Uncluttering by selecting containers and setting limits

How much space in your home are you willing to give to books? To memorabilia? To food storage containers?

One way to determine these answers is to select the storage containers and/or areas you’re willing to dedicate to each category of stuff.


I have a number of bookshelves, and if I ever have more books than will fit on these shelves, I will need to do some pruning. It’s not as much of an issue now — I’m shedding more books than I’m buying. But, in the past, I have indeed had to go through the shelves and find the books I was okay with passing along because I have a rule to only have as many books as fit onto the shelves I own.


I have a box that holds the letters and cards I want to keep — the ones from family and friends with handwritten, heart-felt notes. If I ever get to the point where the letters and cards won’t fit in that box, I’ll need to get rid of some; the box defines how much space I’m willing to give to this type of memorabilia.

I’ve currently got an entire shelf in a closet dedicated to slide wheels, holding photos from a number of wonderful vacations. I was okay giving that shelf to the slides in the past, but now I’m reconsidering. This means I need to sort through the slides and scan the keepers (or use a scanning service to do it for me).

Food storage containers

I have a drawer that holds my food storage containers for leftovers but other people may want more space and perhaps have a cabinet for them. But setting some limit — only as much as easily fits in a specific defined space — makes sense.


I remember a time when I considered buying another file cabinet, because the ones I had were pretty much full. Then I came to my senses and just got rid of some papers. I didn’t need another container; I needed to unclutter. Which is a good thing, because I didn’t really have room for another file cabinet.


Containers for clothes include dressers, closets, clothes trees, and hooks. If our clothes overflow our containers for storing them, we either need fewer clothes or more containers.

Supplies for crafts and hobbies

I knew someone who had a serious quilting hobby, and she chose to dedicate a whole room in her home to her quilting. She had shelves and other storage pieces inside of a larger container: the room itself. This meant she had less space for other things, but it was a trade-off that made sense for her.

The sum of our possessions

At a higher level, our homes are the containers that set the limits on how much we can own. Sometimes a person or family will have another container that extends that limit: an offsite storage unit. But, if all our stuff doesn’t fit comfortably into our spaces, something has to give or we have to move. In many cases, uncluttering will be the better choice.

9 Comments for “Uncluttering by selecting containers and setting limits”

  1. posted by Alice F. on

    Great post – thanks. I think setting some limits on how much space I want to designate in my home for certain items would be a big help to me — I just need to do it!

  2. posted by Leslie on

    Some family members had put a bunch of their stuff in storage for about three years. At one point, the husband tallied up how much they were spending each month on storage (about $450) * the number of months and then he looked at what was actually in storage. He was dismayed when he realized that what they were spending in storage fees had long surpassed the actual value of the items.

  3. posted by Anna on

    This is so timely as we approach spring (at least we hope so, after this interminable winter) and anticipate the freedom to breathe deeply and in an uncluttered fashion.

    I have spent the past few weeks shredding old papers, and I’m astonished by the quantities I once felt I needed to keep, or just let accumulate because I hadn’t done a yearly (or more frequent) purge. I may even liberate one of my file cabinets because there won’t be anything to put in it!

  4. posted by Pat on

    I have started to use this technique and it does work. I have one cabinet above my desk in the kitchen for cookbooks. If I pick up a new cookbook (usually on a trip), it has to fit in this cabinet. If it doesn’t, then something in there gets donated to a book sale. I have a standing container for rolls of wrapping paper, a box for gift bags, and a box for bows. That’s the limit. I love to decorate for the holidays – every holiday. So I am willing to devote space to that, but only one bin for each holiday, with the exception of Christmas. (Lots of boxes for Christmas!) And after each holiday, when I am packing up, I take a long hard look at those things that I didn’t put up. Usually, if something wasn’t displayed, it is not going to be displayed again and it can go.

    I have done the same with file folders: when I can’t fit another sheet of paper in one, some stuff gets shredded. What I still have to address is what is in all those folders that I never look at any more. I have no idea what’s even in the bottom drawer!

  5. posted by Danielle on

    I am going to provide this link on my wedding website for guest to reference. We are not registering for gifts, because we want to stay in our small apartment for many years in the future while we save money for a home. The size of our home determines how much stuff we have. Once we acquire more stuff than our apartment holds, we are afraid we might have to move.

  6. posted by CJ on

    It was SO NICE today to take some time and get rid of bags of clothes I was saving “just in case”. I don’t need them, many of them I don’t want, and so forth. I am saving a few pieces that I truly love and can’t wear right this moment due to certain conditions, but they all fit neatly away. Anything that was sticking out or didn’t sing to me is being donated. A few pieces (bathing suits, new bras I can’t fit) will be sold on ebay this weekend. I love how you feel LIGHTER when you declutter. It’s fabulous.

  7. posted by Gail A. on

    Our house of 21 years has been on the market for 2 weeks now. I’ve spent the past couple of years gradually downsizing, and the past couple of months being merciless about it. The bulk of our possessions now reside in our other home in another state which we’ll live in full-time after this house sells. My point: I LOVE how decluttered and neat our home is now that we are showing it. I edited the pictures on the wall and the knick-knacks on all flat surfaces by over 50%. Some I got rid of, others I boxed up. I wish I had lived like this for the past 21 years! I’m experiencing the calmness and joy of opening a dresser drawer which has only 2 items in it. A cabinet drawer that used to be stuffed with multiple sets of placemats, now has only 1 set in it. It feels like FREEDOM! I realize now that I’d like to live like this all of the time. I don’t know if I can actually achieve it, but I’m going to try hard. As soon as we sell this house, I will turn my attention to the house we’ll be living in full-time. I can’t wait to get my hands on it! I even think that I can now part with some of the items that are already boxed up and ready to take to the other home. I’m discovering that decluttering begets further decluttering.

  8. posted by Maggie on

    I use the container method for my books. I have four tubs (approx 40 x 30 x 25 cm in size) in which I keep my books. I’ve ‘lost’ books to the extreme humidity where I live which is why I have these tubs and they are airtight. These four tubs are the limit of my library. This means I have to be very selective about what I keep. I might buy more books but they have to be donated or sold after reading, or they replace one in a tub.

    Another thing I’m working on is trying to figure out why people pre-60s, say, needed so little storage space at home (never mind not needing an inch of external storage). Then I watch old films I note what people have in their homes. If people didn’t need it then, why do I ‘need’ it now? More often than not I find my answering that I don’t.

    People back then, and further, didn’t need things to make them happy but we’ve been lead to believe stuff will make us happy. True is: it never will.

  9. posted by [email protected] on

    That’s what I do, too, but I didn’t realize it until I read this post. I have several of these exact categories that I limit by the amount of space I’ve assigned to it. It really does help keep from getting too much.

Comments are closed.