Can You Live With Lots of Stuff and Still Be Clutter-Free?

clutter clearing Jan 17, 2024


My sister and I often write about de-cluttering and simplifying. And many times people see photos of my fairly minimalist house or Alison’s similarly streamlined home and think we’re suggesting this is how they need to decorate to be clutter-free. This is not the case! Alison and I each live this way because it’s what makes us feel good and is in alignment with our authentic expressions. But we love seeing how other people express themselves by living with lots of objects because that’s what inspires them. In fact, we believe you can still be clutter-free and live with lots of stuff. Here’s how…

Clutter is not necessarily defined by how much stuff you have—quantity—but rather by quality. And by quality we don’t mean expensive. Quality is often about personal value rather than monetary value. When considering quality, ask yourself if the item is loved or useful? 

In order for something not to be considered clutter the object needs to be loved or useful—ideally both. And keep in mind it should be something we love now, in the present moment, not something we loved five or ten years ago. Our possessions should be a reflection of our current values and goals and an authentic expression of who we are—as opposed to who we think we need to be, should be, or always have been.

If your possessions meet these criteria, most likely your “stuff” is inspiring you, supporting your goals, and reflecting your best self rather than clutter that’s draining your time and energy or keeping you tied to the past.

That said, even if an item is loved and useful, sometimes it still doesn't belong in our lives. We need to consider our space, mental bandwidth, priorities, and time constraints to make sure our things are truly supporting us and moving us closer to the life we desire.

If you happen to live with a lot of stuff you love, here are some tips for making sure it doesn’t become clutter:

Make a conscious choice: The most important thing is to be conscious and intentional about your stuff—to make a choice to keep it rather than live it with it because it’s already there. Check in every year and make sure your stuff meets the above mentioned quality criteria so you know it’s truly not clutter, but rather a cherished object. For example, for items you inherited or gifts you received, ask yourself am I holding onto this because I love and/or use it, or out of a sense of obligation?

Maintain and assess: Make sure your stuff is clean, has a place of its own, and is in good repair. Assess if the object is worth the time and energy it takes to maintain it. When we have a lot of stuff, we spend a lot time taking care of it (picking up, cleaning, maintaining, etc). Does it feed and inspire you enough to be worth the investment of your time and energy or would letting it go free up your time for other things, people, and experiences?

Rotate: Even if everything has meaning for you sometimes it is simply too much stuff! For example, if you have a large collection you may want to rotate parts of the collection throughout the year from a storage space to a living area. This way each item you love gets a moment where it is displayed in a way it can be appreciated, rather than lost in an over-crowded cluster of objects. 

Placement: Arrangement and placement make the difference between stuff looking like clutter or a work of art. Grouping similar items together, such as putting a small rock collection on one shelf or in one glass container, usually looks the best. Or for example, grouping family photos in one spot or on one wall rather than scattered randomly throughout your space.

Know your stuff limit: Be honest with yourself about how much stuff is enough. Does it really feel good to live with the amount you have? Clear one area and test out what it feels like to live with some empty space. Is the gain from the boost of living with things you love worth the trade of the time and energy it takes to shop, search, care for, organize and maintain your stuff?

Keep it alive: One thing we know for sure is that everything is always changing and we are always changing—our homes need to change as well to match our ever-evolving selves. Check in a few times a year to make sure the stuff is still meaningful, or alive, for you.

Our homes and stuff should serve us in leading our best lives. Therefore the amount of stuff we have may vary depending our current goals or desires (we might have more things in our lives when we're welcoming a new baby or working on a creative project). At other times, we will be better served by creating space so new and better things to come in or your life.

Finally, if you have stuff celebrate it! Use it, be grateful for it, and enjoy it. 

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