Decluttering Your Home

I periodically browse websites about interior design, because I consider beautiful interior an art form, and I am interested in all kinds of art. One of the buzzwords I routinely notice in American websites that discuss interior is “decluttering”—the art of getting rid of superfluous and unnecessary stuff. Decluttering seems to be trendy among Americans right now; Googling for “how to declutter your home” gives you a lot of results for various online guides. There are websites devoted to teaching people how to throw away and organize their stuff. Numerous people have made careers by consulting clients who feel like they need help with decluttering. The basic premise is reasonable—if your home is full with stuff you don’t even use, it creates a mess and makes it harder to find the stuff you do need. However, whenever I spot yet another online article offering tips on how to declutter your living space, I cannot help but wonder how humanity even got to the point where such advice on decluttering is necessary at all.

Years ago, the first time I started browsing American interior design websites, I experienced some culture shock. And, no, I wasn’t envious of the American way of life; instead I was horrified and wondered what is wrong with these people. American living spaces are ridiculously huge.

Living room

A living room, photo from

Here is a random photo from an American website about interior design. The first thing that catches my eye is how huge this space is. Basically, this is an oversized living room with a couch and a few chairs with lots of empty space around them. Why do people need this? Why do they even want it? Just think about the heating and air conditioning bills, never mind that all this space must be regularly cleaned and maintained. You don’t need this much space in order to accommodate a couch and a few chairs. I imagine that probably only wealthier Americans actually live in places like this one, but it still appears to be presented as aspirational. Yet personally I would never even desire such an oversized living room.

Or consider kitchen islands. They are practically unheard of in Latvia, because here kitchens are too small to have space for a kitchen island.


In my opinion, this kitchen is pretty large, it appears to be a little larger than my current one. Thought it is hard to say, maybe they are the same size. Yet in an American interior design website this kitchen is labeled as “tiny.” People who labeled this kitchen as “tiny” have a skewed sense of size. I have lived in an apartment where the kitchen was less than 1/3rd this size, and for me its size felt just fine, I didn’t really feel like I lacked space while cooking in that kitchen.

Walk in closet

A walk in closet, photo from

Walk in closets are another miracle that I cannot comprehend. How is it even possible for a single person to have that many clothes? My entire bedroom is smaller than this “closet,” and, guess what, I feel like I have plenty of space for my clothes in that room.


A pantry, photo from

Here’s another photo, featuring a pantry. Looking at photos like this one, I can only wonder whether this is real or staged. Why would anybody need to store so much food at their home? Are they creating reserves for an apocalypse?

There are two people in my household (me and my mother). In terms of size, our pantry is less than 1/20th of the one seen in this photo. It’s just a single shelf in a small cupboard. There we have cooking flour, buckwheat, rice, oatmeal, semolina, a bottle of sunflower oil, baking soda, sugar, salt, cinnamon, cocoa powder, coffee, linden tree flower tea, and a pack of green tea leaves. Occasionally, we also buy some pearl barley, dried peas/beans, various nuts and dried fruit, but we don’t keep those at home at all times. Most of the time, there is a bit of bread too, we usually buy a single loaf of bread when we go grocery shopping, but once it is eaten, we do not rush to get another one. Sometimes, we also have some chocolate or candies, but those are there only occasionally. And that’s it. In a different shelf we store vegetables and fruits. On an average day, we have about three kilograms of vegetables and two kilograms of fruits at home. Right now, we have a kilogram of potatoes, a couple of carrots, a piece of pumpkin, and a zucchini. And also a pomegranate and some grapefruits. And, of course, there’s also all that stuff that people store in the fridge (milk, butter, cheese, meat, maybe some fish every now and then, jam). Right now, I also have some sauerkraut, a bottle of apple juice, and ice cream in my fridge. For our dogs we have a 20 kg bag of dry dog food as well as some meat that’s stored in the fridge.

The point is, my pantry takes up very little space in the kitchen, we go grocery shopping once per week, usually only when all the stuff that cannot be stored long term is eaten, and the fridge has become visibly empty. We also store at home as little food as possible and buy more only when everything is eaten, this way it is easier to make sure that nothing spoils and must be thrown out. Thus images like this one make me puzzled about how American families even live. It seems just so weird.

For me the idea of decluttering seems, well, interesting. On one hand, I agree that your living space being cluttered with unnecessary stuff that you don’t even use is a bad thing. I definitely favor minimalism and only having things that actually serve to improve your life quality. Living a simpler life with fewer possessions can be beneficial. If some stuff only takes up space and serves no useful purpose, then getting rid of it is the reasonable thing to do. That results in having less things to clean, fewer stuff to organize, fewer possessions to search though while looking for that one thing you need to find right now.

On the other hand, I keep wondering how people even managed to get to the point where they start desiring to declutter their living space. Of course, it is possible to obtain unnecessary stuff by inheriting it from deceased family members of getting it as Christmas/birthday gifts. But most of the time all that stuff, which gets labeled as “clutter,” is something that the person bought on their own. Why do people even do this?

Of course, I have experienced buyer’s remorse, I have regretted purchasing stuff that I didn’t end up using as much as I expected. But for me this happens very rarely. I just don’t buy stuff I don’t need, because (1) I don’t have that much money, (2) I don’t have near unlimited storage space in my home, thus I have to keep in mind that I don’t have room for less than necessary things.

Instead of decluttering and donating or throwing out stuff you don’t need, it is better not to generate the clutter in the first place. Don’t buy some item you don’t need in the first place, and then you won’t have to throw it out a few years later after this thing has pointlessly taken up space in your closet for a while.

First marketing people persuade consumers to pay for stuff they don’t need. Next, websites earn a profit by offering advice on how to throw out/donate the unnecessary stuff. And a hell lot of waste is generated in the process. After all, humanity is fantastically skilled at trashing the planet and failing to even enjoy the process. It’s not like buying stuff and throwing it out afterwards even makes people happy. Never mind that we lead stressful lives and work long hours just so that we could then waste all this hard-earned money on stuff that will need decluttering.

The modern consumerist lifestyle is just ridiculous. Why do people even participate in this rat race? Because marketing specialists have made us desire some new stuff? If so, then we should understand that following the advice of marketing people doesn’t make us happy. Or is it because we fear that acquaintances will look down on us if we don’t own the newest fancy stuff? If so, then why do we care so much about the opinions of people whom we don’t even like?

I believe that current problems are the failure of the society as a whole, and I usually don’t blame individual people for making poor decisions while shopping. For example, if all the people you know have oversized living rooms, then deciding that you want something different in your own home is not that simple. Besides, it’s not like building codes and regulations even allow small homes in every region. Alternatively, if your work colleagues are snobs who look down on you because of wearing the same clothes every day or having an old car, it’s not that simple to just ignore then, given how it might harm your career. Thus I believe that the society needs to change as a whole.

By the way, in poor people’s homes there is often a different kind of clutter. Rich people buy lots of new stuff for no good reason just because they see some advertisement. Poor people (or people who have lived in poverty in the past) on the other hand, often are reluctant to throw out anything that might potentially still be useful some day. For example, my mother often doesn’t throw out empty plastic jars in which she has bought some food, because said containers can be reused in various ways—you can store stuff in them, you can use them as pots for indoor plants, etc. Even when my mother hasn’t used some item for ten years, she is still reluctant to give it away or throw it out, because some day it might be useful. Thus, she has amassed a lot of stuff, most of which is junk. Which is why I have to help her throw out stuff on a regular basis.


  1. Dunc says

    I’m bad for not throwing stuff out on the basis that it might come in handy one day… It’s made worse by the number of times that I’ve gone looking for something I was sure I had kicking around somewhere that would be just right for some project or other, only to remember that I finally threw it out just a couple of weeks earlier.

    Most of my clutter relates to hobbies: musical instruments, homebrewing equipment, sewing machines, tools, construction materials, fabric, perfectly serviceable electronics that I’ve replaced with better equivalents but keep as spares, the list goes on and on… Even an oscilloscope and a pretty decent microscope. Fortunately my flat, although small, has quite a lot of storage space…

    As for that “tiny kitchen”… I’d love a kitchen that big! Mine is approximately 2m square. And like you, when I look at a lot of these spaces all I can think is “that must cost a fortune to heat!”

  2. says

    Dunc @#1

    Most of my clutter relates to hobbies: musical instruments, homebrewing equipment, sewing machines, tools, construction materials, fabric, perfectly serviceable electronics that I’ve replaced with better equivalents but keep as spares, the list goes on and on… Even an oscilloscope and a pretty decent microscope. Fortunately my flat, although small, has quite a lot of storage space…

    Stuff for your hobbies isn’t clutter, those are absolutely necessary possessions. I say this as a person whose hobbies are art and photography. I own plenty of art materials and photo gear. But those are things that I use and enjoy having, thus they are highly beneficial for me to own.

    I define unnecessary possessions as things that people don’t need, don’t use, don’t even enjoy having, things that serve no purpose and only take up space and resources.

  3. says

    I grew up with five in 1200 square foot homes (111 sq. m) and never understood why people want McMansions. I’m very much a fan of tiny homes and aspire to build one (not buying, unless it’s a frame to complete). After living in apartments under 400 sq. ft. (37 sq. m.) for nearly 20 years, I’ve come to appreciate how little space one person truly needs (150 sq. ft. or 14 sq. m would be plenty).

    I’ve helped build houses and took drafting in high school (before CAD became a thing) so I have a good idea of what I want and how to do it. Some people live out of vans, something I could never do (license? insurance? repair? parking? winter and insulation? vertical space? water? etc.). A small cabin would be plenty, but cities are in the pockets of the construction industry (re: zoning laws) so it would demand owning a car.

    As a recovering shopaholic with two wardrobes to feed, my plan for 2020 has been to declutter: two suitcases, a carry on, a box of professional materials and appliances. It’s not an “I must do this or I failed” but more of a gradual whittling down for when I next move.

  4. says

    That living room looks ridiculous. Actually, it looks like a showing room, not anything a person actually lives in.
    The kitchen looks a nice enough size. Lots of cupboards. As somebody who loves cooking and baking I need some space here, same with a pantry.m In the actual kitchen I don’t have that much space, but I do have a cellar where I can store stuff. There’s a lot of items that only get used once or twice a year, and maybe not at all in a given year, but that I still love and need (as you get older you start thinking in decades).
    I also store lots of food because I often buy bulk or bring some of my favourite foods home from the holidays. That’s the “heads I win, tails you lose” thing with economic privilege: having the space and money for storage I can actually save money.
    As for clutter: We still haven’t unpacked all the boxes from back when we moved in. that was 3 years ago… But we still haven’t really cleaned up the cellar either so we could sort and store that shit. But when you’re a family of four where two people work all day and three go to school all day, time is the constraining factor…

  5. says

    Giliell @#4

    I also store lots of food because I often buy bulk or bring some of my favourite foods home from the holidays. That’s the “heads I win, tails you lose” thing with economic privilege: having the space and money for storage I can actually save money.

    I don’t own a car. I buy most of my groceries in a farmer’s market that is located 3 kilometres from my home. If I purchased more than about 8 kilograms of food at once, I would have a very miserable experience carrying it all home on foot.

    Without a car, I cannot possibly travel to any of those places that sell food in bulk for cheaper prices. Thus it makes no difference whether I, for example, buy a single kilogram of sugar or fifty kilograms of sugar. It’s packaged in packs containing one kilogram, thus the price I pay for a kilogram of sugar will always remain the same regardless of how many packs I buy at once.

    But, yes, I see why your situation differs from mine.

  6. says

    I don’t own a car. I buy most of my groceries in a farmer’s market that is located 3 kilometres from my home. If I purchased more than about 8 kilograms of food at once, I would have a very miserable experience carrying it all home on foot.

    I remember those times. I became quite good at balancing everything on the bike. Toilet paper used to be a big issue because of a big pack.
    If I had to do all our shopping now on foot I would be very miserable.

  7. says

    That closet! How can anybody own that many shoes? I counted 110 pairs in that photo alone. And this seems to be common in interior design websites; cabinets full of shoes, shoes used as decoration, closets dedicated to shoes, even articles on shoe storage “solutions”.

    And there’s only one handbag on display. Maybe there’s a whole extra room for the handbags.

  8. says

    Susannah @#7

    How can anybody own that many shoes?

    I have no clue. Looking at such photos, I wonder whether they are real or staged for the photo shoot.

    And there’s only one handbag on display. Maybe there’s a whole extra room for the handbags.

    I spotted two handbags in that photo.

    By the way, personally I own only two bags. One is a largeish backpack that I mostly use for travel. The other is a shoulder bag (that I also use mostly for travel). Oh, and I also have two fordable fabric shopping bags. I use those for most of my daily needs of stuff carrying (all kids of stuff, not just groceries). I just don’t get people who own lots of bags. Granted, as a guy, I have pockets and thus I don’t need to carry a purse instead.

  9. says

    How can anybody own that many shoes?

    While I very much suspect staged pics as well, I’ll say: let people have their fun. Some folks are seriously into shoes. or handbags. Others are into super hero action figures. There’s a deep gendered bias about which items make you “adorkable” and are acceptable interests, and which items are not where shoes and handbags are well on the side of “look those shallow wasteful women”. It’s not like I have many shoes or have an interest in them, but if a woman loves shoes and spends her money on shoes I don’t think it’s much different from any collector’s item.

  10. says

    Giliell @#9

    Having lots of clothes isn’t a women’s thing. Some male fashion bloggers have an enormous amount of shoes and clothes. Here is one example—

    Also, I never in any way implied that liking clothes and having lots of them makes a person shallow.

    The reason why I think people should abstain from having more clothes than necessary is the environmental and societal impact. If a person got their large wardrobe from some fast fashion retail chain, then it caused plenty of harm for the environment and impoverished workers in some developing country.

    On the other hand, if a person got their large wardrobe from second hand stores, then why not. A significant amount of used clothes that are donated for charity end up in a landfill (unless purchased), so you might as well buy and wear them.

    The problem with environmental harm is that it is impossible to say “this one thing causes harm, thus everybody must stop doing it now.” There are many actions that cause harm, and even though all people should try to reduce their impact, each of us will find it easier or harder to reduce our impact in one or the other area. For example, I don’t want children anyway, I don’t need a car, I have no interest in purchasing lots of clothes in non-second hand stores, and I couldn’t care less about getting a new smartphone every year. Thus it is easy for me to reduce my environmental impact in these areas. On the other hand, if somebody told me to move to a smaller apartment or stop eating meat, then that would actually be super inconvenient for me. Of course, there are lots of other people whose situations differ from mine, for example, there are people who don’t even like meat but really need a car.

    Anyway, this is the reason why I won’t say that other people must reduce the amount of new clothes they purchase, but at least considering the possibility could be beneficial. It also would be beneficial to think about where you buy your clothes. For example, if it is a second hand store, then you might as well have fun.

    Another thing to consider is why somebody wants to buy lots of clothes in the first place. For example, my mother never cared about clothes for her own sake, instead she feared that her work colleagues might look down on her if she wore the same clothes every day. If people are getting socially compelled to have more clothes than they really want for their own sake, then that is a failure of the society.

    Alternatively, if somebody buys lots of clothes due to marketing influence or wanting to resemble some celebrity, then they might benefit from rethinking how they are getting manipulated.

    We live in a society in which people work long workweeks in order to buy crap that doesn’t even make them happy. Often we don’t even enjoy ourselves while trashing the planet. Such a lifestyle is just sad. Personally, I have instead arranged my lifestyle so that I work only part time and get by with less than average income (this means buying fewer stuff). And I really am happier this way.

    Anyway, if somebody owns lots of clothes for intrinsic reasons (because they like it) and if they also try to buy ethically produced clothes with lower environmental impact, then sure, there’s nothing bad about it.

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