Process 2: Personal and Household Clutter

by teresalaynebennett

photo of garage filled with household clutter and no room for cars

A garage filled with 50¢ garage-sale fodder

Confession time: household clutter is where I’m most ambushed by the principle of process. Your parents and grandparents are right there with me, I’m guessing. We all got caught by the slow process of accumulating life’s necessities – and truckloads of stuff which couldn’t possibly be labeled as necessities. You have only to look in any middle-class family’s two- or three-car garage to see that we pile boxes of 50¢ garage-sale fodder to the rafters while we park our $50,000 vehicles in the driveway as hail fodder.

What would make us
do something so silly?

Well, to be fair, we don’t intend to be silly. Clutter just sneaks up on us. It’s a process, I’m telling you. Most young couples start out with their cars where they’re meant to be – in the garage. Then they buy a snowblower, which needs way more room than they estimated. Then children come along, and with them come boxes of outgrown clothes and toys, hockey sticks, portable basketball goals, skis, and so on.

Then there’s the box of their first set of everyday dishes, booted out by a sparkling new set on their tenth anniversary. Soon the dead food processor joins the party (because “handy” Uncle Eric might get it to work again). Then there are the boxes of books they never quite got ’round to building a bookcase to house. We don’t mean to fill the garage with garage-sale fodder. Clutter just sort of happens. Duh. It’s a process.

But what about
when people give me stuff?

Okay, let’s say Aunt Lisa offers you her salt-and-pepper-shaker collection. Do you really want it? No? Then say so! Ever so politely, of course, but ever so firmly and deftly. “No, no, I really couldn’t. But, you know, Aunt Lisa, I think Cousin _____ has always thought they were cool. I’ll bet she’d love them!” (Um, I think it’s worth mentioning at this point that you don’t finger someone whom you know good and well thinks little 1940s salt-and-pepper sets are tacky.)

Pay attention. Stop the clutter process – before it begins – of accumulating more personal goods than you have need or room for, especially those of no real interest to you.

But what about when I want to buy
something that I truly will use?

When you’re tempted to buy something, STOP. Do you really need to OWN it? Let’s say it’s that latest best-seller. Do you intend to read and re-read it? Pay attention to that last part. You’ll truly REread it? Really?? Okay then. By all means, buy it as a hard-copy book or, if available, as an e-book.

No? You admit you won’t reread it? Then take advantage of Andrew Carnegie’s largess. You know – the whole library scene. Why let a book you’ll read once take up valuable space in your home for years? Why dust it, move it, insure it, store it?

If your local library doesn’t have it, ask for it on inter-library loan. After reading it, decide if you’ll indeed refer to it and use it as a reference book – or not. Check the Net. Is your prey there in its entirety for your free usage? (Obviously, this applies to the video and audio scene, as well.) Pay attention: stop the process of material clutter in its tracks.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about the process of reference books being added to the Internet. Isn’t the Net absolutely wonderful – a constantly growing world-library of reference material at your fingertips? The process of bookmarking reference sites you use most often saves you from the process of accumulating books you don’t need to own and then having to do what I did not so very long ago. I decluttered my office by boxing up 68 books for a charity pickup. Some of them – 18 dictionaries of various sorts – I had read and re-read until the Net made them obsolete.

Well, some of them. I confess that, silly woman that I am, I wasn’t paying attention. While these reference resources were proliferating on the Net, I was still plunking down my money for hard-copy dictionaries. The other 50 were books I truly thought I would reread and reuse. The truth? I never opened them twice, in spite of how well-written they were and how many notes my Type-A self made in the margins.

Too late for you?

Already buried by stuff? If, in addition to the garage and attic, the clutter has piled up in every corner, in your car’s trunk, and under the beds, start carting it back out. Start now, TODAY – a little at a time. Don’t kid yourself; it’s most unlikely you’ll ever have an entire weekend to devote to decluttering your home.

  • Two boxes of VHS tapes and books this week for the charity truck that lumbers through your neighborhood weekly.
  • A couple of bags of clothes to the consignment shop near your office next week.
  • The CD your friend thinks is cool and you’ve grown tired of? Have it in your hand – tomorrow – when you ask him if he wants it. (How can he refuse?)
  • The salt-and-pepper collection you couldn’t turn down from Aunt Lisa? Put it on eBay. (She’ll never know, trust me.)


There are plenty of books on undoing this cluttering-process trap we fall into. Get one. In fact, here’s a concise one – Getting Rid of It – by a husband-and-wife team who decluttered an entire suburban home down to two backpacks so that they could travel the world.

Pump yourself up with good advice from books like this one and then get rid of a little (or A LOT, if you can stand it) at a time. Accumulating things is a process; getting rid of stuff is a process – an incredibly worthwhile process.

Already started? Good for you! Why not share some of your best decluttering tips and help the rest of us in our decluttering process?

red box with white text of Wendell Berry's quote: "Don't own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire."

Ouch – a very, very good warning to heed.

Now would be a good time to move on to Process 3: Personal Habits.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett