Kicking Clutter to the Curb

By Kate Riley January 4, 2010

There is such a thing as The Clutter Monster.  He is real, and he used to live in my house.

The Clutter Monster broke into my house sometime last year, and made himself right at home. At first I didn’t mind.  He’d leave a pair of socks here, or a few papers there – nothing to get too worked up about.  I was so distracted with my projects and this blog and my job and helping my kids with their schoolwork that I didn’t realize how this new roommate, The Clutter Monster, had really impacted my life.

Every night as I lie sleeping, he began to wreak havoc on my home, leaving his piles of unorganized stuff everywhere.  The clothing, the papers, the toys steadily amassed all over the house.  There was that moment when my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I replied “To kick out the Clutter Monster.”

I finally realized over the holiday break that any time I was feeling a sense of anxiety in my life, it was because I was overwhelmed with all of the “stuff” in my home that I was forced to take care of.  There were many days I would literally throw my hands up in frustration.pb with text

Then I had an epiphany.

I thought to myself, what if those piles didn’t exist?  What if “poof”  they magically disappeared?

Was there anything in those piles that was so necessary I’d miss it if it was gone?  Would I really care ?  Were those things really all that important ?

The obvious answer was “No”.

I realized how relaxed I am when there is order, and how much anxiety I feel when there are excessive piles of laundry, paperwork, or toys lying around.   Clothes I didn’t wear, papers I didn’t need, and toys that were broken or never played with.  I decided that the feeling of serenity from having all that “stuff” disappear was far more desirable than the “stuff” itself.

So I decided to kick the Clutter Monster to the curb once and for all.  I decided I wouldn’t start any more projects until every last room was returned to order.  I’ve been dedicated to this task for over a week, and along the way l’ve learned a few things.

In Your Quest to Kick Clutter to the Curb, you must :

1) Get in the Right Frame of Mind.  Don’t start at the end of the day when you’re tired, start to conquer clutter when you are well rested.  Put on some comfortable clothes and energizing music to prepare.

2) Remove All Distractions:  Turn off the computer and the TV, put your phone in the other room, have someone watch the kids and give yourself at least 30 minutes to an hour of focused time, whatever you think you can handle.

3)  One Zone at a Time: Whether it’s just your desktop, your kitchen cabinets, your kid’s toys, or your linen closet, pick one spot and stick to that spot.  Don’t get overwhelmed thinking about an entire room or even your entire home.

4)  Get your Three Bins Ready. One bin for items to toss, one bin for items to donate or sell, and a third bin of things to organize.  If you’re sorting paperwork, it helps to have a shredder for receipts or paperwork with personal information that doesn’t belong in the trash.  Just getting every item sorted into one of these categories is success since you’ve already decluttered by sorting into the toss/donate/sell/shred bins.  What’s left just needs organized.

5)  Use It or Love It ?  If Not, Get Rid of It. I was amazed how much I was able to part with by just asking myself do I use it ?  If not, do I love it ?  If the answer to either is “Yes”, it stays.  If not, it goes.  I was shocked, literally shocked, how many bags of clothes, toys, and unnecessary items I removed from my house using this simple test.  I kept repeating those words of William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”   Like a mantra.  It worked !

There were several zones that were absolutely out of control.  The kitchen cabinets, the pantry, my personal closet, my kids’ rooms, the linen closet, and all that paperwork.

In the Kitchen:  I discarded any spices that were over 8 months old, and recycled any plastics that didn’t have matching lids.  I created one basket to hold plastic bases and one basket to hold plastic lids.  I recycled all the mismatched plates and silverware; and donated any appliance I never used.  Sayonara useless gadgets !  I repurposed the ratty kitchen towels as cleaning rags, and I plan to reward myself with some fresh kitchen towels and new spices.

clutter monster Kids’ Rooms: After Christmas the toys were completely out of control.  I had my husband take the kids on a long adventure, then I tackled their bedrooms and the playroom with them out of the house.

I sorted through all the cheap, broken plastic toys and tossed/recycled them.

Here’s a tip I picked up when I was a new mom:  Remove half the toys in their room, and store them in bins out of sight.  Then rotate these toys every 30 to 60 days to control clutter and keep boredom at bay.

With this technique, they rediscover their toys as if they’re new again.

Clothing:  I asked myself, does it fit now ? (Not will it fit when I lose those last eight pounds.)  Have I worn it in the last year ?  Is it comfortable and stylish?  If the answer was yes, then I kept it.  If it was missing a button, or I didn’t like the color, or it just didn’t make me feel good, then out it went.  Eight kitchen garbage bags of clothing, shoes and handbags left my closet.  Then I also stored away summer items in baskets for when warmer weather returns.

In one day, I changed my embarrassingly cluttered closet (below) into a spacious organized space with empty shelves !  Wooo hoo, now I can shop !  Er, um, I mean, now I can breathe !

master closet

Bathroom: I sorted through medicines and discarded anything expired.  I decided to store skin care products and first aid kits on one shelf/basket, and flu/pain medicines on another shelf so the products are easy to find based on ailment.  I store medicines on a Lazy Susan to access them more easily.  I tossed out any old lotion and soap  products that had changed color or texture over time, or had only a half ounce left in the bottom.

My last decluttering project involves all the excessive paperwork.  Financial records ?   I’ve started a filing system.  Receipts ?  I bought a collapsible file folder to keep in the mudroom.  Kids’ school papers ?  I bought a wall organizer and some magnetic boards for the mud room as well.  Coupons have their own basket, and so do the take out menus.  Magazines will get filed into baskets or recycled.

What about all that junk mail ? junk mail

I learned you can save a few million trees and stop unwanted catalogs by signing up with You personally opt out of whatever catalog you want, and they will contact the companies on your behalf and stop them from sending you catalogs free of charge.  Because I need my Ballard Designs, but I don’t need Gadget Universe.

Or you pay $9.00 to the to be removed from several sources of junk mail, including all Direct Marketing lists, ValPak and Pennysaver mailings, unwanted catalogs, mail order solicitations, unwanted magazines, pre-approved credit card offers and sweepstakes.   You can also be placed on National Do Not Call lists to avoid those pesky phone solicitors.  Save a tree, and save your sanity !

five days

So I was able to declutter most of my house, although it took me more than a week, and not just a day.  We’ll see just how far I get in this mission to start fresh, but I already feel so much better having purged my home and my life of all that useless stuff.


  1. Well done Kate! I feel better when organised too. I’m doing one little drawer at a time and being ruthless. However, I do feel that binning clothes that don’t fit NOW is admitting defeat to the fact I’ll never get rid of this extra stone. But…if by the time I move house it doesn’t fit, THEN i’ll throw them out ! :)

  2. I always want to organize, purge and clean in January. January is the new spring cleaning:) I live in Oregon so when the spring skies open up with warm sunshine filled days the last thing I want to do is spring clean….except those awful windows.

  3. I so know how you were feeling before you did you tidy up. You have inspired me to get back to work and get the house in control again!! Thanks so much for the tips!

  4. Excellent! I DO feel so much better after I purge. It is unreal how things just collect and grow…..thanks for the reminder to start 2010 clutter free! Karena

  5. Ya know?.. This clutter monster sounds VERY familiar!!! I have caught him lurking around MY house MANY times too!… I have to agree with you about focusing on ONE zone at a time, or you’re absolutely right!.. I most DEFINITELY get overwhelmed!.. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. It does feel good. Great job. I did my house and I feel like I lost weight. Although all that Holiday “real weight” is still on me.

  7. I’ve been doing this ever since we moved into our new home. I’ve got clutter under control in most every room, with the exception of the office. It’s a slow process, but it is so worth it! :-) You tackled a huge amount in a short amount of time, I am impressed!

  8. I am SO on board with you! Starting today, room by room, closet by closet, I’m getting rid of the junk in this house! One tip that has helped me be less overwhelmed is to just start on one side of the room & move to the other, only concentrating on what is is front of me. Sometimes, if I look at the entire mess, I want to walk away!

  9. CONGRATS Kate! Your closet looks fabulous, as I’m sure does the rest of the house. I have similar zones/frustrations to tackle, thanks for the inspiration! Have a great Monday.

  10. Amazing changes are happening in your house judging by the look of your newly-organized closet. I get inspired just by reading your words, now what’s left is getting the work done. My closet, too, could use some purging… though detachment is hard to come by. It seems I will: wear everything again, loose the unwanted pounds, unfashionable items will return to fashion one day. All of these make parting with a difficult process. Help!!!

  11. This is my kind of post. Right after Christmas, I went through everything! I love a clean spacious house. My problem is too many knick-knacks. I completely emptied my living room and only brought back the things that fit and that I loved. Since doing so, I feel so much more relaxed and I love being home! I think the new year is a great time to start!

  12. I suspect several people have rolled their eyes behind my back for the lack of clutter in my house…but seriously, piles and clutter drives me INSANE!!!! I love having order and knowing where to direct everyone when they ask where something is, and you know that happens several times a day! How nice not to have to search and search over and over.

    Now, this is not to say there aren’t a couple problem areas…and you’ve inspired me to tackle those. The garage…yikes!! The bonus/playroom…double yikes.


  13. Ahhh, music to my ears. I love to get organized in January – and that includes throwing out all the random junk that accumulated throughout the year. Can’t wait to read more!

  14. Thanks for this post. I love your blog, but have felt a little disappointed with myself because all of your spaces are so organized, spacious and light and mine are not there yet! This time, though, with the picture of your closet and playroom, it shows me that you are human =) and are trying to tackle clutter like the rest of us.

    After Christmas, I worked on my closet and donated 10 bags (whole foods brown bags mainly), but it feels awesome to see what I actually wear versus what I kick myself for having, not liking or not wearing.

    Btw, can you do a post on how to curb a spouse or partner who wasn’t born with the clutter-free gene? THAT would be amazing!!!

  15. OK Kate-

    I’m in the same boat! I took this past weekend, and tackled small spots. We donated clothes, but haven’t tackled the kitchen, linen closets, or filing yet! You inspired me though.

    Hey, there’s also the 15 minute game: set a timer for 15 minutes, and get as much done in that time as you can. Often, you can accomplish more than you think! And a lot of the time, I find that I then am in the zone to keep going.


    Happy New Year

  16. Wow! You are good. I have to clean lots of spaces. I did clean my children’s closet (well, we got a new closet organizer system :-), so I had to clean. The next place has to be the pantry… Good job again!

  17. I too hate clutter! Can’t stand it and am always trying to find a place for everything and everything in its place! But alas, it can be real hard when you have a DH and DD and DS that don’t share your view. Right now I am tackling the garage. The dumping ground. We are all guilty of it, not just me, although I get blamed. That is my mission this week. Too bad the trash cans are already filled!

  18. I can totally relate to how you were feeling before, time to face the clutter-monster at my place too.

    Looking forward to all your inspiring ideas this year, wish you and family a very Happy New Year :)

  19. I’m feeling ya! I have fully decluttered my daughters’ bedroom and the playroom. Up next, the boys’ room and my office area. It is amazing how freeing it is to clean out your spaces. I just read Soulemama’s book The Creative Family and it was particularly motivating.

  20. This is an excellent post. I’m actually quite good when it comes to clutter. I seem to have inherited my OCD…I mean, knack for tidiness from my grandmother. And it apparently skipped a generation because my mother is perhaps the biggest clutterer ever. It’s her clutter that I don’t know how to handle. Actually, I think I’ll email her this link…maybe she’ll be inspired.

  21. Well, it took you much longer than a day for the Clutter Monster to take over. So it makes sense to me that it would take much longer to rid yourself of him. Now that my kids are grown, it’s easier. But I have closets to tackle this week myself. And a horrid garage I can barely look at as I get into my car. One saving grace is that I cannot bear for my glass desk space to have clutter. I must have a perfectly clean space to start a project or the chaos drives me crazy. So out comes the Windex before and after! Now if only the cats would stop walking across it…

  22. I totally get the same anxiety when my house is cluttered. This was a great way to start out a New Year. I did a bit of the same and it feels sooooo great. Plus, Christmas stuff is fun but once Jenuary hits, I’m so ready for it to be gone. You have inspired me to further declutter my house this weekend. My poor office is so jam packed. Thanks Kate! HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and your beautiful family!

  23. January’s a great time to get de-cluttered. I also find that I need to “check in” with the Clutter Monster each month.

    I find the best way to get started is to set my timer for just 20 minutes and tackle one single, small problem area. If, at the end of 20 minutes, I want to continue, great. I set the timer again. If not, at least I’ve accomplished something.

    Thanks for this very useful post. So great to see such progress.

  24. I’m working my way through the clutter too. Kids rooms are done, on to my own room! Isn’t it funny how everyone seems to feel the pull to get organized in January?

  25. LOOOOOOVED this! :) Your closet and my closet could be twins, except that mine is not a walk-in. ;) I delivered 4 huge garbage bags (the black kind) to Salvation Army just before Christmas. It felt so good…and now I have more today.

    I agree hands down on #2. Kids, as much as I love mine, can be a huge distraction. (“Nooooo! But I WANT that! I NEED IT!”) I’ve found that if I drop my kids off at my mom’s for the morning, I can get sooo much done. I also use their naptimes to creep around the downstairs and toss old toys into the donation bin in the laundry room. They never miss a thing! :)

    Kitchen clutter is a problem for me right now. Going through the old spices is an excellent suggestion. I bet I could ditch all the spices in my revolving spice rack and use the empty containers for craft glitter or something interesting.

    You had some excellent suggestions today, and I am SO grateful that you are *real* enough to share the “befores” and not just the “afters.” :) Hugs to you!

  26. We moved into our house in early May and it’s become SO cluttered since then! I have boxes of stuff ready for our garage sale in June in the basement.

  27. Thanks so much for the inspiration!! I just started sorting toys and baby clothes this morning before I read your post…now I’m reenergized for the rest of the week! I can do this!

  28. Great job decluttering!
    It’s rather hard to read the blog with the new background.
    Can you bold the text, maybe?

  29. I have experience mild panic attacks over the past year and upon reflection determined that clutter was a big contributor to the problem. Whenever I was feeling closed in and out of control I would attack the biggest problem area and toss or bag up stuff to donate. Can’t tell you how much clearing countertops and cabinets helped me reduce stress. Good for you!

  30. Great post! You gave me some new ideas that I’ll put to good use soon. If anyone needs some good motivation, watch an episode of Hoarders. No matter how clean or organized my house is, I always feel like I have to clean, RIGHT NOW after watching that show! :)

  31. Since more than 40 people have commented, I’m going to assume this is just a personal issue :), but I can’t read this post with gray text on a brown background.

  32. There is some peace in knowing I’m not the only one whose home falls victim to this horrible monster! Thanks for the ideas!

  33. Congratulations!

    Unfortunately, constant vigilence is required, or the clutter comes back.

    I found, especially with toys and children’s clothing, that a “one thing comes in, one thing must go out” rule was essential.

  34. All your tips that I do!! Love to get rid of the clutter monster! I agree it just makes me anxious to have those things in the back of my mind that really have no real meaning in my home. Wishing you sanity in the end! :) Thanks for posting such great tips!

    hugs to you,

  35. Wow, the closet before and after are incredibly motivating. One is chaotic and stressed, the other is peaceful and inspiring. Great work!

  36. Oh, man, this is one post I need to plaster on top of my SHUT DOWN computer. It’s the only way it’s going to happen!! Thanks for the inspiration. I’m ready!

  37. What a great idea. I’ll have two-three weeks off work next month….perhaps I could devote at least 5 days to get my house free of the clutter monster. I wonder if being at home would be more enjoyable.?!

    Thanks :)

  38. Awesome.. I am right at this very moment decluttering a particularly annoying corner of my garage! I plan on dontating, recycling, and purging all the useless clutter. One idea: since I recently redid my kitchen, instead of loading my beautiful new cabinets up with all my junk from the old kitchen, I kept about 30% of the “stuff” out….as the weeks went by I realized I didn’t need 20 tupperwares (can you believe I am making do with 4??) I only need one metal spatula and one plastic one, and my knife block is going buh-bye, among other cluttery stuff. Its so liberating! Thanks for the great motivational post–you never disappoint! Happy New Year!

  39. I did the same thing over the holiday break. Every closet, every room, every drawer has been de-cluttered. In a 4500 s.f. house, that’s a miracle. I can’t tell you how much more de-cluttered my brain feels after the big purge. It’s so worth it!

  40. The thing about the decluttering is that it’s NEVER OVER. I have done this countless times and the *stuff* keeps creeping back into our lives. It’s all worth it though. Staying on top of it, I mean. When your home gives you a sense of peace and sanctuary you’ve hit the right balance with your stuff.

    Way to go!

  41. I wish I had been there for the cleaning of the closet! EIGHT BAGS?! I know there would have been things I could use;)
    Happy de-cluttering to you!!

  42. It is such a good feeling when you do a real deep down purge and drop it all off at the Goodwill. I need to start with my own closet. Clothes I don’t wear etc…I have to be in the mood to do a really good job and I am almost there! Thanks for the spark!

  43. Oh this is all very helpful and motivational…..I may need to read it again and again every day this week!! :)


  44. It’s funny, I spent all day (yep, all day) cleaning, getting rid of old unused things for donating, giving away or recycling. And I agree with you, what a relief! I still have more to go but it truly helps one feel calm and relax. Working with ton of clutter around you is no good. Good luck finishing up! =)

  45. This is a great post! I have been working on decluttering my house over the past few days and it is amazing how much more relaxed I am already! It really is overwhelming when the Clutter Monster takes over – here’s to keeping him out of our houses in 2010! :)

  46. Can I comment again? I just realized that I had something intelligent to add…last night I had a minor breakdown about our own clutter and my husband and i decided to start something new: every night right after we put our kiddo to bed, we’ll dedicate 15 minutes to picking up the downstairs – that’s a lot of time for two people! I couldn’t believe how clean we got it – we even had time to sweep the kitchen. Ok… I’m done now.

  47. You have totally motivated me! I know that feeling all to well and want to feel the serenity and calm of an organized and uncluttered space!!! Thanks!

  48. Oh how true this all is. I cleaned out my wardrobe NYE and boy do I feel good about it. But I am still feeling stress……ok, next is the garage. I can hardly get the car in!!!

  49. Great post. I’m so overwhelmed by all of the junk that we seemed to acquire since we moved in 2 years ago. Thanks for the motivation. ;)

  50. I have been busy for the past few days getting the best of my clutter monster. It is amazing what you find when you really go through closets and cabinets!

  51. You’ve inspired me to go ahead and tackle my clothing problem. We moved into our new place 5 months ago and many many boxes of undesired clothing and accessories are sitting in the garage. Good luck with finishing the rest of your goals this week, and thank you for getting me off my butt! :)

  52. I love a neat and organize house. I can’t do a project until everything is clean. I just moved and I had the house unpacked in one week. Now my project is to get my office/craft space organized the way I want it. I can’t believe your closet! It looks great!

  53. Wow, thanks for the post! It’s completely encouraging. Although I have a hard time deciding to part with things “I just like” mostly when it comes to clothes. But I started small… I started with my t-shit/tank top drawer!!

  54. Great post! I am also in the process of decluttering my house. I am trying to simplify and get rid of a lot of unwanted items in my home. I am tired of not being able to find things in my home, due to lack of organization. Love & blessings from NC!

  55. Girl, pop over to my blog and check out what you inspired me to do tonight. Thanks!! I love coming here and finding inspiration for all sorts of stuff. :)

  56. Thanks for the reminder about the spices. I did an inventory of my holiday spices just before Christmas and ended up going through them all. You know you have a problem when you have a large jar of Spice Island spice with a price tag of $1.89!

  57. I do this twice a year, once in January and then again before Pesach (passover), but it should really be done a little bit every day. Like you, in a clean, organized space I feel relaxed and able to do anything. When I come home to clutter and chaos, I feel so paralyzed and end up doing nothing. Good luck wrangling in your Clutter Monster!

  58. I hate clutter, and luckily it isn’t something I deal with much at my house. I do find that by the end of the year, things have gotten a bit “messy” and I hate it. So, I love January. In the past few days I’ve gone through all the years bills and paperwork, pitching and filing…pulling for taxes. I have scribbled with hundreds of pens and thrown away massive amounts of free ones that come to live at our house during the year. I’ve cleaned a few kitchen cabinets (Tablescape Thursday is creating a monster here) and one of the bathroom vanities. Each project creates a great feeling in me when I get it done. I’m a bit obsessive…what’s wrong with that?

  59. Terrific post! I have to start packing for a move soon and I’m decluttering first and during the move. I’m in the process of reading a favorite old book, Clutter’s Last Stand by Don Aslett, which always inspires me. Now I have a new inspiration; your blog. Love it here!! ♥

  60. I’m on an organizing kick too, and created a series for my blog this week, inspired by yours, called “Make Live Easier”. That’s what organizing is, isn’t it? I, too, get super anxious when I can’t find things and am surrounded by clutter, and trying to tackle the whole thing at once is overwhelming. Your tip to go by zone is so important. Even if one only one zone is accomplished in a day (or whatever timeframe you give yourself) at least it’s DONE! Great post! :)

  61. I applaud your organization. I hate the clutter monster too. It seems that I get rid of him often but for some reason he seems to double faster then a bowl of yeast bread:) I was having company for Christmas and needed to clean my kitchen counter where I throw all my papers. I needed to have counter space to place the buffet food I was serving. I spent about an hour throwing out papers I did not use etc. I was down to one tiny bag of papers and my paper address book. I put them all in a plastic bag to go under the cabinet until after the company left my home. Well, some how the bag was thrown out with all the junk. You know I am going a little nuts because I really need some of those papers but my husband can’t believe how calm I am about the entire thing. I am sure I will have a melt down any day now when I think of some item in that bag that I must have:) Oh well I guess you can say my kitchen is now TOTALLY clutter free:)

  62. It’s funny how there are hoarders who live amongst piles of junk and trash and can’t seem to throw anything away and then there are people like you and me and everyone who has commented above who have to live a clutter-free life. I’m soooooo glad I am a member of the latter! Is there a term for us?

  63. Kate, I just started reading your blog and am loving all of your ideas. Since you have kids, I just wanted to share a quick way to declutter their papers, report cards, awards, etc. I have large, cute, 3 ring binders for both of my kids. I use the top load page protectors to save any special papers in chronological order. I also have a small laminating machine that I use for newspaper articles or pictures of them. Then I 3 hole punch and add to their binder. I would LOVEE to be a scrapbooker, but I don’t really have the time or the money, so this has been the next best thing.

  64. I am so glad to read of your 8 bags from the closet! I did this about a year ago and had 7 myeslf. I had to take 2 trips to the clothing donation place so they didn’t think it all came from my house at once! Good for you for and your cleaning!

  65. Thanks so much for thsi post Kate!! It is helping me today (a year later)!!! my hubby and I have been decluttering all week and boy did I need the inspiration!! Thanks a million !! I Love your blog! Happy New Year to You and your sweet family!!

  66. Love it, love it, love it……that is your tips on de-cluttering. I’d like to have some kind of mail center in my kitchen on the hutch where the phone is. Right now, it’s just a catchall for just about everything. I have a base cabinet & upper glass shelved cabinets with a very large counter space. It’s always a mess. Even when cleaned of everything, but the phone & the wooden pencil box, it doesn’t look good. If anyone has any ideas for this space, such as a built in mail center, I’d appreciate it. Thanks again. I do so enjoy your site.

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