stuffed toys arranged in a diorama

What is clutter?

Clutter’s a slippery concept, because there’s no generic checklist, no boxes to tick. You can’t print out a list of things to declutter and know if you get rid of them, your home will be clutter free. You and you alone get to decide whether something in your home is clutter or not.

One way to decide is to run it through the love, want or need gauntlet. Let’s imagine my cupboards are knee deep in mugs.

  • I love one particular mug. That’s the one I reach for even if it’s right at the back of the cupboard.
  • I want to have enough mugs so if people came for coffee, we could all have a mug.
  • I need about eight mugs. For me, that means any more than eight mugs could be considered clutter.

Are projects clutter?

But what if I plan to use mugs to make adorable Christmas gifts this year? Before I keep on keeping them all, it’s helpful to consider:

  • How long have I had this idea for?
  • Why hasn’t it happened yet?
  • What are the odds this year will be any different?

Move these mugs out of the mug cupboard and take them to your projects area. Give yourself one more year. If they’re still hanging around unmade and ungifted this time next year, it’s official, they’re clutter.

What about sentimental items?

But what if six of those mugs were made by my adorable children for me in pottery class? What if the sight of those mugs has become so familiar that they all seem special?

Mugs you’re keeping for sentimental reasons but never use (too small, too big, not sure about the safety of the glaze) are clutter in your everyday cupboards. They become not clutter when you spread them through the house as pen jars and toothbrush holders. Proudly displayed on a shelf or in a glass fronted cabinet (down with dusting!), you can see them with different eyes. Do all six of my kids’ mugs make the cut or would one or two be just as good?

READ MORE >>> What to do with sentimental clutter

Everyone has different comfort levels for how much stuff they like to have around them. All I ask is that you consider whether you’re using or enjoying the things around you. There’s a world of difference between an attic filled with bags of stuffed toys that haven’t seen the light of day for decades and a creative display like the one I once found in a Louisville front yard.

stuffed toys diorama

Someone with quite the collection of stuffed animals decided to make dioramas to illustrate a favorite children’s book. They have a copy of the book out there and even a basket with flashlights in case you happen to come by when it’s dark and want to see better.

Bags of toys in the attic are clutter. A whimsical garden display created using those very same toys is joyful and creative.

Can your clutter can be transformed into something that brings you active joy? And if it can’t, can you release it so someone else can enjoy it?

by Lucy Kelly


  1. I love how you took the idea of clutter and separated it from the item, itself. Sometimes, it’s volume; sometimes, the thing can live on, but in a different space, or serving a different purpose. You really illustrated that, and I love your photo choices! Echoing what’s already been said, store by the why rather than the what!

  2. Oh boy… I have a mug problem, hahaha. Owl mugs specifically. I narrowed down to two recently. And you know what? I totally survived and still have photos of the others that bring me joy in a different way. It’s all about giving ourselves permission to let go and it looks different for everyone <3

  3. I just love how you broke down the issue of clutter step-by-step with a mug (s). It really helps the reader understand their choices and what they can live with and what they can live without.
    I’ve always thought it was a slippery slope between what we want and what we need. It takes some practice or a reality check to know the difference.
    I really liked what you said, “Everyone has different comfort levels for how much stuff they like to have around them.” Ain’t that the truth! I find that’s also true with couples that live together. It’s the Odd Couple syndrome. ( Are you too young to have known that series on TV?) Felix and Oscar were hilarious roommates that had a completely different relationship with Clutter.

    1. I’m probably not too young, but I grew up in another country (one with three TV channels!) so I didn’t watch the Odd Couple, but it feels like that’s how it goes – rarely do organizing styles mesh seamlessly.

      1. The Odd Couple is a classic comedy series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, based on the Tony Award-winning stage play by Neil Simon (and later multi-Academy Award-nominated film with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau). I encourage you to catch in on whatever service currently carries it, because it’s one of those essential classic series, along with The Dick Van Dyke Show for timeless humor.

  4. I always suggest honoring the person that those items make you think about. Honoring them means getting them out of the packing box and displaying them so you can see, remember and enjoy.

  5. Last week, I got rid of mugs that came with the everyday plate settings. They were never used and only pulled out when we had company which hasn’t happened in over a year. So, we got rid of 4 and now the cabinet is less full. YAY!

  6. As always, your post brought a smile to my face. What exactly is clutter? Each and every one of us may have a different generic definition but when it comes right down to it the things we don’t use and that are clogging our space, our minds, our flow, our creativity tend to be considered clutter. Your questions and prompts are terrific also.

  7. I love the way you go through the thinking and decision-making process. It’s the quality of the questions we ask that helps us make good decisions. Recently, I made my winter/fall to spring/summer clothing switch. I’m not sure why, but I have more spring/summer clothes than winter/fall ones. So my closet and drawers are feeling fuller than I’d like. I’m not sure I would call it “clutter,” but it feels like there is more than I actually need or will wear. I may try some of your questions to help me do another edit. Because I know how it goes. I tend to only wear 20-25% of the clothes I have. So what about the rest that barely get worn? Looks like I have some thinking to do. Thank you for the nudge.

  8. I love that little display. I’m resonating with your idea of the “why” you are keeping something. If we have it in boxes but can’t exactly say why, that’s not good enough. If we have intent and purpose, that helps us not only feel good about keeping it, but also helps us figure out where to put it. As you say, mugs we are keeping for a craft project don’t belong in the kitchen cabinet. The “why” is so helpful to clarify!

    1. I wish I could remember. Definitely a children’s book and although I know it wasn’t a Beatrix Potter, it reminds me of the Tale of Two Bad Mice, just for the pictures of the dolls house in that book.


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