The Ultimate Strategy to Conquer Clutter

Clutter is our common enemy. The battle to conquer clutter is constant and it always will be. By employing the strategies discussed below you can greatly increase your chances of a victory against this ever-encroaching foe. 

I have identified four key tactics in the fight against clutter:

  • Extinquish Excuses
  • Overthrow Obstacles
  • Quell Incoming Clutter
  • Defeat Indecision

Extinguish Excuses

We all make excuses from time to time, especially when it comes to things we find intimidating. Doing away with excuses is a great first step in any effort to conquer clutter.

The best way to overcome excuses is to identify them and face them head on.

When it comes to decluttering, there are a number of common excuses that prevent people from progressing. Look for one (or more) that strikes a chord with you and what you can do to put that excuse in its place.

Excuse #1: Guilt

Guilt is a common excuse for not getting rid of unwanted, unneeded stuff. Sometimes the guilt comes from having spent money on things that rarely, if ever, get used. That’s understandable, but not practical. 

You will never get your money’s worth out of stuff you never use, and the longer it sits unused in your home the more likely it is to become obsolete.  You can feel good about employing any of the following methods to conquer clutter: sell it, gift it to someone who will use it, or donate it to charity.

Gifts are another source of guilt that prevents people from getting rid of stuff. You probably know what I mean: you love the gift-giver but not the gift, and you’re afraid of hurting the person's feelings.

Decluttering is about letting go, not just of stuff, but of the negative emotions that can often be associated with stuff – and this includes guilt. Anyone who truly cares about you would not want you to feel burdened by an inanimate object.

You can conquer clutter and get rid of guilt by giving up things you don’t want or use.

Excuse #2: Fear

In the case of decluttering fear is often expressed in the form of ‘might’ – as in ‘this item might be worth something someday’ or ‘I might need this thing’.

Instead of focusing on what may happen in the future, it’s best to realistically examine your relationship with the item in the past. If you haven’t used it for months or years, you’re not likely to use it in the future.

Holding onto things based on their potential value is always a gamble. Things are only worth what people are willing to pay for them. An item may be collectible. It may even be rare, but if no one wants it or is willing to pay a high price to have it, it’s just clutter.

A surefire way to conquer clutter is to clear your shelves of any ‘mights’ which may be taking up valuable real estate and make room for the things you regularly use and enjoy.

Excuse #3: Sentimentality

Most of us have stuff we hang onto simply because of the memories associated with it. That’s natural. The key is not to let it get out of hand. Limit yourself to one box or tote of keepsake items.

One way to hang onto the memories associated with an outdated item is to take a picture of it.

Create a digital scrapbook from your photos which can be enjoyed anytime. You are more likely to flip through pictures on your phone while you’re killing time in the waiting room at the dentist’s office than you are to drag out a box full of old stuff that’s buried in the attic or closet. 

Excuse #4: Faded Dreams

Many of us have stuff which we either don’t use or can’t use but still hang onto simply out of hope. I’m talking about clothes that have not fit for years or materials that were purchased in anticipation of undertaking some project.

Giving up clothes that don’t fit doesn’t have to mean giving up on the desire to lose weight. What’s the likelihood that your old clothes will still be in style if and when you do fit into them? Better to get rid of the old, unworn clothing and treat yourself to a new outfit (or wardrobe!) when you hit your target weight.

When it comes to unfinished projects, a simple analysis of time is perhaps the best way to determine when to get rid of things. If you haven’t tackled the project in a year or more, you’re not likely to do so. Time to get rid of things. 

Guilty as Charged

I have a confession to make: I’m guilty of using the faded dreams excuse to hang onto things. We were given a couple of furniture items which I have been meaning to refinish (ten months ago). They started out in my garage. Next they migrated to the ‘shop’. From there they were moved to the attic. Their next stop is an upcoming garage sale.

Excuse #5: Overwhelm

One of the most common obstacles in the quest to conquer clutter is a misconception of what it will entail. Some people don’t start because they don’t know where to start. The idea of decluttering is overwhelming. Others put it off because they believe they lack the time or energy necessary to do the job.

Decluttering does take time and energy, but it also makes time and energy. The more clutter free your environment, the less time you have to spend cleaning up or searching for misplaced items. What’s more, purging is rejuvenating. Often after tackling a single project such as a closet, people find themselves energized by the process and eager to do more.

Recommended Reading

Check out my page on Purging. You'll find more information on the benefits of decluttering as well as tips on how to get started.

Overthrow Obstacles

Obstacles, like excuses, often trip us up in our attempts to conquer clutter in our lives. Sometimes we are our own greatest obstacle to success. This happens when we procrastinate.

Defeating procrastination can be as simple as weighing your options. What do you expect to gain from decluttering? Let that vision motivate and inspire you to get started. Once you’ve had a taste of success, your desire to keep at it will increase.

Recommended Reading

Procrastination is a demon we all face in one form or another and decluttering is probably on the top ten list of things people are prone to procrastinate. While it’s easy to get sucked into the endless cycle of putting things off, it’s not as hard as you might think to break that cycle.

All you need is a plan!

Follow the simple tips in the link below to formulate your own foolproof plan to stop procrastinating and start decluttering today.

Other people are another potential obstacle to decluttering. If you do not live alone, chances are you are not the only person in your house creating clutter. Admittedly, winning the cooperation of others in the quest to conquer clutter can sometimes be a challenge.  

Recommended Reading

Let’s face it, you could be the most organized person on the planet and it wouldn't matter one bit if everyone else in your home was disorganized.  It takes a unified effort to declutter a home.  Read the article below for tips on how to win the support of your household in the fight against clutter.

Quell Incoming Clutter

An effective means to conquer clutter is to stop it from entering your home. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but it begins with making intentional, informed decisions about what comes with you when you walk through the door. 

Make Informed Decisions

Intentional decisions are those made after careful thought and consideration. You can inform your decision making process by asking yourself a series of questions.

1. Do I want it?

It may seem obvious that you shouldn’t bring stuff home that you don’t even want, but many of us are guilty of doing just that, often on a regular basis. 

We pick up swag bags in the mall or at conferences; we accept fliers and free samples in an attempt to be polite; we give into a friend’s well-meaning pressure to purchase something that only moderately appeals to us because ‘we deserve it’.

An honest answer to this simple four word question can go a long way toward limiting the amount of clutter that crosses your threshold.

2. Do I need it?

Have you ever succumbed to the temptation to purchase a nifty new gadget of some sort only to realize two years later that you’ve never used it?

Once you have determined that you do in fact want the item being offered to you, your next consideration should be whether or not you actually have a use for it.

As part of the process of determining your need for an item, you might also ask yourself the following related questions:

  • Do I already own something that performs the same function?
  • In what circumstances do I envision myself using this item?   

3. Why am I bringing this home with me?

Understanding your own motivation for collecting clutter is crucial in the battle to conquer clutter.

  • Are you being polite or giving into pressure? 
  • Is it just too good of a bargain to pass up? 
  • Do you like the prestige that comes with owning the item?

Carefully considering your motivation for bringing things into your home can go a long way toward limiting the excess that enters.

4. Where will I put it?

If you don’t know where it’s going to go, chances are there isn’t a place for it. Things that lack a designated space quickly become clutter. Conquer clutter before it even collects by preventing it from getting through the door.

Aim for Equilibrium

Another way to quell incoming clutter is to seek consistency in terms of the amount of stuff you own. Instead of allowing more and more stuff to pile up, look for ways to balance what comes in with what is going out.

For instance, when you buy a great new pair of shoes, take a moment to look through your old shoes. There is probably at least one pair that you never wear or that is completely worn out. Say goodbye to the old as you welcome in the new.

This principle can be applied widely as an effective way to conquer clutter.


One of the great blessings of living in the digital era is the increased ability it offers to reduce clutter. This is particularly true of paper clutter.

Here are a few examples of ways in which clutter can be reduced by digitizing:

  • Use your phone’s camera to photograph fliers, brochures, invitations, announcements and other important information. This puts the information at your fingertips and gets it off your kitchen counter. Record the important dates from fliers, invitations, etc. in your phone’s calendar app in tandem with a digital reminder and recycle the paper reminder.
  • Sign up for electronic billing for all of your utilities and other regularly scheduled payments. Set up reminders on your phone to make sure payments are made on time or establish automatic payments.
  • When you come across information that you want to keep (recipes, magazine articles, etc.) create an electronic copy by scanning it to your computer, then discard the original.
  • Rather than keeping every piece of artwork ever produced by the children in your life, select the very best for framing or saving in some other fashion and photograph the rest. Use the photographs to create a digital scrapbook which can be used as a screensaver or displayed on an electronic picture frame.

Defeat Indecision

The most common form of indecision that gets in the way of decluttering is whether or not to do it all. You should do it! What else is there to say?

Decluttering saves time, money, energy and stress. What’s more, it makes a home more comfortable and inviting and leaves you feeling in control of your life. 

Recommended Reading

For information of the many benefits that come from choosing a clutter-free lifestyle, click on the image below. 

The question of what to keep and what to get rid of represents another source of indecision in the decluttering process.  The answer to this question was most simply stated by William Morris, a 19th century textile designer, who said:

Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

In practical terms that means asking yourself a few questions as you evaluate each item’s staying power. The questions are as follows:

  • What benefit does this item offer me?
  • Does owning this item give me pleasure?
  • What is my reason for keeping this item?

Recommended Reading

When deciding what to keep and what to get rid of it can be helpful to categorize items according to type.  Try using the 4 T’s (trash, tools, transients and trimmings) to help you clear away clutter and organize your space. Learn more about this system of categorization by clicking on the image below.

A final source of indecision in decluttering is the question of where and how to store things. There are a couple of key guidelines for determining the best location and means for storing your stuff.

  1. Store things where you use them.
  2. Store like items together.
  3. Store the stuff you use most in the most accessible locations.
  4. Use open storage for those items you access most.

Recommended Reading

For more storage solutions click on the image below. 

You Can Conquer Clutter

Clutter threatens each of us everyday, constantly encroaching on our space and threatening any hopes we have for order. The good news is, victory is possible! Apply these strategies to conquer clutter and I'm confident you'll see and feel a difference in your space. 

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