The Conflict Between Free Stuff and Clutter

by Kevin on February 9, 2009

(Photo by evelynishare)

We are surrounded by stuff. Clutter. Unorganized piles. Where does all of this stuff come from?

If you are like me then the organization of your home isn’t up to what you want it to be. That’s not to say significant effort hasn’t been expended to fight back against the tide of growing piles. My wife is an excellent un-piler, removing my mess and making our house look amazing. But every attempt at getting everything put just in its place is quickly shown to be in vain a few hours later. Suddenly that neat organization is back out amongst the rooms, sitting on tables or on the floor. Sigh.

Where Does Clutter Come From?

There are lots of places that we might pick up clutter. One of the primary places for us is our mailbox. Sad, I know. I always bring in the mail when I get home from work and we usually don’t look at it immediately. I want to see my wife, play with the dog, and change clothes. The mail can wait.

So it goes on a table. The next thing you know it has friends — other things have been put on the table. We get busy washing the dishes and doing homework and forget about it until the next day. Ta-da! Clutter has successfully infiltrated our home.

Clutter can come from other areas of course. Maybe you are trying the drug store game. You can get that bottle of shampoo for free after rebate, so why wouldn’t you get it? You start down this path and your closets are suddenly full of mostly free toiletry items… toilet paper, toothpaste, body wash… it just piles up and up.

But it was mostly free!“, you tell yourself. And I’m all for that. We’ve recently started cutting coupons out in an attempt to save money and get items for almost free. That’s a good thing.

But when you are buying stuff you don’t normally buy, or if you have a four year supply of toilet paper, you might want to slow down. Clutter is bound to be filling up your home.

Or maybe your friends had some stuff to give away. They were going to throw it away, but you will find a use for it eventually. Just throw it in the closet, no one will notice.

Nothing is Truly Free

Even if the items you receive cost you nothing there is a space cost to every item. The more stuff you have the less space you can enjoy and the more cluttered your home becomes.

But there is a balance to all of this. If you can get items for free that you will use up in two weeks then I would definitely say go for it. But if the items you are hording won’t be used for three years you’ve got to ask yourself where you are going to put it. And if you will even remember it is there in three years. (Unlikely.)

Organization definitely helps. This is where I can be of no assistance. I am really bad at organizing our stuff. I rely heavily on my wife to help me out. I’m the piler. She’s the un-piler.

My main problem is once something goes in a closet, a box, or in the attic I tend to forget about it despite the best intentions. It may be something that I really think is neat, but we’re trying to clean up the house so away it goes. A few years later as we then clean out the closet, box, or attic the item is rediscovered. Years without use because it was stored away.

I’m not a feng shui expert. I don’t know what he best way to master the balance between stuff and clutter. But I think we need to be aware of how well (or poorly) we handle clutter.

Hey readers — how do you handle clutter? What system do you use to stay organized? I’d love to get some help.


Ricky February 9, 2009 at 10:44 am

A general rule of thumb I use is asking myself “am I really ever going to need this in the future?” If there is any hesitation in the answer it is probably a good idea to go ahead and get rid of the item in question. I don’t have a problem getting rid of most things, but I do “get attached” to some things. I have quite a collection of car magazines that I have been unable to part with. Other than that, my main problem is keeping stuff that is not junk or clutter organized. It basically becomes clutter because I don’t always put my things back where they belong when I am done with them!

dawn February 9, 2009 at 3:31 pm

My church has a Matthew 25 pantry that I donate much of the free toiletries that I get –
It helps keep our bathroom storage space in check.

vilkri February 10, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Clutter itself is the price we pay for keepingfree stuff around the house.

Jesse Michelsen February 11, 2009 at 10:05 pm

My wife basically goes on a cleaning rave and throws away all my free stuff. Either that or we sell them all in a big box on ebay. Even with all that, we still have literally a room full of clutter…

Epicview February 12, 2009 at 7:46 pm

We’ve just started our fight against clutter. A major battle is de-cluttering my five year old’s toys. He has so many useless parts lying around. One question I ask myself that helps alot is, “is it something that we can play with together?” If I can’t play it with him and its not one of his favorite toys, than off it goes to be donated, recycled, or trashed.

I also run a Freebies website, so that makes the clutter battle harder. But, I try to stick with stuff that I can either use, or at least give away as prizes.

Kevin February 16, 2009 at 9:41 am

@Ricky: I’ve got a similar collection of car magazines. In boxes. That one day I would like to use to decorate a man room. Will it ever happen? Who knows.

@dawn: Great idea!

@Jesse: Do you ever do that with her stuff? 🙂

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