An Honest Mom's Take on Clutter Control

I recently did something I had thought about for years but never had the courage to go through with. I wanted something so badly, yet kept convincing myself not to get it because I wouldn’t use it. If I spotted one in another driveway while driving through town I would feel a twinge of envy—and a hint of shame for not fulfilling my dream. I finally decided this was the year. Another birthday was around the corner, the world was a mess, and so was my life. No dear readers, I did not buy a Harley-Davidson. My mid-life crisis was renting a dumpster.

It was a glorious five days together and my life will never be the same.

You may be scratching your heads a bit, I get it. Hopefully once I’m done explaining, you will too.

By now you’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing guru and author of the bestseller that sparked a revolution, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.”

What this book did really well was address the personal relationships we have with our things. She lists just two reasons why we have difficulty letting something go: attachment to the past and fear for the future. For these reasons, clutter can easily become a physical manifestation of mental health issues. If you’re holding on to too much of the past you may become depressed. If you worry about throwing things out because you may need them again, or worry you won’t be able to replace them when you do, you may be too anxious.

For me, both applied. The thought of having to actually sift through so much stuff also felt very overwhelming, further amplifying my anxiety. Throw in a dash of some good old fashioned laziness and I had the perfect recipe for years of avoidance coping when it came to clutter.

I made the decision to declutter in one fell swoop. I would absolutely recommend the dumpster route if it’s an investment you are able to make. It allowed me to be more liberal with what I was throwing out, and it gave me a deadline. There’s also something liberating about hurling your trash through the air as a final farewell to that jerk who broke your heart in college.

Whether you go big or start small and space out your decluttering projects, here are some ideas to help you begin to make a dent.

  1. Go through old photographs. Keep photos of people you think fondly of, and get rid of the ones that remind you of bad relationships. Unload photos of people you don’t know. That friendly group of Canadians I met at Bonnaroo in 2003 were lovely people but I never spoke to them again. And who remembers ‘doubles’? God only knows why we felt compelled to check off that box when getting photos developed. Did we really need two of every picture we took? I cleared out fifty percent of my pictures by just getting rid of all multiples. Before digital cameras, we didn’t have the luxury of making sure both our eyes were open or seeing whether our double chin was in full effect. Ditch any unflattering photos of yourself.
  2. Securely toss your old bills and financial statements. As long as you’ve made sure transactions have been properly processed, there is no reason to hang on to so much paper. A shredder can be your best friend. One exception is your tax returns. Experts recommend you hold on to those for three to six years.
  3. There comes a day in every mom’s life when she realizes with 99.9% certainty that she won’t have another baby. Five years later she finally gets the courage to throw out all of the old baby stuff.
  4. Don’t worry about the recipe for a tangy lemon plum tart you saw in a 1997 Chicago Tribune. Trash old magazines and newspapers unless their content is truly irreplaceable. VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING IS AVAILABLE ONLINE.
  5. Finally, if it’s broken, out-of-date, or hasn’t been used in a very long time, it’s time to go. If you feel guilty throwing away the food processor that’s still in the box because your great-aunt gave it to you at your wedding shower, maybe it doesn’t have to go in the dumpster. Place things by the curb, give them to a deserving charity or announce that they are available via a Facebook community group. My neighbor’s elderly mother recently fell ill and has trouble eating solid food. She was so grateful when she saw the expensive appliance sitting at the end of my driveway and I felt so happy it went to someone who truly needed it.

That brings me to the three instant benefits I reaped from getting rid of (literally) a ton of stuff.

  1. My self-esteem improved. There is a huge sense of accomplishment that comes from finally tackling something you’ve been putting off and didn’t think you were capable of.
  2. Deciding what to keep and what to get rid of is an exercise in problem solving. Brain teasers of any kind are said to boost brain activity. A dexterous brain makes for a happier, healthier you.
  3. My son and I suffer from allergies and asthma. I never thought about how much dust, mold, and animal dander we were exposing ourselves to. I’m sure we’re both breathing better for it.

On an emotional level, this project had its ups and downs, but in the end it reminded me of a life well-lived and it created a future with more room to play.

Happy Dumping!


While I’ve shared a lighthearted take on this topic it is important to note that in extreme cases individuals should seek professional help. Kathryn Berthiaume is a mental health counselor at CHD with extensive knowledge on hoarding disorders. “The act of excessive collecting can indicate that there is a serious underlying mental health condition. The need to hold onto items regardless of related hazards, risks, and impact on others, can become all-encompassing in an individual’s life,” says Berthiaume. If you or someone you know may be struggling with compulsive hoarding, it is essential to seek appropriate supports. Visit or call 1-844-CHD-HELP to get started.

Lisa Brecher - Marketing and Community Engagement Manager