What Motivates Us: Inspiration to Declutter

photo by MR+G on Flickr

Lately here the theme has been decluttering, with a look at tossing paper, and thoughts on keeping too many sentimental things.

It occurred to me that I’ve written more about the how-to’s and not as much about the motivation for it.  So let’s begin at the beginning.

Why would you make the effort to purposefully declutter your belongings?

Here are mine:  my personal top five reasons to declutter my stuff and have fewer things.

1. A sense of calm. When a home is crowded with stuff, it goes beyond cozy and starts to look messy.  If my home is a mess then I feel overwhelmed and stressed.  It’s also incredibly distracting from the people who I really want to be giving my attention to.

2. Personal beliefs. I have a personal conviction to live with less.  I enjoy the things I own, but I know there are so many people in the world who are hurting.  I don’t want to indulge myself excessively and disregard others who are going without.

3. A desire for experiences to look back on. My husband and I value fun, shared experiences more than having things.  It’s also nice that experiences don’t require regular dusting or maintenance.  We like to go places.  (Hey, I’m in New York this week.)

4. The freedom in flexibility. We could pack up our stuff at any time and move, because there’s just not that much of it.  We like to plan where and how we could move overseas at some point in the future. (It’s also one of our motivations for being completely debt-free.)

5. Free time. We don’t spend our weekends taking care of our stuff.  We don’t need to.

What are the significant reasons to you? Why do you want to have less, when everything in the world tells you to consume more?

Related reading: Resisting the Desire to Acquire

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Great idea to invite us to evaluate our motivations. Doing anything blindly, even “good” things, is of limited value.

    1. A sense of calm, just like you said. I can’t write it any better.

    2. Living small. A bit like your #2, but more rooted in “the number of square feet a person has a reasonable expectation to reserve for themselves.” I live in a dense city (San Francisco) so square feet/person matters here in a way that it doesn’t in rural areas. My household is currently operating at 300 sq ft/person. Fewer square feet = less room to put stuff = have less stuff! :)

    Those are the big motivations for me.

  2. 1. Definitely a sense of calm. It is like the feel of an ocean fresh breeze, or the fresh scent in a forest…….
    2. Freedom: The time that it frees in your life. If things are decluttered, you feel free to spend time doing other things that you need or want to do with out the guilt.
    3. Decluttering makes me happy! When I go into my recently decluttered kitchen, I feel happy.
    4. Gives me a good feeling of orientation in space. I don’t feel overwhelmed when things are decluttered. I don’t get that “dizzy” feeling of not being comfortable in my space….
    5. It makes my hubby happy too!!!!

  3. Free time – I always have way many projects going on. So less stuff means more time to deal with it my projects.

    I’ll also add a new reason: to teach my children to go through their stuff too! (I will be a better example than I had. My grandmother lived with us and even many years after living through the depression and kept EVERYTHING! I got guilted when I tried to get rid of things.)

    I love organizing and decluttering because it feels fresh and renewing.

    My last personal reason is that I want to consume less – this is part of the learning process. I want to be able to put my future as a priority instead of my stuff!

    Thanks for looking into this topic! It’s great to remind ourselves of these reasons – keeps the motivation going.

    Avlor’s last blog post..“Lightscoop” wanna be (for now)…

  4. Thanks for providing good food for thought.

    1. I’d rather spend my time with people than maintaining stuff.
    2. I want to use what I have so I eliminate the excess.
    3. I grew up in a home that saved everything because my parents remembered doing w/out during the Great Depression. It was a pain. You’d open a cabinet and stuff would spill out or you could never find what you needed but you knew you had it.
    4. Eliminating stress.

    Nancy’s last blog post..Defying the Force

  5. The less stuff I have, the less I need to clean/maintain/worry about/use which frees up my days to spend more precious moments with my family and less with my shtuff.

    Emily’s last blog post..Some Things About Things

  6. This is so hard for me–I am SUCH a pack rat, however I’m starting to de-clutter financially, so my house is following along–out of necessity, and out of influence, by the simple living/frugal blogs I’ve been reading.

    Mama Koala’s last blog post..Frugal Friday, The Sprout Edition

  7. These are some GREAT comments!

    Marcia “HDMac”‘s last blog post..Giveaways!!

  8. I vote for a sense of calm… nothing makes me feel better when my desk, counter top, dresser etc has no crap on it! excellent points!

  9. There is nothing more calming than coming home from work to a tidy, organised home..it’s de-stressing

    I hope you’re having a great time in NY Rachel :)

    laura @ move to portugal’s last blog post..Escaping the Rat Race

  10. smallnotebook says:

    Thanks Laura, we’re enjoying our time even though it’s raining.

    I agree Marcia, I love these comments to hear what everyone thinks!

  11. Right now my motivation is that I’m expecting my third child in 8 weeks…My older two kids are 3 1/2 years and 21 months, so they aren’t a HUGE help when it comes to keeping the house clean! The last few days I’ve really felt the push to clean out, de-clutter, and organize so that my home is as low-maintenance as possible (because who wants to clean when there’s a new baby to cuddle?)

    Love your blog, you have so many great ideas and inspirations!

  12. I get so frustrated if I can’t find something. An uncluttered house means that I know exactly where everything is and I don’t have to tear the house apart searching. Everything in my house should serve a purpose, and in it’s own way be valuable.

    Caroline’s last blog post..57/365 September 19 Weary soles and gnomes

  13. Great post, I really appreciate the advice I get on this and other blogs. I grew up in a ‘packrat’ home and just spent the day helping/forcing my mom to get rid of some junk (nicely I hope!).
    I hate going over there and being surrounded by piles of stuff. Its not fun to be around and she just can’t believe the difference after a good cleaning up and throwing away. (I bring the stuff home to the trash so she can’t have regrets or excuses!) I think it makes for a much happier home when things have their place and you know your stuff is not overwhelming you. If you have a hard time getting rid of stuff, recruit a friend to help you see what should go. :-)

  14. as I get older I notice that I want more free time just to rest and relax and not have to be ”busy” taking care of”things”.
    I think we tend to get slower at what we do (with age) so having less just means having more time to just ”be”=
    things must have a use of some kind in my home now= things are better but I still would be happy with ”less”
    I am rethinking and decluttering every time I now do a chore so the next time the chore will require less time -

  15. I have always been impressed with your blog. But now, knowing writing is not your background, I am blown away. You have such a clean, clear style, with plenty of serious content. And you definitely know your target audience. I see a future for you. Have you read Writer Mama?

  16. smallnotebook says:

    Deb, thank you. That truly means a lot to me. I haven’t heard of Writer Mama, but I’d love to get the link from you.

  17. I love all of your reasons for decluttering.

    For me, my biggest motivation and inspiration is your house ends up bigger when you get rid of what you don’t need. I love having spaces in my house with nothing there. We don’t live in a large house so I like the open feeling that you just can’t get if you have clutter. I don’t have a need (anymore) to fill every nook and cranny with something decorative. Its too much work to dust all of that stuff anyway.

    Monica’s last blog post..Do You Have a Cub Scout?

  18. Wow! Thanks for bringing up this interesting topic!

    Just looking at all the clutter and the thoughts of what could be disposed off, increases anxiety and tends to be a source of little stress.

    Best step to beat it – that I found useful – is to fight it at the root. Purchasing lesser things, questioning every time you look at something whether you need it, ‘trash’ing useless stuff early.

    In addition to the ones mentioned, I have a different reason the other way round.

    De-cluttering gives me a sense of small accomplishment and in turn motivates me to complete something bigger: like working on a task that I have been postponing for long, etc.


    apple b’s last blog post..Indian IT Act 2000 and encrypted information

  19. For me, when I started facing and resolving my emotional stresses, I found myself gradually purging my apartment of physical junk, as well. It seems there’s a very real relationship between our inner and outer lives. I went from being emotionally attached to all my stuff a decade ago to now having a futon as couch/bed and no pictures on the walls. I did learn the hard way that keeping some “just in case” stuff out of sight is less stressful than over-purging and having to replace. I’ve also found that keeping my living space clear can make it feel like a retreat. Ultimately, I’d love to have a space like my favorite yoga studio: beautiful yellow walls and cork flooring. I feel so calm and cozy there.

  20. Your #4 (The freedom in flexibility) is definitely one of mine as well. Two years ago we had a (vague) possibility of going overseas to study, and one of my first responses was “I can’t pack up all of our stuff and be ready 6 months from now!” That was really a wake-up call to me, and I’ve been trying since then to pare down our Stuff, so that we will be ready for any future opportunity.
    We did a lot of cleaning recently for a family visit, and it was very calm and soothing to sit in my nice clean living room — I’m trying to keep that feeling in mind and not let it get TOO cluttered again!

  21. Thanks for this email! the second one, the will to live with less is one of the main reasons I’m starting a challenge, partly inspired by your “no spend month” in july, for what’s left of 2008. It’d be great if you or some of your readers who did the challenge could check on us during this 94 days and give us some advice. I think we’ll need it!


  22. I really enjoyed this post. I have been in the process of decluttering for about 3 years now. At first it was hard, but the more I let go of the lighter I feel emotionally and timewise. I am learning that stuff is just that and if I get rid of stuff I do not use, don’t like or do not want to maintain the worst that happens is that I am left with things I use, love and give me pleasure. I have also been able to donate a lot of things to friends or others who needed them – so instead of sitting in a closet they are being used. Regarding papers – do you count books? In about 2 weeks I am going to do a bookswap at my house – everyone brings books they are not going to reread and a book bag and leaves with new to them books to read. Anything left over will be loaded into my van and taken to the charity truck. We all get to socialize for an afternoon and share resources – it is a win for everyone and I am looking forward to having some good rainy weather reading.

  23. smallnotebook says:

    Shelley, I haven’t included books in my paper pile makeover. I think they are in a category all their own. A book swap sounds like a great idea.

  24. YOU are a girl after my own heart!
    I’m so glad I found this site!
    I file and don’t pile. Even my fridge is clutter free.
    I don’t love money but I do like having it to take vacations and DO things.
    Great inspiration!!

    TabbyinTexas’s last blog post..28 Sep 08

  25. Decluttering is as much for the soul as it is for the home. It was the first thing we did as we begun our “Compact” vow.

  26. My motivation is similar to Francis. I too have a (divorced) mother and father who are packrats. Probably in one year, they use about 80% of their stuff. In my quest to not carry on this “disease”, I am evolving into a declutter-er.

    The other thing that motivates me to have less also stems from visiting with my parents. It literally makes me uncomfortable in their house because there is soooo much stuff.

    I love to have guests over at to our house, and I never want them to feel uncomfortable.

    My husband tells me all the time how much he appreciates this trait of my character. It makes us both live with less stress!!

  27. I really need to read and re-read your posts to get motivated. It’s almost overwhelming about where to start to get rid of things. Plus I work full-time and have an almost 17-mo. old daughter so there isn’t a lot of time left over. But maybe if I just do a little bit every night it will get done.

    My husband is always complaining about all the stuff. I admit, we do have a little bit :) but I want to go through it before I just toss it. And some things you don’t use all the time, just once a year and it would cost too much to go out and buy every year. Maybe if I just have it organized better so it’s not an eyesore.

    But you are an inspiration and I’m going to be working on de-cluttering. B/c I want more time with my family. And I’m going to work on a budget too. Thanks for that too.

    Rebecca’s last blog post..Creative Journals – $5.00 each

  28. Readers may wish to check out my De-Clutter Mind Map – which is free to download; it could serve as a checklist/reminder and offer inspiration and motivation to continue De-cluttering…..

    The Map can be found here:


    Kind regards


  29. After reading all these comments and other declutter blogs I finally got inspired to clear off the kitchen table which has been stacked full of junk forever.

    I took two hours to unload all of the magazines and newspapers that had piled up but I’m depressed again now because it doesn’t look like I even put a dent in the mess! I still haven’t gone through the tons of mail and paper clutter, I wanted to start off with the easy magazine route. I took about 40 magazines off the table but now they are in a corner in the living room. I threw away a ton of old newspapers, some dating back to 2003!

    I am already overwhelmed, this feels like an impossible task. I hope I can stay motivated throughout the week. :(

  30. smallnotebook says:

    Cherry, you’re doing great by starting with something easy. Each step will make things a little better than they were before, so it’s an improvement even if you can’t see the results right away. Just focus on one small space at a time. Good job on throwing away those newspapers! Decide what you want to do with those magazines before they find their way back, and know that they will always publish more. Look around and find one more thing that you can send out of your house. You can do it!

  31. Thank you for the encouragement, smallnotebook! I like that idea, to throw at least one thing out of the house every day. I think I can manage that.

    I also have a lot of broken gadgets that I’d like to get rid of (air conditioners, TVs, VCRs, etc.) but I really don’t want them to end up in a landfill. How do I recycle these big items? Any ideas?

    I will continue to attack the paper pile on my table. I hope to have it cleared off by this weekend.

    Thanks for creating this great blog!

  32. smallnotebook says:

    I know that air conditioners contain copper that a scrap dealer would be interested in. I don’t think the TVs or VCRs can be recycled (someone correct me if I’m mistaken). The thing is, as much as I don’t like adding to the landfill, it is so much better for trash to be in the landfill instead of in your home. I would consider renting a dumpster or calling the city about large-trash pickup. Cleaning out those big items will make a tremendous difference.

    • bluedogjump says:

      I highly recommend freecycle.org. If you find one in your area, you would be surprised by what people will take off your hands. If you don’t find one in your area, you can start one. You just post it (whatever you want to get rid of) and someone who needs it will come and pick it up. It is also a great place to go if you are looking for something yourself. Try and it and see how easy it is to start letting go! Good luck!

  33. I am planning to go overseas to teach – which I am very excited about.

    I decluttered tons of stuff – no problem.

    But now I am getting down to things that are harder to get rid of – things I love! Memory types of things.

    Large things to sell or toss out.

    Small things I could sell – but have no idea how to do so.

    I must get get rid of most things.

    I plan to store as little as possible.

    Any ideas?

  34. LP, that’s a great opportunity. I’m pretty sure you have already thought of my ideas.

    For the small things to sell, I would consider donating them and taking a tax deduction instead. I’ve found that the tax deduction usually saves me as much money as I would have made with a sale, but without the hassle.

  35. I’m late to the discussion, but I had to add that my biggest motivation today is clearing the clutter so DUSTING is easier. I hate vacuuming and dusting, and with so much clutter around, I am just not dusting at all. DH has allergies triggered by dust, so I’m affecting his quality of life by not dusting. How’s THAT for motivation!?

    Krys´s last blog post..Sleep Update

  36. Libraries LOVE to get new magazines and books to add to collection. Think of at it as sharing with others that will enjoy them…and you can always go check them out again :)

    I am on the decluttering road myself and find having my non-clutterbug best friend come “supervise” or even hang out with me while I do it helps me get more done. She’s good at asking me when the last time is I used it and do I reeeeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy need it. :)