What's Filling Your Home + Mind: Understanding The 7 Types Of Clutter
Updated: Jan 27
Unless you are an extreme minimalist, you probably have clutter accumulating someplace in your house. Or maybe several places throughout your home — piles on the kitchen countertops, boxes on the garage floor, piles on random trinkets on the stairs, or bins of items on your bathroom counter.
There are seven types of clutter, and not all are created equal. Some clutter needs to be recycled, donated, or thrown out, while others require a proper home base for storing.
Keep reading to determine what types of clutter you have in your home and how to manage it.
Understanding The Most Common Types of Clutter
1. Items without a home clutter
You want to keep these items, but they still need a place to call their own. For example, school papers, mail, stuff you just bought at the store, things the kids bring home, or items that someone gifted you. This clutter often accumulates on countertops, stairs, and in drawers or closets.
The best way to manage this type of clutter is to make quick and fast decisions on where it should live (hint: it doesn't belong shoved in a drawer). Clutter is an unmade decision; the longer it sits around, the more it accumulates.
2. Items you need to get rid of but haven't clutter
These items are in bags and boxes waiting to be recycled, donated, or purged. For example, donation items, wire hangers, plastic containers or styrofoam for recycling, or items to be returned to the store. This clutter often accumulates in the garage, closets, laundry rooms, and your car's trunk.
Make a plan to take these items out of your house and set it as a monthly or weekly task. You can also outsource the task of removing these items from your home. Some people on Task Rabbit or Thumb Tack will help with hauling, and several professional organizers offer a hauling and donation service. (If you live in the greater Portland, Oregon area, I can help you with donations and hauling.)
3. Items you thought you needed or need just in case clutter
You bought something because you thought it was a good deal or a friend or neighbor was getting rid of it. It's the items you want to have on hand "just in case," and you think you might need them someday. But in reality, you probably will never use them. For example, cleaning gadgets, tools, water bottles, coffee mugs, flashlights, or batteries. This clutter often accumulates in garages, kitchens, basements, and offices.
You can combat this type of clutter by asking yourself the following questions before letting it into your house. If your answers are wishy-washy, or if you cannot come up with concrete answers, you should pass on the item.
Do I absolutely LOVE it?
When will I use it?
How often will I use it?
Where will I store it?
Do I have something similar?
Could I borrow it from a friend or neighbor if I needed it?
If I keep it, what else can I get rid of?
4. Items you bought in bulk or access clutter
Also known as "abundance clutter." You overbuy because having many products makes you feel secure and comfortable. For example, toilet paper, paper towels, canned kids, soda, or cleaning supplies. This clutter often accumulates in pantries, garages, basements, or garages. This happened a lot during the pandemic, and now we are seeing the aftermath — a ton of expired and wasted food.
Sometimes buying in bulk is okay, especially if you have ample room to store it or use it quickly. But if buying in abundance impeeds on your space, time, or budget, it's time to rethink what you're buying and scale back to items that won't expire, attract bugs, or hinder someone else's needs.
5. Items that are inspirational clutter
You bought certain things intending to use them. And guess what? You have yet to use it. For example, sports equipment, meditation accessories, hobby items, cooking accessories, or makeup and skin care. This clutter often accumulates in kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, and offices.
This clutter is similar to "items you thought you needed." But instead, these items are geared more toward hobbies, fitness, mental health, trends, boredom, and social media influences. You might use them once or twice but then quickly get tossed aside.
Try the one-in, two-out rule to prevent the inspirational clutter from accumulating. You must get rid of two items for every new thing you bring into the house. Or you can try the 60-day rule: if you have not used it in 60 days, it's time to get rid of it.
6. Items that are sentimental clutter
Because of the emotional attachment, this type of clutter is the hardest to part with. You're holding on to these belongings because they have nostalgic meaning. For example, photo albums, blankets, jewelry, knick-knacks, kid's artwork, or memorabilia. This clutter often accumulates in attics, basements, closets, or in drawers and cabinets.
My first recommendation is to display what you love. If you are holding onto a baby sweater, why not have it framed so you can hang it on the wall? If you have your grandma's tea collection, why not put it out on a table or bookshelf? If you aren't willing to display it, is it worth keeping?
My second recommendation is to set space limits. A space limit is when you dedicate a specific area — like a box, drawer, shelf, etc. — for your things. Once that area fills up, it's time to purge and eliminate. You can only add something to that space once you get rid of some items.
7. Items in the cloud or on your devices clutter
Also known as digital clutter, which is super challenging because you can have hundreds of folders in different locations, so knowing what you have is nearly impossible. For example, photos, music, emails, documents, presentations, or screenshots. This clutter often accumulates on your desktop, your downloads, old devices, the cloud, or external hard drives.
It's a big job decluttering all your devices, so my suggestion is that you start small and start making incremental changes and trying to bake them into your daily workflow:
Delete anything that you do not use
Have a naming convention for your documents and photos
Store photos on Google Drive
Keep documents in a folder
Unsubscribe to emails
Start Decluttering Your Clutter
So, where does yours pile up out of the seven types of clutter? Not all clutter needs to be purged, thrown out, or donated. For the items that you use or that are important to you, it comes down to two things:
Pairing down what you have and only keeping what you love and use the most
Giving your items a proper home with ample containment