5 Times You Don’t Need to De-Clutter


What the heck is it with all this sycophantic love for the art of de-cluttering!? I know they say that cleanliness is next to Godliness, but the only people that can know that for sure are dead, and I don’t trust dead people, do you?

I know that most of us in the western world have way too much stuff. The upkeep of said stuff can weigh us down, no doubt. But the pendulum can swing the other way. This obsession with de-cluttering can make us feel like the only right way to live is to sell everything we own and spend the rest of our lives living out of a backpack.

I did that once, by the way. And it was AWESOME. But it couldn’t last forever. I had kids. And having kids means having a home and all the things that come with it. It means ferreting away rock collections, half-coloured drawings, and bits of shiny-sparkly shrapnel found on a walk – to the back of the cupboard. It means waiting for the precise moment (of exactly 21-days to the minute – the time from whence they last mentioned those items) to signal that it’s safe to throw those things away without suffering the wrath of hoarder-children.

Personally, I love throwing stuff out. Or recycling or donating it. It makes me feel good. It frees my mind. But it’s a delusion really. My stress doesn’t come from having too many clothes or knickknacks. But for some odd reason, getting rid of excess stuff makes me feel like I’m shedding stress. Even though I’m not, really.

On the other hand, I know many people who struggle with de-cluttering. Its hard work for them and completely overwhelming. They like their stuff. They don’t feel better by shedding it – in fact, they feel weighed down by the very notion of getting rid of it.

To those people I say, consider this post a permission slip. It’s not always a good thing to de-clutter your home. And actually, there are a few occasions when it’s actually a bad idea:

1. When it doesn’t actually bother you or the people you live with

The whole point of the de-cluttering movement is to make our busy and stressful lives easier. If your stuff isn’t getting in your way or bogging you (or anyone you live with) down – then leave it alone.

2. When it’s an organized mess – you know where everything is

Assuming point number one is true for you, then another reason to leave your clutter alone is when it’s what we call an “organized mess”. Personally, I can’t cope with too many visual distractions. Visible clutter invades my brain and makes it hard for me to think clearly. But that’s just me. I know many people who know exactly where everything is in their piles and heaps. Those people, often, struggle to find things when they do put stuff away.

If you can access the stuff you need, exactly the way it is – don’t worry too much about changing it.

3. When your mess inspires your creativity

Creative people are often connoisseurs of the artefacts they have created, or the works of others that inspire joy. That’s what a home should be about – inspiration and joy. If you feel those things from a minimalist palette – then start de-cluttering. But if you’re more of an eclectic who’s inspired by many different things – keep your collage of stuff and don’t worry about it.

4. When de-cluttering is procrastinating on getting the real work done

I’m super guilty of this. Usually, when I start de-cluttering, it’s because I have something difficult I need to do, and I just can’t face it. Cleaning makes me feel like I’m taking charge, but really I’m just avoiding the thing I really need to do.

Avoid the procrastination trap. If you can work in the mess, then… work in the mess. You can always de-clutter later.

5. When it costs more to de-clutter than it’s worth

It should be cheap and easy to get rid of stuff, but that’s not always the case. I know that most experts say that if you haven’t used something in a year, you probably don’t need it. Sometimes, though, you might need that thing once every two or three years, but that thing would cost far too much to replace each time you needed it. So keep it.

Likewise, if its going to cost and arm and leg to de-clutter, by way of expensive storage systems or hired advice from an organizing-professional, then maybe it’s not worth it. This is especially the case if all the previous statements I’ve made are true for you.

While de-cluttering can be a godsend for many people who are struggling to keep on top of their lives, it’s not a panacea. Sometimes, the best way forward is to learn how to navigate around or through the mess, rather than simply getting rid of it. What are your thoughts on clutter? Yay or nay? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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4 comments on “5 Times You Don’t Need to De-Clutter

  1. Bravo! Bravo!

    My genius dad would refer to those true organizing occasions as clearing the “gridlock”; like you said, WHEN it actually impeded progress. I’m so grateful you wrote this JUST BEFORE I DOVE IN to my “bouquets” of inspiration. My “studio world” is small enough (3′-7′) with key files, corner laptop and lamps, etc, I WOULD feel “more pain than the result would be worth”, though boxing up some as “decor” would be all right.

    Except: The few bits ARE at “THE core” of my art and writing series-to-be, treasured findings along the way, etc. The biggest aim I have is reclaiming/reviving *that* adventurous, laughing, carefree KID SPIRIT inside.

    At age 12 I was told I was “too old for toys” and to give them away (long story, doesn’t matter anymore). But I’m NOT too old to want to have a goodly amount of “play” while I can! The other, more fun, parent’s motto was “Be all you can be and enjoy every minute of it!” (also a Biblical thing, whether he knew it or not!).

    Anyway, THANKS for the timely and important permission/reminder. They can take my “clutter” from my cold, dead studio! 😉


    1. I agree Gwyn – you are NEVER too old for toys (as my husband continually reminds me!) I’d love to hear more about your writing series-to-be!

  2. Well, decluttering!!
    When living alone, like at Grad school, I discovered where my “high water line” was…so that book or whatever, was always where I left it..

    .Of course when rearing young ones, the “line” had to change if I ever wanted to see that thing again!

    At work, as I was an Art teacher, too much tidyness, reduced creativity! My rationization???

    So, when and where counts!
    Also, who else shares the space, IS VERY IMPORTANT! as everyone’s idea of tidyness is a “value judgement”. For some, it even incllude “dust”…especially if they have alegies. Oh well, c’est la vie!

    1. I don’t think that’s a rationalization Don, as an Art teacher you have first hand insider knowledge on the essence of the creative process. That’s a great point about “where and when” – there are times and places where tidy is important, and other times and places when clutter may just give us the creative advantage. I’d love to hear more about your experience as an Art teacher. Did you ever notice a correlation between your most highly creative students and – say – their organization of their work space?

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