It is my experience that clutter is mostly defined by the relationship between you and an item and not much else. Is the relationship healthy or is it destructive? It doesn't refer to things that are miscellaneous or ornamental in nature. These are characteristics that clutter can have, but they are not mutually exclusive.
You have homeless items. Every item in your home needs a dedicated space where it is kept. Pay attention to which surfaces accumulate clutter: in a home, every item needs to have a place to go or you are inviting chaos.
You're shopping for sport: I am guilty of this to simply because I am human. If you're a human you may find yourself exhibiting certain behaviors and one thing that is pretty true for most of the world is that...shopping is fun. It's been proven that when you shop and buy new things, there are all kinds of serotonin boosts and dopamine boosts that happen in your brain. It can be addictive and sometimes when you bring home these new items, you have no idea what you're going to do with them or when to store them. This is when I like to encourage to my clients to practice what I call Mindful Shopping. Questions to ask yourself before you place items in your shopping basket are as follows: 1. Do I need this item? 2. Is this item going to enrich my life with its beauty or does it bring me enormous joy? 3. Is this item a utility item I actually have a need for? 4. If I pass on this item today, will I be able to come back for it if I regret it?
You got a great "deal": This perhaps goes into the subcategory of mindful shopping, but you may or may not have brought items home that you didn't need or don't have room for because they were a "great deal". Retailers and advertising teams have ways of manipulating you into thinking you are saving money by spending money. I've fallen for it before too. But I cannot express to you the amount of times I've been with a client and we will come across a blouse that's been hanging in their closet for 4 years with the tags still on and they say..."it was a great deal". Sometimes, I believe it's even harder for people to use these things because they are being seen as a shopping trophy of sorts. Removing the tags and actually using the item will take away the trophy mask and reveal it to be what it really is...an item that you paid for, that you own. In a lot of cases, the converse is also true where you spent A LOT of money for an item you're not using and feel like you can't let it go because it has all of this perceived value. It can be very hard to let these items go because you don't want to feel like you've thrown your money away, but it has just as little value sitting idle in your home as it does with someone else. If it's appropriate, you can probably sell the item if you feel like you should get some monetary value back from it, but this requires both time and effort which often equates to money so...just ask yourself what it's worth to you.
You’re not getting rid of items regularly (or even occasionally): I recently helped my dad declutter his closet because they were downsizing house and I asked him when the last time he actually got rid of anything in his closet was and his answer was; NEVER. Setting up a date with yourself to periodically invoice your spaces and the items within it can keep you from keeping too much of what you don't need. You are dynamic and your life is dynamic. You might not use the same stuff you did last year or even the year before.
You're falling into the "someday" trap: You have the intentions to someday make a bundt cake. Someday. But you've had your new bundt pan for 5 years now and it has not been used once. Someday usually NEVER comes when it comes to these items and it's better to let them go now.
You fell into the Free gift with Purchase trap: I am also guilty of this and it mostly has to do with checking out at Sephora. The "If you buy this, we'll give you this" reward type system is actually pretty difficult to resist. It's free, why not? Well A: because it's not what you were shopping for and B: because it's not really free. There is a hidden cost to you and that is you are now the owner of an item you now have to account for. If it's something you needed and regularly use, like occasionally, I'm super excited to get a free small bottle of makeup remover from the makeup counter because I use that stuff. But some items I notice that are particularly suspect are the free bags and stuff that cosmetic brands and perfume companies will include "free with purchase". Again, it's okay to accept these items but take the time to think about whether or not you will REALLY use it when you get home.
You’re accepting "Friendly Freebies": Friends and family are offering you things and you don't know how to turn it down. This can be a difficult one because the politics and dynamics of friends and family can be tricky to navigate. For some people, the way that they express their love is by passing on their items or giving gifts. Some people find it hurtful if you don't accept these things and it can really have a very powerful effect on a relationship if the gift-giver feels like the recipient is ungrateful because it can feel like a rejection of them because sometimes, objects can feel like an extension of ourselves. However, it is up to you to navigate this, based on your relationship with the person. If you're close to them, you might need to explain to them that you only have a limited amount of space to store items and that while you appreciate the sentiment, it is perhaps a little stressful to account for so many gifted items. However, it is more than okay to say thanks but no thanks to anything that a friend or family is offering to you that you genuinely don't want or don't need.
You're holding on to the past: This is similar to the someday trap, but it's slightly different in that you may have items you used before but are no longer relevant, but you are finding it difficult to admit that's not who you are anymore. This can be a really difficult one to deal with emotionally, as I see a lot of women in particular, holding on to clothes that no longer fit them. I find that people who are super busy now, but they used to have time to like paint or sculpt holding on to a lot of those supplies hoping that one day, when they are less busy, they'll pick it up again. While the possibility of losing weight or finding the time to paint is definitely there, you will need to consider what exactly your priorities are and how they affect your life today. If you really wanted to paint more than anything in the world...you will find the time to paint. This is often a painful conversation to have with oneself as it will force you to really make a decision about who you want to be, vs who you actually are. Which leads to number 9...
You have unrealistic goals for yourself: Let's say you do find that time to express yourself through art and you decide to keep some of the art supplies. Well, this often feels very good and it gets people excited about the possibilities of more. But what I find, is that this anticipation of a project or a new-found hobby is that instead of nursing and nurturing the activity through actively doing the thing that is making them happy, they will collect these impending projects to do in the future and they pile up so high, it gets overwhelming and they never get done. I am VERY guilty of this, but the clutter I'm collecting is digital so it doesn't really affect my every day life but it's the same concept. I like playing video games SO much, that I've downloaded these games in anticipation of getting lost in a journey, but I can tell you with 100% honesty that when I turn on this machine, I play the same few games over and over again. You can have the same phenomenon happen with more tangible items which can create a huge storage problem in your home. So, next time you get into something, just notice your habits and how you're collecting items related to that thing.
You don't know what to do with items you want to declutter: The last reason people hold on to clutter is that they don't know what to do with it once it's on track to leave their homes. I actually interviewed a potential client one time who was crippled by the idea of waste or having their items become trash, which in someways is a valid concern as we have a huge plastic problem and we have a lot of people in this country and around the world who would benefit from these cast off items. However, this concern was so crippling, that they were basically paralyzed by it and nothing left their home at all. Now, to a lesser degree some of this is very common. What can I donate? What can I throw away? What can I recycle? What can I reuse? It all gets a little overwhelming. I've put some resources on my blog to help you decide where your used items should go to give you some of the power back when it comes to deciding what to declutter.
What do you think? Have any of these situations applied to you? Are you ready to take some of the power back in your home when it comes to clutter?