Decluttering defined: Why this term can be offensive, and what it actually means

There’s a buzz word in the organizing world and it’s “decluttering.” When I first heard this word, I thought “Yes!” I thought, “letting things go feels so cathartic.” I was standing in a cozy Seattle bookstore, and I wanted to buy the book (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up), run home, and take a heap of things to Goodwill—especially the bin of baseball cards from 1992 that takes up precious room in our garage. That’s the minimalist in me, and possibly the nagging wife.  When I used the word decluttering with my husband, he did not have the same reaction. Neither did my mom. Some of my clients don’t like it either. So, in today’s post “Decluttering Defined” I’ll explore this term, explain why it can be offensive, and tell you what it actually means to me.

What is decluttering?

This is how I explain it to my clients: decluttering is first removing what doesn’t serve the goals of your space, and second making sure the things you love are visible, and the things you use are accessible. That’s it! If you love something, show it off. If you use something make sure you can get to it easily, which means you’ll also be able to put it away effortlessly when you’re done.

Why is it offensive?

Because it feels like a value judgement. I think there’s a collective idea that clutter= knickknacks. And the truth is, some people love themselves a knickknack. That’s ok! I’ll say it right now, clutter is not knickknacks.

Clutter is not a collection of thrift store finds, or salt ‘n pepper shakers, or even porcelain dolls. It’s anything you don’t love or use, and that doesn’t serve the goals of your space. Period. End of story. I don’t think many would be offended by this definition of clutter.

What is offensive is when other people try to put their values on what someone else should love and use. If you’re helping someone declutter, start by asking what they value. It will help you make sure you don’t step on their toes. Check out my post on creating your list of personal values here: A Life of Value: 5 Steps to Define, Name, and Claim What Matters.

Want a quick decluttering project?

You might also like How To De-Clutter Your Kitchen Counters

With Heart,


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