Unclutter Your Way to Freedom and be better prepared for adverse circumstances

This guest post is by E. Evans and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Stuff accumulates over time. Through inheritance or hand-me-downs, by impulse shopping or survival preparation, the material possessions we acquire seems to always grow to match available space unless steps are taken to guard against becoming a packrat.

An oversupply of things can become a liability, not an asset. While each person is unique and has different needs, the packrat mentality, if left unchecked, hinders efficiency and mobility in addition to becoming a health hazard.

During my efforts to become more self-sufficient and better prepared, reducing clutter has been the best survival preparation practice I have ever performed. Here are thoughts from my personal experience.

–[The Story]

It was a defining moment. Totally unexpected but life-changing.

I looked at my junk.

Yes, I had seen it all before. In shelves. On the floor. Boxed away. I saw it everyday and navigated through it like a lab mouse in a maze. Stubbed toes. Near-dangerous falls from tripping over boxes that had magically fallen down.

Certainly, I knew my things were there, but this day was different because I actually paused to contemplate over my hoarding habits. I looked at the material possessions I had accumulated over the years and asked myself this important question:

“If this country entered another great depression tomorrow and our system collapsed, how would any of this help me?”

Naturally, that question, as reflective questions of this nature are prone to do, lead to more questions.

“Would I be able to sell any of it to buy food and water?”

“Could I drink it? Could I eat it? Would it provide warmth? Is it any good after 20 years stored away in a box where spiders and mice have made their nests?”

“What truly useful things would fill the space instead?”

“Could I generate some cash from this to create an emergency fund?”

After scrounging through mountains of boxes of moth-ridden clothes and other items saved, stored, and forgotten about, I was answering “No” to most questions I posed. Despite the quantity of my possessions occupying several rooms, storage sheds, and the garage, very little would help me in a moment of crisis. Why keep it then?

It had to go.

The more questions I asked, the more I found myself questioning my living habits. I believe in having extra supplies on hand for emergencies, but this was too much.

The more I looked at my junk, the more cluttered my mind felt. Life felt suffocating by things that were practically useless and served no real value. Something had to be done. I then asked, “How can I turn this junk into something beneficial to my well-being and survival preparation?”

The answer to this question led to a change in thinking, which produced a change in habits and lifestyle for a freer, cleaner, uncluttered life.

–[What Is Junk?]

Before moving on, let’s describe junk. Junk is not essential stuff like soap, first aid supplies, food, and water. We need these things to survive and live in good hygiene. Junk refers to the excess clutter in our lives that has little useful value and we could easily live without. Often, it’s stuff we hold onto thinking it might be useful “someday.”

The broken Tonka toy in the closet. The ugly, bunny pajama set from Aunt Edna that was shoved in the closet where it was forgotten for several years. The golf clubs no longer used. The cracked, dry garden hose. The termite-infested scraps of wood under the workbench. The list goes on. All of these things accumulate almost imperceptibly over time until our lives feel cluttered.

–[Why Do We Collect So Many Things?]

No doubt, you, the reader, are thinking something along the lines of, “You pitiful thing. How could you allow yourself to accumulate so much needless stuff? I have things too, but they are all important. I have no junk. Why can’t you be like me?”

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. One reason why we allow things to accumulate over time is that we fail to recognize the junk. In our eyes, everything we own or purchase has a purpose that can be rationalized. Therefore, in our eyes, it’s not junk.

So, it’s easy to condemn a man for packing a garage full of things we would never buy for ourselves yet justify filling three storage sheds full of our most cherished possessions that the garage packrat would never purchase.

Since everything we acquire is so important in our eyes, we hold onto it. Left unchecked, this added stuff creeps into our lives. Whether it be a new HDTV, extra cases of canned beans, a new sleeping bag, or that old tintype made of Uncle Doofus when he was outrunning the law during the Civil War, it’s easy to develop a hoarding habit.

Our things can possess us, and when that happens, it clouds our judgment and we become over-possessive and tend to hoard even more. Things become our sense of security, and we allow material possessions to define our identities.

–[Waking Up]

The key to reducing clutter is to change how you evaluate your possessions. There eventually comes a time when you wake up one day, look at how cluttered your physical living space has become, and think, “Do I really need to hold onto all of this stuff? How is it helping me now? Could I be more efficient?”

–[The Strategy]

Sifting through my clutter, I categorized my junk and developed a five-step plan.

1. Separate everything into groups for evaluation.

2. Throw the immediate garbage.

3. Sell all immediate impersonal items.

4. Reuse or sell the “Later” impersonal items.

5. Dispose of the personal items that I truly do not need to keep by giving or selling (if possible). Keep only the truly valuable, irreplaceable possessions.

6. As more junk is discovered, repeat the process.

Some things had value, even if not to me, so I decided to sell what I could and then throw away or give away the rest.

“That’s obvious. Everyone knows to do that.”

True, but knowing and doing are two different things. I have seen scores of packrat people who agree that their deteriorating possessions are in the way and pose a health hazard, but they cannot bear the thought of parting with any of it.

I recall one man who perspired at the thought of parting with any of his things. He became angry and defensive when someone made an offer to buy a few items from him at a reasonable price. People are obsessed with their things without realizing it.

So, yes, parting with items to reduce clutter is something “everyone knows,” but few can do it. It requires discipline, commitment, a new outlook, and the willingness to change our thinking and habits. Unfortunately, people naturally resist any form of change, so reducing clutter is easier said than done.

–[Classifying Junk]

At first, I was so disgusted with having so many things, that I was tempted to throw everything away that had not been used in the past year, but this method was inadequate. Some items, such as photographs, held immense personal value even if they were not useful, so I had to devise a better strategy to avoid tossing the items I truly needed or wished to keep.

I found that my junk could be grouped into three categories: Personal items, Impersonal items, and Garbage.


Personal things are those that have personal, sentimental value only to the owner. Photos of family members, golfing trophies, and gold stickers awarded for Junior’s drawing of a rabbit in kindergarten hold meaning only to the owner (or to the lonesome mother pining away for days gone by). Chances are, these items cannot be sold because nobody else cares about them. They go into one pile for careful evaluation later.


The second type of junk, impersonal junk, offers better chances of generating a profit. Things like outdated electronics, video games, movies, furniture, books, and a host of other commodities still have value to other people, so you stand a good change of selling these for cash. Impersonal junk goes into a separate pile.


This is exactly what it sounds like. Garbage. It is junk that holds absolutely no value to you or anyone else. The three-day-old banana peeling in the corner of the room. Empty cans of spray paint. Bent, rusty nails salvaged from an old house twenty years ago and stored in a rusty coffee can. Clothes that resemble a rat’s nest more than clothes. Scraps of wood ruined by moisture and termites.

Garbage is easy to spot, and it needs to go. Of course, little of this was garbage when I originally obtained it, but it deteriorated over time and I failed to keep track of its condition. I stored it for the long term thinking it would “come in handy someday.” Years later, “someday” never arrived. The leaky batteries, leaky cans, and moth-ridden protections eventually collapsed, and nature took over.

Donning gloves, a mask, and garbage bags, I sifted through my things and immediately discarded all of the garbage I could find. Whew! With much of the garbage out of the way, it was easier to sort through and find salable items.

–[Handling Impersonal Items]

Personal items require more thought since they often hold emotional attachment, so I saved those for last. Impersonal items are easier to distinguish, so focused on them first by dividing them into two groups: Immediate and Later.

—-[Immediate Impersonal Items – The Marble Chess Set]

These are things I can dispose of now since I have not used them in over a year and I will likely never use them again. Neither will they be of any use during a crisis. On the good side, they often have a monetary value, so they can be sold.

One example is a marble chess set. The glossy chess pieces are carefully crafted, and the pure marble board is arranged in shiny black and white marble tiles. It’s a beautiful work of art, but I have not used it in over two decades. It just sits there, in the way, occupying space, and useless during a time of crisis. A chess collector would probably love to have this in his collection, so I know I can sell it quickly for a profit.

—-[Later Impersonal Items – Books]

“To hold or to throw?” that is the question. Impersonal items I hesitate to part with immediately go into the “Later” group. These items need better inspection for quality and condition to determine whether or not they can be sold or given away.

Some Later items involve books that I am unsure of selling just yet. I might want to have one more look through them before selling. The Later group gives me a chance to be absolutely sure that I want to part with something in order to avoid rash regret. I ask the questions like, “When did I last use this?” “Would I use this again?” “If so, when?”

If I have not used something in over a year, then I sell it, but if I know I must use it again within a year, I keep it. Honest appraisal and an evaluation of my habits showed that very few items meet the “Keep” requirement, so I ended up parting with most of the Later items in the end.

—-[Salvaging – Tuna Cans]

Later items are often reusable for other things. Asking, “What can I use this for now?” breathes new life into items otherwise thrown or sold. One example is the lowly tuna can. I found several used tuna cans I was saving for “someday.” Tuna cans with the lid pulled back make excellent candle holders. Having found a few lone candles laying around, I made a few impromptu candle fixtures (something useful during a blackout) from a few tuna cans. I threw the rest away.

The key is the word “Now.” If you cannot salvage something now, then dispose of it. If you think, “I can think of ten uses for this…someday, so I guess I’ll hold onto it a little longer,” then you will never throw anything away. Once you get started making excuses, it’s possible to rationalize a reason to keep everything. Avoid this trap. Keep only what you need and dispose of the rest. I only kept a few tuna cans and candles, which, based upon my habits, is all I need.

Thinking of unorthodox ways to recycle stuff can save money, but excess creativity for “someday” leads to clutter. Maintain a balance.

–[Selling Impersonal Junk – Psst. Wanna Buy A Watch?]

This is much easier than disposing of personal items. Mainly because these are things that become outdated and replaced by something else, unlike personal items, which cannot be replaced.

Electronics, the VCR in an age of Blu-ray players, VHS movies, unwatched DVDs, the pool table nobody uses, the book shelf you never liked in the first place, the vase from Greece that you are afraid to place in the living room because somebody might bump it over and break it — these are salable items because other people value them. They hold little emotional value, so you can part with them easily.

Auctions, garage sales, classified ads, and word of mouth are a few means of selling your unneeded items.

Of course, you will not know exactly how much your treasure is worth until after you sell it. The market value will often surprise you. A book you thought was worth only 25 cents might fetch $50 or more due to its printing and condition.

Other times, you may find yourself disappointed that the doodad you originally purchased brand new for $50 is only worth $8 today. This led to the discovery of a truth that no advertisement or high-powered salesman dares mention: The price you sell will be far less than the price you paid.

Nonetheless, selling things adds up. If you are tempted to think, “Why bother selling this? It’s only worth five dollars,” then look at it as five dollars on the shelf. Would you leave the stinky federal reserve note where it is or would you tuck it away in with the rest of the cash?

Sell insignificant items first and work your way up to the more valuable items you are reluctant to part with. This helps you get a feel for the marketplace and its selling system to avoid loosing money on truly valuable items. Also, once you develop the habit of parting with your lesser-valued stuff, it becomes easier to part with your higher-valued items.

—-[Sell Now]

If you decide to sell, sell quickly. Sell now. Non-survival-related items, such as a marble chess set, will be worth more money when times are good than during a crisis when people are scared and hungry. People care nothing about a marble chess set, a DVD player, or a plastic potted plant for the living room when they are worried where their next meal will come from or when flood waters force them to evacuate their homes, for example. Besides, even if you do manage to sell items like this during an emergency, chances are you will receive far less than you would during good times.

—-[Selling Furniture]

In short: Be patient.

Furniture is the hardest item to sell because people buy furniture based on their personal tastes, and everyone has different tastes. The couch that looks good in my living room with my color scheme might repulse somebody else.

So, if you decide to sell your furniture, be patient. The right buyer will eventually appear, but it might take several months or even years. If you need to dispose of your furniture quickly, you would be better off giving it away to charity.

Because of its disposal difficulty, I now think twice before buying any furniture.

–[Personal Items – I Would Never Sell My Wedding Dress!]

Some items hold immense personal value, so they are nearly impossible to part with for two reasons: 1) Refusal to part with them, and 2) Nobody else wants them.

One example is a wedding dress. Even though she might be 220 pounds obese and never wear it again, almost every married female relative I have encountered still has her wedding dress tucked away somewhere, and not a one would dream of parting with it under any circumstance.

We all have items like this and they warrant careful thought. I found many personal items that I was reluctant to dispose of but were were also impossible to sell. After all, who wants a trophy containing somebody else’s name on the plate? Unless you are a famous legend, your personal artifacts are junk to the rest of the world.

When it comes to items like this, keep your most cherished possessions just to ease your mind, but consider giving the rest to relatives in order to keep the items in the family. An example is a dining room table over 100 years old. It was ugly, too large, cumbersome, creaky, smelly, and matched nothing. It was in the way. However, it was a family heirloom, so instead of throwing it away or turning it into firewood, it was given to relatives who were delighted to have it.

–[Avoid Going Overboard]

It has been well over a year since I began clearing out my junk, and it shows no signs of stopping. The more I find, the more I can sell. It’s amazing. I never realized how much junk I had until I stopped to look at what I had collected over the years thinking, “I might need it someday.”

It’s also refreshing. Physical clutter leads to visual clutter, which leads to mental clutter. As I remove clutter from my life, my mind feels cleaner, fresher, and more free. With less to keep track of in my mind, I can think more clearly now.

However, once you gain momentum, tossing things becomes an addictive pastime. There is the danger of going overboard by disposing of useful items you truly need. How do I know when it is time to throw something away or sell it? One general rule is to ask when I last used something. If I have not used something in over a year, chances are good that I will never use it again. So, I sell, throw, or give it away. After observing my own habits and recording them in a notebook, I find this to be the most common scenario.

The items I need most are used on a daily basis. Experience tells us what we need and use. Whether it be movies, electronics, vehicles, food, pencils, toys, or whatever, if it has not been used in over a year, I refuse to allow it to clutter my living space.

Keep in mind that this does not apply rainy day supplies and survival goods. Recall the definition of junk earlier to avoid selling emergency supplies.

–[Keep the Fun Things]

As you experience the joys of uncluttering and collect a profit in the process, you may become tempted to sell everything in sight. Once you break away from the cherished possessions, everything else becomes fair game, including the wedding dress.

Keep in mind that you still live in a home (hopefully). Some people need the touches that give a home its warmth. Does a certain painting provide satisfaction in your heart and put a smile on your face every time you see it? Then, keep it. Hang it on the wall prominently for frequent viewing.

While preparing for the future, never forget about the joys of everyday living. The psychological morale derived from a calming painting may be just what you need to provide a sense of stability when times are bad. However, avoid plastering your walls with every single work of art that comes your way. Only keep what you like the best and sell the rest, or give them away and put smiles on other people’s faces.

Keep some games on hand. Retain books. Stock some drawing supplies if you enjoy drawing. Have some toys. Again, experience shows what you use most of the time. Keep notes about your daily patterns and observe your life. Is there a certain board game you play often? Then, that is probably the one you will pick to play when the electricity goes out. Sell the lesser used games nobody likes.

–[Reducing Redundancy]

Sometimes you may find situations where you have two ways to solve the same problem. Rather than keeping both, select one and sell the other for greater efficiency and less clutter. Here’s an example:

Years ago, I purchased a high-end theater system because I like music. Speakers. Powered subwoofer. HDMI receiver. The works. It was brand new and expensive, but it sounded good. It still does. The problem? I rarely use it. Yes, it’s there and it functions perfectly, but it has seen only a few hours of use in the years that I have had it.

I also purchased a portable music player around the same time that plays the same music though earphones. I cannot carry a home theater system with me, but I can carry this, and I use it all of the time. The music might not be as crystal clear or as thundering as the home theater system, but it sounds good to me and does its job well.

I use the portable player 99% of the time and the elaborate theater system only 1% of the time. The theater system is large, bulky, gets in the way since it has needs of its own (furniture to store everything neatly), and consumes more electricity than my solar system can handle, so it’s dependent upon the grid.

By contrast, my portable music player sounds almost as good through earphones, it’s small, lightweight, extremely convenient, and runs on batteries that are rechargeable with solar. If a power outage occurs, I can continue playing music with my portable player while the theater system continues to collect dust.

Always ask, “What is the problem I am trying to solve?” before rushing to purchase something. In this case, the problem was a way to listen to music. Both items solve the same problem, but the portable player meets the same need for less.

After reviewing my music habits, I decided to sell the home theater system and keep the portable music player. This frees up much space and reduces dust-collecting clutter. I can enjoy music without $5000 Polk speakers and do so independent of the electric company. My life becomes more efficient.

“I could never sell my home theater system because I might invite guests over to my house.”

Here is that “it might be useful someday” thinking. Stop that. It’s dangerous, and it leads to packrat habits and overconsumption. I thought the same thing at first, but in the years of owning a home theater system I have never once invited others over to see it. The reason? I do not want people snooping through my home. It’s private.

So, if you have two items that perform the same function, consider selling one and keeping the other. Not sure which to sell? Look at both items and ask yourself, “How often do I use this, and how will this help me during an emergency?” My home theater system can’t do squat during a crisis, but my portable player can.

–[Changed Habits and a Changed Life]

My thinking has changed. When something comes my way, I no longer pack it away in a box and save it for a rainy day. I immediately decide to keep it, throw it, or use it. It doesn’t matter if Aunt Edna spent the past year knitting it. I refuse to collect clutter again because I am the one who must live with it. Aunt Edna will just have to get over it.

Oddly enough, the more I am resolved to guard against letting junk back into my life, the more opportunities appear that test my resolve. It’s as if Life is saying, “Let’s see how serious you are. Here’s a pink bunny suit. Take it! You don’t want to hurt Aunt Edna’s feelings, do you?”

We can always be tactful regarding situations like this, but never lose focus on the goal of a clutter-free life. I am still on the journey, and the best way to manage clutter is to prevent it from appearing in the first place. It’s (usually) much harder to dispose of something that it is to acquire it.

This is much like weight-loss programs. It’s easier to gain weight than it is to lose it. I have seen many people take diets, lose weight, and then gain it all back plus more. Why? They have not changed their thinking that lead to obesity in the first place, and thus, they returned to their old habits when the diet was over and regained their weight. Nothing changed.

Now, instead of buying something when I think I need it, I write it on a list and wait. Usually, after a few months, I find that I no longer need what I thought I did. The problem somehow disappeared or I found a better way to cope with it. If I still need the item after all that time and the situation is worse, then I buy it.

Evaluations of this nature help curb impulse shopping and buyer’s remorse in addition to reducing acquired things. It’s not exactly what advertisers want to hear, but it works for me, and I save my money.

–[The Dangers of Junk]

Before closing, let’s look at the potential danger and expense clutter can cause.

Junk and other things improperly stored are a danger to your well-being and could cost you money in the form of expensive medical bills. One incident that taught me this lesson years ago involved an elderly woman in her eighties.

She was not an excessive packrat, but what she did have she refused to part with and always kept in the most poorly-chosen locations throughout her house. Almost everything consisted of old doodads from thirty years ago and more. Never used, and only laying in the way. Her home was a maze of paths and trails. Visiting her house felt like taking an indoor nature walk — You never knew what would scurry across your path, and you had to watch your step lest you trip over something and fall.

Relatives and neighbors warned her about the dangers her possessions posed, and even offered to help her organize and move things out of the way, but she refused.

Then, one day, it happened. While walking through her home as usual, she tripped over something that relatives had warned her about. Being over 80, she broke her hip when she fell and had to be hospitalized for several months. She needed surgery, but, due to her age, this led to more health complications.

Many months and many bills later, she was finally released from the hospital and allowed to return home. She never fully recuperated from that fall and found that she needed a walker, forcing her to clean up her junk anyway in order to move about.

Junk is dangerous. Of course, in her eyes, her possessions were most certainly not junk. However, the fact remains that she still tripped and fell over them resulting in a worse physical condition and with less money.

–[The Psychology of Clutter]

“If a cluttered desk signifies a cluttered mind, then what does an empty desk signify?”

My answer? A clean, efficient, neat, tidy, well-organized mind. From what I have observed, people with cluttered spaces and cluttered desks waste time trying to find things. “Oh, no! The lights went out. I know I had a tactical flashlight around here somewhere…”

Clutter is exhausting on the mind. When we view excess junk, clutter, and lots of things, it give the brain more things to process. Living in clutter creates the habit of dealing with clutter. Moving things around. Hunting for pencils buried under moldy papers. This wastes time. Besides that, if a disaster occurred at night and Packrat Pete needed his flashlight, how would he possibly find it? Clutter obstructs survival preparedness.

The point is, the less you have around you, the less you have on your mind. The fewer worries. The less clutter and unneeded items you possess, the easier it is to inventory and rotate the essential items.

There is nothing wrong with having things. The danger lies in when things have us. Are you afraid to leave your house and take a vacation because you possess too many valuables? Do you resist the idea of moving to a better location because you have too many things to move? What if you need to evacuate at a moment’s notice due to a natural disaster? What? You can’t find your bugout bag?

This is not freedom, it’s bondage. Things are now limiting your life and your actions. This is when things have taken over, but until you stop to think, look, and ask some questions about your possessions and habits like I did, you will only acquire more things and erect a taller mountain of clutter.

–[Final Thoughts]

Had I known years ago what I know now, I would never have acquired so many things. The consumer machine knows how to brainwash people into buying, so half the task of uncluttering involves deprogramming ourselves.

However, this is a learning process, and clearing my life of needless clutter has taught me much about myself and caused me to change my thinking and habits. There is still plenty to do, but the reward is a life that feels more free, efficient, and better prepared for adverse circumstances.

This contest will end on August 7 2012 – prizes include:

First Place : 1 Year Subscription to AlertsUSA, 1 Radiation Safety Package consisting of the following;  (1) NukAlert Radiation Monitor and Alarm (5) Radsticker Peel and Stick Dosimeters (1) Box Thyro Safe Potassium Iodide. All courtesy of AlertsUSA. A $150 gift certificate for Federal Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo. And a British Berkefeld water fillter system courtesy of  LPC Survival. A total prize value of over $700.

Second Place : A six pack Entrée Assortment courtesy of Augason Farms, a Nukalert courtesy of Shepherd Survival Supply and a WonderMill Grain Mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads. A total prize value of over $550.

Third Place : A copy of each of my books “31 Days to Survival” and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of The Survivalist Blog dot Net and “Kelly McCann’s Inside the Crucible Set” courtesy of Paladin Press. A total prize value of over $200.

Contest ends on August 7 2012.


  1. Thank you very much for writing this article. It is the very first one I’ve seen that addresses the problem of clutter from a survivalist perspective, especially asking the question “If this country entered another great depression tomorrow and our system collapsed, how would any of this help me?” This includes things like my grain grinder that I’ve used less than once a year, but I didn’t want to just get rid of it precisely because it would be useful in an protracted emergency. (And yes, I do grow some grain myself.) That said, I did give it away to someone close who was going to use it much more than I was.

    • E. Evans says:

      I still tend to err on the side of caution, so I can see your point. Decluttering is a process of growth while maintaining balance in judging what to keep versus what to toss while holding a vision for the future preparation. It feels like a juggling act at times.

      One serious issue I had with my clutter was mobility. Too many things hides the important stuff. “I know I have a bugout bag around here somewhere. I keep it near the door, but…where’s the door?”

      Boxes of stuff not only kept the bugout bug hidden and out of reach, they also hindered my emergency escape route. (Yes, it used to be that bad.)

      Thankfully, I have been blessed not to need to put my evacuation plans into effect, but I quickly noticed that I would have been wasting precious time trying to find my bugout bug and making sure my junk was safe instead of saving my life.

      Thank you for the comment. Glad to hear that this article provided some ideas.

  2. Now this post hits a chord, I keep getting more and more stuff for later projects, and end up with shelves full of half completed experiments. I am going to have to go through your article with an eye to all my stuff… Thanks for the post.

  3. SurvivorDan says:

    The former Mrs. SD is a packrat. Great gal but big time packrat. I should just throw the junk out, but you need the pkrt’s cooperation. She read a couple paragraphs of this post and got angry. Good topic.

    • Hunker-Down says:

      Golly, I hope my DW NEVER sees this article!

    • E. Evans says:

      From what I have seen by interacting with packrats in real life, people will give one of three responses when alerted to their clutter:

      1) “Oh, my! You’re right. I never really noticed it before. My life feels messy, and I need to clean it up.”


      2) Anger. Not the polite anger. Ferocious, red-faced anger. The “How-DARE-you” kind of anger. “I refuse to listen, and I refuse to change!”


      3) “Yes, you’re right, but I just….can’t. I’ll sort it out someday. Yes, yes, the old, rotting, musty desk caked with mold is causing asthma problems and we needed to rush Junior to the emergency room because of it (we’re still trying to pay the hospital bill), but I might need to use it someday. After all, desks might become obsolete, and I could use it for barter, or use the mold to find a cure for cancer, or chop it up into firewood for dollhouses, or…Well, I’m sure it’s got a use for something if I use my imagination–OUCH! I just stubbed my little toe against it. Oh, no. Is my toe dislocated? It’s turning black! I can’t walk too well, so I guess we need to see a doctor. Just great. Another expensive medical bill.”

      The anger response is most amazing and most revealing about character. This is my opinion, but people seem to allow things to identify their self worth. In their minds, suggesting that their possessions are useless junk is the same as calling the people themselves useless junk. They interpret that as an attack on their self-esteem, and that makes them mad.

      • Kelekona says:

        Hah, I’m a number 3, but not a bad one…. For a while, I had to break something to get rid of it.

        I’m a little worried because I don’t have anything non-valuable to break. I don’t want to lose anymore vintage plates; not only are they identifiable, but we’re below the working amount for the way we live.

        Changing is a process, especially when one is raised with the clutterbug and the parents don’t realize the problem until after the child is gone.

  4. Firstly, excellent article. Well thought out, balanced and very, very complete.

    Secondly, when you said

    “It was a defining moment. Totally unexpected but life-changing.

    I looked at my junk.”

    I laughed. I hope that was your intention, because I giggled like a school girl. Well done!

    Third, you are absolutely right. The other week I looked at my camping gear (which doubles as a lot of my bug out gear). I brought it all out, reorganized, got rid of stuff that I didn’t need, organized it. I am no worse off, I am actually better off, and the shelving I had it on is less than half as full as it used to be.

    Good advice, for sure.

    • E. Evans says:

      “It was a defining moment. Totally unexpected but life-changing. I looked at my junk.”

      I laughed. I hope that was your intention, because I giggled like a school girl. Well done!

      Glad you found it helpful! Yes, the intent is meant to be humorous and thought provoking because it addresses a concept I refer to as “Visual Inurement” where we tend not to notice the things we see everyday due to gradual familiarity.

      It’s like taking a vacation to a new locale. Everything is fresh and new at first, so we are extra aware of our surroundings and pay close attention. But after a week or two in the same area, we become accustomed to the environs and tend not to notice the vegetation, buildings, beaches, and street signs as much as we did upon the first arrival.

      Clutter is the same way. That new portrait on the wall or the large bulky box in the hallway is noticeable at first, but after seeing it everyday for days, weeks, or even years, it eventually becomes forgotten and unused despite being located in plain view.

      This was what happened to me. I forgot about the stuff in plain sight, and continued to acquire more. Somehow, my eyes were opened one day, and I looked at my junk.

  5. axelsteve says:

    I got a pile of junk myself. I donated some to the 2 mexicans who drive by and ask for scrap metal. I need to get another pile for them.Problem is my kids drop off stuff to add to the pile and I get rid of my stuff first.I sored a soda machine for a friend for about a year and a half and when he finally got it it did not work.That kinda stuff.

  6. mountain lady says:

    I am in the process right now of decluttering my small house and storage. So far, two loads to the local thrift store and one to the dump. Another load is going to the dump on Friday. It is already feeling better around here. I am setting aside things to go the a local consignment shop as I just cannot handle selling alone and my DH is not really into it. After this little place starts looking liveable, I may paint a few rooms and get ready to hunker down. Hope I still have enough time to do all this.

  7. JP in MT says:

    About a year ago, the wife and I came to the same conclusion and started to divest ourselves of most of the stuff we had accumulated in the basement and the new garage. Couldn’t use the space any more. Books are still our main problem, but we still have a quarter of the basement to go.

    Need to get it done soon as the last set of food buckets I put up took up the last of the space I had set aside for them. Same with the space for cases of Freeze dried/dehydrated foods. Only have 2 shelves left for misc supplies and canned goods. (But I have to admit, if I’m going to have a storage problem, it’s nice that it’s because of the preps!)

  8. Yup. Agreed. True. Just the presence of clutter is demotivational. My living space has gotten cluttered, much of which is supplies with no where to put them. Gotta get a handle on it! Thank you.

  9. J Stuart says:

    If you have areas with lots of junk in them and want to conceal things of value your junk becomes a great security tool.

  10. DD2 decided she was going to help me ‘declutter’ Looking around my conex her eye landed on paper bags of newsprint, stacks of them in rows. With three contraptions on top ” what are these she asked?” Well the round skinny one lights charcoal using newspaper, the round fat one is a Safari Grill that cooks using newspaper, and the funny looking dodad with crank on the side turns newspaper into logs for the fireplace. So ended that effort to declutter me. I just hope they don’t find the milk jugs of water hid in the bathroom behind all that TP.

  11. Dean in Michigan says:

    Good one E…….

    This article really hits home. I have recently parted ways with a few things that I was holding onto for that ‘someday’. Since they were things of value to others (pawn shops), I was able to get a few nice things to add to my preps that I had been wanting.

    On the other hand, I have two nice sport skydiving parachutes that haven’t seen any air time in about two years. These middle aged knees won’t put up with much anymore. They would fetch a nice price, which I could turn into a boost in my preps, but I have a hard time accepting that I will never use them again. ROCK…me…HARD PLACE.

    Pssst…anybody want to buy a parachute?

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Craig’s list baby. U know what to do. Geronimo!

      • Dean in Michigan says:

        Hey Dan…..

        The only problem with that is, unfortunately, in my area Craig’s list will get you robbed faster than it will get you paid.

        • Hunker-Down says:

          You guys are eliminating a lot of good trading material for after TSHTF.
          I’ll stay in pack-rat mode.

          • I’m with you. If I saved it originally,it must have a use. It’s amazing what you can do with “junk” when the need arises.
            As long as I’m in the country,I’ll save all I can!!!!!!!1

          • HD, I agree…

            I prefer to stack and store assorted stuff safely, until needed…and it will be needed.

            Once inflation/deflation hits (rising cost of all goods in relation to income, combined with lack of actual coins/paper money to go around – maybe because there are limits on cash withdrawals, which is already happening right now in France.

            At least if you already have lots of non-perishables – can use the small amount of cash for fresh nutritious food perhaps…and not need to spend money on boots, shoes, socks, woolen blankets, hammers, antibiotic powder etc…that are available right now.

            People forget too quickly regarding the rationing and desperate times in the depression period, and well past the 2nd world war period…I am paying attention, and glad you are too HD…cheers.

    • Dean,
      About 8 years ago I developed some vision issues, more for long distance than anything. It pretty much meant that my prize Remington 700P in .308m fully tricked out with bipod and scope was no longer going to be of any use to me beyond perhaps 100 yards. Prior to this 1000 yards was not an issue. It took me nearly three years to finally decide to let that gun go, albeit to a good friend who uses it and cherishes it, so I know your issues here. Think back on the entire gun you had with it, and try and find someone who will have as much fun in the future. As we get older, that will be happening more and more often I suspect, so I’d let them go now while their worth something. You still have the memories.

    • E. Evans says:

      When I ran into a predicament like this, I always returned to the original question: “If this country entered another great depression tomorrow and our system collapsed, how would any of this help me?”

      By all means, hold onto survival items or still-useful gear that could be bartered or converted into another form (with imagination). An intact parachute properly cared for is valuable as raw material, but something burned up, tattered, torn, unusable in any form (even with imagination), and not valued by anyone is nothing but extra clutter that needs to go in order to make space for something truly valuable, such as case of bottled water or a sleeping bag.

  12. Exc job on de cluterring.i once heard that unless an item holds a practical use adds beauty to your home then let it go.
    Just this week I have been downsizing and getting more organized- so thanks for the inspiration to continue. The energy in our home feels more open and it seems to flow better- in my mind and in our living space. Arlene

  13. These few items I deem a necessity that can easily be overlooked and theses do not take up very much space.:Earplugs(or ear protection), for shooting,batteries for hearing aids, extra eyeglasses and cloth or disposable diapers for infants.
    I just received my copy of the Ladder Day Saints Preparedness Manual and its exc and fairly priced and photo copying is permitting ( not for profit but for sharing) Arlene

  14. 2heavyb says:

    Good article, I found your classification methods useful. We are currently going through this process with our possessions in preparation for our escape from kalifornia. Each time we work our way through the stacks we are finding more things that have lost there grip on us. After getting over the resentment of letting things go at the yard sale it gets easier every week.

  15. Great article.I’m lucky enough to live on 5 acres w/3K sq.ft.worth of storage. I am somewhat of a pack rat but have found sometimes things are worth keeping(space allowing).Even 10′ of romex wire has been put to use. Broken garden tools can be revamped for yard art(for sale) .My husband has been able to fix,revamp or reconstruct an amazing amount of things from peoples throw aways. We have a great fire pit from worn out 24″ farm disc with an old piece of chimney pipe.
    I understand the de-cluttering approach. My problem is that most things can be reused if you have the tools,imagination and need.
    Godbless to all,pray it never comes to the bottom line level of recycling.

    • annie,
      It also helps when you have the storage space, which it appears that you do. We have plenty of outside storage with numerous barns and other outbuildings, but the decluttering effort (and it is unfortunately an effort) in the house seems to be a nearly constant battle, so I can see and understand both perspectives.

      • the actual problem is ,the house storage space never seems to grow with the proverbial “want to keep”. All will get sorted with the wash,I pray I can keep and accumulate whatever before teotwawki.
        GOD’s speed

  16. Kelekona says:

    There is a documentary that I must recommend, it is called “My Messy Life” and Vimeo is one of the sites hosting it. If your skin crawls, it is a good sign.

    There is balance. The quads I see are too much stuff, minimal amount of stuff, able to find everything, unable to find anything.

    The people without overabundance naturally do not lose things. If they have something, it is likely they can find it. I do consider extreme minimalism a disease, possibly the same root as hoarding but it is in a backlash stage. (Example, I don’t know where I found it, but it was a couple whose only furniture was a futon and a metal garage shelf. Imaginary example, someone who does not own enough cooking utensils to put a fried egg on their ramen.)

    I admit I have too much stuff, and especially too much stuff for the lifestyle that the rental was designed for. But most of the time I could find everything but my shoes, and the tools but hubby was moving those on me. The real problem was that the storage was inadequate for my anti-minimalism lifestyle and I couldn’t vacuum without shifting boxes.

    I was able to find a flashlight before the contractors trashed my space and then we decided to move. (Effing change of management on the rental, suddenly a problem that’s a year old can’t wait a month.)

    I’m just now getting used to the idea that if I get rid of something, I can get a new one. Well, not yet because I’ve got to watch my spending, but I haven’t been properly seated in the consumerist cycle for quite some time. I annoy my hubby by apologizing for $7 benders at the thrift store.

  17. My wife and I recently moved. As we were packing we came across a lot of things that we had forgotten we had and a bunch more that we knew we had no real use for. If we haven’t missed it, then we figured we don’t need it. We got a large dumpster and almost filled it up in a day! We sold some stuff and gave a lot of other things away to folks who could actually use them. I even went through my tool boxes, culled out old or duplicate tools and put together a nice tool box for my daughter. She was excited to get it and was happy to have some of “Dad’s old tools”. It meant more to her than I could have imagined. Never underestimate the worth of some of your “Junk” when it comes to passing down useful objects to your kids.

    • T Dawg-way to go making your daughter a tool set. I always helped my Dad growing uo and when he was ill I asked him to please leave me his hammer (I used to build forts as a child with it.) He said fathers dont leave their daughters tools. He left his tools to my brother and my brother gave me Dads hammer which I treasure . Keep on prepping.

  18. Oh, my, do I ever fit into this category, even after thinking the same thoughts a couple years ago.
    Was going through the food preps and found so many leftovers from the last century I loaded a truck full and brought it to the Salvation Army food dispensary, replaced it with fresh.
    Then started thinking about all the other ‘stuff’ in the house and shop… and there’s a couple tons of it to eliminate.
    Having been a carpentry contractor, I’ve at least two of every tool I ever thought I’d need- and did use. But now I’m retired, what good are they doing? (Well, they’re doing rust a big favor…) So I’ve begun selling off most of it, keeping just barest essentials and mostly the hand tools.
    Even went through the gun safe and selected a few ‘haven’t been shot since Kennedy was prez’ and sent them down the road. (NO- I’m not responsible for that occurance, I just had a lot of old weapons!)
    It’s simply amazing the amount of camping gear a person can accumilate over the years. Bye-bye four extra tents… sleeping bags… camp stoves… so much more.
    When I was shooting news, I traveled a lot and had only the posessions I could load into the station wagon. Then kids got inserted into life- wow, what a difference ‘settling down’ and having a home makes in our lives. (OK- mine.)
    Thanks for a thoughtful post- everyone should read it, prepper or not- it’s amazing how ‘free’ we feel when we’re not tied down by the clutter in our lives.

  19. banaras says:

    During the Northridge earthquake there was a couple in Los Angeles that was killed by their collection of pop culture stuff, it was all stacked up in their house and bedroom. The earthquake happened early in the morning, they were in their bed and the stuff fell on them……

  20. Evans, another great article…thank you…cheers.

  21. Great article, and right along the lines of a plan I’ve been working on in my mind for about 3 weeks. When we returned to my grandfather’s farm we had all his “junk” in some of the sheds and had just added to it.

    Going to print this and use as a guide! I know we will be much better organized and clutter free in the end.

  22. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    My OCDs sometimes focused on my childhood. As a child with parents of ‘modest means’, I was allowed a very small amount of income for my fishing and hunting wants. I would have to be very choosy what I could buy. Fishing lures – I would spend time choosing between two bass plugs for example. My tackle box had one row with 2 folding shelves. Plenty of choices to pick from. Three or four spinning and spin cast outfits – again, plenty to work with.

    As time went on, I had accumulated enough for a bigger tacklebox, now six folding shelves. More than enough. Then I stopped fishing – other interests took hold. Much later on, I again started fishing. I now was an adult, with a much larger revenue. I didn’t have to pick and choose – I could pick several (or more) at a time. I’ve accumulated 4 more tackle boxes of lures, some vintage, others modern. And my fishing bug again went away – but the lures still are here, taking up space.

    Guess its time for a sale – thanks for the article.

  23. michael c says:

    A good idea (I use) is one from the credit (debt snowball) article in which you grade your debts (messy spots) from large to small and then tackle the large one first. I might also hit an easy (not so large) mess for the quick reward. I will clean any spot that reaches critical mass.

    The trigger for me is the “critical mass” – that has to be dealt with now. Once I cannot add anything to “the pile” – it becomes the target of a full “de-contamination” job.

    The only problem I have is Jevon’s Paradox in which I buy a shelving unit to clear the floor – fills the first shelf – then I have 3 or 4 more shelves that need filling.

    • Kelekona says:

      Michael C, I’m really hoping that it’s not an inescapable paradox. It seems fairly easy if you just load the shelf inefficiently or have cats that would demand empty shelf space. Then again, it might be like flat space disease.

  24. Excellent post. Great ideas. Most helpful article I’ve read in a while. Can’t say much more than that.

  25. mindyinds says:

    This article bites, and I am one of those bitten! I like to think that my Depression-era parents taught me the wisdom of saving what you might need for later, but I know I have gone around the bend with it. E., you give a great perspective and way to organize the problem. I resolve, once again, to go through my stuff (I refuse to call it “junk”), and disperse it to thrift store or county dump. I will!

    • E. Evans says:

      Thanks for pointing out the Depression-era mentality because that was one of the motivations for writing this article.

      Now that I think about it, part of the reason for my unconscious hoarding habits was from observing relatives and non-relatives who lived through the Great Depression. They often told livid tales of extreme poverty, lack, and uncertainty, and they never forgot it. The Great Depression did something to their thinking that changed them forever.

      As a result, they hoarded everything that crosses their paths (even when times were better) for the rest of their lives and passed that thinking down to their children and grandchildren.

      Among my relatives, most homes look alike. All are cluttered with too much stuff that resembled their grandmother’s home. It feels like visiting the same house over and over despite visiting different relative. Bins, boxes, mold, dust, beads, empty cans, rusty metal, old newspapers, and rat’s nests are everywhere.

      A great majority of the things the Depression-era folks acquired are over 40 years old and have deteriorated beyond usefulness, so they are unable to be sold, reused, or serve a purpose during an emergency. Yet, they dogmatically refuse to part with any of it.

      This is not survival preparation. It’s fear, and fear clouds the judgment.

      Times change, and I believe that it is important to be aware of change to avoid over-hoarding and fear. Certainly, the Great Depression induced demands that required Grandmother to save every button, bead, elastic underwear band, shoestring, and scrap of paper she could find, but times improved and those items became unnecessary.

      From my observations, the Depression-era elderly prioritize their clutter wrong. They possess a multitude of knick-knacks, gimcracks, and doodads that do nothing but deteriorate and collect dust, yet they possess almost nothing that would help them during an emergency. Few possess flashlights, extra floss, bottled water, or even canned goods, yet they become fiercely angry when anyone mentions to throw away the box of 1940s moldy clothes that the mice have chewed up because it might be a health risk.

      Imagination to reuse items is a valuable skill, but balance is important too.

    • E. Evans says:

      I resolve, once again, to go through my stuff (I refuse to call it “junk”)…


      I understand where you are coming from. In my case, I needed to refer to my clutter as “junk” to help change my thinking. Adjusting the terminology degraded my things in my mind, forced me to see it in a lesser light, and helped me become less attached to it.

      If I had called my things “personal artifacts,” “valued possessions,” “family heirlooms,” or any other euphemism, then, in my mind, I would have been reluctant to part with any of it and nothing would get done. After all, who wants to throw away a “valued possession”?

      I had to get rough with myself, and I even started using the word “garbage” to describe my clutter. Nobody wants to live in garbage, so that became a major motivation.

      It’s a small thing, but it was something I needed to do break my hoarding mentality.

  26. mindyinds says:

    But what I do about DH’s stuff??!

  27. my husband will not stop buying junk.nothing important,just random junk.we have a 3 bedroom house and it is hard to walk through.every time i take out the trash i add” a couple of things”.i have also come up with what i call the 1,2,3,rule.for every 1 item that he brings in he has to get rid of 2 items within 3 days.if he does not get rid of anything i will do it for him and the items to go are mine to choose.this method does work(it sure lit a fire under him)and the house clutter is disappearing.if the 1,2,3,rule is followed it WILL work for everyone.

  28. Thanks for the more thorough than usual coverage on this topic. The usual “if you have not used it in a year then throw it out” approach is quite silly. I have this classic dillemma at work/office and home. In addition to high value useful thinsg, I like to save up soem little things like milk jugs (plastic and square cardboard) for various useful purpsoes, but when I get in a “clean-out” mode and throw them away I am usually sorry a couple weeks later (same for coffee cans). My solution was to settle on a fixed number to keep –and keep no more. Organizing your truly useful prep items could be a whole other article too. At work I am often the guy that kept that document from some project many years ago that ends up answering some important question today – That’s worth something. As Col Cooper wrote, ” One can never have too many books, wines, or ammunition.” !!

  29. Evans,
    You hit me right in the head i this article! I like the way you organize these clutter and found out I have more than half of it as JUNK! ha ha ha
    Thank you, well written and really put me to action!
    You have my vote!

    Best regards to all wolves with clutters too!

  30. Loriann says:

    I “decluttered” my son’s room in a fit of rage because he wouldn’t keep it clean. I set everything out in the garage to deal with later. (Yes, I actually did deal with it later.) But I discovered something. I wanted to learn how to spin my own yarn, and was looking up how to make a spindle instead of paying $40 for one. Someone made one out of a dowel rod and a wooden toy car wheel. I said to myself, wow, that looks just like tinker toys…which I had in a box out in the garage.

    My dad grew up during the depression, so I have heard ALL the stories of repurposing. That’s my biggest problem, what if I throw something away, and later discover it would have been the perfect thing to make what I need? I now have 2 spinning spindles to make my own yarn out of cotton balls….made from long sticks of tinker toys, the wheel and a cup hook.

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