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Feeling Cluttered? Your Stuff Might Not Be The Problem

June 5, 2017
Feeling Cluttered? Your Stuff Might Not Be The Problem | Tiny Ambitions
You’ve committed to a minimalist lifestyle. Maybe you have donated/recycled/sold quite a few of your possessions. Everything that’s left adds value to your life or is something you love. You feel like you are gaining traction in this whole ‘living with less’ thing. There is only one problem.


You are still feeling cluttered.


It might be a stack of books or a pared down shoe collection, or your kitchen items. Whatever it is, you’ve reached your limit for what you think you can comfortably get rid of. Yet, you still feel cluttered and maybe even overwhelmed with your physical space.

If you are still feeling a sense of clutter in your living space, one of two things might be happening.

1) You haven’t really hit your paring down plateau.

If you’ve thought to yourself “I think I’ve finally reached the right number of things for me,” you’ve probably only reached your ‘comfort zone’. Here’s the thing: minimalism isn’t supposed to be comfortable, and it isn’t supposed to be easy. It is supposed to make you take a long, hard look at what is in your life and what you actually need to be there.

So, if you’re feeling cluttered and think you have reached the peak of your purging, I would challenge you to take another look. Take another pass through everything you own and be incredibly honest about what it is you do and do not need in your life. You might be surprised at the answer.

This is not a challenge to live with the smallest amount of things possible. I don’t think that is a useful application of minimalism. This is simply to challenge you to be more honest with yourself to determine if you absolutely need to live with everything you’ve kept up until this point.

Think about it another way – every person’s capacity for living with clutter is different. Therefore, if you are feeling cluttered by your remaining possessions, it stands to reason that there is probably still room for you to pare back.

2) Your possessions are not the problem.

If you have genuinely reached your peak for what you can live without and are still feeling cluttered and disorganized, it might be a more mental state than a physical one. What I mean is, something other than your possessions is making you feel cluttered. It might be a relationship, something at work or some other issue. Whatever it is, organizing your possessions over and over again isn’t going to solve it.

I know this sounds like crazy, new age bull****, but I really don’t think it is. Stay with me on this.

My journey into minimalism started after I ended a long term relationship a couple of years ago. I started purging in earnest after the breakup. I had accumulated so much stuff over the course of the relationship that was actually a mask for my discontent. Once the relationship was over, I was able to realize I no longer needed to fill my life with stuff. Maybe your journey into minimalism had similar beginnings.

If you find yourself having a disorganized or cluttered day, don’t try and fix it by organizing, decluttering or purging a possession. That will never work (trust me, I’ve tried). The best course of action is to take a step back and ask yourself what is really bothering you. Because I promise it isn’t your shoe/book/clothing collection.

Bringing Order to Your Internal/External Clutter

There is obviously something to be said for having your space clean and organized in a way that makes sense to you – but that logic only goes so far. I do genuinely understand the impulse to bring order to your external world when something feels out of control in your life. But eventually, you have to start working on your internal world as well. There are only so many times you can reorganize your clothes, spices, etc. before it becomes clear that your stuff is not the issue.

So, this probably isn’t the organizing advice post you were hoping for. I wish I could tell you my tips for keeping myself organized (as if I actually have those!). But it really only boils down to one thing – if you’re still feeling cluttered after doing a fair amount of minimizing, it might be worthwhile to take a step back and ask yourself what is really going on.

Have you ever gone on a minimizing binge because something was bothering you? I know I have! Let’s discuss in the comments!

Image Credit: Unsplash

  • Hanna @ minimal marathoner June 8, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    I’ve always believed that the urge to declutter/organize/clean, whether or not we are consciously aware of it, is a way of trying to distract ourselves from something deeper that is bothering us or a less pleasant task we are trying to procrastinate. Physical decluttering offers more visual gratification and evidence of progress so it’s not surprising that it’s so attractive.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a very valuable and worthy endeavor! I just think it’s wise to always ask ourselves the “why” of our decluttering journey. Why am I doing this? What do I hope to achieve? What will success look like? Especially now that it’s become something of a popular cultural fad (what that says about the American lifestyle is interesting in and of itself).

    • tinyambitions June 8, 2017 at 5:24 pm

      I completely agree! For myself, I knew I would have to work through the physical clutter before I could even start on my mental landscape. It is interesting that it has become a fad- though I think that is more minimalism as a design concept rather than a lifestyle tool to help you live a life to be proud of. And I don’t think the latter could become a fad! Thanks for reading Hanna!

  • Lisa | Simple Life Experiment June 6, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Excellent points you make here, Brittany! On the first one, I’ve often asked myself if I could go even further, and the reality is that I could. One scenario that I have bizarrely proposed to myself a few times lately, actually, is how I would go about replacing my possessions if I lost them all in a fire. Obviously that would be devastating and while I would certainly miss a lot of things, I think in the long term I probably wouldn’t replace everything. So I think that goes to show that even after minimising, I still have things I don’t really need…even though I’m comfortable with keeping them around post-minimisation. On your second point, though, I completely agree and I think this is too often overlooked! Decluttering is fantastic, but – ironically – just like compulsive shopping, it too can be a quick-fix bandaid solution to deeper issues. Great insights, as always! 🙂

    • tinyambitions June 6, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      I do that too! I look around my apartment and think “what would I run out of here with if I had to?” Answer: my partner, my cat and my computer. Everything else can be replaced if necessary. On my second point, I tend to have a compulsive personality so I’ve found I need to keep myself in check when it comes to minimizing and make sure I’m not doing it for the wrong reasons. Thanks as always for your lovely comment!

      • Lisa | Simple Life Experiment June 7, 2017 at 1:37 am

        I would choose the same – except for the cat, as we don’t have one…I’d probably take my recipe folder instead, which contains about 10 years’ worth of handwritten recipes that I love! Boiling things down to just a few items puts into perspective how many of our possessions are replaceable (and therefore not that important, really!).

        • tinyambitions June 7, 2017 at 7:14 am

          That’s incredible! Sometimes we just need some perspective on our minimizing journey-to remind us what the point of it really is.

  • My Sons Father June 5, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Great insights. I totally agree. Mental clutter can often be the culprit when it comes to discontent in your life. I also think it sometimes requires us to remove the physical clutter to help us get to the mental clutter.

    • tinyambitions June 5, 2017 at 10:28 am

      I agree! For me, I had to get through all the physical clutter first before I even realized there was mental clutter! I think what I’m trying to get at here is that simply purging everything you own won’t make your life magically perfect. That’s not how it works! (Although it would be great if it did!)

    • Vivien March 9, 2018 at 3:40 am

      That is so true and I needed to read that right now so thanks!

    Hey! I'm Britt. I write about living a tiny, simple, intentional life. Because life doesn't need to be lived big.