Our homes and offices can have everything in place and still be cluttered because some of those well organized things are actually things we could do without. We may not even notice the organized clutter because we’ve often lived with those things for quite some time.
Sitting on a bookshelf in my living room is a very nice music system, the components chosen with care about 15 years ago to replace a much larger system. But a few days ago, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had used it! I like music, but I don’t enjoy having background music on while I work, read, or do household chores. And if I did want music, I could choose some that I have in a digital format. Now I’m considering getting rid of the system because I’ve realized that, at least in my life, it’s just clutter.
Our lives change, but the things that fill our lives don’t always keep pace. I’ve had many people tell me they could never get rid of any of their books. But when we looked carefully at their bookshelves, they found plenty of books to give away because their needs and interests had evolved.
Here are some other types of clutter that can be hiding in plain sight: collections that no longer bring you joy, art that’s no longer to your taste, and pantry items you’ll never use because your style of cooking has changed. A nicely labeled bin of holiday decorations in the garage, attic, or basement is just clutter if you no longer choose to decorate for that holiday.
Similarly, you can have beautifully organized files full of papers there’s no reason to keep. My favorite example: My mother used to keep all her old utility bills, from an apartment in another state, neatly filed away.
Of course, we can have hidden digital clutter, too. We can have nicely organized computer files full of documents we’d discard in a moment if we remembered they were there. We can have useful apps organized on our smartphones alongside apps we haven’t used in years or will never use again.
Sometimes the hidden clutter is stuff we’ve purposely chosen to hide. Many people have never-used gifts hiding out in the back of closets or on shelves in the garage.
This hidden clutter doesn’t seem to be as problematic as the more obvious clutter, but it can still be worth tackling. My music system might as well be sold or donated (giving me a financial benefit) or given away to someone who will use it. And keeping our spaces uncluttered makes it easier to clean, easier to move, and easier to find storage space for the things we really do want.
If you decide to look for (and dispose of) the hidden clutter in your own spaces, I would recommend reading Erin’s post on strategies for seeing clutter. I’d be interested in hearing about what you find, so share your experiences with us in the comments.