The Cost of Clutter

There are all kinds of excuses we use to not deal with clutter, but what if clutter has an effect on our physical and mental health? Some don’t realize the toll clutter takes on the mind and body. It’s worth the effort to declutter things you no longer use, and organize the remaining items for your health!

Merriam-Webster’s definition of clutter is: to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness. In the definition alone, we see that clutter impedes us and reduces our effectiveness. When our minds have to consistently process excess things in our environment, we are using brain space to process that input which makes us less effective.

Clutter is bad for your physical health.  It has been linked to cortisol production, the stress hormone. Research from a 2009 study out of UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) has shown that women who perceive their homes to be cluttered tend to have unhealthy patterns of cortisol levels. Interestingly, men did not have the same cortisol response with regard to clutter. This could potentially be because women tend to take on more of the household chores even if they are also working full time. Clutter is also linked to lack of self control, resulting in unhealthy eating habits. According to a Cornell University study from 2016, stress triggered by clutter may also trigger coping and avoidance strategies, like eating junk food, oversleeping or binge-watching Netflix.

Physical clutter often leads to mental clutter. When our eyes are being visually overloaded, it takes away from our brain’s ability to focus on and process other tasks at hand. Many people don’t realize that clutter is this distracting to our brains. Other people may have the urge to straighten up a bit before focusing on some work that needs to get done. This is a natural tendency we have because subconsciously we know the clutter distracts us.

In my experience, clutter often leads to procrastination. You might be surprised to learn that I have not always had a handle on keeping our papers organized. Especially when my kids were young, it was a lot to keep up with and even now it is still a struggle. If you need to pay a bill, but in order to pay that bill you must dig through a stack of papers, books, and other miscellaneous items on your desk or table, you are less likely to just get it done. Simple tasks feel overwhelming when dealing with clutter.

Don’t get me wrong, decluttering doesn’t come without its own consequences. Getting rid of items can be equal to physical pain, especially for someone who attaches memories to or overvalues their items. But this pain is well worth the end result. The best way to avoid clutter in your home is to slow the inflow of items that are coming into your home. I have found, for myself, that purging is best done in small doses. Choose one drawer, or one shelf in a cabinet or closet today to begin the road to better health!

10 Areas You Can Declutter In Your Home

There are several areas in our home that we could evaluate our things and determine if we could let go. Here are 10 areas to consider and ideas on how to let go.

1) Multiples of one item. Having multiple of one item is an easy place to begin decluttering. While there are certain things you may want to have multiple of in your home (we have multiple pairs of scissors since they seem to disappear easily!), often times we don’t need those multiples we just accumulated them over time. An easy place to find multiples is in your kitchen.

2) Unused gifts. I think it is a universal feeling to feel guilt getting rid of something someone gave to you. Even if you are someone who doesn’t attach sentimental value to things readily, it is difficult. I’m sure it’s even more difficult for those who do attach sentimental value to items. When someone gives you a gift, that item now belongs to you. You can appreciate their gesture and experience the joy of the act of giving in that moment, but if this item is not useful to you or brings you joy then it is silly to hold onto it just because it was given to you. If the person who gave you the item would be upset because you didn’t use it or you gave it away – that is an issue they have, not you. Usually, your friends and relatives would not want an item they gave you to cause stress or clutter in your home. I think most people would rather the item that they spent money on would be given to someone else to be useful than to sit in a drawer or closet in your home.

3) Sentimental items (especially large ones). This is a tough one. Obviously we don’t need to get rid of all sentimental items. It’s okay to hang onto items that have meaning and remind us of events or times that bring back positive thoughts. However, we need to evaluate how many things we hold onto. Do you hold onto a napkin touched by your middle school crush? Okay, maybe that’s going too far, but you get what I mean. It’s okay to give yourself limits on what you keep as far as sentimental items. Choose a box or two, and keep only what fits inside those boundaries. Some items, especially large ones can be kept digitally by photographing the item(s) prior to letting them go. Typically, the picture of the item will bring back the same memories as the item itself. Also, if you have sentimental items that cause negative feelings, I would recommend letting go of those items. There is no need to hold onto something that causes you pain.

4) Clothing items that don’t fit you. Obviously there are exceptions to this. If you are pregnant or in the process of a weight loss journey it makes sense to have a variety of sizes in your closet. However, if you are holding onto a piece of clothing because you might one day fit into it, that is not a good motivator. Let go of those items and if you do lose the weight, you will be able to purchase new clothes that fit. On the other hand, if you have lost weight and are hanging onto clothes that are too big, in my opinion that’s not good either. You lost the weight, stick to your new healthy routines and you will likely keep the weight off.

5) Unused electronics. This could maybe be under the “multiples” category, but I decided to talk about it separately since so many of us have closets overflowing with old phones and laptops. Typically, when you get a new phone, computer or laptop, you don’t use the old one again. There may be a small chance that your new one breaks and you do need a “back up.” If you feel more comfortable having a back up, then just keep one. By donating these items, they maybe could get a new life for someone in need. Along with these items are all the cords that come with it. If you get a new item, it will likely come with the appropriate cords so you can send the cords along with the old items. Cords do seem to multiply, at least in my house! I’m sure at some point we purchased these extra cords, but this is another area to evaluate if you really need to keep these items. Even as a professional organizer, I have yet to convince my husband of this!

6) Pieces of unused furniture. This one is tough because furniture can be expensive. Furniture also takes up a lot of space. Look around your home to see if there is a chair, a side table, or a coffee table – maybe even a bed or sofa – that could go.

7) Toys! Many of us are fortunate enough to have very generous and giving family members and friends. That coupled with how cheap toys are, and how easy they are to acquire, leads to heaps of toys around our homes. I remember when my kids were young, toys seemed to seep into every room in our home. They already had designated space in our game room, my boys’ bedroom, and my daughter’s bedroom. Not to mention, we had a playroom lined with toy storage shelves with bins! I’m very thankful that my children had such giving and loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends. In hindsight, I wish I had chosen boundaries for their toys, and had them help with the process of letting go of old toys to make room for new ones. Often times, kids get overwhelmed with too many toy choices and end up gravitating toward electronics instead. I think having less toys promotes creativity.

8) Home decor. The styles and our tastes are ever-changing. It’s okay to acknowledge that and let go of items that no longer fit your home decor style. Often, we keep items because we spent money on it, and may feel guilt about letting it go. These feelings lead to overstuffed cabinets and closets filled with home decor we might use, but probably won’t. Be realistic about whether an item truly does bring you joy, or is beautiful to you, or if your judgement is clouded by the feelings of guilt. These items could be used and enjoyed by others instead of hiding in the back of a cabinet or closet in your home. An idea is to think about any family members or friends who would want certain items. I recently wanted to part with these miniature chairs I had in my home for many years. I have a friend who always commented on those chairs when she was over at my house, so I asked her if she would like them. She was happy to get them, which made it easier for me to part with them.

9) Extra toiletries or cleaning items. Do you keep extra toiletries or cleaning items in your home that sit at the back of your cabinet? Evaluate what you will actually use and get rid of the rest. As I have mentioned several times, it can be difficult to get rid of items you paid money for. However, if you are storing the items but not using them, it doesn’t get you that money back to keep holding onto them.

10) Paper, notecards, ect. Paper trails are probably the most difficult thing to declutter. I myself struggle with decluttering these items, and knowing what’s important to keep. Many bills can be sent via email and accessed online if you set that up in your account settings. Other paper items can be scanned and kept digitally. I recently learned about Scanbot, an app you can use to scan in paper items before discarding them. Same with kids papers and artwork. Consider scanning things in and keeping them digitally. If you would like to keep their original artwork, I put together a scrapbook for each of my children with their special artwork. Another area is note cards. Evaluate how often you actually need/send note cards to determine how many makes sense to keep around your home. Many of us send notes digitally, even birthday cards! You may be someone who likes to send tangible cards, and that’s great! Just evaluate how many you need around your home verses how many you own. 

This is certainly not an exhaustive list! There are many other areas in our home where we could reevaluate and declutter. These are just some ideas to get you started!

No Spend Year, July Reflections

Well, here I am officially more than halfway through my no spend year. July was another month in which I really struggled. Looking back, I think I made excuses and to be completely transparent, I feel like this is the month that I have failed. But, failure equals learning. I am beginning to realize that failing is okay. Not “okay” as in don’t try, but as in failing at something leads you closer to success as it is an opportunity to learn how to do things differently moving forward.

This is the backpack I got for our trip. I did get it off Poshmark with my credits.

Let’s start by talking about a couple of the “rules” which I made that led to the choices from this month, that looking back I might have done differently. The first rule was that I could buy things for special occasions, unless I already had something that worked. This month, my husband and I took our son – who just graduated from high school – on a special trip to Hawaii to celebrate his accomplishments and to spend time with him before he went off to college. Usually when we have a trip like this, I like to purchase things specifically for the trip. I like to have new outfits that work well for whatever location we are going. The first thing I purchased for this trip was a new backpack. I don’t own a backpack. I usually use an over-sized purse for my carry on item, but we would be doing several hikes which I would need a backpack. With this item, I could have used one of my husbands old backpacks, but that wouldn’t have looked cute/feminine 🙂 so I justified that it was necessary to have my own.

I purchased these dresses and sandals for the trip as well.

I also chose to buy a few new dresses, as I did not have any lighter colored/summer specific dresses. Looking back, the dresses were not necessary as we ended up getting take out most nights as we were really tired after the long day doing active things. The two times we went out was to very casual restaurants. I also bought a new pair of shorts, as I only had one pair that fit me comfortably. I had gotten rid of several pairs of shorts that didn’t fit me during a closet clean out. I also purchased a linen shirt that I thought would work well in Hawaii – looks and for the climate. Lastly, I purchased a pair of sandals. This was one item that I didn’t really need, but I was going for a specific look and the sandals I owned did not look right with these outfits/dresses. I say I feel like I failed this month because I know I could have done without these items. I had a specific look in mind for this trip, and I justified it by telling myself that these pictures would last a lifetime. Even as I type this, it seems a bit ridiculous, but it’s where my brain was at when purchasing these items.

I purchased this shirt and these shoes with my Poshmark credits from what I had sold.

Another “rule” I gave myself is that I could use gift cards to purchase things. I do have a gift card to an online clothing boutique, which I still have not used. I have sold several pieces on Poshmark, and had “credits” – which I talked myself into believing was like a gift card. I did use my credit to purchase a shirt and a pair of shoes. The shoes in particular have been something I have had my eye on for a long time now, longer than before this no spend year. The shirt I got to replace a similar long sleeve shirt – which I liked but rarely wore since I don’t wear long sleeves often. If I’m cold in the winter I tend to layer instead. I am happy with these purchases, and I feel they fit well in my wardrobe, however in hindsight I’m not sure I should have used the credits like a gift card. Poshmark has been good and bad for me. It has been great to sell my items and get some money back, and knowing the items will be loved by someone else. It has been amazing to get such good deals on items, and it’s always good to buy clothes second hand. HOWEVER, when I go on the app to manage my items I have to force myself to NOT LOOK at what’s available. Moving forward, I would like to use this app, but only to look for something specific. It’s really hard to pass up these good deals! I haven’t fully decided yet if I should continue to look at the money I make as a gift card or not.

I continue to not really struggle with wanting/being tempted by home decor purchases. If anything, I feel like I have plenty and I don’t want more. I am learning to appreciate items I see in the store, and not have this need to take it home with me. We’ll see how I feel this fall as it’s my favorite season and I love all things pumpkin!!

This month has been eye-opening. I have learned what a slippery slope it is in justifying purchases. I feel like I am STILL – 7 months in – not at a place where I feel restrained in my purchases. I want to get to a place where I am completely intentional with my purchases, and after this month I just don’t feel “there” yet. I am hopeful that in the next five months I will continue to learn and grow.

One other thing I find myself noticing over these last 7 months, is consumerism mentality. When I was in it, I don’t think I noticed how time-consuming and distracting it was to my life. Being an “outsider” I notice people’s behavior when I am out shopping. I’m not sure I’m able to put words to what I’ve seen, but the best way I can describe it is like we’re ruled by things – our time, money, thoughts, energy. I don’t want to live this way anymore. I love beautiful things. I like putting outfits together and making my home beautiful, but I don’t want that to dictate my life. My hope is that after this year, my brain will be re-trained!

No Spend Year, June Reflections

Well, there goes another month in my no spend year! June went by so fast I barely noticed being bothered by the no spend. That’s not to say I did not see things I wanted. I looked back at the journal I’ve been keeping and there were some things scribbled down at the end of May that I was obsessing over. Again, I have really only wanted clothing items. I continue to enjoy the fact that I have not brought in any new household items, and I continue to declutter them!

Some of the items in my Poshmark closet.

This month, I started the process of cleaning out my closet. I did this a little over a year ago, but obviously more things had come in since the last declutter of my closet. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been selling things on Poshmark. It has been so freeing letting things go, and even better to get some money back!

This is the current state of my closet. I know I still have a lot, but I plan to do another declutter in late fall.

I waited quite a while in the no spend year before tackling a closet declutter. In part because I have noticed clothing is the thing I am struggling most in the no spend. As I have stopped the inflow of clothing, I’m learning what specifically my style is. I have noticed the things I gravitate towards, and the things I tend to not wear. I have also been doing this experiment where I wear items that I know I haven’t worn in a while, and if I don’t feel fabulous in it, it goes! When new clothing items were constantly entering my wardrobe, it was hard to tell what my style was and I would often gravitate towards wearing the new items – because they were new!!


I have been using Pinterest as another reference to see what types of clothes I tend to like. In the past, I used my style board on Pinterest as a place to pin outfits that would work with items I already owned. As I go back and see what I like, I’m able to weed out even more items that I know I don’t wear – usually it’s items I once liked, as I have seen my style change over the last 8-10 years, or it’s items that I thought I would like but ended up wearing them very little or not at all.


I’m still working on my closet clean out as of today. I have been struggling to know how much to keep. I tend to wear a uniform, and I like variety within that uniform, so I’m struggling to let go. I gravitate towards plain shirts – white, grey, and black, but I have a variety of styles of each color of shirt. It’s a work in progress for sure! Even for me – a fairly organized person!

Our bedroom’s new look!


The final thing I wanted to talk about is how I have continued to feel like I have so much more energy and time. I have been working on all kinds of house projects. I painted our bedroom and the trim to freshen it up. I have started to paint the trim in the remainder of our upstairs as well! I was able to get my extra clothes uploaded to Poshmark and organized so it’s easy to package them up to send off. I have actually sold several pieces! Most recently I have been teaching our youngest son to drive as he just got his permit.

Organizing Toys

I have three kids – age 22, 18, and 15 – so we have experienced every stage for toys. We have also experienced all you deal with in owning toys: buying/receiving, storing, cleaning up, purging. I have three different types of kids too when it comes to what they like to keep and what they can let go of in regards to toys. I have one who saves everything, one who keeps almost nothing, and one in between.

Toy organization
This was how I had our toys organized when we lived in a 700 square foot apartment. You can see the photo labels on the bins.
Toy organization. Organized playroom
This is the playroom from our previous home, when our kids were young.
Toy organization. Organized playroom
This is what our playroom looked like at the end of our playroom days, in the house we currently live in.

First, I want to say that I am very grateful that we have such generous parents, grandparents, and siblings in regards to receiving things for our kids. However, our kids had too many toys. As I look back, I wish that I had done things differently in handling how to deal with toys. I hope to help someone who is still in the thick of it or just beginning the journey.

Our boys’ room with their toy shelves.

We used to live in a very large house that had a playroom and a game room – both of those rooms housed toys. In addition, my daughter had some of her toys in her room and our sons had some of their toys in their room. That’s a lot of toys! One thing I did that helped with the chaos of all the toys is to have organization systems in place.

Our daughter’s room and her toy shelves.

Having a place for everything gives boundaries and helps the kids learn how to organize. I grouped each type of toy together. When they were very young, I took a picture to represent each group, laminated it and stuck it on the front of the box. Also, any toys/arts and crafts/board games that I wanted them to have help with I stored on a higher shelf where they couldn’t reach. Over the years I had different types of bins and storage containers. I started with plastic bins – which were more cost effective, and easy to attach photos to the front of the bin. We have also had baskets and wooden bins which were more aesthetically pleasing.

In hindsight, I wish I had done a better job of teaching my kids how to purge and let go of things. My oldest especially has trouble letting go of things. I used to feel like this was my fault, but given our middle child has no problem with this I think it is a temperament thing. I do believe it would have helped her to learn how to think about things in terms of what to keep and what to donate or discard if I was able to guide her starting at a young age.

This was our game room. You can see some of the toys on the shelf, and there were more in the closet. Notice my 3 year old playing on the computer and not with the plethora of toys we owned.

As I look back, I think my kids were at times overwhelmed with all the toys, and may have resorted to playing video games or playing on the computer more often than I’d like to admit. I remember having to direct them – to come up with ideas of things they could do. This wasn’t always the case, but I do wonder if they had less toys to choose from, if they would have been more creative in play. {{As I’m putting this blog post together and looking through the photos I had in mind to share, I’m even more regretful! We had an overwhelming number of toys!}}


I also think of how much of my time was spent organizing, reorganizing, cleaning up, and purging their toys. I think if they had less toys I would have had more time to spend with them. In hindsight, I would have had better boundaries for my kids and allowed them to make the choice as to what stays and what goes. This would give them the boundary, like whatever fits in this set of boxes, but would give them the autonomy to make the choice as to what is most important to them. Now that we are done with the toy phase, all I can do is pass along any wisdom and experience I gained in going through that stage of life!

No Spend Year, May Reflections

This is exciting… I’m nearing the half -way point in my no spend year! I’m not gonna lie, May was rough. I found myself fighting with the temptation to make excuses to spend. If I were to do this again, I might be more explicit in my rules so that they could not be bent.I don’t know if it was the justification in April for the purse, or if it’s just “the wall” you hit in any long-term endeavor. Have any of you have ever run a long distance race? For those of us who have, you know there is this point in the run that you have to self talk your way to finishing. You hit “the wall.” You have every excuse as to why you should stop and not finish. This is something most long distance runners know about and are prepared for. It is at this point in your commitment to finish the race that your resolve comes from self-talk, like mind-over-matter! This was May for me.

This was the dress I wanted to purchase from Altar’d State.


My story is about a dress. In my “rules” that I laid out prior to starting the no spend year, I said that I will allow myself to buy things for special occasions ONLY IF I had nothing else that woul work. Well, my son’s graduation was approaching and I told myself that I needed a new dress for this occasion. Forget the fact that I own about 12 dresses currently, and barely ever wear dresses! I believed that I needed a different one for this occasion. So, I began the process of shopping for a dress. I was going to be intentional. I was going to wait to purchase a dress after allowing at least 24 hours to marinate and decide if I really loved it. I tried on dresses at a handful of stores, and there was one dress that I really loved at Altar’d State – a store that fits the bill for ethical practices. After thinking about it a couple of days, I decided to go back to buy the dress. When I get to the register, the sales person reminds me that the dresses are buy one, get one 50% off. SIGH. I know this, and I came to the register with one dress because I only need one dress. But, in that moment I again begin to justify and compromise. I decide I will grab that other dress that I saw that would be great for our trip to Hawaii we are taking this summer. Even as I drive home I’m thinking this was all a bad idea. I think about how much time I’ve already wasted driving, trying things on, thinking about THESE DRESSES!

When I get home I try on the dress with the bra and shoe options I thought would work, and suddenly I hate it. I realize in the light of my own full-length mirror that this dress does not look good on my body type. For another two days I think about these dresses. I go back to where I had written down my “rules” and read the words again, “ONLY IF I have nothing else that works.” I know I have several dresses that could be styled in different ways to make something work. So, I TAKE THE DRESSES BACK! Yes, both dresses! I again think about all that energy I spent on this whole process, and I’m reminded of how much time I must have wasted in the past pursuing that perfect item. I want to be intentional moving forward in making decisions about adding pieces to my wardrobe, but I know I will have to learn a new way to make decisions. This whole process didn’t work for me.

In the end, I wore a dress that I had purchased for a wedding a couple years back, a dress that I don’t often wear but I loved. I felt great in it, and I was glad that I decided to stick with a dress I already owned. On a side-note, perhaps I should reevaluate how many dresses I own.


No Spend Year, April Reflections

Here I am again, late at posting my no spend year reflections for last month. Time has passed so quickly this spring. In this no spend year, I have been shocked when another month has completed! Also, as in March, there is not a whole lot new in April with regards to my no spend year. I have gotten into the habit of JUST NOT SPENDING.

I will tell you one story. One of my rules is that I can purchase things needed for big events this year. We take our children on a special trip by themselves after they graduate from high school. Our middle son will be graduating in just a couple of weeks, and he decided he would like to go to Hawaii for his special trip. I will allow myself to purchase items for this trip. A couple weeks ago I went to a friend’s Noonday Collection party. If you aren’t familiar with Noonday, they are a jewelry and accessory company which employs women in impoverished communities to make their items. They have a website, but also sell through their “Ambassadors” who set up in home parties. I have loved Noonday for many years and several of my jewelry pieces came from this business. At the party I of course saw many things that I would like, but in particular I saw a small cross body purse/wallet that would be perfect for travel. I decided not to buy it that day. A few days later, I got an invite for a fundraiser for our high school “Project Graduation” where they put on a huge graduation party so the kids have a safe place to celebrate. The fundraiser was Noonday Collection! I spent a few days thinking about the purse and decided it was for a good cause, supporting a good company, and would be a useful item for me. I could use it for the trip to Hawaii, but also for times when I don’t want to bring my purse, but don’t want to just carry my wallet. It is also a versatile piece that can be used as a crossbody purse, a clutch, or even a fanny pack (those are coming back you know?!)

This experience helped me to realize a couple of things. First, that I want to be more intentional with where I purchase items moving forward after my no spend year. I want to support companies that have ethical practices and make a difference to individuals and not just a large company. I would also like to be intentional with what I purchase. Even though I wanted to purchase that purse when I first saw it, I want to learn to allow myself to “sit” with that desire for a few days before I make a final decision. No more impulse buys. If I want something, I will give myself some time to think about it and see if it’s really something I need.

Another thing I encountered this month was discovering Poshmark. I knew about this app, where you can purchase and sell used clothing, but I had never explored it. I decided that I would be willing to part with more of my clothing and shoes if I could get some money for them. While exploring the app I found so many cute, cheap clothes! It was tempting, however I want to stick to my commitment. Moving forward after the no spend year, I will definitely use this app to purchase new (to me) clothing. It will help me to stay focused as I only look for something specific, and it is better for the environment to purchase used clothing! Win – win!!


Honestly, March and April have just flown by and I have barely noticed my habits changing. I just don’t think about spending anymore. And it feels amazing!