Clutter Overwhelming You?


Mike Nelson, Executive Director, Clutterless Recovery Groups Inc.

700 words


You’ve probably read several articles on organizing tips and tried to apply them with no lasting results. You may think there is something wrong with you. These tips must work for others, or else why are they so popular?


The answers are: there is nothing wrong with you, and they do work for people who aren’t like you and me. We are clutterers, people who have a psychological difficulty in ridding ourselves of piles of paper or useless items. Our challenge is that we can’t make decisions about the value of things, so we keep everything. Our cluttering is often a manifestation of fears, depression, anxiety or AD/HD. For us, the key is to understand “Why” we clutter, not “How To” organize things.


When we start to get rid of a pile of papers, for instance, we should ask ourselves why we feel that each piece is more important than our serenity. 90% of papers filed in offices are never referred to again. So you have only a 10% chance of making a mistake by discarding something. Wouldn’t you like to take those odds to a casino? We don’t trust ourselves to make decisions. Yet, we make decisions on important matters all day long. What’s so important about junk mail or old bills?


Decluttering is boring. Make a game out of it. Reward yourself for discarding an inch of papers. Often when we declutter papers, we find items of value – checks, important documents and bills we should pay. Give yourself a treat. Treat that found money are a reward for doing the work. If catalogs and offers for travel or events we “might” go to are part of the problem, make them part of the solutions. Those old catalogs are useless. Prices change, items get dropped, so why do you need a catalog that’s a year old? Wouldn’t it serve you, and the world, better by being recycled? I bet you’ll get a new one in a few months. Once in a lifetime offers that come by mail come again. If you haven’t responded by now, you aren’t going to. Take joy in discarding them.


There are peer-based support meetings for people like us, Clutterless Recovery Groups, throughout the U.S. For a directory, go to and click “Meetings.” If there is not a meeting in your community, information on how to start one is under the same heading.


At meetings we learn that with the help of others just like us, we can make real progress. We learn to change the way we look at our clutter and to appreciate clear spaces in our lives. Our web site is The advantage to a support meeting is that we learn we are not alone, crazy or lazy. With the help of others, we learn how to tackle our clutter, one bit at a time.


We have attached emotions to every item we save. Being surrounded by our clutter makes us feel secure. It is our friend. But it is not a good friend. Clutter makes us depressed and getting rid of it makes us anxious. We look at the big picture and see a mess that will take years to get rid of, so why even start? We learn to look at small sections of our clutter and eliminate it in small segments. An inch of papers is enough to tackle at one time. Clearing a chair of stuff that doesn’t belong on it is enough for one decluttering session. Bit by bit, each section of clutter we get rid of adds up. We didn’t get this way overnight and we won’t get rid of all our clutter in one day. But we never give up. We learn to celebrate our small successes and build upon them.


Harder is what we call “memory items.” These could be drawings done by your children, clothes that you wore to special events or mementos of family members. Guess what? Don’t even think of getting rid of them at first. There’s nothing wrong with holding onto keepsakes. Maybe eventually, you will be ready to discard some of them, but they should be far down your list of things to declutter.


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