clutter or organized?

Clutter vs/or Organization, what’s the difference?

Lots of chatter lately in my circles about clutter. How it’s bad, how to fix it, what effect it has on our lives…. You’ve read the articles.

Less chatter about organization. But most of the clutter chatter mentions organization. As if just organizing all the stuff would solve the problem. If that was true, all any clutter-sufferer would have to do is buy more boxes to put the stuff in. To separate it by color, or season of use, or task…

But obviously that isn’t the case. Storage space for all the organizational boxes is not infinite. So, if you fill up every closet, and every cupboard, and every under-bed storage system with stuff, all neatly arranged, is it organized, or is it clutter?

In the interests of bringing some clarity to this issue, lets start at the beginning and define clutter and organization.

Clutter is any item in a location where it does not belong. Rather like weeds are any plant growing where it is not wanted, stuff which belongs to one activity in a home, but finds its way to another location, is clutter.

And if it gets piled on another bunch of stuff which also does not belong in that area, it’s compounded clutter. 

Coats don’t belong on the floor of the entry way. Magazines don’t belong stacked four high on the coffee table. The craft you worked on for an hour last week does not belong on the end cushion of the sofa.

Clutter results because of one behaviour, and one behaviour only. Not putting things where they belong when they aren’t in use.  It really is that simple.  But, of course, you must agree that clutter is stuff sitting where it doesn’t belong. This means that it HAS a place to live, you just didn’t put it there. If it doesn’t have a place to live, that’s a different issue;  that’s organization.

Organization can typically be solved with some thought and planning. Of course, it’s totally dependant on your commitment to the plan.

But what happens when it may not be possible to put those items where they belong because there isn’t any more space for them where they belong. You want to keep the items, you actually use them —  now your issue is you have too much stuff.  

If, however, you have too much stuff, and you can’t part with any of it because you might ‘use it someday’   you are on a path to hoarding. If you have to pay storage fees on items you don’t use regularly, you have a problem of too much stuff.

If you have accumulated so many possessions that you cannot comfortably and safely live in your home, you may have a problem that can’t be solved with a simple put-it-away contract with yourself, or a few more boxes to put the stuff in.

Lets start with the most obvious premise of all. If you have clutter, and it’s because you don’t put things where they belong when you are done with them, that’s a simple choice you make in how you live in your home. 

If you are happy with a lot of stuff around you, that’s fine. That’s OK. But if that stuff interferes with the happiness you feel in your home, or how others feel in your home, or it prevents you from living a stress-reduced life, then it’s a problem. 

If you desire a clutter-free home, and you have the space to make that happen ( see organization) and you sabotage that by leaving stuff all over, your issue isn’t just the stuff. This is when you need to delve deep, probably with the help of a professional, to find out why you are sabotaging your wellness-oriented life.


This is the act of putting your stuff in a designated place, within an established system,  which is located somewhere commensurate with the required accessibility of the items.

For example: You have too many sheets to fit in the linen closet, so you get some clear totes and fill them with the over-flow linen you have stashed in several other closets, and put the totes in the basement. The linen is apparently ‘organized’ but it’s not readily accessible, and it is not designated a place based on use. Which we all know leads to buying more sheets. 

So is this effective organization? No, not at all. Its just putting stuff in totes.  

Organization would be to separate the linen into seasonal use, put the current season in the linen closet, and the next season in the tote. Even though it’s in the same, not readily accessible, location, it’s where it needs to be to keep your linen closet easy to use right now. You also know exactly where the next season’s linen is.  Its organized according to use.

Organization is knowing where your stuff is, that it’s easily accessible when you need it, and it’s easy to put the item back into that location when you are finished using it.

For example: You are a sewing enthusiast. You’ve put all your interfacing in one box and it’s in the storage room because you don’t have room for it all in the sewing room. So, it’s organized, right? Well, you get to the point where you need that one specific interfacing, so off you go to the storage room, get the interfacing from the box, leaving the box on the bench because you’ll ‘be right back’  and three weeks later the interfacing is still in the sewing room, the box is still on the bench, and nothing is where it’s supposed to be.   That’s not organization.  Now you have clutter.

I think any discussion of clutter must include a bit about hoarding. That happens for different reasons, and although it can initially manifest itself as clutter, it’s a disorder. Disorders can’t be solved with a few more boxes and a few self-contracts. Lets just leave this here:

So, Hoarding. The Mayo clinic says:

” Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.”,regardless%20of%20actual%20value%2C%20occurs.

I do not purport to be an expert in clutter management, or organization, or the disorder of hoarding. I am, however, able to look at an environment and — using the basics of interior decoration — working with the owner plan their living spaces so their possessions have a place to live which is accessible when needed, and makes the home clutter-free, and easy to live in.

If the owner is not able to adjust their habits so the organization works for them, that takes their issues into the realm of needing professional help. They need someone who can help them get to the key of the issues.

Here’s a real-life example of when it’s time to get professional help.

I knew a woman who relied on medication to keep her on the ‘level’ every day. She freely admitted she didn’t like taking the medication because it reminded her that she was ill and would have to take the meds for the rest of her life, but she knew she had to, in order to function with her illness. Every morning I’d send her a text, reminding her to take her medication. 

It became apparent that the reminder was allowing her to ‘forget’, not urging her to modify her behavior.   So, we went through her morning routine, trying to find an activity which she did EVERY morning, without fail, which we could habit stack the medication to, and get the desired result.  Brushing her teeth was that activity. So, we taped her meds bottle to the toothpaste. Couldn’t fail, right?

I called the next morning to ask how it had worked. Silence. ‘Did you take your meds?’, ‘No,’ ‘Why? Didn’t you see the bottle taped to the toothpaste?’ ‘No, I used ‘her husband’s’ toothpaste.  He had his own toothpaste because she didn’t like his brand, and preferred her own.

So we had addressed the problem and found a solution that obviously would work without a lot of thought on her part. While she ‘wanted’ to take her meds, she had such a deep-seated aversion to it she would do almost anything to avoid taking it.  I very politely declined further help on the issue.

It’s like this with clutter and organization. No matter what you ‘want’, if you are not willing to do the work to obtain the results, you are wasting everyone’s time.

I do know, though, that success is possible. You just have to want it bad enough so that the end result of a clutter-free, organized home is worth more than the status quo. 

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