608 – Should You Declutter When Life is Just too Much?

A life-changing event happens like a new job, a new baby, a change in health, or any number of circumstances. You find yourself struggling with what to do with items in your space and wondering if this is a typical response.

If you have ever felt like that, this episode has the encouragement and strategies you need.

Join Kathi Lipp and her co-host and Clutter-Free Champion Tonya Kubo as they deep dive into decluttering when life feels overwhelming. Tonya recently lost two family members in a short period. She discusses how she helped her extended family deal with sentimental items while acknowledging that everyone has a different timeline when it comes to sorting through these items. Kathi and Tonya give helpful insights into decluttering when life feels like it is just too much with thoughts such as:

  • Circumstances may change, but the clutter challenges are the same.
  • Permitting yourself time to just sit with the items is okay.
  • How the definition of clutter changes based on life transitions.

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As Kathi mentioned in the episode, she has a free resource for you! Receive your Checklist for Decluttering When Moving or Downsizing by signing up for her newsletter here.

The Accidental Homesteader: What I’ve Learned About Chickens, Compost, and Creating Home

Homesteading [hohm-sted-ing]
1. an act or instance of establishing a homestead.
2. the act of loving where you live so much that you actively ignore the fact that your house is trying to kill you on a regular basis.

For Kathi Lipp and her husband, Roger, buying a house in one of the most remote parts of Northern California was never part of the plan; many of life’s biggest, most rewarding adventures rarely are.

Kathi shares the hard-won wisdom she’s gained on her homestead journey to help you accomplish more at home, gain fresh perspective, and give yourself grace in the process. Here’s a handful of the lessons Kathi shares:

  • Prepare before the need arises
  • Everything is always in process, including us
  • Your best household solution is time and patience
  • You don’t have to do everything the hard way
  • Be open to new and better ways of doing things
  • A lot of small changes make a huge difference.
    Highly practical, humorous, and inspirational, The Accidental Homesteader will encourage you to live with more peace, joy, and contentment.

Order your copy of The Accidental Homesteader: What I’ve Learned About Chickens, Compost, and Creating Home here.

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 Has your definition of clutter ever had to change due to life circumstances?

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Meet Our Guest 


Tonya Kubo

Tonya Kubo is the illustrious and fearless leader of Kathi Lipp’s Clutter Free Academy Facebook group and the Clutter Free for Life membership program. A speaker and writer, Tonya makes her home in the heart of California with her husband, Brian, their two spirited daughters, and one very tolerant cat. Visit her at www.tonyakubo.com.


Tonya Kubo Picture

Well, hey friends, welcome to Clutter-Free Academy where our goal is to help you take small, doable steps to live every day with less clutter and more life. And I am here with the co-captain of the Clutter-Free community. It is Tonya Kubo. Hey, Tonya.

Tonya Kubo (00:44.182)
Hey, Kathy.

Kathi (00:46.653)
And can we just say we have to give Tonya extra props because she’s been sick I don’t know for the last month and We’ve had to reschedule this a couple of times not just not just because you’ve been sick But we were about to hit record a couple of weeks ago and your power

Tonya Kubo (00:54.943)

Tonya Kubo (01:06.974)
Yes, my power went out twice that day.

Kathi (01:11.485)
Let’s be clear, when Kathy’s power goes out, we’re like, well, that’s just a Tuesday. But when Tonya’s power goes out, and you know what? I’m just gonna say something here real quick that maybe some, this might be of help to some people. Roger just got diagnosed with sleep apnea and he has to wear a CPAP. So yes, I am sleeping next to Darth Vader every single night now, but it’s really helping him. But because of that,

Tonya Kubo (01:16.404)

Kathi (01:39.797)
In the state of California, we’ve qualified for a program where we can get Tesla batteries on the side of our house absolutely free. Where the Tesla batteries absorb the power at the cheapest rate and then put out the power when we most need it. And to get these Tesla batteries is almost $2,700, no, $27,000, excuse me, $27,000. And there’s a California program where we get them for free now.

Tonya Kubo (01:58.358)

Tonya Kubo (02:04.354)

Tonya Kubo (02:10.242)
That is amazing. I know a lot of people with CPAP, so that’s huge.

Kathi (02:10.433)
So, isn’t that?

Yeah Yeah, so I know a lot of our listeners are not in California But we also have a decent amount because you and I both live in California and a lot of people that we’ve spoken to and met So that has nothing to do with it. Well, maybe it has something to do with today’s Because here’s the thing that’s a life change for Roger and I have to tell you the first thing he did God bless him. He gets the CPAP machine. He goes I need to declutter my side of the bed because now

Tonya Kubo (02:43.232)
It’s big.

Kathi (02:43.489)
It’s not a huge apparatus, but it takes space, especially on his nightstand. So that’s something we need to consider.

Tonya Kubo (02:48.396)

No, that is true. That is true. Brian had a CPAP for a while and his was huge. I’m not gonna lie. His took up the entire surface of the nightstand.

Kathi (02:58.135)

Kathi (03:02.501)
Oh dear. Yeah, that makes for an interesting bed partner, doesn’t it? Okay, but yeah, what we’re talking about today, let’s just dive right into it. Tonya, you spent a lot, we both did, we spent a lot of time talking to people in our paid group, Clutter Free for Life, about what their biggest challenges were, how we could help. In our paid program, we do a 15 minute free consultation with everybody who joins.

Tonya Kubo (03:07.698)
Yes it does.

Tonya Kubo (03:20.174)

Kathi (03:30.933)
so that they can ask us the questions that are just for their circumstance. What I came to find out, and I wonder if you did too, is when they said, this is really unique to me, it was never really unique to them. Because the circumstances may change, but the challenges are the same. That was my biggest takeaway.

Tonya Kubo (03:44.29)
That is true.

Tonya Kubo (03:49.502)
Right. Well, and I felt like for them, that was probably like, because I would always ask people at the end of our time, I would say, what was most helpful for you here? And every single one of them would be like, the fact that you knew what I was talking about, and the fact that you said that I’m not alone.

Kathi (03:59.845)

Kathi (04:04.92)

Right, right, absolutely. Yeah, it is huge. I would say you got this situation more than I did, but I did get it some, is that people felt like their clutter got so much worse during a big life change. And I was trying to think, did that happen to me? And I was like, yeah, it absolutely did. When Moose was diagnosed with cancer,

Tonya Kubo (04:09.535)
was huge.

Kathi (04:37.185)
I have to say for about six months, I cared very little about the state of my house. I cared very little about what was going on around me. Like guys, I’ve gotten better, but I spent so much time just hanging out with her because we didn’t know what her life expect, all that kind of stuff. But after about six months, I’m like, okay, I don’t want to continue to live like this. And fortunately, I have the tools in my back pocket to be able to say.

Tonya Kubo (04:53.771)

Kathi (05:07.317)
Okay, here’s how I recover from this. But have you been through something like that in your life, Tonya?

Tonya Kubo (05:14.806)
Definitely. I mean, I think raising children, like by itself, like even not under extreme circumstances, but every phase of life brings a huge transition that involves clutter in some way. And then of course, as you know, we lost my mom very early in our decluttering journey, but that had a big impact. For us, the most recent was losing Brian’s sister.

Kathi (05:18.735)

Kathi (05:30.062)

Kathi (05:41.461)
Yeah, way too young.

Tonya Kubo (05:41.822)
And I’ll share a little bit about this only because it made, it really seemed to have a profound impact on the people I spoke to one-on-one. When we lost Brian’s sister, it was really interesting to see how grief or how coping with grief is different for each person. For her husband, they had sold their home when the pandemic started and they were building their dream home.

Kathi (06:01.198)

Tonya Kubo (06:09.05)
And then she was diagnosed not too long after. So they had this rental that was really wrapped up in her illness that they had been living in. It really was a sick home. And so her husband really threw himself into decluttering because he wanted out of that rental home. Like there was just all sorts of bad memories. But there was this other piece of him.

Tonya Kubo (06:37.206)
What I recognized is he was so worried that there was something that was special or precious to the family that he didn’t know about. Like he didn’t know why it was precious. He didn’t know why she was keeping it because quite honestly, nobody expected to lose her at the age of 44, right? So these are, like he knew she had bins and boxes and stuff in the garage, but he never thought to ask why.

Kathi (06:54.753)

Kathi (07:02.753)

Tonya Kubo (07:02.806)
So he starts going through this stuff and he wants to give it to Brian’s mom. He wants to give it to us because he’s like, I don’t wanna be responsible for it, right? And it was really soon for Brian’s mom. Like in some ways, I mean, cause that was hard for her, right? Cause she’s just lost her daughter and now she’s being like given all this stuff. And so Brian and I had a conversation. I just said, look, if he calls you and says, hey, do you want this? Just say yes.

Kathi (07:13.387)

Kathi (07:17.763)

Kathi (07:31.897)

Tonya Kubo (07:32.998)
We have a decluttering system in place in our home. We have a garage. We can say yes to everything, and we can deal with it later. Because the family dynamics are such, nobody expects us to keep everything forever. So we’re good there. So I said, you just say yes. Our priority was to make the decision easy for him and to trust that we had the emotional bandwidth and the space and the maturity that we could take it from there.

Kathi (08:02.917)
What a gift to him. Even if he didn’t know, what a gift.

Tonya Kubo (08:09.042)
So, yes, and it did make life so much easier, but of course that means that we very quickly had a filled garage with all sorts of random stuff.

Kathi (08:17.302)

Right, right. Well, so let me ask you, yeah, let me ask you because a lot of people are dealing with the loss of a loved one and having to deal with their stuff. I did with my dad as well. And, you know, we went through a process where there was a first layer of like, okay, we can just donate this or trash it or whatever needs to happen.

Kathi (08:48.029)
And then there was a second layer of like, okay, does anybody in the family want this? And then the third layer of, um, we have to decide if this is the memory we want to keep of my dad. And so it was a three layer process for us, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody. What was it for you, Tonya? Or, or have you gone through the stuff yet?

Tonya Kubo (09:10.542)
Also, multi-layer process, yes, because a lot of it was Brian’s dad stuff. We did not realize how much of Brian’s dad stuff Megan had taken until Megan was gone and Jeremy was like, I know this was from your dad, but I don’t know much more. But like one was, it was like, oh, I have a bunch of your dad’s shirts.

Tonya Kubo (09:35.454)
and they were really special to Megan, but the boys didn’t know your dad, so the boys don’t really understand. And so I told Brian, yeah, we’ll take those. We can make a quilt out of them or something. Well, it turned out they weren’t work shirts, like Brian thought. They were racing jerseys. His dad used to race motocross. Motocross jerseys do not make good quilts, by the way, just so you know. It’s just not a good fabric, right? So Brian was like.

Kathi (09:58.996)
No they do not.


Tonya Kubo (10:04.566)
What do I do with this? And I said, well, for now, we let it sit in the garage. And I mean, it was like, I don’t know what you call this, but you know when you go to like Marshall’s and they have the clothing racks that are on wheels?

Kathi (10:15.121)
Yes, yes. Rolling racks. Okay.

Tonya Kubo (10:16.57)
I mean it was on those, yeah those rolling racks. It was like a whole rolling rack of shirts. So that’s still in my garage. Still don’t know what to do with it. But I also don’t feel like that’s a decision I have to make today. I have the available real estate, it’s fine. Now her classroom stuff, she was a teacher, Brian is a teacher. So her classroom stuff, it was very easy to process through all that.

Kathi (10:21.001)
Mm-hmm. Okay.

Kathi (10:30.262)


Kathi (10:38.902)

Tonya Kubo (10:44.106)
We said yes to all of it, then Brian went through and was like, oh, I could use this, and then we have teacher friends. So for us, that was the first layer. And of course, as you know, Kathy, the first layer is always the least emotionally connected layer.

Tonya Kubo (11:01.766)
Very easy to release classroom stuff, work stuff, right? But imagine how much space, I mean honestly that classroom stuff was taking up more space in my garage than those work shirts or than those racing jerseys are.

Kathi (11:06.274)

Kathi (11:16.905)
Yeah, it makes so much sense. And you know, I think these big life transitions, it’s either we’re going to something new, or we’re letting go of something. And so we’re going to take a quick break, we’re going to come back. And I want to talk about what are some steps that we can do in these transitions, whether we’re going towards something. And even when you’re going towards something new, you have to let go. And I’ll talk a little bit about that.

But, excuse me. But we’re gonna take a quick break and come back to give some really practical steps of what you can do. So hang with us friends.

Okay, friends, we are back and we’re talking about what are the really practical steps when you’re going through a big life transition. This could be a marriage, it could be a death, it could be a birth, it could be kids leaving the house, it could be a divorce, it could be, there are a million different things that, job loss, new job, moving, if I didn’t say that before, and I think that was one of ours.

that was really tough. We had, we moved from San Jose to the mountains. Well, we had just redone the San Jose house. And can I tell you, it was gorgeous. It was exactly, it was everything I wanted it to be. But.

Tonya Kubo (12:40.159)
It was. I visited it. It was beautiful. That bathroom, Kathy. That upstairs bathroom.

Kathi (12:48.985)
It was phenomenal, right? It was phenomenal. Okay.

Tonya Kubo (12:50.746)
Yeah. I just need you to hear me tell you that it was beautiful. You did a great job.

Kathi (12:57.401)
Thank you so much, thank you. Every once in a while I go back and look at the Zillow pictures. I just loved it so much. And, but here’s the thing, I love my new house too, but two completely different styles. Both my style, this one is more rustic, cabernet, that kind of thing. The one in San Jose was more like teals and had a little bit of gold, which sounds weird, but it’s actually, it was gorgeous. And.

Tonya Kubo (13:07.853)

Kathi (13:26.029)
Uh, but I couldn’t really take the San Jose stuff to the summer sect. And so I have to tell you, it was a process of letting it go. A couple of things I did, which isn’t going to work for everybody, but some of that stuff that I had in San Jose, we, we also have some space at my mom’s house. So I decorated that space with some of the stuff, like the rugs and things like that, that I just loved.

We also have an RV that we put some of that stuff in. Our kids came and took some of the stuff that was really important to them. But I think the best thing that I did with that transition was just saying, we’re going into a new life and I don’t wanna be carrying this. So we put a few things on Freecycle or Facebook Marketplace.

Tonya Kubo (14:17.27)

Kathi (14:23.009)
And we just did free because we had a short turnaround time to move. And this one young couple, they, they finally said, we’re just waiting for your ads to come up because we love everything and we have nothing. And so I just said, uh, okay, here’s the deal. I’m, I’m going to put a post-it note on everything in our house that we’re not taking and you can take it if you want.

There was not one post-it note left after all of that. They said, the woman, they had only been married for six weeks, they were sleeping on their floor. And we basically, in some ways, furnished their whole house. Because of course we had a bigger house than their one bedroom apartment. But there was a purpose.

Tonya Kubo (14:52.609)

Tonya Kubo (15:01.455)

Tonya Kubo (15:09.407)

Tonya Kubo (15:13.355)

Kathi (15:16.677)
And it wasn’t even decluttering, it was giving away huge massive things that were important to us. But I think most of us as cluttery people, if we knew the people things were going to, we would give them the shirt off our back and the racing jersey as well. So, you know, it is, when we know that it’s for a higher purpose.

Tonya Kubo (15:22.861)

Tonya Kubo (15:42.098)

Kathi (15:42.241)
So maybe the higher purpose is to lighten your load. Maybe the higher purpose is to help somebody else. What do you feel like were the lessons you’ve really learned and taken away through Megan’s death, through your father-in-law’s death and your mom’s death?

Tonya Kubo (15:59.642)
Yeah, so something you just said really resonated with me, which is clutter. You had said, you know, it’s not really decluttering. It was releasing things that just we loved, but we had no use for. And I think the big thing with these life transitions, and I think part of what makes them so hard, so emotionally difficult to journey through, is it redefines clutter for us.

Kathi (16:15.301)

Tonya Kubo (16:29.098)
Because see, typically we say clutter is something I don’t love, it’s something I don’t use, it’s something I wouldn’t buy again. And these life transitions introduce this new definition which is, this is something that I love and I would use, but for whatever reason, given the circumstances that we have, that’s not possible right now. And it doesn’t make sense.

Kathi (16:52.397)
Oh, Tonya, that’s so good.


Tonya Kubo (16:56.354)
to keep it because I don’t know when it’s going to be possible again. So going back to the one-on-one conversations that I had with some of our members, there were a lot of people I was talking to who either had some kind of major medical event. So maybe they had a child born with some very extreme medical needs. One of them had an injury or an illness that required, say, in-home health care.

Tonya Kubo (17:24.73)
anybody who’s listening who has had any experience with in-home health care knows that it’s like they bring a u-haul of medical equipment to your house right and it doesn’t matter little babies older adults it’s not always a hospital bed but sometimes the hospital bed and oxygen tanks and feeding tubes and all of these things and those things get added into this house that was already full even if it wasn’t cluttery it was full it was functional

Tonya Kubo (17:54.678)
You have this period, like you don’t want to get rid of your old life. Those things brought you joy, but there’s not room for that in the hospital bed. There’s not room for that in the ventilator or whatever else. And so something I saw my brother-in-law do that I didn’t, like I remember going, hmm, about it when he was doing it. Like they had just gotten a brand new bed and he called us up and he said, hey, by any chance, do you guys want a new bed? And we were like, and we had actually been looking for a new bed.

Kathi (18:04.29)

Tonya Kubo (18:22.89)
We’re like, yeah, like, do you want us to buy it off of you? He’s like, no. He goes, we’ve had it for three months. We love it. He goes, but I don’t, I would have to go up in size to the storage unit that we’re looking at getting in order to fit it. So that doesn’t make sense. He’s like, and I, they tell us Megan’s going to be better in 10 months, but I don’t know that she is. And when she is better, this bed may not be comfortable for her. So I think it just makes sense to get rid of it now. And I don’t think.

Kathi (18:23.214)
Oh wow.

Kathi (18:36.409)

Kathi (18:44.349)

Kathi (18:50.504)

Tonya Kubo (18:53.11)
my cluttery heart would have had that kind of like logical thought process that Jeremy had. I mean, he was he’s so like wise. I don’t even think he knows how wise he is. But I thought, wow, that is really like that’s just wisdom right there to go, hey, it’s not that I expect to be here forever. But I know that when I’m not here, life is going to be so different that the stuff that’s working now may not work then.

Kathi (19:21.797)
As soon as you’re saying, I’m going to have to go up in size on the storage unit, it’s time to reconsider everything. Yeah, when we sold our house in San Jose, we said we are keeping this storage unit for a month. For a month. You know, because this is stuff we want to bring to the house, but we can’t bring it all at once. And we kept that promise. I was really, really proud of us.

Tonya Kubo (19:29.722)

Tonya Kubo (19:38.957)

Kathi (19:52.165)
turns into a year, turns into five years. But we need to make our lives lighter because we can make better decisions when our life is lighter. You know, you and I just had a circumstance this, like today, where you were supposed to come to my house, you can’t, so Roger and I are like, you know what? You know me, if I could, I would adopt every goat.

Tonya Kubo (20:00.27)

Kathi (20:21.729)
every dog, every cat, everything. But we have fewer chickens now because that’s just what happens to chickens sometimes. It’s the circle of life. And we have a dog and we’re like, you know what? Tonya can’t come here. We’re gonna go to Tonya. And it’s because we have lightened our life. And sometimes that’s through circumstances we would not have chosen.

Tonya Kubo (20:29.326)
because that’s the circle of life.

Kathi (20:50.189)
but we are intentionally keeping our lives lighter so that we can do the things we wanna do. And that’s something we wanna do. What do you think is the most important thing that somebody can take away from this conversation? Especially after seeing how wise Jeremy has been and how you don’t wanna repeat the sins of your mother and you have this different example. What would you want somebody to take away from this conversation?

Tonya Kubo (20:52.578)

Tonya Kubo (21:13.816)

Tonya Kubo (21:19.722)
Well, I think for me the biggest is that certain life transitions do warrant a new definition for what clutter is. What’s clutter today?

Kathi (21:32.073)
I think that’s so wise.

Tonya Kubo (21:35.814)
may not have been cluttered five years ago, and it may not be cluttered five years from now, but because you don’t know that, it makes sense and it is smart and it is wise to treat it like the clutter it is today.

Kathi (21:38.657)

Kathi (21:51.477)
It’s not that the thing is clutter, it’s that the item in the midst of today’s circumstances is clutter and something that you need to lighten your life. This has been such a great conversation, Tonya. Thank you so, so much.

I just think this is exactly what we need to hear. Because when we buy things, we’re like, oh my goodness. This is the most important thing. And I’ll always love it. I’ll always want it. And then job changes happen. And we live in a time now where if you need to furnish your house for free, you could pretty much do it. Because.

Tonya Kubo (22:47.566)

Kathi (22:49.413)
It may not be with the stuff you want. And so we have to decide, do I love it? Do I use it? Would I buy it again right now? Right now, I think that that’s a great question to ask. And one of the things, guys, if you’re part of our newsletter community, we are going to be publishing this week a checklist for decluttering when moving or downsizing. And so,

Tonya Kubo (23:00.086)

Tonya Kubo (23:14.774)

Kathi (23:16.377)
We want you to, if we’re gonna put all the information so that you can become a part of our newsletter community so that you can have that resource for the next time you’re going through something, whether it’s moving or you just need to downsize, whatever that is, we’re gonna give you that checklist to help you make decisions in, because when you’re moving, you’re already having to make a thousand decisions, let this eliminate another thousand.

Tonya, thanks for being on today.

Tonya Kubo (23:46.85)
Thanks for having me.

Kathi (23:48.565)
And friends, thank you for being here. You’ve been listening to Clutter-Free Academy. I’m Cathy Lip. Now, go create the clutter-free life you were always intended to live.

Clutter Free Academy Team
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