A Secret to Happiness? Don’t Get Organized.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

One of my favorite things to do is to help my friends clear their clutter. It’s less emotionally taxing than clearing my own clutter, plus I don’t have any delicious, horrible piles left to tackle (okay, maybe I do have one messy pile of shirts in my closet). As a consequence, I’ve seen a lot of clutter and heard lots of people talk about their thoughts about clutter. And I’ve reached an important conclusion:

Don’t get organized.

When you’re facing a desk swamped in papers, or a closet bursting with clothes, or counter-tops littered with piles of random objects, don’t say to yourself, “I need to get organized.” Your first instinct should be to get rid of stuff. If you don’t keep it, you don’t have to organize it.

A huge amount of clutter is the result of keeping things you don’t use. “Well, I don’t have that problem,” you might think. “Why would I bother to keep something I don’t use?” But it’s easier than you think for this stuff to accumulate.

In fact, there are a surprising number of reasons to hang on to something you don’t use. Maybe you used this object in the past, and it has sentimental value – your ten-year-old’s old sippy cup. Maybe you wish you used this object, even though you never do – a set of hand-weights. Maybe you want to pretend you live a life where this object would be useful – linen cocktail napkins. Maybe you’ve never used this thing, and you feel guilty about having wasted the money buying it – a bottle of decoupage glue. (All items that I held onto for years, without using, by the way.)

It can be painful to admit that you aren’t going to use certain possessions, but all that junk just gets in your way. Be honest with yourself.

When I’m helping people clear clutter, they often say, “I refuse to give that up! It’s got too much sentimental value to throw away.” I’m a big believer in keeping things for sentimental reasons, but it helps to admit that that’s what you’re doing and to act accordingly.

For example, a friend was keeping a huge pile of t-shirts she loved in college, but no longer wore. She wanted to buy a special set of plastic shelves to put in her closet to organize them.

Instead, I asked her, “Do you need to keep all these t-shirts, or can you pick a few to jog your memory?” With some coaxing, she got rid of most of them. Once she was down to two t-shirts, I asked her, “Do you actually wear these t-shirts?” She didn’t, so we moved them out of the precious real estate of her closet and stuck them on the top shelf of little-used closet.

People also say, “No, I’ve never used that, but maybe I will! It might come in handy!” Maybe it will – or maybe it won’t. Ask yourself: how easy would it be to replace this item? Have I ever used it? What else in my life would have to change for me to use this?

For example, my sister had huge amounts of paper clutter, and when we started going through it, I saw that she was hanging on to all sorts of statements and receipts. She wanted to buy a file box to file it all away neatly, but I disagreed. “You should just throw these papers away,” I said, “why do you them at all?” “Maybe I’ll need them,” she objected. But she’d never needed them in the past, and it wouldn’t have been hard to get copies, if she would ever need them. So we tossed all of it. Much easier than organizing it!

No surprise, I’ve noticed that it’s the people with the worst clutter problems who have the instinct to run to a store and buy complicated hangers, drawer compartments, etc. I love and use that stuff, too, but now I never let myself buy an item until it’s absolutely clear that it will help me put objects in order that are truly necessary – rather than act as a crutch to move clutter around or to jam more clutter into place.

So the next time you have the urge to get organized, and especially if you feel tempted to buy organizing doodads, first push yourself to throw away or give away the things you don’t actually use. (Here are 27 bonus tips for keeping your house in order.) You may find yourself left with nothing to organize.

Have you ever realized that you’ve been hanging on to something that you didn’t use? Why were you keeping it?

* Tonight I saw Marci Alboher, which reminded me how much I love to read her Working the New Economy blog. And oh, how I love stop-motion video — I watched this funny video on Gimundo.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 28,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (sorry about that weird format – trying to to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • When I first saw the title of this post, I thought, huh? How could I not live with the spaciousness that clearing things out brings? So you nailed it for me: the more I let go of, the more uncluttering takes care of itself. Although I’m not a professional organizer, this comes up all the time with clients. Recently someone said to me, “But if I let go of all this stuff, who will I BE?” So there’s a lot of self-identify wrapped up in it, and I’ve read that hanging on to stuff actually keeps us stuck; it affects our ability to move forward in life. Thanks for the great post!

  • I’m reminded of an amazing statistic (can’t find the link immediately) that in the U.S. we spend more on storage facilities every year now than we do on going to the movies! Maybe we’re afraid we’ll lose our connection to the past if we lose the physical object that was there to share it with us. I’m with you, though, Gretchen: sentimentality is fine, but the real memory lies in your mind, not in the thing you don’t want to throw out.

    • jeannie

      There was an article in a recent NYTimes Magazine re. the American phenomena of storage facilities – maybe that’s the article you were referring to – very interesting.

    • Angela

      You know something, I enjoyed it when my grandmother went through her stash of papers from when she taught Sunday school, or read me a letter her sister wrote her in the 1940’s. We both found it entertaining /what/ her sister wrote about (panty liners had belts?!), and it’s a window into my grandmother’s history. I would love to have tokens like that to share with my children or grandchildren someday.

      That said, we’re working hard to get her to let go of the dolls and salt and pepper shakers. All hoarders (including myself) need to draw a line, but please don’t throw everything out.

      • LilyBLily

        Probably was talking about sanitary napkins, which were held in place by elastic belts. This was before the peel-and-stick days.

  • seakiev

    What I enjoy most about clearing out closets is the light feeling I have afterward.

  • Amber

    I like how you said, “Maybe you want to pretend you live a life where this object would be useful.” That accounts for SO much of my extra sewing fabric… formal dresses… and various other stuff. Great post!

  • This is so timely for me. I’m moving into a new apartment tomorrow and have been madly packing for the last few days. I’ve been throwing out a few things, but I suspect there’s going to be even more when I get to the apartment and say, “Why the heck have I been keeping this?”

    Just a small example: I went through my medicine cabinet yesterday, which was full to bursting with medication. Except that as I pulled down box after box from the shelf, I realized that most of them had expired… some of them as much as 5 years ago! I hadn’t even gone through the shelves in years! Why was I keeping five-year-old medication? Beats the heck out of me. Now it’s all in the garbage and the contents of my medicine cabinet fit in a very small box. It feels… liberating.

    Now I just need to do that with my clothes. *grin*

  • Thank you for your post! First I was a bit irritated because I undergo majour uncluttering right now and am so much happier but you are right to differ between uncluttering and organization.

    I can just agree: let’s not organise! *g*

  • I’m VERY big on organizing and helping others get organized, and the first thing I always tell myself and others is to get rid of things. There is absolutely NO reason to organize your clutter into different places. First step is to get rid of as much of it as you can — then you can think about organizing what you really need!

  • Just a suggestion for those hanging on to t-shirts for various reasons – college, concerts, etc. Make a quilt out of them. Or if you’re not a sewer, have someone make one for you. I’ve seen this done and it’s a lot of fun. Great way to re-purpose and keep the memories at the same time.

  • The less stuff you have, the easier it is to get organized and stay organized. My organizing programs start with filling hu-u-uge trash bags!

    I also find quick decisions about the small stuff – like mail, paper and email – help to avoid the clutter in the first place. It’s a good habit to develop. Makes you more productive, too. 🙂

  • reneehopkins


  • SRK

    This is one of your best posts ever. Thanks.

  • Hey Gretchen, nice post. Sometimes we keep things we don’t need and it just adds to unnecessary used up space. I think most people do this because it makes them anxious that they might need the object for the future.

    Like you say though, most of the time we don’t need them, and unless an object has tremendous memory value to it, it’s best to throw away something that’s useless, rather than let it take up valuable space.

  • k

    at Sink Reflections – I read once – you cannot organize clutter – so true

  • pamwalter

    I never thought of it that way, but I can see that getting rid of things would make getting organized much easier! That will be my first step!www.satisfiedsole.com

  • kathrynlang

    GREAT thought! It will be a big help when encouraging others to discard their clutter. I do not have to say – “get organized” – but can focus on releasing the extras.

  • alexfayle

    Yahoo! This is a great post. As an organizer, my number one piece of advice to clients who wanted to get organized was: keep very little.

    For example, I’m not a big paper person – hate it in fact. For all my business expenses and papers in a year, I stick them in monthly envelopes in a box and label the box.

    Any other papers that need to be kept that aren’t financial go in my “Important Papers Box” completely unsorted. I don’t need to organize them because I keep very few papers. When the box is full, I go through it and get rid of what I no longer need.

    It makes life so much simpler!

  • Hannah Knowles

    I found Adrian Try’s ‘4 steps to better filing’ post on Freelanceswitch inspiring for dealing with paperwork. http://freelanceswitch.com/productivity/4-steps-to-better-filing/

    The analogy with running, sitting and sleeping helped to visualise how active a piece of paper really is and therefore how close to hand I should keep it.

  • Gretchen, your post, “Don’t Get Organized,” couldn’t have come at a better time. This past week, I became motivated to return to my former good habits of regular decluttering. I found a t-shirt I really liked at a bargain price and purchased five. Knowing I hadn’t purged any clothes in recent months, I knew I’d need shelf space.

    Over the next few days I pitched and tossed other clothes I’d held onto for too long–things I no longer loved, were faded and worn, or just plain hadn’t been worn in a year or more. I’m still working on that project, but have already started a systematic daily purge session on my bookshelves, a spot I am tempted to keep overflowing.

    Nothing, I repeat NOTHING, has brought quicker relief into my household like decluttering. Having space clears the mind, and giving things to those who need them or will enjoy them satisfies the soul. And I can actually find, use, and enjoy the things I have left.

  • Nomi

    My mother had a saying: “Two moves are worth a fire.” By this she meant (more or less) that after you’ve packed & moved all your crap twice, you realize it could all have burned up and you’d be better off. I have boxes of stuff in my basement & attic untouched from my last moving day 5+ years ago. And I have a feeling some of it moved from the previous house.

    • LilyBLily

      My mother said three moves. It’s a great concept.

      I’ve gotten rid of plenty of stuff rather than move it, but I still ended up with thirteen can openers after my last move. One of which I’d had for over 30 years and it never worked well. Gone now.

  • Great advice.

    I’ve long been an advocate of getting rid of unnecessary stuff. After all things don’t really make us happy – they may distract us, or please us, or entertain us – but not bring happiness.

    On the other hand organising as an activity can be quite fun!

  • Liz

    I still say it’s nice to have a fancy pair of shoes in pristine condition in their shoe box. Or a lacy nightie wrapped in tissue paper in a drawer. But for the most part–yeah. Pitch it.

  • adora

    I’m all for declutter. Check out “The Story of Stuff”. http://www.storyofstuff.com/
    For 2009, I made a resolution to throw away 50 things. (100 CDs would still be just one thing.) I’ve thrown out 38 things by now, feels good. I gave away lots of the stuff on Freecyle and met a lot of nice people who could make better use of my stuff.
    When I’m not sure if I need an item again, I’d put it in a “limbo” box. If I don’t dig it out in 6 months, it is going to Goodwill.

  • Clutter is a serious weight on our mental bandwidth and most of it unnecessary. i run my successful business and keep all the necessary equipment in one small plastic filing box.

    My advice for things of sentimental value like old t-shirts is to do something with them. My dear friend made a quilt out of all her old college t-shirts which she uses to keep the cold out on winter nights. Useless clutter transformed to sentimental and useful item.

    Great post Gretchen – keep them coming!

  • Name

    You are so right! But why is it so difficult for us to part with this stuff???

  • mibsphil

    This is great–it’s how I maintain a mostly clutter-free existence. A few random tips: 1) if you buy a new pair of shoes (or whatever), get rid of an old one. This is especially good when applied to things like T-shirts, mugs, etc. 2)I scan really valuable papers (car title, will, deed to house, etc)into pdf format and keep them on an external hard drive and, as backup to the backup, a CD. This is especially helpful when you have to send a copy of a document to someone and you’re not near a copy machine. This was particularly useful this summer when my husband died and I had to send copies of the death certificate to a lot of places. 3) If you haven’t used it/worn it/played with it in a year, get rid of it. 4) Obey the 75% rule: when you’re down to 75% of something basic (shampoo, detergent, stamps, whatever) buy some. 5) Don’t hoard paperbacks and other “junk” reading. When you’re finished, take them to work and contribute to (or start) a book swap; or give them to your public library; or pass them along to friends. 6) Use your seasonal clothing changeover as an opportunity to get rid of and donate clothing. Lots more, but it’s really all about managing your environment, not letting it manage you.

    • LilyBLily

      I recently discovered that old shoes, if not entirely leather, actually fall apart with age. My plastic “rubberlike” soles simply melted into dust, leaving me hopping on a sidewalk with the metal arch support banging on the concrete. So move old shoes along while they still have some life left in them.

  • fleursmaintenant

    This line really resonated with me: “Maybe you want to pretend you live a life where this object would be useful.” I’m in my late 20s and still feel as if I have that “ultimate house” waiting for me, so I keep some fancier housing items than are necessary right now. Perhaps I could live in this moment, and keep only those things that are very special. Or use those fancy things today!In regards to sentimental objects, sometimes it is enough to take a photo of the item, and the thing itself can be given away. Photos are easy to browse through to rekindle the memories.

    Gretchen, I am so grateful for this site and your project.

    • Use the fancy things today! I’ve started breaking things out – using the antique tablecloth, serving biscuits on the pretty plates, putting the nice bedspreads on the bed. I’d rather things die being loved and used, than stay shut up in a cupboard.

  • Tarasita

    I moved recently, and have had to deal with this issue. It really came to light when I realized how much stuff I actually have. The thought of organizing it is shear pain, while the thought of discarding it is quite liberating. I’m doing more discarding (donating) than organizing, that’s for sure. I never want to move this amount of stuff again.

  • margaretvbsmith

    I exist in organized clutter. My husband, unfortunately, is the opposite. He wants to throw everything out, and I tend to be a pack rat. We are slowing coming to some sort of compromise. (This is not the first marriage for either of us. Number two for me and number three for him.) In a “previous life”, I was a CPA, so I am pretty well programmed to keep all receipts, shred everything with a name on it, etc. Unfortunately, the clutter doesn’t bother me if it sits on my desk, the counter, etc. for a while…. I’m trying to be better about the neatness factor, and he is trying to hang on to receipts and not trash everything. So, I guess my happiness project involves learning (at fifty four) to be neater and clean up my clutter, while at the same time not losing my cool when I husband tries to declutter my space.

    • LilyBLily

      This is what file folders are for. You can even label one “To be filed.” Then they can be in a drawer and out of sight. When you’re in the mood to do a complete sort, you just pull out the file. I make a few files for each calender year (Bills, Banking, Medical, etc.), and several times a year I pull out one file and work on it for an hour, tops. Easy, and there’s no clutter on any surface.

  • Have you ever watched “Hoarders” on TLC? That’ll get you busy uncluttering! When I pass away, I want my daughter to be able to go through my stuff in a day and either keep, toss or donate. I’ve had too many friends who’ve spent weeks and months clearing out their parents’ things.
    I view my home as my sacred space and I try to keep it a nurturing environment for myself and my visitors. And people comment on how my home feels as well as how it looks. I like William Morris quote: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. I re-gift, I freecycle, I donate to our church’s 2x year “Bundle Sunday”, I donate old books/cds to the church festival. I feel no obligation to keep gifts that don’t suit me or I don’t enjoy. I wouldn’t expect others to keep gifts I’ve given them unless they enjoyed them, either; that would be silly.
    In feng shui, clutter and congestion is believed to have a health impact, too. People with congested homes often have congested health, too. Our environments have an impact. A healthy environment is the goal.

  • ricardodefaria

    “I’m a big believer in keeping things for sentimental reasons, but it helps to admit that that’s what you’re doing ” This is the great key!

    Once someone admits his doings, his brain… will process due corrections shortly in the sequence!

    I have being doing this for decades and it really works.

  • moonischasingme1

    I just did a post yesterday about cleaning out my closet, de-cluttering, and STUFF.

  • Ahhhh I knew I shouldn’t have cleaned up the mountain of clothes on my bedroom couch!

    Thanks for the tips. I’m gonna have to tell the wife about this as well 🙂

  • As a professional organizer, I say “Well put!”. I don’t encourage my clients to buy bins and baskets to contain and store their stuff; instead I encourage them to get rid of what they don’t need. The title of your article piqued my curiosity (WHAT??? Don’t get organized?) but you’re right on the money with your advice!

  • I agree, it has been such a relief after I threw out 200 items from my flat 2 weeks ago. I still a few things I don’t use, but it’s getting better.

    I wonder if this applies to the majority?

  • I started letting go of “stuff” a few years back. The more that goes, the easier it is to let go. I no longer think twice about putting something on Freecycle and I love the feeling of putting something on the front porch knowing it will be gone in a matter of hours.

    More space. More life.

  • Thanks so much for this post. It is a reminder of what I already believe. I just don’t know how to make the rest of my family into believers!

    Folks today are overburdened in many ways, largely due to the economy. Clearing out the junk is one way to help us feel a little more in control of our lives.

  • boingerhead

    Thank you for this.

  • JayP

    Weeding out what we don’t need (i.e. tossing/recycling/donating) is part of getting organized.

  • muz

    I am vigilant about keeping my life clutter free,
    however, one area stymies me: my best friend continues
    to give me (often regifting) decorative “things” that I don’t want.
    When we lived 2500 miles apart it was easy to swiftly pass her presents on to the Goodwill. Now that we are neighbors, I feel somewhat obligated to store them and occasionally put one on display since she visits frequently. What would you recommend?

    • gretchenrubin

      Well, you don’t want to hurt your friend’s feeling, but you also don’t
      really want the stuff.

      If it were me, I’d pass them on to Goodwill. But is it possible not to
      accept the items? Especially since they don’t sound as if they are
      particularly thoughtfully given? Just to make a joke, like “We are full to
      the bursting with stuff and I made myself a rule not to let even one more
      decorative item cross the threshold?”

      I have really found that it helps to try to avoid letting stuff IN your
      house. Once it’s there, it’s so hard to get rid of it. But if you can keep
      it from coming in, much easier.

  • Jean Dodrill

    A person who has a lot of t-shirts could have then made nto a quilt. I know a few people who have done that and they have something useful and can still enjoy the memories thos t-shrts bring.

  • Jeannie

    I loved your bit about organization and happiness. 6 months into third pregnancy, nesting up a storm, convinced that “if only” I can get EVERYTHING organized before baby is born, life will be wonderful…I think it’s a myth! I find myself simply rearranging, moving items from one place to another, and thinking things are more organized…not the case! I had to laugh when my teenaged daughter asked me a while back “Are organized people happier?” Judging from both of our desks and desktops, perhaps not!

  • Wow. I loved this post. I have taught clutter clearing since 1998. Organizing happens after the clutter is cleared!

  • Mike Ruff

    I used to be a real pack rat when it came to documents of any sort–I was worried that 10 years down the line I might need them. Then I realized that was crazy, and I bought a shredder. I shred anything I’m not immediately sure I’ll need, and periodically go through and shred stuff I kept anyway. Once it’s shredded, there’s no going back–so I don’t have top worry about it anymore–and my files are few and thin and organized.

    A flatbed scanner was a good addition for those things I might want, but don’t need to keep in hard copy.

  • Roni

    Peter Walsh’s Too Much Stuff also agrees.
    That book helped me to make sense of my clutter.
    However, I am once again struggling, tho I do think I am getting better.
    I hope.

  • Roni

    Sorry. Peter Walsh’s book is titled “It’s All Too Much.”
    I am sure Peter and Gretchen must know each other.

  • Roni

    Oops. Peter Walsh’s book is titled “It’s All Too Much.”
    I am sure Gretchen and Peter must know each other.

  • Great advice! I know that you can’t organize clutter. Clutter has to go! Soooo I’ve done a decent job at it..and while I have more to declutter from a couple closets (one really big one)…. I have this huge pile of EMPTY IKEA boxes and containers…. that are actually clutter.

    Any ideas for those containers?

    • celeidth

      The recycle bin.

  • Great, I’ll throw out all those cleaning products I rarely use; that’ll help keep my place tidy.

  • Susan

    I like what you say about getting rid of stuff you don’t really need. The thing that has helped me achieve this is the Freecycle network online. Instead of the choice between the closet and the landfill, you have the additional option of giving it to strangers. I’ve divested myself of old but useable towels, furniture, clothing, toys… it’s great.

  • sutton16

    For treasured items from the past, take pictures then toss!

  • Nicole

    There is nothing like decluttering for making me feel productive and successful. For those with wedding dresses that are taking up space in their giant boxes, here is a place to donate in Canada; there are similar charities in the US as well: http://www.thebridesproject.com/ They sell the dresses and donate the proceeds to cancer charities.

    Thank you for this post.

  • ruchild

    My question to you, instead of just choosing a few of the t-shirts to save, why not take the lot of them and make a quilt to keep the memories and repurpose them in her life for warmth and comfort? (Unless she doesn’t sew or it is one project too far.) There are patterns available to anyone who has old shirts to make into a quilt of memories that is warm and practical. Just a FYI.

    • LilyBLily

      Taking a digital photo of each shirt or cutting out the decorative front part reduces your storage to almost nothing. Use the remaining fabric for dusters or recycle it as textile recycling. A quilt can be just another way of taking up a lot of space, and lots of quilts never get finished.

  • Kim

    I try and get rid of everything I haven’t used after two years except for a small memory box. One of the most effective ways of getting my family/friends to get rid of things they are not useing anymore is to make sure it gets recyled some how. The idea that some other child/adult is playing/using with their (old) favorite things that they’ve out grown has been a great way of sharing as well as keeping on top of the clutter.

    • LilyBLily

      Agree. One of our favorite toys is one we picked up at a thrift store after our youngster played with one at a daycare. It was no longer for sale new in stores, so we were very happy to find it used.

  • This is so true! Deep down we all know it makes sense to throw useless stuff away rather than ‘organise’ it (or in my case throw it in my loft) but how hard it is to actually go through with it. I love your idea of recruiting a friend to do it for you, although I’m sure they’d have to prise a few things out of my hands first! I’ve referenced this excellent post on my blog, I hope you don’t mind!

  • The whole family likes to celebrate special occasions. However, many small details that must be taken into account when preparing for a special occasion. In this article, you’ll find tips and techniques that can greatly help in preparing. More information visit http://www.mypersonalizednapkins.com

  • I think that when a person feels the pressure of getting things done right away or that if he/she is required to get organized, the stress is not helpful at all. Not everyone of us has the capability to work well under pressure and I have experienced that myself. We can have fun as we things at home or at the office in order – we do not need to be stressed over the piles of ole paper on our desk for we can have them properly disposed.

  • Dallas Shredding

    I think that you will never run out of things to organize. Your mail, your billing statements, financial reports and other documents are things that you have to file properly so that they remain secure. Disposing and destroying these paper documents is also another way of being organized. I even keep a paper shredder at home to help me manage my files and records. Here’s a site I found useful for document shredding — http://www.shreddingdallas.com

  • Organizing in an environmentally friendly manner can be achieved by using paper shredders in destroying your files and records. If you shred your files, you can get your paper waste ready for recycling centers. You can also keep your personal and sensitive information secure. Here’s a good resource for document shredding and records destruction — http://www.texas-shredding.com.

  • Melissa Morris

     I am super-organized, and as a teacher of many students with special needs and many subjects, I never know what I am going to need in the future; but I do love the idea of purging the things that we don’t need.  Thanks for a great post!

  • Karen

    I have SO much stuff that I want to get rid of.  The only thing is, I feel like I should sell it because it is stuff that I spent a lot of money on; and it is really good stuff (Pottery Barn nursery decor, maternity clothes like new, etc.).   We could use the money.   I don’t know how I will find the time to sell all my stuff.  Should I just accept the fact that I will never have time to sell it, bring it all to Goodwill and take pride in knowing that someone else benefited from it?

    • Lisa Ochieng

      If it is kid related items, find a consignment sale and put it in.  You can find one near you by putting your zip code into http://www.consignmentmommies.com 

      If you itemize your deductions on your taxes, it may be just as lucrative for you to donate them.  I know when I use Turbo Tax there is a tool in there that lets me calculate the value of each item.  A shirt you may have sold at a garage sale for $.25 could be worth $3 on your taxes.  The stuff adds up fast.

      Set it FREE!!!

      • Karen

        Thank you that is sooooooooo helpful : )

    • Karen,
      The best thing you can do is make a decision and then start taking action. In five years, what you did won’t matter or even be remembered.

      You might select 2 or 3 high ticket items that you know will sell fast and get them out the door ASAP. Price them to sell. That’s a do-able project and you’ll get a little cash. The rest can go to Goodwill. And you’re done.

      Step two: cull through your stuff regularly so you get rid of what you don’t need before it starts piling up. Try keeping an empty shopping bag in your closet labelled “Goodwill” and toss items in the minute you decide you don’t want them anymore. When it’s full, take it to the donation station.

      Good luck!

  • Guest

    Great post! I totally agree with you on the getting rid of clutter, instead of trying to organize it somehow. My boyfriend still has a pile of old t-shirts that he loved in college too!

    By the way, I wrote a blog post about how to deal with decluttering sentimental things:

    How to Deal With the Sentimental Stuff

  • Miriam Ortiz y Pino

    It really is all about the WHY.

  • Avoid having an eyesore at home by keeping things organized. It would be better if you schedule a day, maybe during the weekends – to sort out your things and see if there are already items that you can donate or dispose to give more room to the things that you can still make use of.
    Thankfully, storage solutions and tips are given to give us ideas for our own living spaces.

  • Hamilton Business Interiors

    Getting things organized , both at home and work, save you time and energy. You get to find the things that you need in the quickest time possible and you no longer have to see an eyesore whenever you enter the room.
    With the help of the right kind of furniture and interior design, you will be able to maximize your space and get that cozy feel that you are longing for.

  • Mom2Luke

    Me too, re: receipts…maybe I’ll need them, but I wouldn’t be able to find them anyway! (Amongst the clutter)

    • LilyBLily

      I just looked for and found a receipt for a disappointing pest control experience that happened years ago, and I’m glad I kept it so I would never use that company again. Overpriced, too. It only took me about ten minutes to find it because I knew exactly where it would be filed. While I was at it, I also threw out about forty pieces of totally unnecessary receipts, such as old gasoline purchases and parts of credit card statements listing interest rates. It’s fine to keep necessary receipts but they have to be accessible. I’m changing categories now and putting things like pest control into a “Home” file, so I can easily find names of companies and people that I hired. When the file gets a little unwieldy, I’ll break it into two chronological files.

  • Wonderful article!  🙂

  • I’ve found that it’s easier to get rid of things if you can donate them – you feel like you are giving to others rather than taking from yourself.

    • gretchenrubin

      Absolutely. Same is very true for me.

  • Hi Gretchen,

    Joshua Becker linked to this article in his weekly newsletter and I’m glad. I never thought of framing organizing this way but it makes a ton of sense. I subscribe to your philosophy of “if you don’t own it or see it, you don’t have to organize it.”

    I’m going to share this on Twitter and in an email to a few friends to keep the message moving along. Thanks for creating this!

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  • Just found this and it’s quite timely as I’m days away from a semi-annual trip to IKEA (a two hour drive each way) to stock up on storage boxes and other items to further organize all my belongings.

    When I do get on kicks of decluttering/tossing things, I’m shocked to find that I’ve lived with as much trash/clutter as I have – and I’m not a hoarder by any means! When did I decide it’s okay to live with such clutter around me? I long for space – empty shelves – room in drawers – and it’s a possibility!

  • bigmama1744

    having moved many times in the last 15 years, I am always amazed at how much stuff continually shows back up no matter how many times I’ve culled. I realize that the stuff is just so much more available now than it ever was. When growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, there were no big box stores with cheap Chinese goods in every neighborhood. Now we are inundated with stuff, and we resell the junk to each other at yard sales, thrift stores, ebay, etc. We are just moving the junk around because there’s just too much of it. I try to keep it down to a dull roar, in case I decide to pack up and move again, but I see my friends who have lived in the same house for many years are just buried in junk. I like your idea, don’t organize, get rid of, and then don’t buy it until you actually need it…

  • molly

    Well, I am pretty good at throwing stuff away… I just can’t get anyone to take out the trash! LOL! Seriously, this is a fantastic blog article…

  • Guest

    My father passed away in September
    and we changed his address to mine. So now I get countless donation
    solicitations each and every day, all addressed to him. It turns out he
    was on every charity list imaginable. At first, I started calling each organization to ask to have
    his name removed. But soon, this became impractical as the volume increased.

    would like to know HOW TO MAKE IT STOP. It hurts (and makes
    me mad, at the same time) to see his name on 5-10 envelopes PER DAY in my mail. It pretty much sucks that my dad is gone but his junk mail lives on. And simply
    recycling it all means it may well keep coming until the day I die,
    or move from this address.

    I’m hoping someone has a solution for me. I’m drowning in paper.

  • Louise

    I think a lot of my clutter is due to just not thinking about it. Things get stuck away and forgotten, until there’s all this stuff. Getting rid of the excess stuff is so liberating, though.

  • Heather N. Paxton

    The best time for me to get rid of stuff is before I buy it.

  • Athena Peaceriver

    Pro tip: Papers go in the recycling bin, NOT the trash can. If they have sensitive information on them, shred them, THEN recycle them. Old shirts with sentimental value can be made into a nice blanket for your bed. Reuse the scraps for small stuffed toys or something. This is why the planet has the issues it does. SMH.