I recently came across the concept of a “clutter threshold”. And it really put into words what I experience in my own home as I declutter.
In today’s post, I want to talk more about what a clutter threshold is. As well as how it’s a great tool to use as you declutter. Especially if you’re overwhelmed with too much stuff!
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What is a clutter threshold?
The idea of a clutter threshold was introduced to me in Dana White’s book, “Decluttering at the Speed of Life”.
She said your clutter threshold is essentially the limit of how much stuff you can handle and easily keep under control in your home. Anything you can’t keep under control is what she considers clutter.
In “Decluttering at the Speed of Life” she says, “If a space in my home consistently gets out of control, I have too much stuff in that space. I have clutter.”
And your clutter threshold is simply how much stuff you’re able to tolerate, manage and handle in your home before you have too much and it becomes clutter.
The space you have available contributes to your clutter threshold
Another aspect of your clutter threshold is also the limits of the space available in your home.
Dana often talks about the container concept. Where your house as a whole is a container, and can only hold a certain amount of stuff before the amount of stuff exceeds the limits of the container and becomes clutter.
Not only is your house as a whole a container. But you also have smaller, more specific containers within your house.
For example, your closet is your container for clothing. Limiting what will comfortably fit within that container. Your bookshelf is your container for books. Limiting what can comfortably fit within that container.
The purpose of containers is not only to contain your stuff. But also to limit how much stuff you can comfortably keep within that container.
In her book, Dana says, “Accept the limitations of the space you have, and declutter enough that your stuff fits comfortably in that space.”
Two aspects of your clutter threshold
So, your clutter threshold is made up of two aspects:
- The amount of stuff you can comfortably manage, handle and take care of in your home.
- The amount of stuff that will comfortably fit within its container.
Based on this definition, everyone will have a different clutter threshold.
Not only are we each able to comfortably manage and take care of differing amounts of stuff in our homes. But our homes themselves also give us different containers, or limits, to work with.
If you have a high clutter threshold, you are someone who can have a lot of stuff, but still manage it and keep it under control so it doesn’t end up as clutter. (Remember, Dana defines clutter as “anything I can’t keep under control.”)
A low clutter threshold means you aren’t able to manage a lot of stuff or easily keep it under control, so it becomes clutter. And adds stress, mess and frustration to your home!
Neither is right or wrong, better or worse. Instead, it’s a matter of being honest with yourself about your threshold and the amount of stuff you can easily manage and take care of in your home and life.
It’s recognizing and honouring who you are and what works for you. Then choosing to work with yourself and your space, rather than against yourself and your space.
Finding your place of enough
Throughout my decluttering journey, I have noticed that a big part of the decluttering process is finding your clutter threshold.
Finding the amount of stuff that feels like “enough”. Not too much to handle comfortably and easily. And not too little that I feel deprived or like I’m “going without”.
Instead, it’s about finding the place of enough for you. Or using this new term, finding your clutter threshold. Then keeping the amount of stuff in your home under that threshold.
The idea of a clutter threshold helped put into words what I was feeling as I was searching for my place of “enough”. As well as gives me a way to better articulate and measure what a comfortable amount of stuff is for me and the house I live in.
4 important clutter threshold considerations
There are 4 important considerations to keep in mind when finding your clutter threshold.
1. It is what it is
The first important consideration about your clutter threshold is simply that it is what it is.
Whatever feels manageable to you is your threshold. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you if your threshold is higher or lower. Your threshold is simply whatever it is at this point in time.
Stop beating yourself up about what you feel you should be able to manage or handle in your home. Stop comparing what you can manage to what other people seem to be able to manage. And instead, just accept your clutter threshold for what it is.
Give yourself permission to work with your clutter threshold instead of against it. Doing so will make your life feel a lot easier, less overwhelming and less stressful!
The same goes for the limits of your house and your containers within your house. Accept the limits of your space and declutter until you are within those limits.
You don’t need complicated organizational systems that allow you to keep more stuff in your space. Instead, you need to work within the limits of your containers when deciding how much to keep. Remember that when you work within the limits of your containers, it’s easier to use, find, put away and manage your stuff!
2. It’s different for everyone
It’s also important to remember that we each have a different clutter threshold. What works for someone, might not work for you. And that’s ok!
No one else can tell you what feels like a comfortable amount of stuff in your home and what feels like too much. Only you’ll know how high or low your clutter threshold is.
3. It can change
The next important consideration to remember is that your clutter threshold can change. Depending on what else is going on in your life and the season of life you’re in, your clutter threshold might become higher or lower.
For example, if you’re in a busy or stressful season of life, you might have a lower threshold. You might simply have so many other things going on, that you don’t have the time, energy or bandwidth to manage as much stuff in your home.
And that’s ok!
Work with your lower threshold, rather than against it, and further simplify your home.
In a slower or easier season of life, you might find you have a higher clutter threshold. Keeping your home as simplified as possible might not be as much of a priority during these seasons.
4. It can vary
And finally, remember that your clutter threshold can vary for different categories of stuff. As well as for different areas of your home.
For example, you might love clothes and choose to keep more clothes because they bring you joy, not stress. You have a higher threshold for clothes. You can keep and manage a larger wardrobe comfortably.
But dirty dishes piling up in the kitchen might leave you feeling completely overwhelmed and stressed. Your clutter threshold for dishes and the kitchen, in general, is lower. You need to keep the dishes in your kitchen highly simplified so you can easily manage them without feeling overwhelmed.
You can also have a different threshold in different spaces in your home. For example, you might need your bedroom to be very simplified and clutter-free in order to be able to rest, relax and sleep well.
But if you have older kids, they might prefer more stuff in their bedroom. But you can feel ok with that and have a higher clutter threshold for their bedroom because you’re not (as) responsible for managing that stuff. The amount of stuff in their room doesn’t feel as overwhelming for you as long as it stays in their room and they are able to manage and take care of it.
Finding your clutter threshold takes time and experimentation
Unfortunately, there’s no checklist I can give you to tell you what your clutter threshold is.
The only way to find your clutter threshold is to experiment with the amount of stuff in each space. Continuing to declutter until you find your threshold.
The best way to do this is to first declutter as much as you can from a space. Then notice how it feels. If you can easily manage the space and keep it tidy on a regular basis, you’ve found your clutter threshold.
However, if the space still feels like too much to manage, keep decluttering until the space feels easy to manage.
Or try this trick to find your clutter threshold
A great way to find your clutter threshold is by experimenting and trying different amounts of stuff.
Take everything out of the space until you’re only left with the bare essentials. Box up the extra stuff and put it away for a week or two. Really pay attention to how the space feels without any of the extra stuff.
After a week or two, slowly start adding a few things back into the space, one at a time, if you feel like you need or want them. Of course, if you don’t miss any of the stuff you boxed up, feel free to get rid of it altogether!
As you slowly add things back into the space, really pay attention to how you feel in the space and how easy the space is to manage. Over time, you’ll find your clutter threshold, or what feels like a comfortable amount of stuff in the space for you to easily manage.
Remember to let go of ideas of what you should have or are supposed to have in each space. Instead, focus on only keeping what you use and love. As well as what feels like a comfortable amount of stuff for you to manage.
Maintaining the space
Of course, the space will still need to be tidied, cleaned and maintained. But if you’re under your clutter threshold, it won’t feel completely out of control or overwhelming to maintain it.
And speaking of maintaining the space, once you know your clutter threshold, you’ll also have to make sure you don’t cross that threshold as new stuff comes into your home.
A simple way to do this is by making an effort to take something out of your space whenever something new comes in. Using the “one in, one out” rule is a great way to make sure you stay below your clutter threshold!
An example of my clutter threshold
Here’s an example of my own clutter threshold.
Last year I found some pretty throw pillows and got them for our couch. That meant we had 4 throw pillows on our couch in the living room.
I quickly found out that 4 throw pillows are above my clutter threshold. It felt like too much for me to comfortably manage. I spent more time annoyed and frustrated when I was constantly picking up and rearranging the throw pillows than I did enjoying the pillows or feeling like they were adding value to our living room.
This showed me that 2 throw pillows in the living room is the top of my clutter threshold in this season of life. I appreciate the function, comfort and look 2 pillows add to the space. And can comfortably manage 2 throw pillows without feeling overly annoyed or frustrated (or just always having throw pillows on the floor!).
It might seem silly to give this much thought to the pillows on our couch, but it made a difference in how easily I could maintain that space. And how much I enjoyed the space, rather than feeling annoyed or frustrated by it.
And when you apply this concept to everything in your home, it really makes a big difference in the amount of stress and frustration or ease and success you feel as you manage your home.
Have you ever thought about what your clutter threshold is? Leave a comment and let me know if this was a lightbulb moment for you like it was for me!