3 Ways Our Stuff Owns Us | A Guide to Declutter

Clutter Owns Us Physically, Mentally, and Spiritually

When people think of decluttering they seldom think of getting rid of physical, mental, and spiritual clutter, they think of piles of stuff. Clutter can own us physically, mentally, and spiritually and this article will explain what I mean. 

Decluttering seems to be a trendy thing now. I have been decluttering my life for many years. Decluttering involves every single area of my life. Clutter to me is anything that stands between me and peace of mind.

Physical clutter

Physical clutter is stuff that fills up areas of our homes, garages, and sometimes off-site storage units too, and is what most of us think of regarding clutter. I am talking about material possessions. A lifetime of buying and collecting physical items without discarding any is how clutter builds up. It is insidious.

Physical clutter is a physical space filled with physical objects.

Mental clutter

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Mental clutter equates to a lack of peace. It is difficult to be at peace if you are not living in the present moment. Another way to look at mental clutter is, you know you want to stop thinking about something and you can’t. It feels like you can’t stop obsessing over whatever it is that is bothering you. 

Mental clarity is all but impossible to find when emotional clutter is in the way. Mental clutter can and often does affect your quality of life.

Lack of focus

Lack of focus, analysis paralysis, obsessive thinking or worrying, and feelings of failure can all be causes of mental clutter.

Some folks may need the help of the medical community to gain mental clarity, some achieve peace through mindfulness techniques.

For me, having a few mindset practices to fall back on, makes daily living in the physical world more manageable.

Our brains like order, and living in chaos with too much stuff surrounding us drains our cognitive resources, causing distractions. Most of us, including me, are unable to focus in cluttered circumstances.

Cortisol levels

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Gregory Fricchione, the associate chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said “Cortisol is your friend,” he also states in his research studies, “Until there’s too much of it.” 

Cortisol is the stress hormone that surges and causes all the symptoms we associate with “fight or flight”. This hormone is produced by your adrenal glands. Think of cortisol as your body’s built-in alarm system.

Being in fight or flight mode all the time causes our body’s regulators to go haywire. This has an oversized negative effect on our bodies. Having learned about all this it is evident now that years of living with high stress have contributed to my faulty immune system. 

Spiritual clutter

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Working with others and listening shows me how cluttered personal spaces block folks from creating new opportunities. For some having stuff around fills a need. There is a payoff and if it is not always positive. 

Some people think they never have enough and keep trying to fill that void with stuff.

Spiritual growth will fill that void. Everyone needs to define spiritual growth for themselves. Writing will help you identify your definition of spiritual. I keep my definition of what spirituality is simple and I urge you to do the same.

For me living a clutter-free life allows for all sorts of new ideas to flow to me. I know I have enough, do enough, and am enough. I got off that treadmill of constantly doing and being more more more. 

Follow your dreams

You know that feeling when you drive your brand-new car out of the dealer parking lot. How long does this feeling last? For most of us, it lessens over time. Eventually, it becomes an old car with the feelings of euphoria long gone, and all that is left is a car payment.

Learning mindfulness techniques can be a lifelong practice and lead to peace of mind. It is amazing how much more productive we are when we are focused. This allows us to have the time to do the things we love to do.

Until I quelled the constant chatter in my head I could not focus on what I wanted. It is cool when all the superfluous stuff is gone, and the mind opens how many opportunities present themselves.

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Clutter & time

I hear over and over again ‘I have no time or when the kids are grown, when I have more money, after I pay my house off’ and so on. Think about that. Why would you purposely delay your dream(s)? The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. 

Following your dreams when you are steeped in obligations and responsibilities has its challenges, and I would argue so does leading an unfulfilled life.

I am not suggesting this is an easy path. I am saying I am living proof following my dreams is well worth the sacrifices.

If you have a good excuse don’t use it. We can waste so much time and energy making excuses and not even realize we are doing so. Not having enough money is a genuine issue. Most genuine issues though have workable solutions. 

Take action

Decluttering is a great prelude to self-renewal. Start small. While you are decluttering your physical environment dream about what you truly want. What are you passionate about? 

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Writing, journaling, or daydreaming is a great way to excavate your true feelings. Be rigorously honest and take your time. Ask yourself ‘If you weren’t afraid, what would you do’?

How to know

Many of us do not know the answer to this question. I have facilitated many groups of us finding the answers to what our passions are. Every single one of us has used the tool of writing, in a stream-of-consciousness style, to excavate our dreams and desires.

This may take time to unbury these wishes. The time is going to pass whether you write or not so you may as well put the time in.

Sometimes we have too much clutter in our heads and it can take a long time to quiet our thoughts enough to focus on what is important to us.

Writing focuses me because I have allowed myself the time to write and trained myself to focus while sitting with a pen and notebook. Writing has never failed to help me come up with answers and any directions I was seeking.

Make a decluttering schedule

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The second step is to identify a clear and concise goal that you can break down into an actionable plan. This plan must include a timeline. 

Here is where you are in control. A simple to-do list is not enough, unless your to-do list includes a date and time.

Making a schedule for your plan is key. Making a deadline to have a part of your plan done, for instance, is one way to plan your time, and then work backward scheduling in your calendar, the necessary time needed to reach your deadline.

I scheduled writing into my mornings by setting my alarm for 20 minutes earlier. Back in those days, I had a full-time job that began at 6:30 am and I was starting a new business. I made time. This was well worth the sacrifice of 20 minutes of sleep. I am in my 29th year of that business I was starting. 

Was this easy? Heck no! If it was easy it likely would not have had the same payoff.

Start decluttering in a small way

You can’t change your life overnight though you can begin to start today. The next time you find yourself making an excuse why you can’t do something you want to do adjust your thinking. Instead of being sure you can’t, spend some time to find a solution. 

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Most people resist writing or journaling. The few that are willing to try the process soar. By just writing for 10 minutes every day you will be amazed to notice the difference. Help yourself with my free writing prompts to get started.

Clutter encompasses everything.

You are now filling yourself with your life’s wishes and will likely notice the desire to satisfy your appetite with stuff has diminished.

People ask me if I ever get sick of thinking and writing about clutter. My answer is no, I find the topic endless because it encompasses the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of life.


As you continue and your plan unfolds be prepared to pivot when needed. Life is life after all and things will come up. Sometimes the best things come as a result of having to zig and zag. Go with it.

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Support system

The ultimate goal is to find peace of mind in this physical world. If you don’t have family members or friends that can help you there are organizations you can contact.

One of the best kept secrets is most towns have a council on aging department. If you can’t find help locally you can call the National Council on Aging for guidance.

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There is nothing I would trade my peace of mind for. My magical journey all started some time ago with a ballpoint pen, a cheap notebook, and a few minutes every morning. 


Marj Bates is a life long ridiculously organized declutter-er and artist. Less is more are words Marj lives by in everything she does except collecting dogs. “Dogs are like potato chips! Can’t have just one.” says Marj. Marj wonders if growing up with a fanatically clean Jewish mom means her decluttering and organizational skills are in her blood.

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