Does it feel like your stuff is running the show?
I’ve been there.
With more physical possessions than I’d care to admit.
And hand-in-hand with all that physical stuff comes a landslide of demands—such as purchasing, maintaining, cleaning up, and storing these belongings.
The thing is, we may not even fully realize the extent of our possessions—and their negative impact—until we hit a tipping point.
Sometimes this clutter turning point is an aha moment—like opening a closet door and getting pelted by falling toys or not being able to find our keys for the umpteenth time amongst the kitchen clutter.
Other times the impact of stuff is more subtle—a gradual realization that possessions are eating away at our finite time, energy, attention, and money.
Either way, we all need to begin somewhere.
And a great place to start is by simply noticing—noticing how stuff works its way into our lives in the first place and whether our possessions are hindering, rather than helping us live our best lives.
This post tells the story of how I became overwhelmed by clutter and started my journey towards owning less. Along the way you’ll find prompts to help you explore your own relationship with stuff and take actionable steps towards a less cluttered existence.
Shall we get started?
How my overwhelmed by clutter journey began
I wasn’t always a cluttered person.
My belongings remained fairly minimal well into my early adult life—although I can’t take full credit for this. Life circumstances helped more than a particular natural tendency towards minimalism.
After moving out of my childhood home, I didn’t have the space or resources to accumulate much. And frequent moves across the country—with the obligatory packing and unpacking—were sufficient motivation to keep my belongings at bay.
But it didn’t stay this way.
The turning point that plunged me into a cluttered existence? Home ownership. And the major factor—space. As it turns out, too much space.
After spending three years crammed into a tiny basement apartment, my husband and I moved provinces and purchased our first home.
Not only did the new house dwarf our old abode in size, but it included a huge basement storage area—one that approached the square footage of our entire previous downtown apartment.
I remember ogling at the rows of (then empty) black storage shelves. After years of cramming stuff into impossibly small places, my belongings and I could finally live a less claustrophobic existence. Yeah!
Or so I thought.
It seemed like a good idea at the time …
Enter Parkinson’s law—the idea that work will fill the time we give it—whether that amount of time is small or large. We’ve all seen this play out in our own lives. Like the home or work project that ended up taking hours when, if pressed for time, we could have finished it in 30 minutes flat.
So, it turns out that our belongings follow a similar principle—they tend to fill the space available—every last nook and cranny of it.
Which means it comes as no surprise that the lovely empty storage shelves in my new home didn’t stay vacant for long. Nor did the rest of the house.
Add in three kids, my penchant for holding onto just about everything, and being too darn busy to make thoughtful decisions about what entered my home—and I had the makings of a serious stuff problem.
My house became the centre of a seven-year clutter deluge—one that left me drowning in stuff.
Can you identify any triggers or factors that have influenced—and perhaps continue to affect—the number of belongings you and your family possess?
When we understand the origins of our clutter, we’re better able to make changes that are sustainable in the long run.
Clutter began to take over my life
Over time, the household clutter expanded as did the time I spent managing it.
Keeping up with our possessions began to feel like a full-time job.
I was finding myself constantly on edge and distracted. I felt like an elastic band stretched to its limit and ready to snap. The stress was starting to take a major toll on my happiness—and on my relationships with the people who mattered most.
My life mantra had unwittingly become—I don’t have time. Not enough time for my children, my husband, or my own self-care.
Even when I found spare moments to spend with the kids, I wasn’t fully present. Every night, I’d put them to bed vowing I’d devote less time to the house and more time to the people and activities I loved most.
But I didn’t.
And I worried about the example I was setting. Would my children come to believe all mothers were harried people who don’t have time to show up for themselves and others?
This was not how I wanted my kids to remember me or their childhood.
This was not how I wanted to live my life.
How do you feel about your level of household belongings? Do you feel overwhelmed by clutter like I did?
Are your belongings having a negative impact on your life and the lives of other family members? If yes, in what ways? Take some time to write your thoughts down on a piece of paper or record them digitally.
The turning point in my overwhelmed by clutter life
Things came to a head one sunny Saturday morning.
It started off with my normal frenzied cleaning routine. I moved from upstairs room to upstairs room—collecting stray items off counters, beds, and the floor—followed by a seemingly futile attempt to home these wayward objects amongst overstuffed dressers and closets.
Belongings without a clear home were dropped into a laundry basket and subsequently lugged to the main floor.
But the relief from completing this onerous task evaporated the second I reached the ground floor. While my kids had managed to keep themselves occupied—this came with collateral damage.
How could three children possibly make so much mess?
To be fair, the house was brimming with stuff, and it didn’t take much to turn our home from a state of precarious order to complete chaos within a matter of minutes. Add young children to the mix and make that a mere second or two.
My house was like a blocked sink about to overflow—too much in and hardly a trickle out.
And in that moment, I broke.
There’s a commonly circulated quote that goes something like: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Thinking about my stuff problem, I couldn’t more whole-heartedly agree.
I’d finally had enough of being overwhelmed with clutter.
On that Saturday morning, I vowed that my belongings would no longer be in charge. I wanted more time, more connection, and more joy.
Something had to change.
Are you ready to start your decluttering journey? Or perhaps you’ve already begun but lost momentum along the way?
Either way, we all have to start somewhere. So, what’s the next step you can take toward a less cluttered life?
I suggest choosing something small that can be easily completed in a short block of time. For example, declutter your junk drawer or clear a surface—a task that’s not overly onerous but will give you an immediate sense of satisfaction.
Do that task now or schedule it into the upcoming days. Make it a nonnegotiable appointment with yourself to ensure you follow through.
No more being overwhelmed by clutter
After that fateful Saturday, I didn’t turn back.
What followed were a number of steps—and some missteps—towards a decluttered home.
And while the journey continues, life is so much better than it was before.
If you’re drowning in stuff—or simply want to further downsize your belongings—there’s hope for you, too!
We’re all at different stages of our decluttering journey and that’s okay – whether it’s simply taking notice of our relationship with stuff or taking an action step to remove belongings from our lives.
What’s the next small and manageable step you can take today towards a less cluttered life?
I’d love to hear from you!
Does this story resonate with you? Are you trying to declutter?
And please share this post with other moms who would benefit from some decluttering inspiration.
AdaJune 11, 2022 at 12:16 pm
I started my decluttering journey a year ago and still feel overwhelmed by clutter. You have inspired me to continue this journey. Thank you for sharing!
Jenny BorstJune 11, 2022 at 12:23 pm
Hi Ada! Decluttering is definitely a journey with its share of challenges. We all need some inspiration and support along the way! I think it’s great that you’ve gotten started and so happy to hear that my post is helpful. Good luck with the next stage of decluttering.
CharleneJune 9, 2022 at 9:41 pm
This is a great reminder to declutter from time to time. We have a very tiny house (750 sq ft) so that’s a benefit to always declutter as there is literally no room for clutter! Thanks for sharing 😄
Jenny BorstJune 10, 2022 at 5:17 am
Hi Charlene, thanks for commenting! I agree that decluttering isn’t something you can do once and forget about (although that would be great!) But rather takes good systems to help us keep our stuff at bay.
AmyJune 9, 2022 at 8:21 pm
I’m always starting a new decluttering journey (I’m a mama of six and grandma of 12!) as life just brings a lot of clutter into it. Each time I do a determined purge, I feel happier. Lighter. Freer. More in control of my life. This is a good reminder to do what it takes to rid our lives of clutter–over and over, if it’s necessary!
Jenny BorstJune 10, 2022 at 5:23 am
Hi Amy! Great to hear from you. What a lovely large family you have.I find kids (and I can imagine grandchildren, too) make it harder to contain the clutter. But certainly possible! And it sounds like you’ve found a great system that works for you.😄
SheriJune 9, 2022 at 4:06 pm
It is so true that you accumulate more clutter when you have more space. We recently bought our dream property. It came with more living space, a barn and a few outbuildings. I am blown away by how things have filled up in such a short time! It can begin to feel like your stuff is owning you. Great post! Very relatable!
Jenny BorstJune 10, 2022 at 5:28 am
Hi Sheri, I really enjoyed reading you comments.Congratulations on buying your dream property! I guess space is like all things in life—it has its pros and cons.In the end it’s really about being intentional with what he have then enjoying it! Which you certainly sound like you’re doing.😄
JulieJune 9, 2022 at 1:04 pm
I love my home after it’s been thoroughly decluttered. My kids thrive in that environment too. But it can definitely be Challenge to keep up with…
Jenny BorstJune 10, 2022 at 5:33 am
Hi Julie! I, too, saw big improvements in home life after decluttering. The kids were playing more with their toys and much better able to participate in the cleaning up process. But, yes, it does take maintenance! We’re still working on the system that works best for us. But, I definitely feel we’re in a better place with clutter than we were before.
MarianaJune 9, 2022 at 12:30 pm
A tidy home truly helps to reduce stress! Great info!
Jenny BorstJune 10, 2022 at 5:34 am
Hi Mariana! Yes, less stress is key.It’s hard to enjoy your home when you’re constantly overwhelmed by stuff. Glad to hear you enjoyed the post.😄
ErinJune 9, 2022 at 12:15 pm
Wow, this is so much information and so helpful! I love how you shared your personal story to help inspire others. Clutter can easily get overwhelming really fast!
Jenny BorstJune 10, 2022 at 5:37 am
Hi Erin! Glad you found the information and the story helpful. Hearing other people’s journeys, whether with decluttering or some other step towards an intentional life, helps inspire me to do the same. It’s great when we can support each other towards leading more joyful and fulfilling lives.
JessicaMay 28, 2022 at 1:50 pm
I’m inspired. While my decluttering mission began a few years ago (ahhh, the simplicity I recall feeling at the time), I have neglected it lately. Yesterday I was trying to understand why my daughter saves/ collects/ hoards so many things. It occurred to me that she was noticing how crammed some of our closet spaces have become. Aha. Seeing how I’ve contributed to this problem motivates me to adjust our way of living. Thanks Jenny!
Jenny BorstMay 29, 2022 at 10:01 am
Hi Jessica! What a great and important point. It’s easy to get swept up with new initiatives (like decluttering) only to find things piling back up over time—especially when we have so many other things to attend to as moms. I think modelling is really important when it comes to decluttering with kids (and partners, too!) If children see us excited about decluttering and hear us talking about the benefits (e.g., less time dealing with stuff, more time for quality time as a family), they’re more likely to get on board. Children are all unique with different motivations and perspectives. You can play an important role in helping your daughter explore what her various belongings mean to her—and this includes realizing that she likely loves some things more than others. Over time, this insight can help her let go of the less favoured items and give them to another child who will really appreciate her generosity.