Where Does Junk Come From?

You can’t fully live a simplified, minimal life until you’ve identified where the clutter in your home was born.

Did you go to too many yard sales?

Did friends and family gift you stuff you didn’t need?

Do you have an underlying fear of lacking (also known as a poverty mentality) if you decide to get rid of things?

Clutter is a Weed

If you don’t stop the junk at it’s source, the declutter won’t last. Permanent change is about more than just the surface clutter.

Clutter is like a weed. You can rip it out at the surface, but unless the roots are dealt with, it will spring up again.

Clutter will sprout up again and again until the source of the problem is addressed. It’s about getting to the true heart of the issue.

So today I’d like to talk about it. Where did your junk come from?

Answering this question will help us get to the root of the problem and make those decluttering sessions permanent.

Stuff Loses Value

Ask any of my close friends – I love a good declutter. It feels amazing to do it all in a big sweep and see loads and loads of unwanted stuff donated to someone who will actually use it.

It actually feels like the house is losing weight when a large amount of bulky things go away to a better home.

But it makes me wonder – at what point did those things become clutter?

At some point we wanted those things, otherwise we wouldn’t have them, right?

When did they go from being something useful or valuable that I wanted in my home and become junk that added zero value to my life?

When did my valuable stuff become clutter? 

Like the toaster that I bought when I was first married because I thought all adults should have toasters. But then I never used it because I don’t actually eat toast that much and I got tired of cleaning up crumbs from underneath it?

I declare it clutter!

Or like the VHS player that Josh and I inherited. We were so excited at first because VHS tapes felt like a cheap platform to collect all our favorite movies on. Thrift stores practically give away VHS tapes! It seemed like a frugal win! At first we watched VHS movies fairly regularly. But then we rarely went down to the basement. There was always more than enough entertainment on the computer anyway. And podcasts to listen to. And library books to read. The VHS player is just bulky and it’s the only reason our TV is still around… That’s a lot of bulk for it to only get used maybe once or twice a year. We’re finally to the point that I no longer find it a clever, frugal hack.

I declare it clutter!

Or the mini DV tapes that I archived my old films on…even though I also had them saved digitally.

Or the outdated thrift store books that Josh and I collected because they “might be useful to our kids someday.” (And this was before we even had kids.)

Or the bulky end tables that I dug out of the trash on the side of the road. Not because I needed end tables but because they were FREE!

Or the clothes that I thrifted because they were a good deal, not because I needed more clothes.

Or any electronic that I ever bought that is now outdated and unusable.

I declare it all clutter!

Identify the Source

After identifying and getting rid of the clutter in your house, the next biggest task is to identify the source of the clutter.

Chances are you either bought it, inherited it, or were gifted it.

If you bought it:

Think back to what you were thinking when you purchased the item.

Were you shopping because you were bored?

Was it a great deal?

Did it promise to fill a need but then fail to deliver?

Were you shopping for the person that you aspire to be or the person that you really are? For your fantasy life or your real life? (For instance, buying lots of workout clothes when you never go to the gym. Or buying a juicer with plans to juice daily but you never use it.)

Was there a convincing salesperson who sold you the thing but you’ve regretted it ever since?

Did the item not work as planned? Did the item break the first time you used it? Did the tags never come off?

Then it’s clutter.

There’s no need to beat yourself up over money wasted now that it’s said and done. What you can do is be proactive and make a mental note not to fall for the same gimmick again.

Whatever it was that allured you about this useless thing, remember that next time an impulse purchase is calling and don’t fall for it.

Stand your ground when there’s a salesman around. Stick to your list when you head to the store.

It doesn’t mean you can’t buy the things you need. It simply means to be mindful and realistic about your wants and needs. 

This week I went to IKEA to get something I really needed, and I ended up with six things in my basket. I’ll be honest, I could justify each of those items….but then I finally came to my senses. I put back three things before checkout. I actually purchased two things I didn’t need….got to the car…and turned back around and returned them.

There’s no shame in going back in the store and saying “I changed my mind. I don’t need this.”

(In fact, I think you should get a standing ovation if you do.)

It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but I ended up driving away with the one item that I originally went there for – and nothing else! Woohoo!

Be mindful. It’s okay to buy what you need. But put actual thought into it.

Otherwise, you’ll quickly find yourself back where you started. Cluttered, stressed out, and regretting that wasted money and time.

If you inherited it:

This one is tough. I’m not a very sentimental person, and it’s still tough.

It feels unloving and unkind even to sell or give away something that you inherited from a loved one – especially if they wanted you to have it.

But what it all comes down to at the end of the day is this: does the thing add value to your life?

If if doesn’t, I don’t think holding onto it is honoring the memory of the loved one. I don’t think they would have wanted their stuff to be a burden to you.

If it isn’t adding value, reach out to family and see if anyone else wants it who knew the loved one. And if not, I don’t think it’s disrespectful to sell or donate the item. It means that it will actually get loved and used by somebody – which is more honoring than it collecting dust in your home.

This is just my opinion. I want to value people more than I value things. I want to honor people while letting go of the clutter that is holding me back. We are more than our things and memories are worth more than dishes, furniture, clothing, whatever it is that is left behind when someone passes.

I hope I’m remembered for who I am – not what I own.

If you were gifted it:

This is another sensitive one, because I don’t like to purposely hurt people’s feelings.

But those who know me well or have been reading my blog for a long time know that gift-giving is not my love language. (My love languages are quality time and acts of service if you’re curious!)

I feel like gift-giving is an inefficient way to get the things we need and want. It is riskier to guess what someone wants and needs, pick it out myself, wrap it in paper, and hope they like it than it is to give them money and let them pick out what they actually want and need. 

And sometimes a gift is very helpful and practical, like when someone is getting married or graduating or expecting their first child.

But in the case of a holiday or a gift exchange, I can give you $20, you can give me $20, and our gifts basically offset one another. Or I can give you a $20 thing that is okay but not great, and you can give me a $20 thing that is okay but not great, and then we both go home with something that is just alright…and it sits around for a while but quickly turns into clutter….thoughtful clutter though – because we were really trying to do a good job.

Phew! What a rant.

I realize that might sound really harsh if you’re someone who loves gifts. I’m sorry! Not trying to offend, but that’s honestly how I think of gift exchanges. Can’t we all just give ourselves permission to spend $20 on ourselves for what will actually bring value to our lives and call it a celebration?!

If it was a gift, I think whoever gave it to you didn’t want you to feel trapped behind the gift.

The gift was in the thought itself – the time and effort they put into picking it out and wrapping it and seeing your face when you opened it.

You’re not doing anyone any favors by keeping the gift indefinitely and not using it.

I’ve received some great, very thoughtful gifts in the past! And when they were done serving their purpose in my life I passed them on – to someone else who would continue to use them. Some things are easier to let go of than others.

Some things I kept a really long time before giving away because I felt guilt. But guilt isn’t something that you should feel when you look at a gift. Guilt is never the givers intention when they give you something. 

If you feel guilt for not using something someone gave you, it’s okay to let that thing go. I give you permission, at least.

Live and Learn

Decluttering is a process. Getting to the heart of the issue is part of the process.

Identify where the clutter in your home is coming from. Maybe it’s one of the sources I mentioned, maybe it’s somewhere completely different.

If you brought the clutter in voluntarily, try to figure out the reasoning behind it. Learn from your past mistakes. Maybe snap a photo of your clutter before it gets donated so you have a visual reminder of what those “must-have’s” will eventually become.

Think carefully when you’re shopping and try not to give into marketing, pressure, deals, or advertising. I know how strong the pull can be. But we are stronger!

Here’s my list of questions to ask before making a purchase. I could use a refresher myself!

What are your motives for bringing stuff into your home? What do you ask yourself when buying? How do you avoid shopping for fun or recreation? What is your strategy when it comes to gifts and free stuff? And how do you know when an item that was once useful has served its purpose and become clutter?


Add yours →

  1. Hooray for you at IKEA!
    Sometimes I find purchasing mindfully difficult at thrift stores, because things are priced so cheap.
    I do better if I prepare before entering any store, by telling myself that I have enough, & by not even looking at anything else, other than the one item I really needed.

    • Yes, I do that too! I make a game plan and stay in that part of the thrift store. It’s still unpredictable, but it helps! I also try take my time and try not to rush those decisions. And if all else fails and I really screw up, my Goodwill accepts returns.

      • Oh wow! That’s good to know about the returns. I’ll have to check with the one I go to.

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