old potatoes with shoots coming out of them

Mindful decluttering

When it comes to decluttering, the focus is usually on how things look.

  • Look at that bedroom!
  • I can’t see the bed!
  • I don’t see how all those clothes can possibly fit in the closet.

But we have five senses and they all come into play when deciding what to do with clutter. Paying attention to what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you feel and what you taste is a mindful way to take a step back from the emotions that might surround an object.

That baby blanket is so soft and brings such good memories of holding your newborn. The very sight of such a treasure warms your heart. And yet the persistent streak of mildew that runs through it gives the blanket a musty, dank odor. Your sense of smell has stepped in to protect your health and override the feedback from your other senses. The blanket has become clutter.

Your sense of touch

You notice a pile of papers. The sight of them scattered across the counter may be what prompts you to act but when you feel the sticky sensation of caked-on dust and grease on the papers, that’s your sense of touch reinforcing the need to deal with those papers.

Ever step on something sharp? The searing pain in the arch of your foot as you step onto a piece of Lego can be one of the strongest motivators you’ll ever have to declutter your carpet.

When you sink down into your recliner only to bounce back up as the hard corner of a book jabs your thigh, that’s your sense of touch pointing the way to the need for decluttering.

Find one sharp, sticky or otherwise uncomfortable item and either move it where it won’t hurt you or let it go.

Your sense of hearing

Clutter may not physically yell at you, but when something is too noisy for you to use, it’s become clutter. A shrill alarm clock could be useful but if you never use it because it makes your head hurt, it’s clutter to you. If you can no longer hear the gentle buzz of a timer, that timer has become useless to you.

When you review your music collection, your sense of hearing will step forward to help you make decisions. The sight of a CD triggers the sound of its music in your head. Pleasant memory or jarring music you no longer enjoy? There’s no need to hold onto music that no longer gives you pleasure.

What are you keeping that you’ll never listen to again? See if you can find a CD that no longer makes you smile.

Your sense of smell

Moldy potatoes, bread with green spots, and trash that should have been emptied last week all create an unmistakable aroma that tells you it’s time to declutter the pantry. As we age, our sense of smell becomes less acute. Those potatoes might not smell so rancid to us anymore but we can feel that the skin is wrinkly and the potatoes are soft. We see there are long eyes protruding from the potatoes. We definitely don’t want to chance tasting them at this point and we can almost hear the other residents of the pantry voting to kick those potatoes out.

What smells bad in your house? Take it to the trash. If it’s the trash itself, empty that trash can right now.

Your sense of taste

One of the reasons so many of my clients have cans of expired food languishing in their pantries is because they never want to be without food. The sight of all those cans feels comforting.

And one of the reasons they’re still around to debate the merits of keeping all those old cans with me is because if they were ever to open one and try to eat the contents, their sense of  taste would leap into action to stop them eating anything rotten which could poison them.

How much old food are you storing that you still didn’t use when the pandemic hit? Find something in your pantry that’s been through at least three major crises and never been called into action. Thank it for trying to protect you and then let it go.

Each person is going to have an instinctive preference to use one of their senses first. Honoring that and then remembering to use all your available senses will help you make mindful decluttering decisions.

READ MORE >>> How to declutter and organize

by Lucy Kelly


  1. Such a vivid sensory reminder of all the ways we can be triggered to improve our surroundings. I tend to focus on function and forget about aesthetics (a bit too much), so I will keep your visceral approach in mind!

  2. Using the five senses as a way of encouraging decluttering decisions is a wonderful guide. So often our reaction to clutter is visceral. I love the perspective you offer with considering clutter from how our senses respond. When it’s not favorable, that can be used as an indicator for either letting go or reorganizing systems.

  3. This reminds me of a project I did with a blind woman. She needed help going through her closet. She wanted to get rid of pieces that were stained or looking worn, but she couldn’t see them. It was a delightful experience. What fascinated me was that she knew every piece she owned by touch. She could identify a piece by the feel of its tag, the satin trim around the neck, or the shape of the buckle. I came to truly value the sense of touch, and the power it has!

    1. What a powerful experience, Seana! I got very good very quickly at accurately describing tiny electronic pieces for a client with low vision. It made me realize how sloppy we can be with our verbal descriptions when we know we can use our sense of sight. Once you can’t say, it’s that shiny thing on the table, you have to get specific and precise.

  4. I’ve been through a number of blogs in my quest for tips, but your posts are the ones which resonate the most with me. 🌸
    Btw, after some pictures I see of cluttered rooms I breathe a sigh of relief, thinking my task isn’t that uphill 😉

  5. You are really a master at picking out areas that need decluttering and showing how it can be achieved. Love your posts, and hope to get there albeit slowly.