27 Sneaky Sources of Clutter


We’re all trying hard to cut back and not live weighed down by our stuff.

Clutter is stressful.  It’s harder to keep a clean home with too much stuff: it creates extra work.  It’s harder to find what you’re looking for when you need it. It can create bickering and resentment.  What a waste of energy — our time on this earth is already too short.

But clutter happens… to all of us.

I’m always on the hunt for new ideas on how to declutter and create more breathing room by getting rid of things we don’t need (or want).

We typically hear about reducing paper clutter or paring down our closets.  But where else can we look?  Are we living in and around clutter and not even realizing it?

Here are some surprising places clutter may be sneakily hiding out in your home:

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1.  Things in need of repairs… Untouched for a long time.

2.  False Starts — Unfinished creative projects, such as remnants of your “knitting phase”.  Tools, easels, supplies, etc, along with peripheral books and manuals. Also, workout gear from some fitness craze you won’t be revisiting.  It’s okay to admit your interests change over time.  Someone else might be in their prime on that type of project right now.

3.  Off-season items or clothing.  For instance, you don’t need your poolside sunscreen using prime real estate in your bathroom during winter, or your bathing suits taking up a whole drawer in your dresser year-round.

4.  Too much furniture crowding a room.

5.  Lots of small pieces of furniture around the house, like accent tables and curio cases.

6.  Too many collections or souvenirs.  Curate and edit down, keeping only your absolute favourites (how do you know?  It’s the ones that make you smile from the inside.) That is something truly special — and no, not every single knick-knack you own makes you smile from the inside.

Remember, the memories don’t live inside those objects, they live inside you.

7.  Too much stuff on your fridge, from magnets to photos to papers to kids’ artwork.

8.  Too many dishes.  This goes for everyday dishes as well as those for special occasions.

9.  Too many drinking glasses, wine glasses, or plastic sippy cups (especially if you have non-matching tops and bottoms!)

10.  Mismatched, stained or orphaned bedding.  Also, any bedding in sizes that no longer match the sizes of the beds you currently own.  Also, too many ratty towels.

11.  Samples of anything you received that you wouldn’t normally use.  Cleaning products, makeup, skincare products.  This includes avoiding bringing home tiny bottles from your hotel stays!  (Unless you’re a true superstar at quickly using them down to the last drop).

12.  Overcrowded walls — too many photos, decorations, even wall hooks if they’re always buried in stuff.

13.  Winter gear.  I’m all for bundling up in wintertime, but beware of your scarf collection reaching the double digits, every possible variation on mitts and gloves (dressy, extra-warm, fuzzy, light, black, woolly, leather, colourful, and on it goes).  Also hats and toques which, it seems, are yours for life once you purchase them or receive them as gifts.  Coats seem to multiply as soon as you close the closet door.  Face it, you always reach for the same ones.  Let go of the rest.

14.  Singles that need to be a pair.  Socks.  Mitts.  Shoes.  Flip flops.  Earrings.

15.  Anything unsolicited you get in the mail + junk mail, flyers.

In a cleaning mood?  You might enjoy:

10 Favorite Home Organizing Tricks & Pet Peeves Solved


16.  Magazines:  New ones you’re no longer excited to receive.  Old ones you’ve been hanging onto. Others you never asked for but receive anyway.

17.  Toys, clothing and gear your kids have outgrown.  Hoo boy, this alone could fill an 18-wheeler.

18.  Cleaning products you will never use to clean your home.

19.  Pet supplies you’ll never use.

20.  Greeting cards.  People are divided on this issue — lots of people hang onto handwritten cards and notes for sentimental reasons.  But I think we can all agree that you can part with cards you received on any occasion where the person just signed their name.  Especially if it was typed on a typewriter.  Baby steps.

21.  The medicine cabinet: guaranteed, there is expired medicine in there at this very moment.

22.  Outdated electronics + all the wires, plugs, chargers and gadgets they rode in on.

23.  Your boxes of photos.  One day, when you’re cleaning out your piles of photos, promise me this: you’ll acknowledge that not every printed photograph is a masterpiece that must be kept for eternity.  In fact, I’d wager that probably 20% or less are worthy of being placed in an album or memory box of some kind (or digitized, if you’re that proactive!)

24.  Your bookshelf.  I used to hoard books and really show them off, hoping it would somehow make me appear more intelligent to those who noticed I owned books on all these different areas of knowledge.  Thankfully, I outgrew that idea.  (Hint: no one cared.)  Now I only own books on topics that interest me right now, and my absolute favourites for re-reading.  I still have a fair amount, but as a recovering book hoarder I feel I’m doing much better.

25.  Tupperware and plastic containers.  Unless you feed a family of 24 or more, you do not need over 100 pieces of plastic food storage.  (Especially if the tops and bottoms don’t match.)

26.  The inside of your computer.  Clutter exists digitally too.  From outdated apps and obsolete file drafts, to archival items that just do not need to reside on your main computer, make some room and give it a longer life.  Oh, and you can clean up your desktop while you’re at it.

27.  Unpacked boxes.  ‘Nuff said.

NOTE:  I don’t want you to think I’ve successfully cleared my home of all this stuff and am writing this from a clean and streamlined super-home.  Au contraire, I basically wrote this list for myself. We recently moved and it seems as if every item I come across is back in question.  (Notice I didn’t include tons of before-and-afters this time!)  So I will now, just like I hope you will too, do my very best to get better in these areas and report back!

What about you?

What are your sneaky sources of clutter?
What area do you dread organizing?
Do you have any tricks you use to stay on top of clutter, like the one-in-one-out rule?


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

Love the idea of living in a clutter free home? Get inspired by this delightful, short book all about paring down.

I loved Marie’s unique take on HOW to declutter in a way that yields massive results. I was so fired up and inspired by her methods that we cleaned out about 6 bags of clothing!  Recommended.


I know I’m 100 times happier when I have less stuff, use all that I do have, spend less time cleaning, and more time doing things I love.  What about you?

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Val Lonergan is the founder of ZenShmen.com, where she shares happiness hacks for purposeful people. To get the ZenShmen cheatsheet to jumpstart your joy - 10 easy things you can do right this minute to hack your way to increased happiness - join the free newsletter.
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  • Val

    Such good points. Thanks for sharing! I fully agree about the Tupperware bins – so handy. So glad you stopped by!

  • Reply

    The boxes of photos are a big stressor for me. My wedding pictures aren't even in an album! Outdated electronics is a tricky one, I'm not tech savvy so those cables may or may not be outdated! I've found that investing in large tupperware bins has been very useful. I pack away seasonal clothing in them but I also use them for packing oddly shaped items when we travel ie: straw hats, kids toys, etc.

  • Anonymous

    I am inspired to use these tips to de-clutter my home this very weekend, Val. Thanks! I'll let you know how it goes. xx Tyler

  • Val

    Wonderful, I'm so glad this got you up and at 'em! Good luck!

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