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How to Define Declutter

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How to Define Declutter

Nailing down a simple, useful meaning of ‘declutter’ is challenging. What counts as clutter might be different for many people, and defining ‘clutter’ is the key to giving a definition for ‘declutter’. Nevertheless, it’s important to figure it out. Decluttering is important.

Decluttering is such an important goal because clutter can have quite a profound impact on one’s life. We touched on a few such impacts in our 4 Ways Clutter Can Negatively Impact Your Life (According to Science), which we definitely recommend you check out. 

Getting your home, and life in general, free from clutter is an ongoing challenge. The problem is that tackling clutter is like shoveling your driveway while it’s snowing: by the time you’ve finished going over the driveway, there’s a new sprinkling behind you that needs to be dealt with.

We wrote the 30 Day Declutter Challenge as a tool to get you to make substantial progress in a fairly short period of time. We also suggested our Best 12 Places to Start Decluttering Your Home, in case you prefer more general tips.

But before we can really start with those, we need to understand what, exactly, we’re trying to accomplish! In other words, we need to understand what we mean by ‘clutter’ and ‘declutter’.

Our purpose in this short article is simply to try to provide concise, useful definitions for both ‘clutter’ and ‘declutter’. We think that we need these if we’re going to take decluttering seriously.

To define ‘declutter’ we first have to look at ‘clutter’.

The Definition of Clutter

Clutter is anything in a space that does not belong in the context of that space.

A thing in a space counts as clutter if it has these features:

  • It isn’t decorating that space
  • It isn’t regularly used in that space
  • It isn’t appropriately stored where it is in that space

This is the definition that we will use when we think about what it means to declutter. We settled on this by thinking about the problem backwards: what things in a space are not clutter. Decorations can be in a space. If you regularly use a thing in a space then it has some claim to being there. And if you are deliberately appropriately storing the thing in the space (what ‘appropriate’ means here might be challenging too!), then it can be there.

Why else would a thing be in a space? Decoration, use, storage. That’s really it. All else is clutter.

The Definition of Declutter

To declutter is to remove from a space anything that does not belong in that space.

It’s really that simple.

That isn’t to say that it’s always easy to know when something is clutter, or when something needs to be decluttered. It isn’t!

Consider those old pictures and movies that you’ve been storing in an out of the way place in your home. They evoke strong memories for you. But that space might be able to be used to help you declutter elsewhere in the home. Are the old pictures and movies clutter? Should you be thinking of disposing of them to help to declutter? That isn’t an easy answer, and it certainly isn’t one that we can tell you.

It’s because decluttering can be so challenging that we’ve decided to work with these simple definitions.


Take a moment to look around you.

Choose some of the things that you can see.

Run them through this simple flow chart.

This is a very easy way to see whether things in a space should count as clutter.

If it isn’t a decoration, it isn’t normally used in that space, and it isn’t appropriately stored in the space that it’s in, then it is clutter.

Remove the item to an appropriate location, or dispose of the item.

That is decluttering.

A flow chart of whether a thing is clutter.


Our goal in this little article was only to provide simple, useful definitions of both ‘clutter’ and ‘declutter’. The meaning of declutter may be made to be more deep or broad philosophically, especially if you are thinking about decluttering your life as opposed to a space. But even then, the ideas will be analogous.

We hope that you have gotten some value from this little piece! And we hope that you keep these definitions in mind as you work to declutter your home.