Why Clutter Happens

Understanding the reasons why clutter happens is the first step to living a clutter-free life.

Today is Day 10 in our 31 Day Declutter Challenge. As I work through the clutter in my own home, I am realizing how important it is to understand why the clutter exists in the first place.

Today I want to talk about the reasons WHY clutter happens. I think it is hard to get the problem under control until you truly understand the cause.

When I take a long, hard look at my home and everything in it, I am absolutely amazed. I cannot believe the amount of THINGS I have amassed over the years! And when I think about how much time it takes out of my life just to take care of those things, I am even more amazed.

I am tired of giving so much of my life over to taking care of things I really don’t need. And yet, somehow the clutter keeps piling up.

As I have thought about the reasons why I have allowed stuff to get out of hand in my home, here is what I have come up with:

1. Sentimentality.

This is a hard one.

All of the little notes I’ve been finding from my kids as I’ve been working to declutter my office this week really get me. I hate to throw any of them away, even if I can’t figure out which kid they’re from!

There is a dress hanging in my closet that I used to wear when my husband and I were dating. There is no way in the world I could ever squeeze myself into it now. And even if I could, it’s unlikely I would wear it as it looks like it came from 1998. But my husband absolutely loves that dress and will not let me get rid of it. So for now, it stays. Maybe I will be happy I kept it many years from now.

We have a few knick-knacky type things that the girls have purchased on our various vacations. I loathe knick-knacks myself and don’t buy them. They are annoying to manage and I can never really figure out a good place for them, yet the girls would be so sad if I were to throw them out because they remind them of our fun times together as a family.

2. Shopping mindlessly or to relieve stress.

Sometimes if I am feeling stressed out I feel the need to buy something.

I guess I just like to get out of the house and be by myself. But when I do that, I often end up at some store where I seriously peruse the aisles until I find something I want to buy.

Or sometimes I see something online and I hit buy before even thinking about the fact that I already have enough skirts, and just because it’s adorable doesn’t mean I need it and should buy it.

Sometimes I even buy something because a friend purchased it and I really like it, so I want one, too. Even though I have no idea what I’ll do with it or where I’ll put it.

3. “Someday I might need it.”

I have piles of craft and scrapbooking supplies that I will probably never use. I have not made a scrapbook page in several years, and yet it kills me to think of getting rid of any of it. Someday I might start scrapbooking again, right? I’m just too busy right now.

Related: How I finally got rid of the scrapbooking supplies

I sometimes keep pickle jars or other cool containers because I am sure I might be able to find a use for it someday.

I keep lots of things in the name of frugality, actually. But when it comes down to it, I either forget I have something and buy a new one anyway, or I simply never actually need it.

4. It was a gift.

I have a few things on display in my house that I do not love, or even like, simply because somebody gave them to me as a gift.

While I don’t love the item, I do love the person. Or I am at least afraid that they will see it is gone if I get rid of it.

As I type this I am looking at a little handmade porcelain bird that a neighbor gave me a few years ago as a thank you gift for taking care of their dogs. It’s pretty, but I am not a fan of knick-knacks, and even if I were, it’s not my style. And yet I keep it, even though my neighbor has probably forgotten she gave it to me and wouldn’t likely come into my office and notice whether it was gone or not anyway.

I feel obligated to keep things that people give me, even if I have absolutely no use for them.

5. You spent good money on it.

I have piles of fabric that I purchased with a project in mind but never actually started. I spent good money on it, yet it has sat in my basement for five years and I still have not done anything with it. The likelihood of my starting these projects at this point is pretty low, and I don’t even like some of the fabric anymore. Yet, there it sits taking up space.

I bought a yogurt maker forever ago that I have never taken out of the box. Because I really do have good intentions of using it to make my own yogurt. Really, I do! But if I haven’t used it in over seven years, am I really deluded enough to think that I will use it anytime soon?

Clothes, toys, books, movies. All of that kind of stuff. If it isn’t being used, why do I keep it? Because I think about how much money it cost me and I feel like I should keep it for that reason alone.

6. There is no time to deal with it.

Things pile up, and even if none of the above reasons apply, I just don’t take the time to deal with it. And then I get overwhelmed.

And then more stuff piles up.

You’ll notice that I have not provided any solutions here.

Believe me, I wanted to. My fingers typed them out several times. I KNOW the solutions. But I really need to think about the reasons right now so I don’t have to deal with this all again another year from now.

Today’s Assignment:

Take a good look at the clutter in your own life and write down the reasons why it’s there. You might come up with different reasons than I did. Which reasons are easier for you to justify? 

Why does clutter happen in your house?

Incidentally, the painted bird in this photo was made in an art class by one of my kids and is NOT in fact, the painted bird that my neighbor gave me.

Find all of the posts in this 31 Day Challenge here: A Place for Everything: 31 Days to Less Clutter and More Peace.

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Laura Kelly Walters

That looks simply divine!

Kim (The Kim Six Fix)

I have those same issues.. All the "i'm going to get around to it" projects and things I just can't bear to throw away.
Being organized is just as much a shift in mindset as it is in actually cleaning up. Often that is the harder part!

Megan Kubasch

This sounds amazing! We are going to a little get together next Saturday and my husband signed us up to bring a dessert… I think this would be perfect. Do you think that it would work to use a regular all-purpose flour? I don't have a problem with going out to get some gluten-free stuff, but if I don't have to add an extra item to the grocery list I think Hubby would be happy 🙂


Megan, Yes–it will absolutely work with normal all-purpose flour. I usually note that but forgot this time. We have made a chocolate version of this dessert for years–long before we went GF–and the crust works just fine with the regular flour.

Jill Morgenstern

That looks SO yummy Lara!!!!!! I'd have to probably make whip cream for it…because I'm a food snob (at least that's what my husband says about me). But it looks SO good! 🙂


Good things to remember when cleaning out! I've done some major cleaning out since we had a tag sale and I refused to bring it back in afterward. Pinned to Organization

Hilda Rodgers

Identifying the reasons for clutter is a big part of being able to deal with it. Thanks for sharing these reasons so we can all look at our clutter and figure out why it's there… so hopefully we'll be able to take steps to getting rid of it.


Yes to all 6 of them. Especially don't have time to deal with it.

Jill Morgenstern

Also, clutter multiplies exponentially, so there's always that too. 🙁 Very, very hard to keep it all under control.


Why must it do that? You sure have to keep on top of it.


Amen. Though when I do have it under control, it takes remarkably less time to deal with it. Hopefully by the end of this month I can say it's "under control"–Getting there!


It is treating the disease instead of the symptoms. Painful, but necessary!


Good for you! I really love getting it out. I never miss it. That's what I have to keep reminding myself of–I won't miss it!


I am going to be donating a lot of $$ worth in fabric. Kind of sad, but it will be nice to be able to not have the projects I don't even want to do anymore looming over my head!


How about using the evaporated milk with this pudding?


That's a brilliant idea. It would make it more custardy, but that could be very, very good. Let me know if you try it!


Can I use Better Batter All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour instead of Bob's Red Mill?


I have not tried it with Better Batter, and it is a different blend of starches/flours than Bob's Red Mill. The blend we tried that failed (and we tried it twice to be sure) had almond flour in it, which I suspect was the culprit. I think the Better Batter will probably work. I'd love to hear whether or not it does if you try it.


Thanks Lara! I will give it a try with both flours to see how it turns out. Thanks


I have a hard time letting things go that are nostalgic to me. I have three large storage totes of stuffed animals that include care bears, rainbow brite, popples and smurfs. I had them in storage for a couple of years when I lived in an apartment and now they're taking up space in my house. :/


In addition to the things you said, I've noticed that clutter accumulates at my house due to sheer laziness a lot of the time. For example, I got my daughter a sippy cup once she was old enough. Unfortunately, it leaked like crazy. I set it aside with the intention of letting it go and getting a new one. Well, I got the new one, but the leaky one was still in the cabinet today, months later. Those months could have been years if I wasn't in decluttering mode right now. SO MANY other items in my home have similar stories (and some of them HAVE been around for years!). I need to start keeping an "out" bin and putting items there immediately when I decide they aren't needed, otherwise they start to just blend in until I don't even notice them anymore. I've got a bad case of "can't see the trees for the forest."

Teresa McEachern

Wonderful dessert Lara. Love that it's gluten free!