get to this category, I want to skip over it, something Kondo would advise against. All the other clutter-busting authors would probably say, “Just keep going.” So I eventually plan to give myself the best present of all: Forgiveness, self-compassion, and a tidy, clutter-free home. I’ll know when the spirit moves me, the time will be right.