Is Decluttering a Trap?


The decluttering movement has a phoney moral force to it but is no less potent for that, and at any given point most of us are somewhere in the endlessly recurring cycle of buying stuff that makes us happy, watching it pile up, which makes us sad and buying books about how to get rid of it, which makes us happy again, until the effect wears off and we start the whole thing again.

A few people have shown me this op-ed piece.

I think they assume I’ll be annoyed by the columnist’s assertion that decluttering is a trap, but the fact is: I agree!

I’m an advocate of Minimalism. Decluttering to Minimalism is what a crash diet is to a healthy lifestyle. We’ve said it several times in New Escapologist and it’s true.

I also agree with the columnist that “the industry set up to help us deal with the deluge has inevitably just generated more stuff.” This is why, while I write about minimalism sometimes at this blog, I’ve resisted the urge to write a book about it. (I am, however, mulling over the prospect of a stand-up comedy show about this very issue called Can’t Get Enough Minimalism).

“Decluttering” has a nice, Buddhist ring to it, but it is not a transitional stage on the road to enlightenment. It’s a trap. You have to keep buying stuff to regenerate the buzz of throwing it out and you will never, ever be free.

I suppose this is true if you think in terms of decluttering rather than minimalism. In minimalism, you wouldn’t “keep buying stuff to regenerate the buzz of throwing it out” because (a) throwing things out is not done in pursuit of a modish thrill but a sustainable, portable lifestyle; (b) you understand that disposal is only one half of the equation, the other being more cautious acquisition, and (c) you simply don’t think in terms of ownership any more: once you’ve seen a thing in the world, how does buying it and putting it in your house make it (or you) any better?

Perhaps we can train ourselves to live a denuded life in which everything is digitised and nothing around us has any resonance at all. Or we can allow that some measure of disorder is a function of not being an android. Old receipts, swollen notebooks, outgrown baby clothes; ugly cushions from homes that we no longer own: the ascent of meaning and memory over clean lines and good taste.

Oh. Well. Of course, there’s no accounting for taste.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

2 Responses to “Is Decluttering a Trap?”

  1. Tony Edgecombe says:

    I always thought people with a hoarding problem should start by learning not to acquire new stuff before they think about de-cluttering.

  2. David Cain says:

    A lot hinges on how we define these terms, decluttering and minimalism. Decluttering to me just means getting rid of long-standing messes and unnecessary possessions, something which every sensible person can see the value in once they do it. I think the columnist has the wrong idea. People don’t declutter for the “buzz” of throwing things out. It is a pragmatic activity, although being preached at is always annoying. Clearly “Hang on to everything” is the worst possible advice on this topic.

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