How to Control Clutter Creep

If you’ve been on a journey to a simpler life, or even if you are just getting started, you’ve likely experienced clutter creep. It works something like this:

  • You successfully declutter a room and vow never to clutter the countertops again.
  • The next day you revel in your beautiful clutter-free space.
  • A few days later you have friends over and they bring you a thank you gift.
  • You place it on the counter.
  • Your kids bring home their art projects and holiday gifts from school.
  • On the counter they go.
  • At the grocery store, you meander down the festive, twinkling, holiday aisle and pick up a few things.
  • You move the art projects over to make room for the candles and ornaments.
  • Fast forward to January and you’re back in the clutter wondering where your lovely clutter-free space went.

Clutter creep happens over days and weeks and years, and unless you are vigilant, you might not notice it until it’s a problem. Clutter creep is slow, silent and sneaky and loves to appear when your defenses are down. If you are busy, rundown or on a shopping bender, clutter creep will make it’s move. It will be a subtle move, and then another and another until you are ready to send your audition tape in for an episode of Hoarders.

Clutter creep is on the move all year long, but it especially loves December. It’s the one time of the month that you are most likely to have the defenses are down trifecta. (busy, rundown and on a shopping bender all at once)

Your Clutter Creep Weapons

These weapons will make fighting clutter creep easier and sometimes even enjoyable:

The easiest way to combat clutter creep is taking time each day, even if it’s just 5 minutes to be aware of your surroundings. Notice if a specific area of your home is becoming cluttered and take action immediately.

One-in one-out
When something new comes into your home, find something else to send out. For instance, if a neighbor brings you a holiday gift, donate another item in your home. If you don’t think you’ll use the holiday gift, donate that. You don’t have to wait until January to decide what stays and goes. Control clutter creep item by item. One by one.

The box
Place a donate box by the door. If you want it to look more festive, decorate it for the holidays. Then, anytime you come across something that isn’t adding value to your life, drop it in the box. This isn’t permission to dump your husband’s favorite sweatshirt or children’s toys, but you can encourage your family to use the box for their personal items.

10 minute sweep
Invite your family to take part in a 10 minute sweep before bedtime. Turn up the music and get a little crazy. Dance around and see who can pick up the most. Give one point for each item that is put away where it belongs. Add bonus points for any items that get tossed in the donate box.

No thank you
This weapon is not used nearly enough. It’s powerful! The holidays are a perfect time to say “no thank you”. Say no to:

  • that little voice that urges you to buy one for you when you buy one for them
  • white elephant or other gift swaps
  • irresistible sale offers
  • department store mailing lists
  • more decorations
  • more gifts
  • more parties

Choose what is most important to you
We are used to having it all or at least thinking that we can. Instead, make a choice and prioritize what is most important to you. You do have a choice! If you have trouble making decisions, use these guidelines: choose people over stuff and time over money. You’ll rarely be disappointed.

Clutter won’t go away on its own, and it often creeps in easier than it creeps out, but living clutter-free offers a life with less stuff and more time, space, money, and happiness. Living clutter-free is worth the fight especially if you are well armed.


How to Control Clutter Creep

One more weapon in your fight against clutter

I wrote Clutterfree with my friend Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and I’m happy to announce that it’s available for your Kindle today! This book is a great weapon for your fight against clutter because it doesn’t just teach you how to get rid of it, but also why you have it in the first place and how to maintain a happy clutter-free life.

3 sections and 23 chapters guide you through the most important parts of being clutter free.

  • Emotion. Understand why you have clutter.
  • Action. Learn how to get rid of clutter.
  • Maintain. Enjoy your clutter-free life.

Clutterfree is available for $2.99 and a full table of contents is listed in the book description. Leo and I hope you enjoy the book and your clutter-free life.

quick note: You don’t need a Kindle to read Kindle books. They can be read using the Free Kindle Reader App for your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, or Android.




  1. says

    You are so right – and I think with all the focus on enjoyment at Christmas it’s natural to lose discipline. Some useful tips to keep us on the straight and narrow – controlling clutter is hard all year round but even harder at this time of year!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Thanks Claire, Like diet and debt, clutter deserves our attention so our health and relationships don’t suffer in the new year (or ever).

      • Andy B says

        Help for the time-pressed: Because it’s so easy to become over-whelmed by the amount of clutter in our homes, try to deal with just 5 items in each room – hang 5 articles of clothing, place 5 items in the recycle/trash bins, etc. Over time, this makes a huge difference in making the spaces clutter-free.

  2. Paula says

    I love my uncluttered counters and tables at home. You are right. 5 minutes is all it takes to clear a space.
    I have one single holiday ornament, my very tiny Christmas tree!
    The only gift that is on my Xmas list, and not because i need it but so I can finally donate/re-gift all my books is a Kindle!
    I look forward to another year of learning and living a lighter, uncluttered life!
    Thank you!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Hi Paula,

      I think you will really like the Kindle. I use an older model that my mom gave me when started reading on iPad and love it … especially for travel. (lighter travel bags) 😉

  3. says

    This is so right on! I always get to this part of December and wonder why a few extra Christmas decorations can start to feel suffocating. But the reality is that my guard is down in December and there are so many extra things coming into our home this month. Extra library books, extra craft supplies for making gifts, extra baking supplies for making gifts, gifts themselves….

    Starting right now I will be more diligent about keeping it under control!

    • Courtney Carver says

      Sometimes it’s hard to recognize clutter as clutter when its festive and full of holiday promise. 😉

  4. Toni says

    This post is very appropriate, especially at this time of year. We’ve been decluttering a lot over the last several months and our house still looks messy due to all of the stuff that comes in on a daily basis. Papers are my downfall, and since I don’t have a desk or office space, it ends up all over the kitchen counters, the island, and the dining table. Now, I’m off to toss a bunch of stuff and get a bit more clutter free before my family comes this weekend! Thanks for a great post today!

  5. Ann says

    I think it’s important to keep clearing the same space and developing that habit before trying to clear others. I’m on a mission to keep throwing away the daily newspapers which try to overwhelm our living room. If I change my focus to a different room or cluttering agent, the newspapers build up very quickly. (This is partly because of reading online and partly because I’m too busy to read them – and most of the articles I’m interested in are timeless!)

  6. Cathy says

    I am lucky to work two doors down from a Goodwill. I try to get a grocery bag full of stuff out there every month, and most months I succeed. I’ve been at it so long that it’s becoming more challenging to find things to add to the bag, which delights me.

  7. Daniela says

    This year, when I started to decorate for christmas early December I took everything out of the boxes and decorated. Once I was finished, I looked at everything I didn’t use and decided: a) I still like it and want to keep it or b) I donate it. There was not that much on the a pile and the people at our local charity shop were very happy to receive christmas decoration BEFORE christmas. win win 😉

    • Courtney Carver says

      Daniela, That made me smile. It’s something so simple that will make others happy while reducing clutter in your home.

  8. Happy Annie says

    Just came across your blog and love it! I am a strict adherent of the bring one and take one out rule and it has changed my life! When I see something I want (like new shoes?) I think about which ones I will get rid of before even getting them. Most of the time I don’t buy the item because I realize that it isn’t as good as what I already have. I also do the “give-away” box by the garage door. It’s ALWAYS full! I like knowing that the thongs I no longer use will go to charity and have a second chance at being useful. :) Great BLOG! Thank you!

  9. says

    Ohhhh, yes. This post is so important to read right now! I have done an amazing job this past year of minimalising my house/life and now it’s mostly about the upkeep. The boyfriend is the more cluttery one and if I didn’t remind him to tidy up his things and put them away, it would look horrible in here. Luckily, he’s gotten a lot better at it! Things for posting this!

  10. Kerry says

    Thank you Courtney..You inspired me all year. The most important thing is that I will not go into another New Year with a cluttered basement. I have been decluttering for 3 days, and it’s a great feeling. I even labeled everything to keep us all on track for now and future use. I really can’t wait till the day when I need something usual and can honestly “I know exactly where it is? I have done a great job on minimalizing many new things in my house too. Limited waste, and repurposing items I never thought could be used again its refreshing. Love your blog, it gives me inspiration everyday.