How to be disorganized & unproductive, #3: have too much stuff

This is the fourth part to a six part series here on Simple Mom.

Photo by Karl Sinfield

Stuff. Do you have too much of it? A lot of us do. And it’s a surefire way to keep you spinning in circles at home.

If you have too much to pick up, look for, clean around, organize, and trip over, then it’s no wonder you’re feeling disorganized. And if you’re having to do it over and over and over again, it’s no wonder you’re feeling unproductive. That’s why the third key to a disorganized and unproductive day is simply having too much stuff.

An overflow of stuff turns into clutter, and clutter turns into disorganization, stress, chaos, and a lack of peace in your home. Who wants that? No things are worth that.

Stuff Begets More Stuff

Photo by Aja Thomas

What’s even worse is that in a consumerist culture such as ours, more stuff demands more stuff to contain it – Sara at On Simplicity brilliantly calls this “meta clutter.” Stuff to hold your stuff. Do you find yourself continually needing it, collecting it, wishing you had more of it?

Instead of inventing more creative storage, why not consider getting rid of some of your stuff? You’ll instantly add more square footage to your home. It’s like building an addition, without the expense, hassle, and dust.

My Story

Let me tell you a short version of my experience with this. Not quite two years ago, we moved our little family over 6,000 miles away to a new country. Flying overseas and settling into new living conditions required us to whittle down to the absolute essentials. We managed to pack everything we needed into 15 boxes – that included books, clothes, toys, everything. Those boxes were our check-in luggage.

We stored a minimal amount of stuff into the smallest storage unit we could find back in Texas. These were things like quilts, yearbooks and baby books, sentimental photos. Things we didn’t want to lose, but that we didn’t want to take, either.

Photo by Julian Baker

We sold everything else, either in a garage sale, on Craigslist, or to friends and family.

At first I thought getting rid of stuff would be difficult, painful even. It was a little at first, but it quickly became invigorating and relieving. It was really freeing to not be weighted down by stuff. And we really didn’t have that much to begin with – we were living in a 1,000 square foot apartment before moving overseas.

We bought furniture, bedding, and other household goods when we settled down here, but I’m so happy we haven’t resurrected more needless clutter. The four of us now live in just under 1,500 square feet, we have one closet in the entire place, and we have plenty of room for it all.

What To Do?

Overwhelmed when you look around your home? I understand. I’ve been there. Here are a few ideas to perhaps get you started in your decluttering process.

Don’t try to declutter your entire house all at once. You’ll flip out and throw in the towel before you even start. Make a workable plan, such as tackling one room a day over several weeks.

Photo by Chris L

Make a plan of action immediately. Ever decide you don’t want something, but then you just stand there holding it, not sure what to do with it? Get two large boxes and label them “sell” and “donate,” and put your items in there without analyzing over it for too long. Keep these off to the side, and add to them throughout the day.

• If you haven’t used an item in over a year, chances are high you don’t need it. To find out if those seldom-used items get touched, put a simple removable sticker on the bottom. As you use your things, remove the sticker. A year later, if there’s still a sticker, then you probably don’t need it.

If you’re still undecided about something, designate an “undecided” box. Pack up your undecideds, mark the date, and store it away in your garage or a closet. In three months, look in the box again. If you’ve now realized you can live just fine without it, then there’s your answer.

Coming to You Soon

I’m zealously working on a little project that I hope to announce sometime next week. It’s a simple little tool that will guide your decluttering process, and I truly hope it will encourage you towards running a simpler home. I’m pretty excited about it, so be looking for it soon!

Edited to add: In the comments section below, reader Crystal pointed us to an excellent short documentary online called The Story of Stuff. It’s about 20 minutes long, but it’s worth a watch – quite eye-opening! Thanks, Crystal.

Do you feel like you have too much stuff? What’s your short-term solution for dealing with clutter? It’s surprising how little we need to live, really. Perhaps letting go of some of your belongings is your antidote to a disorganized, unproductive day. What do you have too much of?

Start the series How to be Disorganized & Unproductive at Home from the beginning:
Introduction | Key #6 | Key #5 | Key #4 | Key #3 | Key #2 | Key #1

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Very true indeed. Somethings we have more things to do, more… than what we hoped for. We somehow need to get those done within the hours of the day.
    Good post.


    Shamelle @’s last blog post…Expectations: Is It A Human Weakness?

  2. I tend to be a clutter-bug for sure…paper is one of my worst nemesises , I just don’t deal well with it, but with a new scanning program, that’s getting better. The “other stuff”…sentimental (and for me, far too much is LOL), magazines, toys for my little guy, pretty much everything…I just don’t want to get rid of it. One of my quotes is “it’s mine and I like it” – how awful does that sound? I’ve been doing a LOT of soul searching lately to get to the root of it…we thankfully are in a place that if I got rid of anything I then learned I couldn’t live without, I could buy another. This is definitely a weakness of mine – one I’m trying to begin to address…am loving this series – very useful for where I am in life right now! 🙂

    jodi’s last blog post…More Giveaways at hand!

  3. @Jodi – One thing I learned when we moved overseas regarding the “sentimental” stuff – much of the stuff is attached to the memory behind it. What we’re sentimental about sometimes is the memory, not the thing itself. This isn’t true for everything, of course, but a lot of times, we don’t even really like the thing, but we feel like we need to keep it.

    Perhaps give yourself permission to still enjoy that memory, but to not need the thing in order to remember it.

    Just a thought!

  4. I would love to hear some of how you do it- what your strategies are for how you do keep the things you have. We’re in about the same sized house and until last week had 2 closets. They weren’t organized properly or shelved for maximum usage, but we’re fixing that.

    Somedays, I am left feeling like I have a lot more progress to be made…

  5. GREAT post! And I am excited for whatever you will reveal next week!

    I have recently gotten rid of a ton of clutter, primarily in the toys and clothes departments. One way I keep toy clutter down is that I specifically ask friends and family not to get our baby toys but to get him clothes, diapers, or baby food instead. That way we can be selective about the toys he gets and he ends up with a lot less.

    I still have a problem with keeping weird sentimental things. I have gotten a lot better (cut my collection in half) but I know I still have too much.

  6. Now this one I’m actually good at. My husband and I each have one tote for sentimental childhood stuff – stored at the top of the closet above the stairs, behind the Christmas tree. The rest of it, we either use and love or purge. Purging is a constant process. I’m always finding something I can do without. Once you fall in love with open spaces, you realize how little you really need to have.

    Tana’s last blog post…Imagination

  7. @Emily – Hmm, might have to be another post topic in the near future. I really do use the quote I know you like as well – “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I ask myself, “Does anyone in this family find this useful? Does anyone find it beautiful?” If the answer is no to both of those, then I need to raise questions about why we have it. That’s a very condensed version. 🙂

    @Lucie – Great tip about gift giving! Very true.

    “Once you fall in love with open spaces, you realize how little you really need to have.”
    @Tana – This is so true! I agree completely.

  8. This post cut me to the heart. We are getting ready to downsize from a 3,000 sq. ft. home to a much smaller condo (and there is only the two of us….) We have so much STUFF!! I’m trying to whittle it down … just the scrapbooks consume a walk-in closet!

  9. This is a great post. We just moved between states and tried to whittle down as much as possible before the move. Interestingly enough, the stuff that didn’t get whittled down is what is still not unpacked three and a half months later.

  10. @Jodi
    Take pictures of the sentimental stuff to put in a “slideshow” (picasa is just one free option) on your computer and to keep the memories safe make a CD of it and your important pictures to put in a safe desposit box. It may be easier to let the sentimental stuff go if you know you’ll always have the memories and can look at them anytime.

    We’ve been slowly decluttering our house this year. First was kiddo rooms. It’s SO much easier to keep the kids’ rooms clean and they still have a plethora of toys.

    I hope to hit the most difficult area for me – the craft area – labor day weekend. (Most areas I can get around the “What if we want this later?” syndrome. But the craft area is hard – I often cycle through crafts – knitting to embroidery to photography, etc. )

    I love the “meta stuff” description. The irony is that sometimes I need meta stuff to store meta stuff… (Sounds like I have another decluttering task…)

    It’s not just the physical stuff that can be overwhelming. I’ve been ruthless about what goes back on my computer now that I’ve re-installed everything from scratch a few times this year.

    Avlor’s last blog post…Uhm, yeah…hamsters and goggles don’t mix

  11. I have the hardest time with sentimental items and craft supplies. Most everything else I can get rid of. Unless it’s books about gardening or crafts. Or all those college notebooks I think I’ll need some day. Or all 1,000 baby blankets I cannot get rid of.

    Angel Funk’s last blog post…Flashback

  12. @ simplemom – I think for me at times it’s really a control issue – my husband wants us to pare down what we have and therefore I want to clutch it all in my hands and not let go. With baby #2 on the way, I’m learning to let go more and more…so much of the stuff is just that…stuff! 🙂 Definitely a lot further to go in this journey!!

    jodi’s last blog post…More Giveaways at hand!

  13. We were just discussing this yesterday. My husband and I were going to set aside some Decluttering Days, so any suggestions would be a great help. Looking forward to your new decluttering ‘tool’.

    Ellen’s last blog post…Bug Party

  14. I love the sticker idea! I wouldn’t have thought of that. My typical declutter process just happens as I’m doing regular cleaning and putting things away. If I see something I know I don’t like, it automatically goes into the donate/sell box. I usually do one big declutter a year. How DO I acquire so much stuff?!

    Tiffany’s last blog post…

  15. We are on baby # 3 and had to really get rid of lots of stuff to make room. But I realize there is so much more I could really live without. Now I make regular trips to goodwill, and every time I bring something into the house, I fill that box or bag with “stuff” to take out of the house. It is such a freeing feeling knowing that I won’t ever have to deal with that “stuff” again!

    Mama C’s last blog post…Life is Good

  16. One thing I am good at is as soon as the k ids out grow their clothes… out the door they go! I have a couple of friends that get them. If they are not in good shape – they still get donated to Goodwill. (even if Goodwill can’t sell them they can still make money selling them as rags)

    Dana’s last blog post…"Martyr Mom" gets good advice from fellow blogger

  17. There’s a nice little site that’s called The Story of Stuff, It really breaks down the process of how “stuff” is made, how it uses (wastes) resources, and how we have this constant need (or so we think) to have more stuff. Watch the video on the website if you have a chance.

    Crystal’s last blog post…Mini: Ear Infection

  18. I thought I had beaten the clutter bug last year. Even my friends were in awe what we got tossed. We knew we were moving via one rented large Penske truck. I began selling, tossing and giving away in droves. I began packing early, and was rather proud of myself! Until the night before the move…I squeenched my eyes and thought of the truck…and looking at the boxes and furniture…there was no way it was all going to fit. It didn’t, tears of frustration from me, my kids and helplessness from my poor hubby.
    We drove away with large piles of toys, plants and misc furniture that neighbors and those that helped shove what could fit into the truck would take. We shook it off and began our adventure.
    I can honestly say there is not ONE thing that we wish we had now! There are alot of things I pulled out of boxes I said, why did I bring this???
    Forced declutter was painful, but now 6 months into our move, we as a family have held to the less is more mantra….leaving that stuff hurt.

    Anne’s last blog post…Mowing my lawn-I love it!

  19. “Stuff breeds stuff.” So very true!! I try to be brutal when decluttering. If I haven’t used it in a year, I don’t particularly like it, or I have something similar that works just as well then the item makes a trip to the Salvation Army thrift store. I’ve found trying to sell things just prolongs the process. I want it OUT of my house, NOW. If only I could get my husband to live by these same rules. = )

    stephaniesmommybrain’s last blog post…Explaining the side bar, comments, and a few links.

  20. Being a military family and moving so much we always get ride of things that we don’t use anymore. Almost every month I go through the house and get ride of something from each room. I just started on Craig’s list the other day and managed to sell some old toys and baby items.
    My main problem is all my scrap book supplies, that stuff over runs our office but I even solved that problem with starting my own Etsy shop with supplies that I don’t use, which gets ride of things I don’t need, Hopefully brings in some small income and makes more room for our own family treasures.

  21. I am loving this series and feel great that this one is on my agenda next week. i have been preparing for it for years, slowly trucking along with sorting, organizing and such. The big finale simplify week is next week and I am SO excited!

    My boys are going to visit the grandparents and my husband will be away, I have 6 days all to myself to complete my little (HUGE) project!!!

    This is a week I have been looking forward to for so long now and it’s finally almost here!
    🙂 Carisa

    Carisa’s last blog post…Tot School FAQ

  22. Great post!

    Another aspect of having stuff is that it isn’t ‘static, now that you have it, it doesn’t affect your life.’ Every item I own requires time and energy on an ongoing basis: to clean it, to move it when we move, to keep it put away, to move it when I’m looking for something else, etc. It also requires ongoing money: to heat or cool the space it occupies, the initial purchase or renting of the space it occupies, the cleaning products to keep it clean, etc.

    So two more questions to ask when sorting out stuff is, “Is this worth the time that it drains away from important things like my family and friends? Is it worth the money it drains away from other possible uses?”

    For example, after thinking about those two questions, I decided I didn’t need to keep the wedding dress but I did want to keep the wedding album. The dress takes time, effort and money to keep up, for nothing but a memory — I’ll never be using it again. The memory (for me, anyway) is more vivid in looking at the photo album than at the dress that I never saw anyway in the back of the closet. 🙂

    Looking forward to more posts on the subject!

    lizzykristine’s last blog post…The Attitude More Important Than Diet

  23. @Crystal – Thanks for that link! What an informative resource. I’m going to add it to the post above and credit you. I appreciate it.

    @LizzyKristine – Excellent point. This is similar to the financial term “opportunity cost,” and I plan to write an article about this idea soon. But you’re so right! By saying yes to the item, what are you ultiimately saying no to?

  24. What a beneficial post. I know very few people who don’t have too much stuff. Often, if I mention to someone that I have cleaned out a closet, etc. , they’ll ask if I’ll do theirs. We have such emotional attachments to our stuff, it is easier to let a virtual stranger decide what to do with it. I am looking forward to what you have in store for us next. Thanks!

    Debbie’s last blog post…I’ll Have What She’s Having

  25. We’ve gotten better but it’s still not good enough. Most of it is stuff we think we need, but have no storage for. I’ve gotten rid of a ton of stuff this year, too, because we were planning for a move, which never happened.

    I hope your announcement next week helps. I need the most help right now with paper/books/magazines/etc.

    Shawn’s last blog post…The Daring Group Writing Challenge

  26. I’m loving this series! And I have to tell you that our house became quite cluttered over the last couple of months with the birth of our second kiddo; I just haven’t had the time or energy to keep things organized. I started a top down strategy today to get it cleaned up. I’m starting upstairs and working my way all the way to the bottom. I even made a list. Each room will get cleaned out, organized and thoroughly cleaned.

    One of the problems we have with stuff is the kids and the in-laws. My kids are 2 and under, so they don’t really contribute to the problem, except that they are the recipients of the stuff. My mother in law lives only 20 minutes away and can’t seem to spend time with my kids without bringing them something to play with. We are over run with toys! I can even admit to being grateful when one of the garage sale matchbox cars she brought my older son was accidentally left at church. When we realized it, we didn’t even go back for it!

    I think part of my cleaning will include packing up some bins of toys to rotate every week or two. It will leave us with fewer things to trip over and give the kids a sense of something new to play with on a regular basis. I wish we could just get rid of half the toys, but we’d really hurt some feelings. Like to the point of severing the relationship…

    Jennifer’s last blog post…All in a days work

  27. This is something I really struggle with. There are four of us in about 800 square feet. We have lots of kiddo stuff that we are finally able to get rid of. My husband hates clutter and I am a bit more tolerant of it so sometimes it can be a sore spot between us.
    My sister who has a hard time getting rid of stuff just went through a bunch of her childhood boxes and she took pictures of the stuff that she knew she didn’t really need to keep but it had sentimental value. Now if she wants she can look back at the pics.

    Darcy’s last blog post…Some Funny Stuff and Links

  28. Ack, you’ve really hit the nail on the head again. I’ve really been feeling weighted down by all the STUFF we have since (1) visiting a friend and her family who got rid of most of what they had to live in a tiny, modern, gorgeous house and (2) living without it all while we traveled most of the summer. I realized that we weren’t really using our playroom because it just has too much stuff in it. Good stuff, mind you, but stuff!

    I will also admit that I’ve secretly fantasized about moving overseas and having to divest ourselves of all but the essentials, but don’t tell my husband 🙂

  29. We just had a big garage sale to get rid of excess stuff. We did this just nine months after our last garage sale. And you know what – we still have too much stuff. Decluttering is an ongoing process.

    I appreciate your suggestion of getting rid of stuff rather than trying to come up with creative storage for it all. A clean surface, an uncrammed closet, being able to find what I need at a glance…these things are worth so much more than having every last inch filled with stuff that I can’t find, don’t need, and sometimes don’t even remember that I have.

    Holly’s last blog post…Kid-Friendly Summer: VBS

  30. I think my first question was phrased wrong. It sounds kind of like I was asking why you have anything at all and that’s not what I meant. I guess I’m in search of organization solutions – particularly when you don’t have much closet space.

    I suppose the answer is probably that I still have too much stuff.

    Emily’s last blog post…Simple. Frugal. Fabulous.

  31. @Amanda – Your secret’s safe with me! Of course, you’ve now printed it out on the internet… 😉

    @Emily – No worries, I understood your question. I’m with you. I’m thinking of doing a “creative storage” ideas post soon, so that’s what I was referring to.

  32. Amen! It feels SO good to get rid of stuff that’s not needed. I also wanted to mention Freecycle ( – it’s a fabulous way to give things away to people in your area that you no longer use or need and don’t want to bother selling. People will take anything, and can come right to your yard to pick it up if you like. I can’t say enough good things about it! Good luck with the purging, everyone!

    sherrieg’s last blog post…scarves and bridgetown

  33. Whoa… I just watched the story of stuff. Freaky. I find myself constantly doing battle with the desire for *stuff* and the desire to *simplify*. I’m such a cliche.

    RookieMom Heather’s last blog post…Hit me with your best shot of the summer

  34. I am a new reader of your blog. I’m SOO glad I found it..but so sad that I have been missing out! This post is so true. Americans have more stuff than we could ever use or need. And I’m so guilty of wanting to buy “stuff to hold my stuff.” I absolutely love organizational products..cute little baskets, boxes, tubs, trays, etc. But if I would just get rid of the stuff, I wouldn’t need those things. Obviously, we do need smart organization tools for things that we need. Anyways, thank you so much for this. I definitely need to look through some closets and under some beds!

    Larra’s last blog post…Because I’m Just So Cute

  35. I’ve been frustrated with my inability to keep a tidy house for years. Finally we got serious about decluttering. We still have a lot of stuff–too much–but I’m committed to the cause, and life is much more peaceful. I didn’t realize how much time I was spending just managing stuff. Crazy!

    Stephanie’s last blog post…Happy Sunday Morning

  36. You’re getting right down to where it hits home, Simple Mom. The two biggest clutter makers in my home are the dishes and the clothes, but I’ve made piece with those two. I’ve realized that those are the main things that need to be consistently tackled, or else it won’t take long for things to get out of control.

    I’m one of these people who like to mess up my desk area where I work. It gets clutter, but if I intend to get any real work done I have to straighten things up or else I can’t really concentrate.

    There’s a thin line between clutter and cozy, and when things cross over to clutter I feel a bit angst. That’s my gauge to let me know I better get busy getting things back in order.

    Maintaining a home is a job, just as you mentioned before and I agree that it’s an extremely important one at that.

    Good topics!

  37. I left my home country 6 years ago and sold everything. I only had the stuff I could carry in my backpack and even shed some of that along the way!

    Now I`m finally building a house and it`s pretty small, so we periodically declutter. I still struggle with this but just try to remember that I survived with literally two changes of clothes for almost a year!

  38. Stuff, stuff, stuff – I have way too much stuff.
    Oooh – look at all that lovely stuff in the simple mom shop – oops!

    Scribhneoir’s last blog post…Missing Connections

  39. Couldn’t agree more!!! Thanks for the tips and inspiration.

    Jill’s last blog post…Felt Cupcake with Pink Icing for Pretend Play

  40. I’ve been trying to help my mother with decluttering, but I haven’t had much success. She has so much stuff that cleaning becomes much more difficult. I’m hoping whoever I eventually marry isn’t so big on keeping stuff.

    When I look at just say magazine/book clutter for example, I think about all the time it is going to take me to digest or even skim the material. Thinking this way helps me get rid of junk.

  41. I completely agree with this concept, but in practice it’s a totally different monster. My biggest hurdle is support from my family. For example, my husband is much more reluctant to get rid of stuff than I am and isn’t as bothered by clutter or disorganization. Also (and if anyone has any suggestions on this one, I’m all ears), our family gives us a lot of stuff. They are incredibly generous, but so often they give us thing we don’t need . Particularly my children have more toys and clothes than I would like them to have, and I feel it’s irresponsible to our planet and pocketbook to consume so much. I don’t want to sound ungrateful or critical to my family members, and I also don’t want to have all this stuff everywhere. Any suggestions?

  42. Hi! Happy New Year,
    Did you ever develop the “decluttering tool”? I was looking in the tools section and did not find it. I am continually telling my clients about your site.
    Keep up the good work!
    God Bless

  43. Boy do I ever know about having too much stuff and clutter…I hope you’ll read my post about it this week. I would like to mention your site and put a link to it. I thought it was just me having too much stuff! =) Love your site – very inspirational!

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