Uncluttering: One versus many

In my quest to live an uncluttered life, I’m reminded from time-to-time that convenience and efficiency don’t always coincide with fewer physical objects. An example of this, at least in our home, can be explained with scissors.

In theory, we only need one pair of scissors. We could begrudgingly survive with just one pair, and having seven pair likely seems excessive to a minimalist. However, for the sake of convenience, we have a pair that I use with food in the kitchen, another is in our present wrapping kit, I’ve got one in my clothes closet to cut off stray threads and tags, one in my desk drawer and one in my husband’s desk, a hefty pair in with my gardening supplies, and there is a small pair in the bathroom that is sanitized and stored in our emergency medical kit.

For our family, having fewer than seven pair of scissors would be frustrating. We’d waste time hunting down the one pair of scissors, and there would likely be more than one person needing the scissors at a time.

Another obvious example of this is clothing. Sure, we could get by with just one change of clothes, but it would be extremely inconvenient to have to do laundry every night.

Uncluttering isn’t about having the fewest things, it’s about having the right amount of things for your life. Clutter is any distraction that gets in the way of the life you desire — and sometimes, having too few things can be just as distracting as having too many.

As you are going through the uncluttering process, remember that there isn’t a competition to see who can have the fewest things. The purpose of uncluttering is to right-size your possessions and commitments so that you can focus on what matters to you most.

46 Comments for “Uncluttering: One versus many”

  1. posted by irishbell on

    Well, I guess I can admit that I have 3 pair- in 3 different locations in my kitchen alone. I have a large kitchen/dining area and there’d be alot of wasted steps going to fetch the one pair for each use.
    It seems that sometimes convenience is underrated in a minimalist lifestyle.

  2. posted by shris on

    Right there with ya on the scissors. Not only do we have a bunch, each one has a designated home that is written on the handle.

    One pair of scissors and one pair of shears for the kitchen, one pair that lives with wrapping paper and ribbons, a pair for the garage, one for my desk, one for DH’s desk, one for each kid.. I also have some extras because I got rid of my garage-based business but kept the scissors. Also replaced a broken pair with a 3-pack so there’s extras floating around there, too. And I have one pair just for haircuts.

    Life is too short to waste time hunting for and grate on each other’s nerves sniping over scissors. Same same dishes, silverware, cookware, glasses..

    This weekend I went shopping for clothes. I bought some new pajamas and shirts and shorts. When I was ready to hang up the new shirts, I pulled out the same number of older shirts that I didn’t like as well, and put them in the donate box. Same with the shorts and pajamas. My donate box is now full and I have a closet of things I like and want to wear. Yay! And when the new underwear and socks arrive at the end of the week, the yukky ones are going in the trash. Nobody wants used underwear and holey, stained socks. Bleh. :)

    shris

  3. posted by Lilliane P on

    Excellent, excellent post. This is so true. Sometimes it does seem to be a race to the vanishing point which isn’t or shouldn’t be the focus at all.

  4. posted by Jen on

    I think clothing is the most frustrating thing for me. I have a few bottoms and a few tops for work, and I have one pair of jeans that I wear when I dress down. I like the simplicity of it, and I like the clothes I wear, but I sometimes feel self conscious. I worry sometimes that others in the office think I’m lazy or poor or even dirty because I have a smaller wardrobe rotation.

  5. posted by Bauke on

    Well, using scissors that are meant for cutting hair or cloth to cut paper makes them blunt.

    Kitchen scissors should be cleaned after use. When you cut open the top of your cream container, you don’t want to add bacteria to it.

    So, having several pairs of scissors (We have 6: 2 in the kitchen, 2 in the “office” and one pair of hairscissors in the bathroom and a small pair of scissors in the emergengy kit) makes sense.

  6. posted by ehsa on

    This is your best post ever!

    “Uncluttering isn’t about having the fewest things, it’s about having the right amount of things for your life” is now posted on my refrigerator and has given a whole new slant to my uncluttering efforts.

    Brilliant!

  7. posted by Rebecca on

    We have a similar situation, but with diapers, and diaper supplies like wipes and cream.

    We have 3 kids, 2 in diapers full time, and 1 part time. 2 of my kids are disabled and are very slow to potty train. Our house doesn’t have a good central location for diaper changes, so we have some stuff in almost every room. If a change needs to happen, we stop, drop, and change!

    We have all the supplies needed in both kids bedrooms, the play room, the living room and the bathroom. The diapers and wipes are kept contained in a smallish basket that I refill as needed or once a week.

  8. posted by Meg on

    This is exactly what is meant by “practical minimalism.” As others have mentioned, it is also more sanitary and cost-effective (not cross-purposing scissors). DH and I have wardrobes large enough to get us through two weeks. Then, on laundry day, the clothing can be divided into like piles, and washed in full loads, which is much more energy-efficient. There is no point in saving time and energy by combining white things or delicates with jeans–there will be a lot of shabby clothes in a hurry that way!

  9. posted by L. on

    Yes! I made some comments on earlier posts and this is what I was trying to say. We don’t want to justify excessive clutter, but there comes a point where minimalism for minimalism’s sake is clutter of its own kind.

    I’m much more on the actually-cluttered end of things, so I cannot say I am speaking from personal experience here :) But I also think organizers and unclutterers will communicate more effectively with the more-cluttered if they make sure to keep functionality and peace of mind as the predominant goals.

  10. posted by Bibliovore on

    Completely agreed. This can extend to larger items, too. My partner and I each have our own car, as we work in very different locations and on very different schedules, and bus service near our home is quite limited. Could we get by with one car (or none)? Sure, but it’d take a lot more effort and add a lot more daily commute time and frustration. For us, it’s worth having two.

  11. posted by JC on

    I have more than seven pairs of scissors/shears in my sewing/craft room alone. Each has a specific purpose. (I would never use the scissors I use on silk chiffon to cut paper.) Wo unto the person who uses any of my sewing scissors for something other than their designated purpose!!

    It’s only too true about sacrificing efficiency (and energy resources) on the alter of extreme minimalism. There are many things that more than prove their worth to me by owning them in multiples. I do most of my cooking from scratch so there are five bread pans, 6 bowls (of various sizes), three different types of rolling pins, and two sets of measuring spoons in my kitchen. I have the space for them, they are used on a regular basis. It is a waste of precious time to stop in the middle of preparing the family dinner after work to wash a bowl or utensil (again) when having two keeps the process moving. I simply can’t imagine making one loaf of bread at a time.

    There is a fine balance of efficiency and ownership that each person/household must determine individually. My many scissors and cooking items would gather dust and take up space in many households, just as anyone else’s prized golf bags or such would in mine.

  12. posted by JustGail on

    “the right amount of things for your life” – nicely put. For the really big plan – I’d say “the right amount of the *right* things”. I realize that I have items that aren’t the right things, but they get the job done mostly. Sometimes I wonder if doing without would be a better option than making do. It seems that the “make do” items entrench themselves due to “why replace that, it’s doing the job” thoughts.

    Regarding scissors, I hate to think how many we have, 10? 15? At least 2 pair in every room. However the kitchen scissors I count as a knife with 2 blades, not scissors – great for cutting up a whole chicken, snipping herbs, etc! Woe unto anyone who removes them from the kitchen!

  13. posted by Anita on

    Excellent point!

    I went on an uncluttering craze this weekend and decided, among other things, that I really don’t need any very small purses (although they are cute), since I almost always carry at least my wallet and my Moleskine planner with me; so all the purses that the Moleskine AND wallet didn’t fit into went into the donation bin. Two hours later, while getting ready to go out, I realised I don’t really want to take my Moleskine out dancing, and promptly took back one of the small purses. I still have too many bags by most people’s standards, but as long as they fit my lifestyle, I’m ok with that.

    Scissor-wise, I have 5 pair, and really only need 3: one in the kitchen (mainly for opening food packages that betray the sheer anger of their makers), one at my desk (for everything else), and a pair of nail scissors in the bathroom (for manicure and first aid purposes). For cutting paper, giftwrap, and anything needing precision and clean edges, I use an Xacto knife. For loose threads, tags and labels on clothing, I use a seam ripper.

  14. posted by Sarah on

    Oh, not me. I have one pair of scissors that I keep in a kitchen drawer. It’s not too much trouble to wipe them between uses, and my apartment is small so it’s no trouble to walk over and grab them.

  15. posted by Erin on

    Had to laugh at this one because I was at a friend’s house over the weekend and had the exact same conversation. They have multiple pairs of scissors around they purchase from IKEA. Very inexpensive and so much better than wasting time hunting for scissors. I also keep certain pair for certain purposes in their correct place (with wrapping paper, craft supplies, etc).
    As a knitter, I cannot have too many darning needles, row counters or stitch markers. Simpler to have a knit kit in each project bag then spend time wondering where I put that last.

  16. posted by Mike Crosby on

    “We don’t want to justify excessive clutter, but there comes a point where minimalism for minimalism’s sake is clutter of its own kind.”

    I read a lot of minimalist/uncluttering blogs. And I’m appreciative of them all. But still, the idea of owning no more than 100 items, or even 50 items, is preposterous.

    An astute post and I must remember this quote: “Uncluttering isn’t about having the fewest things, it’s about having the right amount of things for your life”.

  17. posted by Liv on

    I think scissors belong to the class of objects you should own to saturation–every time you want one, there is one within reach. Pens, too. Tissues aren’t one of mine, but I know people who have boxes all over the house. I think it depends on the person.

  18. posted by Andrea on

    Oh, I’m one of those tissue-box-in-every-room-of-the-house types. And scissors, and pens/pencils, and reading glasses. They’re not expensive, and well worth it to have those little conveniences when and where you need them. Reduces the excuses for taking care of the little things right now.

  19. posted by Jo on

    Bravo for this post.

    Everything in moderation. Including moderation.

  20. posted by chacha1 on

    Love the scissors example. I have three just in the bathroom: nail scissors, hair scissors, and blunt-tipped bandage scissors.

    I have three more in my craft toolkit: sharp fabric scissors, pinking shears, and wire scissors.

    I have a set of Fiskars in the kitchen.

    I have a set of ornamental, extremely sharp, gorgeous and unusably heavy dagger scissors from Museum Replicas in my library drawer.

    And there are probably a few others lurking in the home office.

    A nice piece of advice, it’s easy to get caught up in “do I really need this” and not take into account the convenience, peace, or comfort factors.

  21. posted by Jude on

    I own multiples of 1) scissors 2) tape dispensers 3) pens 4) Kleenex boxes. I subscribe to pens and Kleenex on Amazon so that we never run out.

  22. posted by Katie A. on

    If excessive scissors, tissue boxes, tape, and chapstick were my only guilty clutter, I wouldn’t have to read minimalism blogs!

    I do agree–I have 9 pairs of crafting scissors alone, which is pushing it, but they all have an individual purpose and they’re all stored in the same container I’d be using if I only had two.

    There are a LOT of things I would get rid of in the name of uncluttering before my scissors.

  23. posted by infmom on

    Oh, I have to laugh about the scissors. That is one thing my parents never had around the house when my brothers and I were growing up. The usual excuse was that we kids would only break them or lose them. Apparently it was never inconvenient enough for my parents to go without them.

    I finally got creative and took one of my dad’s razor blades and wrapped tape around one side of it to make it safe to hold, and used that for cutting things for ages.

    In our house, we have kitchen shears, and scissors in the living room and in the office. I have a bunch of different kinds of sewing scissors (fabric shears, pinking shears, decorative pinking shears, thread snippers, embroidery scissors, etc etc etc) that hang from a nice little rack on the side of the small cabinet where I keep my sewing supplies.

    Oh, and should I ever want to go back to the razor blade method, I have a nice little folding knife from the Duluth Trading Company that uses those. :)

  24. posted by Tiffany on

    I was thinking about a related point after reading the last iteration of “everything I own has to fit in a backpack” uncluttering. Clearly that approach works for some people, but when reading those kinds of articles, I frequently find myself thinking, “But I LIKE having a house to welcome my loved ones into, and I LIKE having places for them to sit and dishes for them to eat from and all that stuff…” And of course, Unclutterer has never really been about less stuff for the sake of less stuff, but this scissors thing reiterates the point that stuff is neither good nor bad; it’s the place in our lives that we assign to stuff that can be either an enhancement or a detriment to our lives. It’s a balance my husband and I are trying to re-negotiate since we’ve moved into a larger house and figure out what makes sense for us to own and what’s just accumulation because suddenly we have a place to put it.

  25. posted by Mletta on

    Jen writes:
    “I worry sometimes that others in the office think I’m lazy or poor or even dirty because I have a smaller wardrobe rotation.”

    In most U.S. offices, this is a valid concern, and one that requires thought because it can affect you professionally.

    The irony is some people have fewer, but better quality and better maintained clothes, than folks who have many different sets of clothing. And of course, this is a bias for women, because a lot of men basically wear a uniform of certain types of pants and tops anyway.

    It makes you (almost) yearn for great looking uniforms.

    And, of course, it IS different in the rest of the world where, unless you work for a fashion firm or a bank or financial institution, you are actually looked upon badly if you DO have a constant wardrobe change!

    It’s even worse for school kids of any age in the U.S. I’m thankful I attended a school where uniforms were required. They weren’t cheap and I was always washing and ironing blouses (no, I could not afford five different shirts for the week, the two uniforms alone were very expensive) but I could really then afford a few nice things for non-school wear. Otherwise, can’t see how parents do it today (well, they do and it’s called DEBT).

    RE: The scissors are a great example. Except you really should have more than one pair and not use whatever you use for food for anything else (even when clean between uses).

    We have scissors in the living room and bedroom (we are always wrapping something or cutting up papers and magazines) and separate food scissors in kitchen which we use constantly (best investment ever).

    We have special shears for the garden,too, which we also use for cut flowers.

    I scrapbook, so I have a bunch of special edge paper cutter scissors and then there are sewing shears.

    It adds up, but it is not wasteful. You can’t switch out the cutting shears. Yea, it would be great if there was one handle and multiple cutting shears, but never seen that anywhere.

  26. posted by chrisck on

    I own a dozen pairs of reading glasses (buy-one-get one sales). I have at least one pair in every room, in nearby drawers, on shelves, anywhere I know I’ll regularly be reading the mail, the newspaper, a recipe, phone book etc. Much more efficient than trying to hunt a pair down.

  27. posted by WilliamB on

    I think scissors are unusual because they can be very specialized. But also pens, scrap paper (near every phone and computer at least), phone extensions, tissues, trash cans.

    My roommate and I will never agree about materiel storage. I like the One Big Depot so I know how much we have and therefore when we’re running low. He prefers Many Distributed Nodes so he doesn’t have to run to OBD for a roll of TP. Either works.

  28. posted by Heather on

    Yes! For me, simple living is about having the *right* tool for the job, convenience, and efficiency. Sometimes that means more possessions, although I am amazed at how much I’ve downsized after several moves in the last year. My scissor count is seven pairs, by the way, each with a specialized purpose and a home.

    I realized last year that I own three hammers and three nearly identical pairs of screwdrivers. One for the truck, one for the big tool set in the garage, and one for the lightweight tool kit in the closet (along with glue, tape, velcro, and other household fasteners). When I had only one of each tool, if I needed to adjust a piece of furnitre or change a turn signal lamp, I had to either haul out the big garage toolset or “borrow” individual tools from it, leaving one more thing to put away later.

    This really hit home when I was helping my parents with the lawn last weekend. The weed whip needed a tune-up (fuel filter, air filter, and spark plug), and it took me half an hour and multiple text messages to find the right size spark plug socket. Their tools aren’t arranged in a pattern that makes sense, and even the socket sets are scattered throughout the garage and workshop. The mower needs a tune-up too, but after that ordeal, I didn’t have enough time or patience left to hunt down those tools as well. It would be worthwhile for them to buy a duplicate of each item that is needed for lawn mower maintenance, and put them all with spare parts in a plastic bin labeled “lawn mower.” It’s technically more stuff, but it’s more efficient, and it’s easier to carry one plastic bin than to stuff my pockets with all the required tools while climbing around in the workshop, and then remember where everything belongs when I’m done. Who enjoys the frustration of not being able to find what you need?

  29. posted by wooddave on

    When I’m assembling furniture I have a minimum of 2 cordless drills set up – one for drilling pilot holes and one to drive screws. Often there are 3 in use, especially when there are 2 or more sizes of screws being used. It’s much faster to pick up a different drill than to switch bits for every screw.

    – Dave

  30. posted by Adventure-Some Matthew on

    While I might consider myself a minimalist in some regards, I still have a lot of stuff. But it’s stuff that I use and would be less efficient to borrow or buy every time I wanted to use it, though that use might be infrequent. Sure, I don’t use my woodworking tools very often, but it’s far more convenient to keep what I already have than to get rid of them because I don’t use them on a daily basis.

    I was able to get rid of many of my clothes, however, because I only wore a select few on any kind of regular basis. But that doesn’t mean that I got rid of my suit, or my ties, just because I don’t wear them weekly.

  31. posted by Wendy on

    Clutter vs. having the right number tools is my hair brush and accessories collection. Every time I cut my hair short I think about getting rid of my long hair accessories. But then a year latter the hair accessories are still there and my hair has grown out long enough to need them again. I then consider getting rid of my short hair accessories but then I get annoyed with the time long hair takes to wash and style so I cut my hair short again.

  32. posted by Missy on

    I totally agree on this post. Decluttering (like technology) should make your life simpler and easier. The best comparison I have to this is cleaning supplies. I have three bathrooms on different floors, so I have separate cleaning supplies under the sink in each bathroom that don’t leave that bathroom (toilet cleaner, brush, paper towels, glass cleaner, clorox wipes). It makes cleaning the bathroom (an unpleasant job) more convenient and I’m more likely to do it since I don’t have to drag all the supplies all over the house. Some may feel that having 3 sets of bathroom cleaners is excessive, but it sure does work for me!

  33. posted by LMR on

    I agree with Missy about having separate supplies for each bathroom. Do you really want to lug a toilet brush through your house? Eew! I don’t! So I have 3 toilet brushes–one for each of my bathrooms.

    As for tissues in each room, whether this is clutter depends on whether family members have allergies! I have tissues in every room in my house, especially in the spring. Do you want to tell your child with the nose dripping with snot to go to the other end of the house to get to your one box of tissues? (I’ll let that image sink in for anyone who thinks having a box of tissues in each room is “excessive”!)

    The scissors example is also good. I have scissors in my garage that I use for opening stuff like lawn chemicals. I do not want to use those to open a package of food or to snip herbs no matter how carefully I wash them.

    Having the right tools in the right place at the right time not only helps save time and effort, but can also keep your home healthier. In these examples, excessive minimalism could pose a health hazard.

    Great discussion!

  34. posted by Danielle on

    @Chacha1 -> Fiskars are my FAVORITE! They just plain WORK.

    Regarding clothes, I am they only person I know that wears ALL of my clothes. They all fit me, and are all versitile enough to be worn in different ways. That being said, I have a ton of clothing. I can go with out doing clothing laundry for about a month and a week (then I run out of undies). All this considered, I’m afraid I have too much clothing.
    BUT, if it is used, it has use; therefore I don’t feel bad about looking good.

  35. posted by Jess@minimalistmum on

    We have lots of pairs of scissors, but we also have a big house and a child who is always borrowing scissors for his latest big project. Sometimes it _seems_ like we have no scissors.

    We don’t have any boxes of tissues – we just use the nearest roll of toilet paper or cloth face wipe. If someone has a cold I might have a roll migrate out of a bathroom into another room. Having a child with nose dripping with snot? Okay, this isn’t exactly dinnertime conversation but it’s not the worst thing that has been dripped through our house…

  36. posted by Robert Wall @ Finding Frugality on

    We have a smaller apartment, so for us multiples of many tools would be a relative waste of space. Even if you’re at the complete opposite side of the apartment, you can get to the toolbox with all the stuff in about 30-35 feet. Usually though things that need work done are in the same room.

    One thing I do, however, is buy a few multiples of measuring cups to store in food containers. This might sound weird, but I have a bread recipe that calls for 1/3 cup of sugar. That’s the primary use for the sugar in our kitchen. So I just tuck a super-cheap 1/3 cup plastic measuring cup into that container, and presto – every time we need it, it’s right there. And if we want cereal with sugar, we can just scoop a little out with the 1/3 cup. The 1-cup unit from that set went into the bathroom for measuring bath salts into the tub. Same thing – we use a cup or two of bath salts, and the measure is right there. Very convenient!

  37. posted by Kate on

    I do the same thing with measuring cups. I have a cup measure in flour, a half cup in sugar, a tablespoon in brown sugar, and a half cup in the oatmeal container. That saves so much time (and water).

  38. posted by Nicole on

    No matter how many pairs of scissors I have my kids still take them and *poof* I never see them again. I need to declutter their friends “I Don’t Know” and “Not Me.”

  39. posted by Carrie on

    Thanks shris for your idea of labeling the handle of the scissors. Now I won’t confuse which scissors are hubby’s and which are the dog’s. I wonder what other items like this I can label with their home.

    In addition to multiple scissions, my household also has duplicate basic tools, like hammer, measuring tape, screwdriver (the kind which has a switchable head) and box cutter. I like to keep a set in the kitchen junk drawer. These aren’t construction grade (or powered) like hubby’s but come in handy when something needs a quick adjustment.

    I also have lots of hair accessories; scrunchies and barrettes. Rather than donating these, I’m storing them in a bag in my bathroom closet. I know that as my barrettes break and my dog steals my scrunchies (one of his favorite toys), I have replacements already bought and paid for.

  40. posted by April on

    My mother does this with glasses. Once she hit 40, almost overnight her 20/20 vision eroded and she needed reading glasses. Thankfully, the prescription she needs is not extreme, so when she discovered they sold thin glasses at the dollar store that slip into tubes (kind of looks like a traveling toothbrush case) she bought a few. One for the basket next to her recliner, one for the car, and one for her purse.

    She loved it so much that she bought a dozen or so more and started leaving them in other places where she found herself patting her head because she was mindlessly looking for her glasses. She even left a bunch in a wide jar at church so she and others who needed them could grab a pair when they bust out the hymnals.

  41. posted by April on

    Forgot to mention that my mother is now in her mid-fifties and still does this glasses habit. If a pair breaks or gets lost, no problem! She has more in her stash. They’re so cheap to replace.

  42. posted by Biscuitx on

    Amen sister!
    What works for us? Multiple scissors (of course) clocks in everyroom, (multiple alarm clocks for me)tape dispensers in every room, and in kitchen, yes yes yes to multiple measuring cups and measuring spoons. And multiple colanders. xxxxx
    Is this the opposite of unitasking somehow?

  43. posted by Gillian on

    We have basic tools everywhere; they’re in the garage, basement, kitchen, and under my desk upstairs. They all get used. I also make sure that some of them are smaller or lighter, for smaller and lighter me. As for scissors, highly washable and rust-proof kitchen scissors are essential.

  44. posted by Joan on

    I believe this concept is called “right-sizing.” It is not about how little you can get by with, it’s about using the least amount of material goods you need to live a happy life.

  45. posted by unavocis on

    I’m the same way w/ nail clippers. I have a pair in my purse, a pair in my night stand near my bed, a pair in the bathroom, and a pair in the drawer of an end table in my living room. It is convenience, but as long as they’re used, it’s all good :)

  46. posted by Victoria on

    Scissors have a way of disappearing in my house. I can’t tell you how many pairs have been bought over the years. There should be a pair in the kitchen draw for kitchen use only and they have disappearred. The only pair I know how to find are the ones I have hidden in my office drawer(my office is a drawer in my lingerie bureau.) lol A few years ago I bought everyone nail clippers for Christmas and again a few years later because they disappearred. Then they all magically reappearred, there must be a black hole in our house which sucks things in and randomly tosses them back out. So I took a few pairs and put them with my sewing, knitting & crochet since they come in handy to cut thread and yarn. Now if only some of the dozens of scissors I have bought would show up. ;)

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