How to Win the War on Clutter

a(Photo: atomicjeep)

If you’re tackling your clutter in fits and starts, it can sometimes feel like you’re making little progress. Although you’ve purged a number of things, you’ve hardly made a dent – or worse yet, accumulated more in the meantime. When clutter becomes particularly invasive, it’s time to wage an all-out war.

1. Psych yourself up. Like a general going into battle, prepare yourself mentally for the challenge ahead. Spend some time thinking about how your clutter makes you feel: frustrated, upset, anxious, tired, overwhelmed. Get good and angry at your clutter.

2. Draw up a battle plan. Instead of fighting your clutter willy-nilly, draw up a full-scale plan of attack. Outline the battleground – be it your living room, desk drawer, or linen closet – and decide the date and time to launch your offensive. Devise a strategy for routing out the clutter: such as completely emptying out the contents, then deciding what goes back in.

3. Call in reinforcements. If you’re planning an epic battle (like cleaning out your garage, basement, or attic), round up additional troops. Family and friends make terrific soldiers: they provide extra hands and moral support, and help strengthen your resolve when you feel weak or sentimental. Rally family members to get rid of their own stuff!

4. Identify the enemy. Clutter is an expert in camouflage, and does a bang-up job blending in with your more useful possessions. You’ll find it holed up in your sock drawer, your medicine cabinet, your coat closet and elsewhere. Keep a sharp eye out for anything you haven’t used in the last six months.

5. Interrogate. Give every possession you encounter the third degree: ask where it came from, what it does, and what value it adds to your household. Determine whether it belongs in your kingdom, or should be banished. Don’t give anything a free pass.

6. Round up the intruders. Establish a holding cell for all intruders you find: it can be a box, a garbage bag, or a designated area of the room you’re working on. Don’t be tempted to leave them in place and deal with them later; they’ll surely escape to other parts of the house as soon as your back is turned.

7. Decide their fate. Deal with the captives responsibly. Instead of tossing them in a landfill to deteriorate, give them a second chance: find new homes for them via eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, or charitable organizations. They may become valuable citizens of another household.

8. Expel them from your kingdom. Once you’ve decided their fate, don’t let them hang around. Have a garage sale, ship them out, schedule pickups, or pile them in your trunk and drive them to Goodwill. Don’t give them a chance to re-infiltrate your home.

9. Shore up your defenses. Set up blockades to prevent future invasions: get off mailing lists, don’t bring home freebies, opt out of gift exchanges, set limits on your possessions, and question every purchase. Be a good gatekeeper, and clutter will find it much more difficult to slip past your defenses.

10. Be vigilant. Constantly be on the lookout for new intruders: scan your surfaces on a daily basis, and expel them before they become entrenched. Pay particular attention to hotspots where clutter tends to gather.

Heed this advice, and you’re certain to emerge victorious. After you reclaim your territory from the invading clutter, you’ll have a new empire of space – and a sense of peace and serenity will reign in your household. :-)

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Related posts:

  1. Decluttering Update: Hello eBay, My Old Friend
  2. Declutter Your Fantasy Self
  3. The Miss Minimalist Collection: A Request and a Giveaway

25 comments to How to Win the War on Clutter

  • Thanks for the great tips! Love the war analogy.

    I also find it helpful to write a list (Royal census?) When I start writing down every item in my makeup bag / under the bathroom cabinet, it really punctuates how much is really there. And it’s easier to cross out items and translate that into removing the item. Maybe because it steps me back emotionally from some items?

  • I can’t believe I haven’t found your website before, so I thought I would come down to the comments and say hello :)

    My fiance and I have just recently taken 2 suitcases full of clothes and other unnecessary things to our local thrift shop. And there still feels like there is so much junk in our home! (And this is by no means the first time we have cleansed ourselves of possessions – eBay is like our best friend!)

  • <>

    That is the most powerful tip in your eBook! It is *amazing* how “channeling your inner dump truck” and removing everything psychologically makes a difference in what we decide to keep. Powerful!

  • Great analogy! I have a personal challenge to be able to move in a few months with just 2 suitcases, an aero bed, one shoulder bag, 1 backpack and a few boxes. Then I’m going to start over in my new smaller apartment with just the items I absolutely need, purchased only with cash. I have 3 1/2 months to go in getting to this–the interrogation and battle continues! Thank you!

  • Meg

    Damn, I can hear the drumrolls, the tanks moving, the fighter jets roaring, the cry of “CHARGE!” You are General Missminimalissimo!

    Seriously, a great and useful post.

    • Ashley

      General Missminimalissimo — I love it! (can’t get enough of that show)

      And Francine, this is another great post — exactly how I feel these days, like I’ve been throwing stuff out left and right but…there is still so much STUFF. Great motivation to keep going.

  • Kim

    I also found it helpful to make a list and completely empty the space that needed attention.

    Another great post.

  • hi francine,

    you would be so proud of me and my wardrobe right now. i was putting together a list of 33 items of clothing, part of the 33 challenge thing, and realized that i only had about 40 pieces of winter clothing. i was thrilled. so instead of doing the challenge i’m just going to happily wear what i’ve got. your line about the ex-husband is genius and it works.


  • I’m getting ready to do another round of major “decluttering’ in my household so this article is perfect timing for me. I especially like tip number 5- Interrogate! Every item I own will be subject to lots of questions and if the item wants to stay it will have to really make a case for it! :)

  • Karen (Scotland)

    Loved this post! A good strategy laid out with a touch of humour. :-)
    It does start to feel personal, though, doesn’t it: the constant battle against clutter. I think taking the battle to the clutter does make more sense that waiting for it to take over when we’re not looking.
    Thanks again for such inspiring posts.
    Karen (Scotland)

  • Good suggestion about actually removing an item as soon as it is decided that it goes. I don’t always do that – sometimes I just make a mental note – especially if it is not a “zone” I’m currently working on. But leaving it makes it easier to ponder and rationalize why I should keep it.

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks for all your great comments, and glad you liked the post!

    LOL re. General Missminimalissimo — I spent last weekend in Athens, evidently reading too much Greek military history. ;-)

    janet, way to go on the wardrobe — thrilled to hear that tip is working so well for you! If anyone’s curious, janet’s referring to the following lines from my book: “When considering an outfit, question whether you’d feel comfortable being photographed, or running into your ex, while wearing it. If the answer is “no,” out it goes!”

  • I love the war analogy you’ve used here, Francine! Most excellent way to observe clutter as intruders — because they are!!

  • I love this post! It does seem like a war at times.

  • alisha

    I have been decluttering for the past few years… and countless times I have gone thru a rebound phase. I’ve now come to a point where decluttering meets emotional decluttering & really seriously thinking about what I want my life to be about… and to be honest… it isn’t a pretty process. Your blog and and the many posted comments are an amazing inspiration and motivation! Just wanted to send you a thank you from the far east. I know in my guts that a real turning point is just around the corner for me… minimalism is a bumpy yet rewarding journey.

  • [...] her post “How to Win the War on Clutter,” Miss Minimalist [...]

  • [...] Francine Jay, Miss Minimalist-”How to Win the War on Clutter” [...]

  • Hello everybody! I live with my 3 daughters, 27, 25 and 21 y.o. – and I have been fighting in this war for a long time, since I left my ex husband’s huge house and moved to some very smaller apartments. Although I had some good victories, I realize that it was just a small begining. There are so many useless items in our home yet!!! Sometimes I feel discouraged… Thank you very much for your precious help, Francine, Beth, Wendy… now we are an army!

  • Mary

    Hi love ur blogs! I’m inspired by ur blogs and tips. We live I 4 bedroom 3 bathroom and 2.5 car garage house I have a 2 y/o son and a wonderful husband. My mom and bro lives with us. We grew up in a 3rd world county and every little things we treasure and keep becoz of hard life. We’re very blessed to live in this country and have nice stable jobs. Few months ago I come across your blogs and I was truly inspired and started donating my “unused clothes”, old books,” double pairs” of this and that in the kitchen, shredding accumulated old bank statements and bills, throw pictures since we always update our facebook and keep it all in flash drive anyway.. Every tips that you posts I tried to follow it and Gosh!!! I felt so much better , my house looks better.. I’m still in the process but it really really gives me peacefulness. The only dilemma I’m encountering is since my mother in law lives w/ us .. W/ her also had lived in a 3rd world country she does not like things to be given away or thrown away .. If she sometimes sees my “to donate ” box , shell asked me if she could keep it of course I won’t be able to say no ..then she’ll keep it in her room or inside our garage.. So some of it is still in our house… In embarrassed to throw or donate things if I know she knows it coz I don’t want her to think I’ve become “proud” and not value the things that we have. I tried to sneak things out .. :-) But again thank you very much !!! Keep on posting!!! God bless!!!

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