A physical manifestation

If The Picture of Dorian Gray was about my house, it might look like this shop in St. Louis, April 2008.

If The Picture of Dorian Gray was about my house, it might look like this shop in St. Louis.
April 2008

“Clutter is a physical manifestation of fear that cripples our ability to grow.”
H.G. Chissell

From scanning the magazine titles on every newsstand, I know I’m not the only one who has a problem with clutter.  I understand there are entire television shows devoted to documenting hoarders who are so much worse than the average viewer that they are weirdly reassuring to watch.  But it seems most people have at least a little trouble with throwing things away, and I have a bigger problem with it than almost anyone I know of.

Years ago I read that the tendency to hold on to things is largely a fear-based behavior, which makes a lot of sense to me.  I hold onto things because I’m afraid.  I fear that I’ll forget an interesting person or happy memory associated with a card or gift, or I’ll someday need the object I ought to toss, or I’ll forget that I got rid of it and waste time looking for it later (yes, I really do that sort of thing, even more so as I get older).

Print addict that I am, I hoard reading material most of all.  It’s a real struggle for me to throw away a newspaper or magazine I haven’t read.  Jeff is coaching me to skim more and read less, but I seldom manage to do that.  I have come to the realization that I have enough unread books, magazines and digital reading material that I could read all the time for the rest of my life and not run out.  Still, it’s hard for me to resist the urge to subscribe to a magazine at a giveaway rate, or pass up a gorgeous, like-new book at a library sale (after all, the money goes to support the library, right?)   🙂

In other words, “my name is Julia and I have a problem with clutter.”  But I’m in recovery.  I am learning to relish the act of cleaning out and freeing up space.  I get a big kick out of donating boxes full of very good, barely used things to Goodwill.  I love sending a nice book to someone who requests it through the wonderful Paperback Swap site (scroll down to see a link at bottom right).  I’ve even managed to pitch my most comfortable walking shoes or t-shirts or jeans that are growing shamefully threadbare.  Okay, I’ve pitched SOME of them.  It helps that cleaning and tossing really does do wonders for my mood.  Now, if I could just keep those shelves, counters and closets EMPTY for a while…

I love blogs such as Organized at Heart and Flylady and Simplify 101, along with many others, all of which are full of tips, fun ideas, and understanding.  The only downside is that it’s tempting to spend more time reading than cleaning out!  What are your best clutter-clearing secrets?  Send me some ideas to keep me on the wagon!


  1. Julia, I am an inveterate hoarder. I have a box on which the outside has the words “Warm & Fuzzy”. Believe it or not, some of its most cherished contents are envelopes which in turn contain a hand-written letter, and a couple of clippings you have “cleaned out” of your menagerie. The most recent of these has a postage stamp, printed with a photo of you and Jeff. (Do you suppose you could post that photo on this blog some day?) I love it!

    • Eric, yes, I’ll try to paste it in here as soon as I have time to hunt it up. You might recognize it as the same photo that I cropped for the image of me I use on this blog. (Since I’m usually behind the camera, not in front of it, there aren’t too many photos of me! Especially since I censor the unflattering ones!) This photo was taken of us at the Run for the Roses Gala at Virginia Cerebral Palsy, a wonderful organization we love and support. I think it was 2010, so I should probably replace it with one that is more current. I got the postage stamps “free” from a store that was selling their kits at giveaway prices. Actually better than free, because the postal rates went up before I ordered them :-).

  2. Ann

    From one clutter collector to another. The items in my kitchen drawers seem to multiply overnight. So periodically, I take everything (yes, everything) out of one drawer. Then I have to pick each item up, look at it and decide whether to toss it, move it or put it back in the drawer. Same approach works for purses! Good luck, Ann

    • Thanks Ann, I will try this since all my stuff everywhere seems to multiply. That purse thing is a continual irritation to me. When Nora Ephron’s wonderful book I Feel Bad About My Neck came out, I picked it up in a bookstore and opened to the table of contents – when I saw that one of the chapters was titled “I hate my purse” I KNEW I would love the book! Thanks so much for your comment, and for being here!

  3. Julia,
    You and I are almost polar opposites; I throw everything away! This is a result of a chaotic, unstable and tumultuous childhood. When everyone and everything was going haywire around me, I would clean my room immaculately, turn on my music and lock the door. I couldn’t control anyone or anything but if my room was clean, there was a semblance of order and peace inside my little cocoon.
    Although my life is infinitely better now and certainly peaceful, one disagreement with my husband can send me into a cleaning frenzy! Lol
    1. I keep two, large, empty bins in my garage. They are dedicated to items for our church’s rummage sales. If one of the kids tells me their jeans are too tight, into the bin they go, (the jeans, not the kid) along with anything else that is no longer useful or admired.
    2. I have four hampers for dirty laundry. They are permanently marked, “white”, “light”, “dark” and “towels.” Family members immediately place their dirty clothes into the correct hamper. When I am ready to do a load of wash, a little time is saved by not having to sort dirty laundry.
    I have quite a few other routines and tips, but I fear this comment is itself turning into a blog. I think you’ve given me a great idea for a future post. 🙂

    • Thanks for the tips! and YES, I think it would make a great post (or maybe even a whole blog!) One thing you touched on that has helped me – I find that I do my best at throwing stuff away when I am angry!! It’s definitely therapeutic :-). Thanks for being here, and be sure to send me a link to your post when you write it! You can append a link to the comments here too so others can enjoy it. 🙂

  4. Julia – DO NOT UPDATE THE PHOTO! It is very representative of how you look now (minus the stress).

    • OK, who am I to argue with flattery? 🙂 Besides, it’s not anywhere near the top of the “fires to put out NOW” list!

  5. Beth

    I’m one paper sack of newspaper away from an episode of Hoarders. The root of my hoarding is genetic. Each visit with my parents or their siblings takes a toll on my car tires. Twenty years of the Kentucky Explorer have been placed in the trunk of my car along with a dulcimer, banjo, hand made gun rack, chipped china, a grinding stone, cane fishing pole, metal shoe lasts, coal mining helmets with original carbide torch AND three tins of carbide. My one bit of organizational pride was doing away with 11 years of Southern Living magazine. 🙂


      Just kidding. Sort of. While we’re doing true confessions, just this year I have managed to get rid of more than half of my unread old copies of the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times — without even skimming them!! Only about another years’ worth to go…

  6. Great post, Julia. Thanks so much for linking to my site as well. I have three new subscribers over night, and I’m sure they all linked from you.

    I’ve worked as a professional organizer for several years, so I understand that this can be difficult for people.

    One thing to notice, is that if tossing things when angry is therapeutic, it may be equally so when not angry. The act of releasing things, can also help you release the energy mentally stored within. Interestingly, some people find that after letting go of stuff, they let go of weight too! Some people lose up to fifty pounds. It’s finding a way to safely let go of things that aren’t necessarily making you happy.

    If working with a professional organizer is out of the question, you might enlist the help of a friend in trade. Spend a designated time at your place, then their place, trading back and forth.

    Another tip: set a timer for 15 minutes a day at a time when you are most refreshed. Put on your favorite music, grab a bag and start tossing items for recycling. When the time is up, call it a day, and do it again tomorrow. The pressure of time works in your favor in two ways: one, you know you’ll be done in 15 minutes and two, it forces you to make quick decisions so you don’t get bogged down in the details.

    Let me know if you try any of these things and how they work.

    • Thanks so much Alys! I will try these. I love the 15-minute one. I do need to find a nice, tidy friend to hold me accountable. Beth, that would leave you out. If I went your home I’d be going through your knick-knacks the way I used to go through everyone’s purses during church, and then the two of us would wind up reading 1980’s copies of Reader’s Digest or National Geographic until it was time for me to go home…

  7. I am a thrower outer married to a semi hoarder. Together our house is a mess. 🙂 I hate clutter, mess and stacks of stuff. He always says there will be time for “cleaning out” later.

    • Wow, you must win most of the battles because your home is always super neat. I didn’t realize Stephen was more into saving stuff. Maybe you should be the friend Alys tells me to trade off with, although I’d be just as likely to end up reading at your house too, since you have so many books!! 🙂 If you hate clutter and stacks of stuff, I am so honored that you’re my friend anyway. I was taking a quiz to see if I was one of the people who have problems with too much paper/print stuff, and one of the questions said “If your head was flat, would there be a stack of papers on top?” That was too funny and YES there would be on mine!

  8. Sheila

    Julia, one more thing we have in common! Most people go to the beach for a week….we sent for our things! 28 years later and very little storage gives us quite the “on display” look.
    Our daughters love to kid us that when the house explodes the total fence will contain everything. Is that comforting? I have a hard time parting with our “early attic” decor….
    the way we were! Hope your days are getting better. Always, Sheila

    • Hi Sheila, I’m happy to know you are a member of the I LOVE EVERYTHING! club. I’m always telling Jeff, “Look on the bright side, at least you never have to wonder what to buy for me.” 🙂 Seriously, I just have too much sentimental attachment to things. I too am into “early attic” décor, and Jeff and I furnished our first few homes in “generous relative” and still have some of those pieces today! We are all doing better and hope for a return to at least semi-normalcy soon. Thanks for being here, and have a great weekend!

  9. It sounds like you are letting your joy in giving inspire you to de-clutter. Good for you!

    • It probably sounds nobler than it is, and some days I’m definitely better at it than others! But it is easier to part with something if I think someone else needs or wants it. That’s why I love the book swap; some of the older, out-of-print titles are the ones that people request, and I get a big kick out of sending somebody a book they want but probably couldn’t find in a bookstore. Part of my tendency to hang onto things is an aversion to anything being wasted. I’m a compulsive recycler.

      • Russell Pierce

        Good morning Julia,

        I know this feeling all too well myself. I too have books, magazines, daily devotionals and just plain out junk to most people. A vast amount of the reading material really stood out at the time of reading and I just cannot seem to part with it. I keep thinking I will use it in a sermon or teaching down the road to only see it becoming larger and larger…Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue…maybe I will activate some of them in the near future and still be able to function with the loss.

        • Hi Russell, thanks for your visit here, and for your comment. I realized awhile back that much of what I am clinging to will never be used in the ways I tell myself I will, to justify saving things. One year I started with the resolution “use it or lose it” meaning anything I didn’t use for a year would get pitched. Clothes, books, whatever. It turned out to be too ambitious, but I think you are on to something when you speak of “activation.” It’s like when I am going through trying to clean stuff out, and I hear myself say “You will want to use that someday,” another part of me answers back “Oh yeah? Prove it. Now.” It does help to clarify! Thanks again for visiting us here.

  10. MaryAnn

    Ah! My Julia, yet another item we hold in common! I have been “working” on trying to de-clutter for more years that I can imagine! Some days, I almost have the mail under control, then small group is about to begin at our home, so I fill a box w/ “do-it-later” paperwork. Those are SO HARD to get back to actually doing…
    People are more important to you & me, as God fashioned us; so I am letting us off the hook. We can still make baby steps to improve: from one Clutter-Bug to another…

    • Yes, Mary Ann, baby steps are the key…also reminding myself that it’s better to write people NOW than spend time reading over old correspondence – though I love to do that too. I think those of us who are interested in so many different things are almost inevitably “collectors” of way more than we can handle – but you’re right, let’s cut ourselves a bit of slack and keep trying…


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