Clutter, why?

Clutter isn’t about what we have, it is about why we have it. 

We acquire stuff for many reasons, aesthetics, functionality, sentimental, recreation and entertainment and even societal, just to name a few. In fact those few reasons just about account for most of the excess stuff in our lives. So lets just take a closer look at them.

Aesthetics ~ The stuff we enjoy mostly because it is pleasing to the eye such as art and décor items, fashion accessories, jewellery.

Functionality ~ These are items we acquire that are useful to us in some way, generally to make our lives simpler or more comfortable.

Sentimental ~ Things we acquire because they bring back fond memories

Recreation & Entertainment ~ The stuff accumulated under this topic is many and varied, CDs, DVD’s, sporting equipment, toys and the list goes on.

Societal ~ This accounts for those items that we acquire because of the culture we live in. And of course they aren’t always necessities and as members of society we just end up falling in line with the trend and acquire them whether we need them or not.

So let’s now have a look at some very typical items that fall into one, or even several, of these categories…

Clothing ~ This falls into every category. Western society dictates that we don’t get around in public naked. So we wear clothing for its function of covering us up. And while choice of what we acquire is partly dictated by the situation the particular garments are required for (recreation, work, evening functions etc) a big part of what we choose is driven by our aesthetic preferences. Where this gets out of hand is when we desire an abundance of variety in that aesthetic and buy way more clothing than we really need. Also aesthetics gets us into trouble when we disregard what suits our “particular kind of beauty” and buy items because they just look good. These items often end up rarely if ever used. And then there can also be clothing items that we relate to special occasions that we keep for sentimental reasons long after they are useful to us.

Kitchen Gadgets ~ These of course have a function, the question is whether or not we actually have a “need” for that function. Once again Western Society tends to dictate that life is easier if we have a tool that speeds up performing every little task required of us. And it is the job of advertisers to convince us that such items can actually do this for us by only showing us the upside, imagined or not, of owning such items. Hence we end up with a gazillion single-use kitchen gadgets that we only “require” once in a blue moon that don’t really save us enough time to warrant the amount of room they take up, the time wasted trying to find the one you “need”  among all the others or the money wasted on acquiring them.

Entertainment Items ~ For a society of people who seem to work endlessly to “make ends meet” we sure do seem to acquire and require an lot of stuff to fill the spare time we are always complaining we don’t have. I often wonder how many of the dollars we earn from those hours spent working are used to acquire stuff we don’t really even need and sometimes don’t even use much before the novelty wears off. Although rest, recreation and entertainment are essential to a healthy lifestyle it seems counterproductive to work our butts off in the first place to cater too it excessively. Fortunately music, movies and games can be enjoyed digitally these days so we don’t actually have to clutter our homes with them. And although televisions screens seem to be getting bigger and bigger they are also getting slimmer and slimmer so they don’t really take up that much room. Computers, phones and also music players have also shrunk over the last 3o years however where once we used to have one of each of these things we, in Western Society, now usually have at least one for every person in the house. And then there is also the variety of of sport and exercise equipment available to us, the clothing to go along with that. And then there are the bags etc required to tote all this stuff around ~ laptop, tablet and phone cases, sports bags, handbags, backpacks… Yikes!

Keepsakes and souvenirs ~ Although these have a function, to remind us of special occasions, good times and loved ones, collections of them can often get out of hand. We even find ourselves accumulating them against our own better judgement because they are another one of those things that society tends to dictate that we should be passionate about. We go on vacation so we “should” get a souvenir from every place we visit. We go to a funeral or wedding and isn’t it respectful to keep the service booklet? Wouldn’t it be wrong to throw out even one picture your child brought home from school, their report cards or any of those band concert programs with your child’s name in it? The answer is no it is neither disrespectful, heartless to dispose of these things nor necessary to have a physical reminder of every vacation or event you ever attended. Sure keep some reminders, the most treasured ones, but not all. It is possible to be sentimental without being cluttered.

Décor items ~ A bed is a functional item that assists us in having a good night sleep. A pillow makes us that bit more comfortable and blankets keep us warm in the cold times. However that is where the functionality of the bed ends, throw rugs and cushions are décor items. Trinkets, art, artificial plants, etc, etc are also just aesthetic items we can either chose or not to adorn our homes. If they didn’t exist we wouldn’t care but once again society and advertising comes into play very much when it comes to the plethora of choice there is out there. And again, they cost money, they require maintenance and the novelty of them tends to wear off over time at which we spend more money switching them out for something new.

Today’s Mini Mission

I starting out writing this post to point out all those things in our lives that we think we need but really don’t and why we acquire them. And sure most of them do add to the enjoyment and comfort in our lives. However there is always a point where enough is enough and beyond that we are just working too hard to be able to afford all this excess and spending too much time maintaining stuff. Not to mention the detrimental effort that producing all this excess has on the environment.

So think twice about continuing to acquire at such a pace for your own wellbeing as well as that of the planet you occupy. And also pass on some of that excess while it is still useful to someone else so they don’t go out buying new. And I will leave you with a great quote I unexpectedly stumbled upon this week just to get life into perspective…

“We are not made rich by what we possess but by what we can do without.” Immanuel Kant

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

  • How little we really need Every time I go on a long vacation I am reminded of how little one really needs to live a comfortable and functional lifestyle. My husband and I often stay in Airbnb places when on […]
  • Getting the stuff out of your home It has come to my attention, both through comments on my blog and through real life experience, that one of the issues people have with their clutter, once they finally decide to be rid of […]
  • You just never know. Firstly I would just like to apologise for my recent extended absence from the blog this month. Unfortunately my mother took ill and I rushed off interstate to visit her in hospital and to […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Awesome, thought-provoking post!
    Love the quote. I remember a quote that I read awhile back although I do not remember its author, “We are only rich when we have something that money can’t buy”.
    I was just talking about a very good friend who lost everything he owned in a fire that consumed the apartment building in which he lived. All of his friends, me included, were able to furnish his apartment with furniture and everything from soap to towels that one NEEDS for daily living with our excess. We even supplied artwork and decor items. Many also contributed cash which he was able to use to purchase new clothing. Oh, the excess!

    • I am sorry to hear of your friends situation but how wonderful that you could make up for a lot of his loss simply by everyone handing over some of their excess. How little we really need is amazing.

  2. I enjoyed this post, Colleen – you provided much food for thought. What you wrote reminded me of the Diderot Effect (the French philosopher Denis Diderot wrote an interesting essay on ‘Regrets on parting with my old dressing gown’), where the purchase of one item usually leads to the purchase of others. Buying a lovely skirt, for instance, could lead to purchasing that equally lovely matching top, as well as that pair of shoes that are “just perfect”, followed by that outstanding pair of earrings that will make the entire outfit pop.

    • Oh, and that was a great quote!

    • Nicole,
      I was just talking to my Mother about the Diderot effect in regards to home furnishings.

      • Hi, Kimberley. Whether it involves clothes, home furnishings or technology, it’s very much like a whirlwind that feeds on our desire for more, isn’t it?

    • Colleen Madsen

      I have heard of Diderot Effect before and as far as I can see it is true. Acquiring is an odd thing, that instant gratification seems to override common sense of how purchases affect us in the future. For example, spending too much on stuff we don’t need and then no having enough to pay for the things we do.

      • The dark side of instant gratification and the culture of impatience, as if everything needs to be on steroids.

    • This was interesting Nicole! I had never heard of the Diderot Effect so sure enough I found it on Wikipedia and even made the effort to read Diderot’s essay which was good for me as these days I am a bit lazy about reading in French. I love how Colleen’s blog and everyone who comments here has enriched my life with encouragement and support, interesting ideas and new ways of looking at things, and all manner of quotes and literary references!

  3. Excellent post!!! Also there needs to be some sort of balance between the categories. Ask yourself, do my sentimental and aesthetic items (or whichever) noticeably outnumber my functional items.

  4. Thanks Colleen, this is a great post to get us thinking about what we have and why.

    What you said about it being possible to be sentimental without being cluttered is so true. I am finding that the fewer sentimental items I own, the more I appreciate them.

  5. A very inspiring post Colleen. I do like being encouraged to think of a situation from a different perspective. I’ve been struggling this week to remove 3 mugs from my cupboard because they all remind me of people I love ( sentimental). Why I need a mug to remind me of them is a bit ridiculous, considering I see them regularly and I have photos! I’ll still have 14 mugs left when these three go. Mugs seem to be one of my difficult areas. Sigh. Ok. I’ll be brave now and mugs take the mugs to the charity shop. Someone else can love them. De-cluttering does through up some interesting thought blockages.

    • Hi Salley,

      if I may jump in and give my two cents to it (in german I would say, I give my mustard to it).
      If you are truly ok with removing sentimental items from your kitchen, then do it. (btw, I hear you with the mug thing). I personally can recommend to remove everything BUT the sentimental ones. Use those mugs every single day. When they break, you will not be sorry. after all “you used them up” and they died a natural death.
      I personally have reduced my number of kitchen items. it was a little impulsive, but it was so worth it: I packed AWAY everything but one glass, one mug, one plate, etc. I stored the rest in boxes so that I could easily grab the thing I really need. It took some weeks to unpack and adjust and after that I rarely looked in my boxes. After one and a half year (time flies!) I donated two thirds of my former kitchen. perfectly fine items, but I didnt need them. There were a couple of sentimental items that I got rid of, but only because I really never needed them.
      although I had others, I actually kept the blue mugs that are from my grandparents. I love those mugs, because they are not just functional, but I find them pretty, why I took them in the first place and then finally they remind me of people I loved.

      thinking about it – I think I prefer my items to not serve only one catergory that Colleen described, but multiple. like my mugs.

  6. Very thought provoking post. I’ve struggling with some shower gel my oldest granddaughter gave me for Christmas( both functional & sentimental). I developed a rash & can only use Dove products. I started using the gel to scrub down my shower…I mean it’s soap after all. The item still remains functional and is part of my use it up challenge.

    There are several items I need to view through the new lenses you presented. Great post & quote.

  7. Your opening sentence about the “why” not “what” defines clutter. Post starts off strong & insightul and keeps on going.
    I can’t tell you the # of things I’ve given away in recent years, originally purchased solely bc society said a household needs x y z (good china for example)
    Great post

  8. Ann from Boston

    Hi Colleen!
    This was a great inspiring post. Well done!!
    I was just looking at the Wayfair shopping sight and considering buying a bookcase for the living room.
    Why? Because it was recommended by a friend. Then, I saw that there was a new email from you. I stopped to read it and it reminded me that I need to go through my books and donate some of them. That would indeed, lessen my need to display so many books….in essence, it would remove the need for a new, larger bookcase. How quickly we can get caught up in buying bigger and better. You email was so timely and so appreciated. Thanks!

  9. Excellent post. Very thought provoking. Lots of great thoughts in here to share with others. two days and I am moving into my temporary digs. Will be really glad when I get into my final apartment.

    • Wishing you all the best with your move Deb J! How wonderful to be able to enjoy the culmination of all your decluttering and planning. Hope you don’t have long to wait for your apartment.

  10. Thanks for another interesting post Colleen! I often think that there is something very random about my clutter, but it is all too easy to give items an importance that they don’t deserve and that makes it harder to part with things. I’m thinking of gifts – for all I know a gift that I received was purchased in haste, just because the person felt obliged to come up with something for a birthday or other occasion, or it may have been something they already had in case a gift-giving situation suddenly arose. But then I assign a special sentimental value to it, or keep it out of guilt or obligation, thus giving some random object an unwarranted emotional hold over me. I am trying to see this randomness in many of my possessions, it seems to help me to overcome my attachment to them.

  11. Great post, Colleen!

    I find that certain people are most attracted to different specific reasons, and that can take on some interesting dynamics especially in a family situation. I definitely gravitate towards functional items, and my wife aesthetic, while our parents focus on sentimental things. Thanks for the insights.


  1. […] You can read more of Colleen’s thoughts on why we have clutter here: Clutter, Why? […]