What Are the Hidden Reasons for Clutter?

What Are the Hidden Reasons for Clutter?

For some people, a three-step plan for a decluttering system results in a neat and cozy home within a few months. For others, decluttering is an arduous journey. It’s not because of busyness or not having a system in place. Behind stacks of clutter, hidden spiritual and emotional issues lurk. If we’re honest, we admit that sometimes it’s just easier to keep those issues hidden in the piles of clutter.

Here are some hidden reasons for clutter:

  • Low self-worth
  • Pleasing other people
  • Clinging to the past/reliving our mistakes
  • Poverty mindset—fearing the lack
  • Depression/anxiety clutter cycle—If we’re constantly in the emotional part of our brain, we can’t use the logic part (where we make decisions).

Some of these reasons are chronic, while others are situational. In 2014, my eyes were opened to a long-time clutter problem in my own house.

A few months after my dad passed away, my siblings and I traveled from three different states to his house. It took us four days to clean it out, working from early morning until late evening, when we were too tired to move.

I lost track of how many giant, industrial garbage dumpsters we filled. Time and again, a driver would load it onto his truck, empty it at the dump, and bring it back again.

Anything you could think of, we threw away. (We gave a lot away too. A charity came and took what was useable to help needy families.) Stacks of old magazines, mattresses, bank papers from before I was born, and an entire drawer full of keys to who-knows-what. Sixty-seven years’ worth of stuff, and I don’t think Dad ever tossed anything besides old food.

For me, it was like looking into my future.

When I arrived home, I saw everything I had piled around my house. Even some stuff I didn’t want but kept anyway, for fear of offending the relative who gave it to me. If I didn’t do something now, I realized, my kids were going to be saddled with loads of useless stuff to deal with upon my death.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t ever learned a practical system for being clutter free. One of the books in my many stacks was Kathi’s The Get Yourself Organized Project. I’d read it and even written a review for a newspaper article.

So how did I get from cluttery mess to (mostly) decluttered and organized home business owner?


Here I share five crucial elements on my clutter-free journey.


1)      Awareness.

Here’s the main difference between then and now: Today I really can’t stand clutter and work the systems from Clutter Free daily to keep it out of my house. Before, I didn’t notice it or care that my house was cluttered. I lost time, money and sanity because of my clutter, but I tolerated it because it just seemed normal to me. I didn’t consider there might be a better way to live. This is the simplest—and also hardest—of the steps.

2)      A new safe space.

Since clutter is often accompanied by feelings of low self-worth, we must redefine what feels safe to us. It’s a big mind shift to feel worthy of the time it takes to improve our living spaces. Making change is hard; it’s easier to just stick with what we know. Gradually, I accepted that my new way of living was the actual safe space, and not the unhealthy condition of an overly cluttered house. Instead of making ourselves feel better by buying more things, we can enjoy the calm, peaceful feeling of an uncluttered home.

3)      Treat yourself like the treasure you are.

Once I became aware of my clutter problem, I worked to keep my thoughts about it positive. I changed “I’m such a slob!” to “I’m working through Kathi’s steps to get clutter free; I didn’t get here overnight, and I won’t be rid of it all overnight, either.” If we’re constantly berating ourselves, we’ll stay stuck in our low self-worth mindset. Kathi’s mantra of decluttering being a lifestyle and not a “one and done” became my mainstay. The more kind and gentle you can be with yourself, the more progress you’ll make.

4)      Deal with specific issues you’re hiding.

Among my stacks of books, I had one titled Not Marked that deals with childhood sexual abuse. I had purchased it with several other titles and dumped them into my other piles of books. At that point, I hadn’t told anyone I was suffering from PTSD flashbacks to childhood trauma. Not even my husband knew about the abuse or that I was trying to cope with overwhelming memories. Other places to hide our issues might be ridiculously messy pantries to hide eating too much junk food or crammed-full closets to hide a clothes shopping addiction. It starts with telling one friend you can trust (or a therapist) and getting to the source of whatever’s eating you.

5)      Celebrate your wins by enjoying that decluttered room again.

Once I got all the piles of books out of my living room, we bought some pretty pictures and couch pillows to make it cozy. Since it looks so nice, I’m really hesitant to leave anything that doesn’t belong out in the living room. One by one, as you conquer the specific areas of your home, decorate and personalize them so that they feel complete.

Whether your hidden reasons for clutter are chronic or situational, there is hope. Establishing a system for decluttering and recognizing the hidden reasons behind the clutter is the first step. Remember, give yourself grace for whatever you’re struggling with; even if it takes longer than you hoped, you’ll get to the place where you can live peacefully in your space again.

Enter to win!

Want a chance to win a copy of Lyneta’s memoir, Curtain Call? Comment below and two random winners will be mailed a copy by March 13th. (Winners outside the U.S. will receive a digital copy.)

How to Find Your Decluttering Motivation Again

How to Find Your Decluttering Motivation Again

My friend Lyneta Smitth shares how to rediscover your decluttering motivation so you can live a clutter free life.


I flew home from a conference in 2016 with a signed copy of Clutter Free in my hands. By the time I landed in Nashville, I’d finished it and determined that from then on, I would give away or throw away five pieces of clutter per day.

Slowly my house turned from a haphazard dumping ground for all-the-things into an organized, functional home. My daily five, as I started to call the declutter routine, became habit. Eventually, after parting with thousands of items, it became difficult to find five each day.

During those two years, I started buying less and making do with what I had. I put a moratorium on scented candles because we have enough to burn until 2025, and created a strict makeup policy in which I could only buy more if I threw some away.

Needless to say, Kathi’s Clutter Free system has worked great. We were at a happy equilibrium, or so I thought.

Until the other night while I was cooking dinner.


The Hidden Decluttering Project

I had two spice-heavy recipes going at the same time. Each needed six or seven different spices and I was trying to measure them all without burning something.

My biggest problem was finding the spices I needed. I kept them in a storage tote in the pantry, which meant I had to pick each one up to see it. What should have taken five minutes took me fifteen.

I must have sighed a little too loudly or slammed the bin lid on a little too hard, because my husband came downstairs from our office and stood just outside the kitchen with only his head poking through the large arch door. “Is everything okay?

Yep. Great.” I might have pushed the pantry door closed with unnecessary force.

At this point, he was probably regretting asking his hranky (hungry and cranky—like hangry only with exhaustion added in) wife any sort of question, let alone implying that she might not be okay. But he bravely forged on like a man whose evening (and more importantly, dinner) was on the line.

“Everything sure smells good.”

I nudged the refrigerator door closed with my foot and carried an armful of salad veggies to the counter. “The spice bin is not working for me. It’s really dysfunctional. I need a real spice rack.”

Still hiding behind the wall to the side of the arch, he said, “Okay, let’s get one. You decide what you want, and I’ll build it for you.”

In case you’re wondering, I do realize I have a nicer husband than I deserve.

He was rewarded for his valiant effort with a little smile. And a big dinner.

The next day, after a good night’s sleep, I researched spice racks and ordered one from Amazon. Then I sorted through my bin to see what I could toss out before the big move. (Goodbye, mostly-full jar of coriander, dated 2012.)

I always joke that Clutter Free is the best marriage book I’ve ever read. But truly, learning to cull unneeded items and keep the ones I don’t need in cute containers has saved a lot of stress and frustration in our household.

Just like marriage, decluttering isn’t one and done. It’s a continual process of growth and tweaking. No matter where you are in your decluttering process, there’s always a next step.


How to Find Your Decluttering Motivation & Your Next Step

If you’re in a lull, or just don’t know how to figure out your next decluttering project, here’s a few questions to guide you.

What’s your biggest pain point?

Sometimes we get so busy, we don’t realize clutter is causing us extra stress. It’s become part of our home, like the furniture. As an empty nester, cooking isn’t as high of a priority for me, so I hadn’t realized how out of hand my spice situation was.

But when an urgent situation hits (like being late because you can’t find your keys or not finding that special, essential fall decoration in the attic) you realize it’s time to do something about a certain area.

Where do you waste the most time?

If it’s trying to find school-appropriate clothes in dressers jam-packed with swimsuits and tank tops, you already know your morning routine has way too much stress. Fifteen minutes a day (or one drawer at a time) can fast track getting your kids ready for school.

Or perhaps you’re like me, and you waste too much time searching for things in the kitchen, and spend too much money buying things you already have, but are hidden in the refrigerator or pantry. Tossing out all the outdated or unusable things (like the soy flour from your gluten-free phase six months ago) will save you time and cash.

Which area do you avoid?

Many of us have sewing rooms or other hobby areas we can’t create in because clutter is taking up too much space. Does your church’s preschool program need that can of buttons or leftover bag of pomp poms? Do you know a sewing 4-H leader who could use yards of practice fabric? It’s a win-win. You get more room to create something special, and bless others with your excess.

Another trouble spot is the garage. I can’t count how many times we’ve gone to buy a new sprinkler at the beginning of summer because we can’t find the one from last year. Same for bike tire pumps, canning jars and garden tools. When you realize you’re avoiding an area because clutter has made it dysfunctional, the decision about where to declutter next is easy.

Now That You’ve Figured Out Your Next Step…

What project are you going to tackle next? Let us know in the comments!