jumbled puzzle pieces from three different puzzles on a brown table

Solving the decluttering puzzle

Living in a cluttered house is like sitting down to do a jigsaw puzzle. But you have three 1,500 piece puzzles mixed up in the box and only room on the table to do a 500 piece puzzle. Something’s got to give.

If you try to integrate all of your puzzle pieces into one puzzle, the puzzle’s going to fall off the table. Even if you’re not dealing with the world’s largest puzzle, there are too many pieces.

Some of these pieces belong to a puzzle you finished years ago

If you keep everything you’ve ever had or used, and try to fit it into your everyday space, you’re going to have a very full house.

Houses are for living in now. That’s their primary function. You wouldn’t move in somewhere that had tons of storage room but no stove, no space to watch TV, no shower or toilets.

Of course, we all have some treasures from the past we want to hold onto, but most of what we keep is for making life run smoothly now.

READ MORE >>> What to do with sentimental clutter

Some of the pieces belong to a puzzle you hope to have one day

We don’t have room to house all the possibilities that occur to us.

If you might like to knit one day, collecting armfuls of yarn is just taking up useful space if you never turn your attention to knitting.

Keeping a garage full of tools, screws, hoses, extension cords and the like in case you need them is helpful to a point. But if you never use them, and you can’t fit the car in your garage, you’re housing the future instead of the present.

How to do today’s organizing jigsaw puzzle

If you deal with your sentimental items and edit your supplies for umpteen possible futures, you’ll be left with the things you love, want and need. There may be too many of those, but decluttering and organizing those things will give you a home where you can find what you’re looking for, and open the front door without wincing.

To read more about how that works, head over to How to declutter and organize. I break it down with simple, concrete examples of how you really declutter.

What if you want to keep all the pieces and still finish the puzzle?

I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible. If you despair of your clutter, but are unable to let any of it go, it may be time to bring in a therapist. They’ll help you get past whatever’s making your brain think it needs all your stuff for your survival. 

I know it sounds silly, but on some level, part of your brain has gotten the idea that saving all this stuff is keeping you safe. Let a therapist help you untangle that data glitch so you can get the clutter out of your space.

What if you love all your puzzle pieces more than you want to complete the puzzle?

If you realize that you enjoy endlessly trying to do impossible puzzles, why then your clutter is serving you very nicely indeed.

It’s keeping you off the streets, giving you a good reason not to do other things, possibly keeping people you don’t care for away from your space.

If this is you, please keep the pathways clear for safety’s sake and carry on trying to turn three puzzles into one to your heart’s content.

READ MORE >>> The importance of clutter

If other people are bothering you to do something about the clutter, you might want to forward them this article about how they can stop doing that.

How many puzzle pieces are you trying to cram onto the table?

If you’d like some help figuring out which pieces can stay and which can go, and what to do with the rest, let me know.

by Lucy Kelly


  1. I like you analogy of clutter to puzzle pieces. I can’t see it clearly, how people move things around without being able to complete anything. It’s a good way to introduce the idea to clients.

  2. “But if you never use them … you’re housing the future instead of the present.” Wow, what a great quote! It really resonated with me. I like your firm stances on what is and is not possible when it comes to having too much stuff. Great article!

  3. Love the puzzle analogy. It can even go further in that you often don’t know where to start when you look at a box full of individual pieces. The best strategy is to pick a strategy (edge pieces or a prominent feature of the puzzle, etc.) and go for it. The same is true for decluttering. It doesn’t really matter where you start, but you have to start somewhere to make progress. Once you get started decluttering, the space starts to take shape in the same way a puzzle starts to become a coherent image as you slowly put the pieces in place.

  4. Well, I could live in a home without an oven. Easily. But otherwise, your guidance is impeccable! 😉 I’m giggling at “It’s keeping you off the streets” but for some people, the endless struggle is not only real, but really acceptable. For the rest, your advice is golden. If people could focus on what they truly need in the moment, in the lives they’re living now, and limit the puzzle pieces of the past and the aspirational pieces for future puzzles, they’d be so much more at ease.

  5. I love what you said, “Houses are for living in now.” Clearly, we need some of those puzzle pieces, but teasing out which ones can be the tricky part. I love the analogies you made between puzzles and our stuff (or clutter.) I’m not so great at putting together actual puzzles, but with the physical stuff of life and helping others to find what’s meaningful, I am good at doing. I LOVE doing that- asking the questions, teasing out the important things, and finding systems and homes for the keepers. It’s funny because I often think about organizing a house or a space as a giant puzzle.

    Maybe I should reframe my idea that I’m not good at puzzles? I guess it depends which type. 🙂

  6. Golly, Lucy. That would be impossible to first sort the puzzles, then decide which one to work on and which to donate. I love the analogy. You are absolutely correct when you say we live NOW. What served us in the past may not be what is still useful. So let it go to someone else who will put it to good use. Also, hanging onto things to use (maybe) in the future is futile. Who knows what the future may bring? These are important things to remember.

  7. I totally agree! I compare smaller houses this way as well. I have a smaller home, so I have to declutter every year or so. And, stick with just the things I want to use or keep. Even the keepsakes get filtered. I am starting to scan my photos from albums so I can add them digitally and get rid of the binders. This is a big project for me since I took pictures through out my childhood and have a lot of events that I may or may not want.

  8. This is a great metaphor. I’m sitting here thinking how incredibly frustrating it would be for me to be trying to put pieces of disparate puzzles together! That is how our stuff can feel. So much better to have a few puzzles, with their pieces clearly separated and that can be successfully assembled that pieces to many puzzles that just won’t fit together!

  9. Your comparisons are so apt! Thankfully not dealing with so many puzzle pieces, and the ones I have are falling into place, thanks to you. ❤️