The Root Cause of Clutter (and How to Stop it Now)

Where to start decluttering is not after you bring an item into your home…it happens long before you get to that point.
 This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy here.
I had no idea the REAL underlying reason why clutter spreads across countertops, spills out of cabinets, and fills junk drawers to the brim, but now that I know, I'm never looking back! Here's to cutting off clutter at its source and never needing to Marie Kondo my entire house ever again! #declutter #clutter #clutteredhome #toomuchstuff

Even though Joseph and I decluttered quite a bit before moving into the RV, we’ve learned not to let down our guard in the never-ending battle against junk! We still visit Goodwill to drop off a few things every now and then.

I actually have a couple bags occupying the backseat of the truck right now!

We continue to be intentional about getting rid of clutter because it has an uncanny way of multiplying when you’re not looking.

Unless you’re an avid minimalist, you’ve probably seen this phenomenon in your own home.

But did you know there’s an underlying reason why clutter spreads across countertops, spills out of cabinets, and fills junk drawers to the brim?

It’s not because we need to organize more. And it’s definitely not because we don’t declutter enough.

Related: The Decluttering Rule You’ve Never Heard Of

The Real Reason We Struggle with Clutter

The real reason clutter takes over is because we aren’t intentional about what we bring into our home in the first place.

So where to start decluttering really?

I’m not saying there’s never a time when a massive overhaul is appropriate. I, too, am inspired by the drastic before and afters of decluttering just like anyone else!

But what if we got to the place where we could stop clutter from coming in at all?

  • We wouldn’t waste time carefully sorting through our possessions and overthinking whether or not to keep them.
  • We could avoid the inconvenient clutter explosion over our home while working on a specific space. Especially since the larger the project, the more days you’ll need to complete it and the more you’ll have to tip-toe around the mess!
  • Decluttering could become a part of your everyday lifestyle rather than one massive, looming project, which would take the overwhelm out of the entire process.
  • We wouldn’t leave a legacy of stuff that our kids have to sort through when we’re gone because we didn’t do it ourselves.

The truth is, decluttering after stuff is inside your home only helps so much.

If you don’t want to find yourself back in the same place this time next year, you need to keep those items from entering your home at all.

The Surprising Benefits of Knowing Where to Start Decluttering

1. When you buy less stuff, that’s less you have to clean, less you have to pick up, and less you have to sort through and purge later.

2. When you spend $$$ more intentionally, you don’t have to worry about impulse purchases. If it’s the right time to buy, you can purchase it without feeling guilty.

3. When you receive free stuff (happy meal toys, Christmas gifts you don’t use or love, freebies from fairs and conferences and events, etc.), you’ll be more prepared to say no or to put those items directly in the giveaway pile!

So what if we knew where to start decluttering and hesitated—just for a moment—before saying yes to bringing items in our home?

  • Your pantry probably wouldn’t be full of obscure ingredients you bought for just one recipe.
  • Your guest room closet probably wouldn’t be full of old pieces from your mom that you didn’t have the heart to refuse.
  • Your Christmas decorations probably would only take up a few totes instead of ten, because you would only purchase items you love, not items you can’t leave behind because they’re 80% off during an after-Christmas sale.

And we would see a real difference how much more peace and joy we feel in our home environments.

5 Ways to Be Successful at Cutting Off Clutter at its Source

So how do you do this … practically speaking?

In that moment of hesitation, how do you reframe your thoughts from, “I totally need/want this!” to “I probably could get away with not taking this home”?

1. Consider what you already have at home. I go weak in the knees when I find cute office supplies and often take them home even though I have plenty of notebooks and sticky notes to last me until retirement. I have to be super intentional to remind myself that no, I don’t need that 37th roll of washi tape, no matter how cute the pattern is.

2. Wait a few days. I have a personal policy that if I think of that item three times after seeing it in-store or online, I either buy it (if I have the money to spend) or I put it on my personal wish list for later. If I like it enough to remember it, I know it belongs with me! If the item goes on sale later, it’s a win-win!

3. Maintain a wish list. Like I mentioned earlier, I keep a wish list on Pinterest of things I would like to buy someday. Saving the item to a specific board assures me that I can always buy it later. That keeps me from making impulse purchases and regretting them soon after!

4. Avoid deal-seeking and freebie websites. A great deal isn’t all that great if you buy something you don’t need or want. Give yourself permission to unsubscribe from these sites for a while until you can use them more intentionally.

5. Focus on staying organized. When everything has a place, you’ll know pretty quickly whether or not you have room to add a new item.

For example, all my water bottles fit so perfectly inside one bin that I couldn’t possibly add one more without buying a bigger bin! With this system, I know that I shouldn’t buy a water bottle no matter how good the price is. And if I receive one for free, at least one has to go.

Which leads me to this good practice: If you do go ahead and purchase the item or receive it as a gift, practice the one-in-one-out rule so you can turn decluttering into a habit and keep items from sneakily filling up your home.

Whenever I purchase a new sweater and struggle to squeeze it into my dresser drawer, I know it’s time to send one I don’t wear as often (or even like!) straight to the thrift store.

For more organization help, I highly recommend the program The Organized Home Method Course.

Through six carefully chosen organization projects, you’ll learn how to transform each space from messy and unmanageable into a functional and visually appealing part of your home.

Even more than that, you’ll learn how to easily integrate organizing habits and routines into your life so that they become second nature and feel less like work. (And you won’t have to declutter nearly so often!) LEARN MORE HERE.

Remember, Your Home is Your Sanctuary

I love this quote by William Morris,

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

In other words, remember where to start decluttering: before you ever bring an item into your home. Make sure it serves a purpose before you exchange your hard-earned money for it.

Because when you live in any space (large or small), clutter collects very easily! So cut it off at the source—before the item has a chance to make it inside where it might be years before you take it back out.

At the end of the day, your home should be your sanctuary. And you have the power to choose what comes into it in order to keep it that way.

What are your thoughts?

How do you feel about stopping items from coming into your home rather than decluttering them after they get there?

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

Was this post helpful? Please consider sharing the love!


  1. Some wonderful philosophy here! Yes, we need to be the gatekeepers of our homes and keep clutter from getting in as we move it out and forever more! It’s learning new habits!

  2. For me, shopping fills an emotional need. Just as I don’t go to the grocery store when I’m hungry, I don’t go shopping without a specific item/need in mind. More and more often I come out of stores with an empty cart when I haven’t found the one item I went in looking for. In the past I would have found lots of treasures at sale prices I couldn’t pass up. Of course I still backslide but not as often.

    1. Coming to that realization is such a huge win for you! Being able to identify the cause of bad habits is the first HUGE step in changing them. Great job!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *