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How Does Clutter Make You and Your Family Feel?

I have a smallish house and I seem to be decluttering on a regular basis.  Also, decluttering and organizing shows are fairly popular these days.  It seems to all be about having too much stuff in our lives.  But what’s behind all that stuff?  Probably something that has nothing to do with the stuff itself.

I’ll use a few examples from my own past and recent decluttering missions to get the ball rolling.  What if my daughters wanted me to keep this for them after they’ve grown up (anxiety)?  Oh, they got that from Grandma last Christmas – we can’t get rid of that (guilt).  I can stand to even look at that pile of junk over there – it makes me so angry (hopeless)!

Meanwhile, the excess toys or clothes just make my kids rooms more easily messed up.  And I spend time going through the pile of stuff that I really could use doing something better.  I get frustrated with myself and with the whole family for allowing it to continue – nobody appreciates it when I’m in that mood!  Why doesn’t my husband move that?  Why don’t the kids pick up this?  Why don’t I just throw all that stuff away already?  So in the end, clutter just brings the whole family down.  The clutter represents the emotional junk that gets passed around among us.  And yes, those leftover depression and PMDD thoughts just love to cling to my clutter!

My clutter issue is nothing obsessive or extreme, but it still gets in our way.  I have seen shows and heard stories about people who are literally trapped in their homes because of their clutter.  It is so physically overwhelming that they can do very little about it anymore.  They don’t go anywhere, they don’t have people over, and the clutter is a huge monument to the shame and guilt they carry around with them daily.  This is truly difficult for me to see and hear about.  I’ve had mental illness so I know what the walls of that prison look like from the inside.  My heart breaks for people with such deep ongoing pain.

But even if you aren’t at an extreme level of clutter, it really packs a lot of emotional punch.  You try it.  Just walk by a pile of stuff you’ve been “meaning” to go through or do something with and see what emotion comes up.  Bing!  What was it?  Guilt?  Shame?  Anxiety?  A black wall of stress that popped into your mind at the very thought of starting the task?  Even if it was only a mild blip, a pile of clutter has some emotion attached to it.  Best to find out what it is and face it.

After that, getting started with a tiny bit of decluttering gets a little easier.  I don’t profess to be perfect by any means.  Even with the suggestions and comments of guidance I provide, I am no all-knowing expert.  Even though I factually know that starting a decluttering project is the hardest part, and that it will be easier once I get the wheels rolling, I still resist.  Every time, without fail.  Does this mean I haven’t learned my lesson?  No – I’ve learned that digging into the clutter is going to feel yucky no matter what, so facing the feelings and forgiving myself is my goal.  When I do that, I know I’ve made progress.

I know I’m likely to create some clutter all of my life.  I’m simply not wired to be consistently organized.  But when I can face it in a healthy way, the clutter tends get taken care of more quickly.  I can feel great about my efforts and my way of handling my feelings.  And that’s good enough for me.

How Does Clutter Make You and Your Family Feel?

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2009). How Does Clutter Make You and Your Family Feel?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 May 2009
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