The secret shame of my obsession with decluttering

If you’re currently drowning in clutter at home, you’re not alone. A recent UCLA study showed it’s a huge problem for middle-class families.

“Managing the sheer volume of possessions – including clothing –  proved to be a crushing problem for the families … Mothers who lamented messy rooms or unfinished projects when describing their homes were more likely to have elevated levels of stress hormones.”


“The garage is the new ‘junk drawer’. Only 25 percent of garages could be used to store cars because they were so packed with household overflow.”

But what if you’re at the other end of the spectrum? What if you’re someone like me who declutters on a weekly basis? Is that a virtuous place to be?


While I send a lot of stuff to Vinnies and Good Sammy’s (thus making my clutter their problem), and while I use this service to deal with larger items in an environmentally responsible way, the secret shame of my constant decluttering is this:

A lot of the stuff I get rid of cannot be recycled, upcycled or go to a new/better home. A lot of it ends up in landfill.

So, hanging on to all of this stuff is not good for us.

But, constantly throwing away stuff isn’t good either.

What’s the solution?

We need to slow the rate at which we accumulate stuff in the first place. Here are eight suggestions for reducing stuff in your home:

1. Adults need to stop buying each other presents

Birthday gifts, thank you gifts, ‘thinking about you’ gifts – I understand the need to show someone you appreciate them, but all this appreciating is creating a great deal of junk and clutter. So: give vouchers, take them out for dinner, buy them a plant or make a donation in their name. There are lots of ways to show people love that don’t involve buying them something they don’t need.

2. Don’t accept free stuff

Unless it’s stuff you’ll actually use. Say no to the caps being handed out at the football clinic, free samples from the cosmetics counter, and ‘novelty’ anything. This is SO difficult when you have kids. But it’s also an opportunity to start a conversation with your kids about where these things end up once they’ve finished playing with them after 20 minutes.

3. Avoid fast/cheap fashion where possible

It’s very easy to buy a t-shirt for $15 and think ‘It doesn’t matter if I only get one summer out of it because it was so cheap.’ I know this because I’ve done it more times than I care to admit. It does matter, however. If you can’t wear that t-shirt anymore because it’s falling to bits, no one can wear that t-shirt and it goes straight to landfill.

4. Don’t do things that involve people buying crappy things for each other

Like Secret Santa. Yes, it’s hilarious to watch your boss open the doodle shaped cup that will deliberately spill their drink all over them. But that plastic piece of hilarity is going straight to their cupboard when they get home. And will find its way to landfill when next they move house.

5. Resist the urge to buy novelty souvenirs when on holiday

If you want a lovely reminder of your holiday, take lots and lots of photos. This will also help you avoid overweight luggage on your way home 🙂

6. Buying toys for other people’s kids

Before you do this, check with their parents. Do they even play with toys? Many kids don’t (my kids don’t really and it’s taken about three years to get my family to understand this!). If you’re desperate to be the hip auntie or uncle who buys cool gifts, buy things that build on each other, like Lego or train tracks. When your friend has a new baby, rather than getting them that beautiful baby book they’ll never fill in, get them a meal service or a cleaner for a day.

7. Don’t buy things that are for one-time use

See if you can borrow them from a friend or neighbour instead.

8. Choose to fix/clean things rather than buy new ones

I have two rugs at home. They were pretty cheap, less than $200 each. Both rugs are filthy and it will cost more to have them cleaned than simply buy new ones. We also have a couch that will be cheaper to replace than recover. It costs as much to re-sole a pair of boots or get a dress made one size smaller as it does to get new ones of those things. It’s not always in our means to repair things rather than getting new ones … but if it is, it’s an option we should consider.

An important end note

Understand that, no matter how vigilant and mindful you are, stuff will still find its way into your house. Especially if you have kids. So, you (and I!) can’t be all or nothing with this one. We can only do our best.

At the same time, it’s important to remember there is no magical place called ‘away’ (as my friend Alexx likes to say). If something’s being thrown ‘away’, it’s going to landfill.

If each of us takes small steps towards reducing what we send out to landfill on a daily basis, however, while also taking small steps towards being mindful about we let into our houses … we can remove the mental shackles of all that clutter whole doing a tiny bit for the planet too.

And, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know how avidly I believe in the power of many tiny changes adding up to something really worthwhile over time.