How To Declutter Your Life And Why

Knowing your “Clutter Archetype” can help you get a handle on the barriers you may be facing when you try to declutter your life. Don’t fall for the flashy illusions of affluenza.

Organized . . . Or Not

Imagine yourself coming home at the end of the day. As you go by the mailbox, you stop and take out the day’s mail. You park in your garage and get out of the car. You quickly go through the mail and toss the junk mail into the recycle bin. The items with your name and other identifying information go into the inbox in the front hall. Some need to be shredded, others filed away. You’ll deal with that shortly.

You remove your shoes and place them on the shoe rack. Next, you take off your coat and hang it in the closet. Then, you empty your pockets and put your wallet, keys, and pen in the drawer where they belong. Finally, you change out of your work clothes, putting the dirty garments in the hamper and hanging up the ones you’ll wear again.

How do you feel? Pretty organized and clutter-free? Actually, that describes me and my routine when I come home.

Now, imagine this. You go back out to your garage to drop more recycling items in the bin. You go past your workbench that is piled up with paint and assorted painting tools from a recent project. A bag of shredded paper sits precariously atop some empty boxes, awaiting a trip to the recycling station. Various small tools and other items litter the top of the workbench.

How do you feel now? Pretty disorganized and cluttered up? Well, that describes what I saw when I went into my garage this morning.

You see, we are seldom completely organized and free from clutter, just as most of us (except in drastic cases) are not completely unorganized and smothered in clutter. For most of us, it’s a mix – we can be well-organized in some areas of our lives while we are disorganized in others. When you understand this, it can make it easier to declutter your life — in all areas.

More Stuff ≠ Fulfillment

declutter your life

Sometimes we confuse having possessions with being affluent – living the “good life”. In fact, according to Merriam-Webster, one definition of affluence is “abundance of property”.

But the origin of affluence is the Latin verb affluere: to flow abundantly. It has nothing to do with accumulating possessions at all.

“The word affluence is an overworked word in our time,” writes Eric Butterworth, Unity and New Thought minister and writer, “usually implying cars and houses and baubles of all kinds. Its literal meaning is ‘an abundant flow,’ and not things at all. When we are consciously centered in the universal flow, we experience inner direction and the unfoldment of creative activity.” [Butterworth]

It seems we often confuse affluence with affluenza: “extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationshipsfrom Merriam-Webster (my emphasis).

Removing Clutter = Freedom

Real freedom – mental, emotional, and physical – comes when you declutter your life and not from the affluenza of acquiring more and more stuff.

It means space and room to have the freedom to move about easily. It means freedom from anxiety as you gain a sense of control. You experience the ease of seeing open, neat, tidy spaces and feel the freedom to release the guilt and frustration for things not dealt with.

But if it were easy, we’d all already be living a decluttered life. Let’s examine the reasons why we sometimes resist dealing with clutter.

The 4 Archetypes

In their book, New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living, Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici identify four archetypes, or typical examples, of different reasons for holding on to stuff. [1 – Fortin and Quilici] While one person sees an item as clutter, another might see it as useful, another as expensive, another as having sentimental attachment. Understanding the different archetypes can be helpful as you declutter your life.

The 1st Archetype: Connected

The first archetype Fortin and Quilici describe is called “connected”. If you have a difficult time letting go of gifts, cards, souvenirs, ticket stubs, programs, and other memorabilia, this archetype may describe you. [2 – Fortin and Quilici]

Each archetype has a “shadow side”, describing the practice carried to an extreme. The shadow side of the Connected archetype is “Clinging”. [2] To move from Clinging back to Connected, separate your memories and experiences from the souvenirs. “Collect memories, not things.” [2] Consider that you don’t have to memorialize every event by keeping a memento of the event.

The 2nd Archetype: Practical

The second archetype is called “practical”. Practical folks find it hard to get rid of old arts and crafts supplies, electrical cords, and scrap materials of all sorts. [2]

The shadow side of Practical is “Limited”. If you are Limited, you’ll find it difficult to get rid of anything “useful”, whether to you or anyone else. [2] But keep in mind that useful to somebody doesn’t mean you have to keep it.

To move away from the Limited mindset, don’t look at an item and think “I could use that later” or “I might need it someday”. Focus on the here and now. Does it meet your current needs? Even if it is useful in theory, do you need it right now? [2] If not, why not donate it to someone who can use it now?

The 3rd Archetype: Energetic

The next archetype is “energetic”. If you have many different projects going on or countless interests you’re involved in, this may be you. [2]

The shadow side of Energetic? Scattered. [2] Instead of focusing your energy on one project till it is completed, you are scattering your energies ineffectively over a multitude of endeavors . . . and trying to deal with all the bits and pieces of material needed for each. Perhaps you’ve heard of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out? This might be an issue for the scattered person.

To deal with the Scattered mindset, realistically look at all your open projects. Use the zero-based thinking question: “Knowing what I now know, would I start this project if I had it to do over?” If you answer “No”, release the objects related to that project.

If it’s your calendar that’s cluttered, use the same technique for each entry on your schedule. Knowing what you now know, if this event was not on your calendar, would you still add it? If not, take steps to cancel or otherwise remove the event.

And remember, “No” is a complete sentence. Practice it often.

The 4th Archetype: Frugal

“Frugal” is the final archetype. If getting rid of anything is painful for you because it has, or had, monetary value, this archetype may describe you. [2]

Scarcity is the shadow side of Frugal. [2] Those with a Scarcity mindset find it stressful to get rid of anything with perceived monetary value. [2]

Fortin and Quilici recommend having a list of practices to calm yourself when you are feeling this stress while you declutter. Some examples they suggest include: “Going for a walk. Sitting in nature. Dancing to a favorite song. Journaling. Breaking a sweat. Taking twenty device-free minutes to savor a cup of coffee or tea. Calling up a loved one.” [2]

Six Of My Favorite Decluttering Techniques

Did you see yourself in one of those archetypes? Perhaps you saw tendencies toward more than one, as I did. Knowing the things you struggle with getting rid of can help you overcome the barriers that may be keeping you in a mess. Now that you know, why not get started to declutter your life?

Here are a 1/2 dozen ideas to get you underway:

  • Sort through the clothes in your closets. Make a pile to keep, a pile for things that need to be cleaned or mended, and a pile to give away. Consider giving away anything you haven’t worn for a year (except seasonal items). Put the items to give away in a bag and get them out of the house. Put them in your car to be dropped at the Goodwill or Salvation Army.
  • Weed your files. Don’t keep a separate file folder for each recurring monthly bill. Instead, have 12 folders, labeled with each month. Then keep all of January’s papers in the January folder, February’s in the February folder, etc. Next January, empty the January folder of papers from last year and store the items for January of this year.
  • Clear out the medicine cabinet. Go through your old prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Toss out everything that is past the expiration date. Throw away any unused prescription medication that you no longer take. Most communities hold periodic drug take-back days to help you safely dispose of prescription drugs.
  • Clean up your e-mail inbox. Delete any obvious junk mail or newsletters that you aren’t interested in. (Unsubscribe from newsletters that you no longer read.) Set up e-mail folders for storing messages that you need to act on and move messages out of the inbox to the appropriate folder. I use daily folders, named 01_Monday, 02_Tuesday, 03_Wednesday, etc. to store items that must be done on a specific day. I have three action folders: _To Do As Soon As Possible, _To Do As Time Allows, _To Read. (Putting a special character, such as the underscore _ ” or at sign ” @ “, at the beginning of the folder name brings it to the top of the list of folders.)
  • Get paper under control. Open your mail over the recycle bin or trash can. Immediately toss any junk mail, flyers, or catalogs you aren’t interested in. Don’t let unopened mail pile up. Commit to going through your mail every 2 – 3 days. Throw away newspapers over 3 days old and magazines over 3 months old. If there is an article you want to keep or re-read, tear it out and file it.
  • Clear the mental clutter. Get your “to do” list out of your head and on to paper. Make a list of the things you are tolerating and begin cleaning up those items. If you have goals or projects that are more than 1 year old (and that you aren’t actively pursuing), let them go.

Well-Enough Organized

Being well-enough organized means you are able to find the things you need when you need them. You don’t spend precious time looking for your glasses, car keys, can opener, or that bill that’s about to be overdue if you don’t pay it. Well-enough organized means each of these things has a home and you put them where they belong when you’re finished with them.

If you find you have a block against organizing some things, perhaps you’ve slipped into the shadow side of your “clutter archetype”. Now you know some basic ways to deal with them. And if you need more information, look at New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living by Cary Telander Fortin and Kyle Louise Quilici.

Remember the difference between affluence and affluenza. Be open to the flow of abundance without falling prey to the constant pursuit of more possessions. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!

Excelerated Organization™ — being clutter-free and well-enough organized — able to find what you need when you need it — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™.


Butterworth, Eric. Spiritual Economics: The Principles And Process Of True Prosperity. Unity Village, MO: Unity Books, 2001.

[1] Fortin, Cary Telander and Kyle Louise Quilici. New Minimalism: Decluttering And Design For Sustainable, Intentional Living. Seattle, WA: Sasquatch Books, 2018.

[2] Fortin, Cary Telander and Kyle Louise Quilici. “What Your Clutter Is Trying to Tell You.” Harpo Productions, Inc,. Web. October 26, 2020.

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