Avoid Decluttering by Keeping the Clutter Out Altogether

decluttering and minimalism
source: Annie Mole

Hi. My name is Mandi, and I am a habitual declutterer. Every few months, I begin to feel this uneasiness as closets and drawers naturally move from order toward disorder, and I begin my cycle of organizing and decluttering my home once again.

Without fail, I’m always surprised by the size of my giveaway pile, and each time I wonder where all of the stuff has come from.

Lex, a Life Your Way reader, recently brought this up in the comments of my post about 5 things I’m not willing to declutter:

Is decluttering just an excuse for us to get rid of stuff that we have needlessly accumulated in the first place? What if we didn’t buy more than we needed – would we still need to declutter?

I think those are great questions, and I’ve been examining our purchasing decisions and the things I’m decluttering more carefully since reading them. Sometimes, it’s that my closets and drawers are getting emptier with each decluttering session because I’m becoming even more ruthless over time. Othertimes, though, there’s new stuff competing for the space and making it feel cluttered.

To that end, I’m being more intentional about the purchase I do — and don’t — make. Let’s look at some of the sources of new clutter and how we can deal with it before it enters our homes:


Gifts are often the number one source of new clutter in our homes. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that giving gifts is a way to show someone you love and care for them, and I’m not saying that all gifts are bad or should be viewed as clutter. However, too many gifts can be a bad thing, and when you have six grandparents, two doting aunts and four great-grandparents — like my girls do — the sheer amount of gifts for birthdays and Christmas can be overwhelming.

There are tons of clutter-free gifts, though, and you can always add these to your gift lists when people ask for suggestions:

  • Experiences. Rather than toys, consider experience gifts such as a bowling date or weekend at Grandma’s house. The memories will last long after the toy is outgrown, and it’s a great way to strengthen relationships while cutting down on the clutter.
  • Group Gifts. Group gifts work best at Christmas or with older kids who understand that a gift is for their birthday even when it’s several months away (and therefore won’t be disappointed when their actual birthday rolls around with no gift). A game console for the entire family or a special vacation are great group gift ideas that don’t add to the clutter in your home.
  • Consumables. Art supplies, in my opinion, make the absolute best gifts for younger children. My girls spend hours a day doing arts & crafts, and art supplies include the joy of unwrapping a gift plus the added benefit of being consumable so they only add to the clutter temporarily before they’re used up. Open-ended art supplies also invite kids to use their imagination to create and experiment, which is really valuable in and of itself.
  • Books. Okay, I’m a bit biased, but I don’t consider children’s books to be clutter — no matter how many of them you have — and so I think they make great gifts!
  • No Gifts. As odd as it may seem, we’ve started asking for “no gifts please” at our girls’ birthday parties. Their friends often still bring them a card or picture, but we enjoy celebrating together without the pressure or expense of gifts, not just because it cuts down on clutter but also because it helps our girls enjoy the celebration rather than just looking forward to the gifts.

At the end of the day, though, it’s important to keep people’s feelings in mind, and dealing with a few extra gifts to protect a relationship with someone you care about is a no-brainer. Be flexible and loving and appreciate the thought behind the gifts that people give, even if it just looks like more clutter to you!

Impulse Buys & Chotchkies

Earlier this week I had to run into the dollar store to pick up some supplies for VBS, and I was shocked by my instant reaction to the “Everything’s $1” signs. I found myself scanning the store for other things to buy, even though I had a very specific list of things to get.

I don’t think I’m the only one who falls into the trap of feeling like I should buy or stock up on something just because it’s cheap. We may feel like we’re being good stewards of our finances by doing that, and there’s a time and place for responsibly stockpiling the items your family will truly use, but cheap stuff still has a cost; it just happens to be a time and space cost rather than a monetary cost!

Upgrading Stuff You Already Have

The other thing I’ve noticed is that I often get the itch to upgrade or replace something simply because I can.

A perfect example of this is my gardening set, which Sean bought me a couple of years ago for my birthday. The shovel was pretty much useless from the start, bending out of shape any time I tried to use it, and the hand rake began to rust after being left in the rain for a couple days.

I purchased a separate shovel from Lowe’s, and the set (with the replacement shovel) is still perfectly functional, but it’s not all cute and matchy-matchy anymore. When I was given a RedEnvelope.com gift card, I found myself drawn to their cute, monogrammed gardening set, but at the end of the day, I decided there was no reason to upgrade. Sure, I could, and it wasn’t like I was wasting my money on the purchase, but I’d be adding unnecessary clutter or throwing things out in the process, and that just didn’t sit right with me as I considered my motivations.

I’m not saying that it’s always bad to upgrade something you already have or buy a quality replacement for a cheap item in your home. But I do think it’s worth examining our motives rather than just purchasing the latest and greatest whatever just because we can.

Searching for the Perfect Solution

Similarly, the number one trap that “organizing junkies” often fall into is the quest for the perfect organizing solution. One month they use baskets or jars to try to solve a challenge in their home, but the next month they find a set that fits better and will surely address all of their organizing angst.

Sometimes an organizing solution can make all of the difference, solving a problem that’s been plaguing the area or reducing your frustration with your current system. The danger, though, comes from immediately purchasing every great idea you come across. In most cases — unless you already know exactly what you’re looking for — it’s best to wait a few days or weeks to really consider how it will work and whether it really fits what you’re looking for. And sometimes good enough is good enough and there is no “perfect” solution.

Decluttering is a valuable tool for simplifying your home and life, no doubt. But examining your purchasing decisions and not buying something in the first place addresses the bigger issue and ultimately leads to less clutter and less time and energy wasted on stuff.

Have you found yourself decluttering just to make room for new stuff?