The Five Stages of Clutter

The 5 Stages of Clutter from

If you’ve ever thought about decluttering and then stopped, or started actually decluttering and then stopped, you might find some aha moments below. Think about these words the next time you dust a vase with no flowers, spend an entire weekend at Target or Home Depot, or try to fit into a pair of jeans that will not zip.

Depending on where you are in your be more with less journey, you have either said some of these things, or will say them soon.

This may sound similar to the 5 stages of grief, but it is in no way meant to diminish grief or other emotions.

The Five Stages of Clutter

1. Denial

Clutter is a problem before you ever recognize it. Often heard in this stage …

  • What clutter?
  • Let’s look through the sale flyers.
  • I’m saving that for my kids.
  • I need to get organized.
  • I’ll keep that just in case.

2. Anger

When you finally feel trapped by your stuff, it will piss you off. Often heard in this stage …

  • I spent so much on that.
  • I’ve never worn it and the tags are still on.
  • The collection company has me on speed dial.
  • I work so hard to have nice things.
  • I’m not happy.

3. Bargaining

When you start to picture your stuff in the perfect organizational system, you are bargaining. Often heard in this stage …

  • I need some good Rubbermaid containers.
  • We need a bigger place.
  • Storage space isn’t that expensive.
  • Ikea has the perfect …
  • We can get rid of it when we move.

4. Action

Boxing up your useless stuff is the first step and it feels so good. Every box out the door creates more space. You feel lighter. You can breathe. This stage has its own mini-stages ranging from slow and steady to everything must go. Often heard in this stage …

  • I don’t even remember what was in that box.
  • We may need to consider a smaller space.
  • What else can we give away?
  • Do we really need more than one?
  • She won’t even notice it’s gone.

5. Freedom

Every little thing that you let go of creates space and time that you didn’t know existed. Minimalists claim that freedom is the number one benefit of simplifying their lives. Often heard in this stage …

  • Why did I wait?
  • What else can I get rid of?
  • I quit my job.
  • I moved into a smaller space.
  • I’m finally happy.

Anything sound familiar? Embrace whatever stage of decluttering you are in and celebrate your accomplishments. You are doing great!


  1. says

    We recently went through all of the stages in a very short period of time. I already considered myself a minimalist but we decided to downsize and become full time RVers. Where in the h@&& did I get all that stuff? When I saw all of the money I wasted over the years on things I thought I needed I was definitely angry with myself. The good news is that I don’t have room to collect useless stuff if I wanted to. I have never felt so free in my life.

    Dan @ Zen Presence

  2. says

    Freedom was definitely the result for us. It was our goal from the very beginning and the reason I chose “Freedom” as my pen name. We purged a ton of useless stuff and then downsized from a 4 bedroom house to a 2 bedroom apartment. Now we have more freedom in the form of more time and money to spend doing fun activities.

  3. Martina says

    So true. Now we are at the action stage! I hope we come up to freedom and I’m really looking forward to it.
    How was it possible to get this huge amount of stuff? Nobody needs that much 😀

    • Courtney Carver says

      Take it slowly Martina, It truly is a process that will teach you so much about yourself and the life you want to live. Congrats!

  4. says

    What a clever way to write about decluttering, Courtney! I loved the Anger phase as I could so connect to the pissed-off feeling. “I mean, really? Is it necessary to have three staplers? Three!?” But, it’s even funnier to think about the preceding stage, Denial. “What if my teacher friends come over and they all need to secure paper at once?! Is it fair to make them wait for one stapler? How declasse!”

    CJ composed a Five Stages of Grief piece for the classical guitar, so if you ever decide to put this to music…perhaps someone could read it like a poem. :)

  5. Nancy says

    Wow! I think I’m in the bargaining stage moving into the action stage. Reading the quotes from the various stages are almost verbatim from my mouth.

  6. cjb says

    My DH and I have been selling our clutter on Ebay and we are so happy to be seeing it go!!!!!

    The great thing is, the stuff leaving is helping to motivate us to get rid of stuff we weren’t really ready to part with….but we’re loving the extra space we are getting….

  7. says

    I think these apply to the mental clutter that I’ve been feeling lately from taking on too many projects. I went from denying that I was overwhelmed, to being angry at myself for not saying “no” more often, to convincing myself that a new bulletin board and system of organization was really needed…you get the picture. I think I’m in the action phase now.

    Great post!

  8. says

    Ah, that final stage makes all the others so worth the trouble! Brilliant post, Courtney and cleverly written. I quit my job may have been the biggest one yet. That was spectacular. Totally addicted to that rush.

  9. Kathy Mader says

    You nailed it, Courtney. I have been in the anger phase longer than I care to admit. But the message is starting to penetrate…especially since my mother has finally decided to start throwing things out. She’s the type who has saved every letter, travel brochure and cancelled check ever to pass through her hands, plus all her mother’s stuff and more. It’s unbelievable and nearly hopeless, and I’ve decided I’m not going down that path…no way. Thank you for your ministry.

  10. Ree Klein says

    Hi Courtney,this was a clever and insightful post. Relating our connection to and release of our “stuff” to the grieving process is right on point. Stuff represents memories, history, dreams, etc. Letting go of it can be very much like losing a person for the first time or all over again. I live in a small home and have more than I need. Letting go is hard but, as you point out, can be so rewarding.

    I recently wrote a post on titled “Myth: He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins.” There’s a great key ring exercise in there — you’d be surprised what you can learn about people, their stuff and the financial burden they carry just by looking at their key ring!

  11. says

    For me, it depends on the day… I go between “we need more room” and “what else can I get rid of?!” LOL! Garage sale soon… Think I’ll see what else I can add to the pile! Because we are NOT getting more room!

  12. Kristi says

    Wow! It really is a grieving process and I never thought of it that way. Strangely enough, as I’ve come to the ending stages of grieving the loss of my Mom to colon cancer in 2010, I’ve also found myself in the grieving stages for stuff-I’m definitely in the action stage. I just go fed up and said enough is enough. I’ve wasted so much money and time through the years accumulating and buying things. And, one of the driving forces behind this activity to declutter has been seeing all the junk my Mom had hoarded for so many years. I don’t want to leave so much junk for my kids to go through when I’m gone. Honestly, I look at each item and ask myself, “is this something I use, love, need and/or absolutely love?” Because if it isn’t, I’m just leaving my clutter for someone else to have to go through and donate or trash or recycle or repurpose, etc. And that isn’t fair to my family. Thanks for your blogging, I’ve ready it for quite awhile now and it took some time to reach this point and I credit it largely to you, Courtney, for gently leading me to the present. Thank you! :)

  13. says

    I’m somewhere between action and freedom. Actually I’ve been getting rid of stuff that has been overpowering our already small space

  14. says

    It’s amazing how freeing minimalism can be. We started decluttering, because we wanted less stress. And now, we’re working toward living a life completely free of the “American Dream” and all of its pressures and restrictions!

  15. Sarah T. says

    Perhaps this is cyclical. I’ve hit action several times, only to find myself back at anger at what is left. Each round of purging makes me reevaluate what is left. I know I am at a point where the knick-knacks are gone, but the useful-but-hidden stuff is still lurking in the closet. I have yet to reach freedom. There are times of great joy and satisfaction at the stuff that is gone, but true freedom from excess still evades us.

    • Kristi says

      Practical Parsimony: I’m so sorry. I read your blog about your friend last night…..I’m so sorry. That had to be devastating for you. But, wow, he let you in his life, maybe not his house, but his heart, and that is rare. I’m humbled and pray for you. It also encouraged me to keep muddling through my mess. Thank you for sharing his story, God bless you.

      • says

        We were the best of platonic friends for over twenty years. Peeing in the sawmill was the pits, but it was the way things were. He let things ride for too long until it was impossible to clean it, impossible in his mind.

  16. says

    Thank you so much for this post!! I was in denial for a VERY long time. I felt everything I had was for “Just in case” moments. Those moments never came! I started buying bins and containers (and a taller dresser) trying to fit all my stuff. My small room got smaller and it was always so stuffy in there. :( I’m at the very beginning of my “be more with less” journey. I just spent 7 days de-cluttering my room. I actually got rid of all the bins, all the containers, and even that tall dresser! Everything fits so neatly in my closet and it’s like my room can breathe! It’s like my room has thanked me for the clearing out. :)

  17. says

    My spouse and I are in 2 different stages, which makes it difficult. He’s in denial. He’s a “we might need this someday”. I am more in the action phase. Our closet is quiet humerous, as he has 4x the amount of clothes I do. Also, would love to know a tactful way to ward of well meaning people who buy my kid tons of junk.


    • Amy says

      Kate, that’s exactly the problem in my home. My husband is of the “just in case” mindset, and instead he loses whatever it was in all the clutter and has to go buy another one anyway. I try to take action, but it’s all very overwhelming, and if I take too much action getting rid of stuff that isn’t mine it will adversely affect our relationship.
      One exception for me is clothes (including shoes). He used to have way more clothes than me, but I have been steadily adding to mine, and refusing to get rid of things I don’t fit into anymore because my size has yo-yoed so much over the past several years. And I just plain love my shoes. I have way more than I need but I do wear all of them (with the exception of one pair that I’m still saving for just the right occasion…) :)

  18. says

    I love this! And guess what, I did this, and I actually quit my job! Now I am a professional organizer, doing work I LOVE doing, and helping other people get rid of their stuff and feel lighter and better. You said it best when you said, “Every little thing that you let go of creates space and time that you didn’t know existed.” It’s so true. Getting rid of clutter is truly its own reward, but incredibly, it also ends up making room for wonderful things to arise in people’s lives that they truly never expected.
    This blog is going into my “regular reads” rotation. :)

  19. says

    If the world evolved from chaos, why do my pantry and garage do the opposite? I’ve been on clutter patrol so long now that I can go through all your stages in a week or less. Good things, as piles erupted from time to time, seemingly from barren shelves or grow like mushrooms in the back of closets!

  20. says

    Hi there! I’ve been in the action mode off and on for years now, I’m constantly trying to find more things to get rid of and it always feels wonderful when I can! I wouldn’t say that I’m free just yet, but there’s certainly hope :)
    But I’m curious as to why you list quitting your job in the final stage? I mean, I’m certainly intrigued by the concept – who wouldn’t want to quit their job – but how does it become a side effect of decluttering? We do have less things, but we still need to feed our kids, after all…
    Thanks for your time, and have a wonderful day!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Hi Toby! Great question. I don’t think everyone wants to quit their job but I do know many people including myself that have been able to leave a job they didn’t like because through simplifying (getting rid of stuff/paying off debt/spending less) they can be comfortable making less, or taking a risk in starting something new.

  21. Stephanie says

    Great Article. Ironically, the things that have remained in my life were my favorite things to begin with. That second set of towels purchased out of boredom, for example? GONE…and 1/2 an SUV load along with it. Everyone gets 2 towels. Happiness. Apply to all other room and drawers…more happiness!

  22. says

    Hi Courtney,

    I absolutely love how you’ve articulated the struggles I’ve been going through with my de-cluttering journey. I started late last year, then completely abandoned it because the act of getting rid of stuff brought out a lot of emotions, mostly negative. Just looking at an article of clothing or wedding memorabilia left me feeling drained and worn out. So now I’m taking a more proactive approach by turning it into a project. I intend to document every step of the way. I think writing about it on my blog will force me to be accountable for my actions. I tend to bury negative emotions deep inside and pretend they don’t exist, but I think this mini “shedding” project will allow me to be more accountable for my actions.

  23. Breena says

    What are your thoughts on keeping extras necessities on hand like food (not junk per say) to be prepared for incliment weather? Certain supplies, even if they lie around for a while are important if yiu plan on canning your own food or care to be self-sufficient.