The secret of why you have clutter and how to sort it

Clutter bug. Clutter magnet. Bit of a hoarder. Not great descriptions are they. Maybe that’s how you’ve described yourself. Or someone you know. You may be directly affected by someone else’s clutter habit. Like a partner, a child or even your boss. Mess, clutter, piles of stuff can tire us out, bog us down and stop us moving forward in life. So why is it so common? Why doesn’t everyone with an overflowing desk and piles of paperwork on the kitchen table just have a good tidy up?

Clutter comes from a good place…

Because it’s not always that simple. First of all, if it’s YOUR life that had more clutter than clear space, don’t beat yourself up about it. It comes from a good place. We hold onto stuff because we hate to throw it away, hate the idea of waste.  It’s just that instead of making us feel virtuous, it can quickly become overwhelming and lead to us feeling anxious that it’s out of control. Anxious that we’ll never be able to use it all. That there’s nowhere to put it. That we won’t be able to find anything. So we get stuck.

It’s often a sign of anxiety…

People are usually more cluttered when they’re anxious because their minds are full and they prefer to keep sight of where everything is because if they put it away, they’re scared they may never be able to find it. When you’re anxious you often don’t trust your instincts and methodologies any more. You’re not functioning normally so you keep everything out, you can’t put it away because you don’t know what you’re doing with it. You’re not feeling in control and keeping everything in sight is your way of feeling less overwhelmed.

Perfectionism can lead to more mess…

It’s true. Anxiety and clutter are all about perfectionism. People who can’t reorganise their workspace, create systems to run their home life more efficiently, fill in a form to kick start their divorce and so on are usually perfectionists. They want to do it all in one go, to make sure it’s the best thing they’ve ever done/organised/written in their life.

Perfectionism, anxiety and clutter all go together…

But remember this – done is perfect. So said Sarah Cottman, founder of the Institute of Professional Organisers. What did she mean? She meant don’t wait. Don’t put it off. Don’t get strung up on doing the whole thing, making it amazing, doing the best job ever – just start it and see how you go. Do it.

So how do we start on the clutter?

For a start, don’t do this: *surveys the bedroom and thinks…* ‘My wardrobe’s out of control. I need to try on every single thing and get rid of half of it and make back all the money I’ve wasted on unworn impulse buys by selling it on eBay. Then I’ll paint the wardrobe, oh and I could switch the cupboard handles for those nice vintage ones I’ve had sitting in the garage for 5 years if I can ever find them in the mess there, it’ll look gorgeous…’ Sorry, ain’t gonna happen. Not today. That’s one big job.

But. If you’d said: ‘I’m going to fill one Tesco bag for the charity shop and clear the bank statements out of the fruit bowl’, then it will happen, as that’s a much easier goal that you can pull off in 10 minutes if you crack on.

So when it comes to clutter don’t think big. 

Break it up. Think small. Chip away. Baby steps. That way you’ll break through the clutter curse, get started on those piles and begin to move forward.

©2018 Rightsize Ltd.   No part of Rightsize content or images, whole or partial, may be used without Sarah Macnaught’s written consent.  Email her at  Sarah Macnaught, is a leading declutterer and downsizing specialist in the UK.  She is UK ambassador for the Institute of Professional Organisers and an international member of the National Assn of Senior Move Managers