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a man standing with his hands beside his eyes so he can't see what is around him.

Clutter blindness is simply clutter that is in front of you, but that you don’t see.

Usually, this clutter accumulates slowly over time but because it is never dealt with it begins to look like it belongs there. It’s not that people have a vision problem. It’s just that they have become accustomed to the clutter and expect it to be there.

How does clutter accumulate?

Clutter generally accumulates when tasks are not completed. For example, you bring in the mail and you might even pull out the obvious trash and throw it out or recycle it. The rest is put on the kitchen counter to deal with later. Perhaps you go back into the stack to look for a bill that you know you need to pay but the rest stays and more is added. After a while you just expect that stack of mail to be on your kitchen counter and you stop noticing it.

Unused items

Clutter can also accumulate when you have brought items into your home and actually used them for a while but then at some time have stopped using them. But still they sit, unused and now they turn into clutter. It might be that bread maker or waffle iron that was a lot of fun for a few months but then became more trouble than it was worth. This fading use of the item may have happened over time, and you no longer even notice this huge item sitting on your kitchen counter.


Perhaps you have purchased some items that were mistakes, and you need to return them. You stack them in a corner while you look for receipts or time to take them back to the store. You get busy with other tasks and the longer they sit there the less you notice them.

Too much clutter = no space for you

Eventually you start to notice that you no longer have counter space. Or that you can no longer eat meals at your dining table. You realize that you have to move things around on your coffee table or end table in order to put your coffee cup down.

But even then, you might not be sure how to determine what is the clutter and what to do about it.

Tips to help you focus and identify the clutter:

  • Physically touch each item on the counter or tables and ask yourself, “Do I need or love this thing? How does it make my life better?” If you don’t need or love the item and it is not improving your life, get rid of it. If you do need/love the item, ask yourself, “Is this where I use it? Is this the best home for it?” If you want to keep it but want to put it somewhere else, move it. If you need it or love it and this is where you use it, leave it, and move on.
  • Clear the surface area you are working on completely. Put everything in a box or a different area. Wipe down the surface. Go through the removed items and make decisions on if they are important enough to go back on that surface. Everything else is either tossed or rehoused. Try very hard not to just reshuffle unnecessary items elsewhere.
  • Take a picture of the area you are working on. You will often see things amiss in a picture that you don’t see in person. You look at the picture and start to realize what is wrong with the picture.
  • Go outside and walk back into the area pretending to be someone looking to buy the house or perhaps pretending to be your mother-in-law. What do you notice that is messy or not attractive. Think about what you might do to change the feeling.

Thoughts on removing the clutter:

  • If it is something you decide to donate, put it in a box and schedule a time within the week to take it to a donation center. You do not have to wait until the box is full.
  • If it is trash, put it in a bag and take it out that day.
  • If it is something you are keeping but putting somewhere else, make a “going somewhere else” box and at the end of the session walk around the house with the box and put those items away.
  • If you have found that you have certain places in your home where clutter accumulates over and over again, plan on making a clean sweep of that place daily or at least weekly.
  • If the task of removing the clutter seems overwhelming, ask for help. You can ask a friend or family member to help you get started. You may prefer to ask a professional organizer who will also transfer organizational skills to you.

Once you have decluttered an area, it is very important to maintain that area. Schedule regular maintenance. Put the times for maintenance on your calendar.

The decluttered space will reduce your stress and you will feel so much lighter.

If you are ready to declutter your home or would like help on any other organizational project, join Diane Quintana and me in our Clear Space For You clutter support group. The group will offer ideas, support, inspiration, and gentle accountability for working on developing plans or projects.

Jonda S. Beattie, Professional Organizer owner of Time Space Organization, and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize. She is based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, award-winning author, as well as a retired special education teacher she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients.





  • Seana Turner says:

    I like the idea of moving the clutter into another place to look at it, like to a clear surface. I think this helps us see things in a fresh light, instead of just part of the “furniture” of where it has been living.

    Clear an area, like a surface or drawer, and then wiping it clean, also makes everything feel fresh. So good!

    Hard not to just move the clutter around, but definitely worth the effort. It is funny how quickly we get accustomed (or habituated) to seeing items in a space, and then we stop seeing them. Once I asked a client, “Can you tell me about the desk in the hallway?” She said, “What desk?” She had just stopped noticing it.

  • Julie Bestry says:

    Clutter blindness always reminds me of how some people (ahem, men) can look in the fridge and not find what they’re seeking. They expect that the thing they want will be right in front and jump out at them, and if it’s not, then the thing must not be there. Clutter blindness seems so similar; people don’t recognize what they have because of the other stuff that obscures it, but then enough clutter obscuring other clutter makes a person unable or unwilling to notice any of it at all!

    I love all of this advice, but particularly the part about taking a photo. I recently read that people with schizophrenia have visual hallucinations, but if they look through the camera on their phones, the hallucinations disappear! Reality can’t hide from the camera! (I also love the point about decluttering down to the surface and cleaning. It’s easy to re-clutter a 3/4-uncluttered space; it’s much harder to drop that first item onto a cleared counter.) Great guidance!

  • Clutter blindness is real. Sometimes, we can’t see it. It’s not just that we stopped looking, but the clutter might not be visible. You literally don’t see or are bothered by it, so it is there but unnoticed.

    There are indicators or clues that can help you ‘see’ the clutter. You named several like you have no more counter space or you can’t eat meals at your table. Another clue could come from a second pair of eyes. Someone else in your household might be more sensitive to and bothered by the clutter. They become vocal about it, which is another indicator that it’s time to declutter the piles.

    It’s easy to get used to how things are. Changing clutter-blindness tendencies is about developing awareness. Once that happens, it’s easier to make a change.

  • Wonderful way to explain clutter. I have a client that told me that she doesn’t want any books in her bookshelf. That’s also clutter, if you don’t want it, get rid of it. We are getting to those books soon. Great blog.

  • Clients are always amazed when I tell them about ‘clutter blindness.’ They don’t realize that their stacks of books, piles of papers, and baskets of miscellaneous items that have been in the same place for months has a name. I find the discussion we have about clutter blindness often opens their eyes to the areas of their home that need the most attention and motivates them to de-clutter those shelves, counters, and black-hole baskets.

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