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Stop Clutter from Stealing Your Life: Discover Why You Clutter and How You Can Stop

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Nelson, a recovering clutterer, gives practical advice on how to declutter your life and get yourself on the path to recovery.

221 pages, Paperback

First published December 31, 2000

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Mike Nelson

89 books5 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 22 of 22 reviews
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,696 reviews654 followers
March 24, 2010
This is more than a typical decluttering book because it focuses much more on the reasons why we hang on to "stuff" we no longer need and gets to the root of the problem. I don't recall reading any clutter books that delved so deeply into pinpointing the causes of the cluttering so you can become healthy in mind, body and soul instead of just throwing your crap away and later just accumulating more.

I've discovered my need to keep stuff around, particularly books, knitting supplies and old clothes (and a creepy doll or two), stems way back to my childhood when my mom threw away my stationary, sticker, toy & book collection. Actually, she threw away everything I ever owned as a child without ever asking me. Often I'd come home from school to find my stuff gone, either given away to a cousin or friend or thrown in the trash, because she went on a crazed cleaning frenzy while I was away. This makes sense to me but I never put two and two together until reading this book. Fortunately this is one of the easier "causes" of cluttering to overcome (especially since I dealt with mom issues years ago), unlike compulsive shoppers or people with serious depression, anxiety or OCD conditions which I'm thinking this book won't do much in the way of helping. Over the years I've been doing a decent job of decluttering my home and throwing away all of those useless magazines & knick knacks and broken items I'd get fixed "some day". Still, I find it difficult to weed out my books to a healthy level and the garage filled with junk we've accumulated over 20 years has been too overwhelming to tackle. This book gives me hope that if I can just do a little at a time, he recommends working in 15 minute increments similar to Flylady.net, one day it will all be gone and I will actually be able to park my car in the garage!

The one section that bothered me is the one about dealing with clutter you will one day inherit. The author recommends confronting your parents, grandma, etc. and pretty much forcing them into weeding through and getting rid of their junk (with your help, of course) so you don't have to deal with it later. I would never do such a thing because it seems so invasive and downright insulting. Getting rid of your junk has to be a personal decision you make, not forced upon you by someone else and the author is a bit contradictory here. I'd rather hire one of those gotjunk.com places and have them haul it away instead of alienating and offending my relatives to save me some work when they die.

There's a bunch of info. here for businesses dealing with clutterbugs and home office clutter, etc. that I didn't find particularly useful because I am strangely organized at work but I'm sure it would be helpful for others.

A big bulk of the book focused on the emotional issues which cause clutter. It went on a bit too long for me and my attention began to drift but I did enjoy the section of true stories written by real people struggling with their clutter problem and wish it had been a little longer. I don't know about you but it sure makes me feel less strange to know there are others out there who have more clutter than me :)

This book is jam packed with information and is a very helpful starting point for those just beginning their decluttering lifestyle change.
Profile Image for Lauren Williams.
110 reviews1 follower
December 15, 2018
Extreme clutterer's painfully honest autobiography. Valuable lessons are in this book.

Mike Nelson has written a painfully honest autobiographical account of his life as an extreme clutterer. That honesty is something that other clutterers MUST read, because I think it can give them hope. Mr. Nelson convincingly documents that a very disorganized person can gain control of his/her situation with a narrative very few therapists or Professional Organizers can offer. In that spirit, I think his effort is admirable.

His technical details, for example about computer programs, are completely out-of-date, but that's to be expected in a 2001 book. Likewise, some of the support groups he recommends are no longer in existence, and much of the therapeutic understanding of cluttering and hoarding has become more extensive and sophisticated. I also regret some of what he writes about Professional Organizers (I am one). I suspect he may have encountered both very good ones and some not-so-good ones, because he has the opinion that some can be rigid. In my opinion, be careful to avoid rigid ones. Rigid service providers may not be doing the work of trying to help their clients design systems tailored to their clients' strengths. Rigid service providers may only be designing systems that work for themselves.

Lauren Williams, Owner, Casual Uncluttering LLC, Woodinville, WA, USA
Profile Image for Elena.
210 reviews5 followers
April 3, 2019
Based on the descriptions of the stars, I originally had rated it 2 stars (it was ok), but I revised it to 3 stars because my rating wasn't based on the quality of the material and I don't want people to think it isn't a helpful book. I checked this out of the library because I was looking for something to jump start my Spring Cleaning. This book is more about overcoming challenges for people who are clutterers / hoarders. It covers the emotional aspects of cluttering, financial results stemming from hoarding and how to get assistance on dealing with it. I don't have a problem with hoarding - - quite the opposite because I love getting rid of clutter so it wasn't exactly what I was looking for.

There is one section (Chapter 8) in which he goes through rooms and categories to help you eliminate clutter. I liked that section because he starts from the question, "how many do you need" not "how many do you like." When prefaced that way, I think most of us can agree that we don't need much of what we have.
455 reviews4 followers
December 8, 2019
The blurb on the back of the book indicates that it is a practical guide to decluttering—however, quite the opposite, most of the book is a semi-autobiographical account of the authors own struggles with clutter and a discussion of some of the psycho-emotional reasons that lead people to cling to things in a way that creates clutter. It is not until almost the end of the book before he offers practical tips for eliminating clutter. Because the book is written by a recovering clutter, it is written in a very straightforward, approachable, and non-judgmental way. However, if you aren’t using things as a cover for your deeper emotional angst and are just looking for some practical organizational tips, this is not the right book.

Quote
“Our problem is that we have replaced people with things”
Profile Image for Lena Tumasyan.
144 reviews7 followers
July 23, 2022
I picked up this book in the sale section. I thought it would help me organize some of my stuff. The book, it turns out, is really intended for hoarders, people who can't throw anything out. Sure, people who want to organize can use it as well. It has good advice. We all have tendencies to "let things go" and I agree it's a good idea to "find a place for everything or toss it." But a lot of the book dealt with the emotional burden of being a "clutterer" or "cluttered." I can't quite call myself that, but I feel like from time to time my behavior leans that way, and then I clean things up.
Anyway, I liked it, and I think this book is best for the true hoarders, people who need to get rid of LOTS OF JUNK. I thought it was funny, honest, lots of good insight, and opinions. I liked all the personal stories. Lots of honesty there.
Profile Image for Dennis Littrell.
1,078 reviews43 followers
August 20, 2019
Help! I’m drowning in my stuff and I can’t get up!

Mike Nelson writes, “Whatever your religious affiliation, you’ll find something that will help you get closer to your God through decluttering.” (p. 189)

He’s not kidding around, and by golly, I believe him. If cleanliness is close to Godliness, as we have been taught, then neat and organized is at least saintly.

Personally I think Nelson is on to something profound. He opens the book with these words of wisdom: “This book is about more than just decluttering. It’s about balance. A cluttered household is an unbalanced household. It’s about not recluttering. It’s about not having to buy more and more stuff to fill a hole in our souls. It’s about learning what’s really important in our lives and not using stuff to hide from life. People and pets are important; stuff is not….”

Nelson digs deeper into clutter than I thought humanly possible. Frankly I’m amazed. He asks first of all, “Are You a Clutter?” (Chapter 1). He makes a distinction between “hoarding” and “cluttering.” “…[H]oarding is more dramatic…If you’re a hoarder, it’s unlikely that even a book as good as this one, by itself, is going to help you much…A clutter’s mental attic at least has more lights on, so you can see your way around the boxes of mental eddies.” He adds, “Hoarding is a medical diagnosis. Cluttering is a layman’s term.” He quotes John P. Zak, who is a psychiatrist, to the effect that the distinctions are not entirely clear, but “A hoarder finds it very difficult to get rid of the stuff without the occurrence of severe distress unless it is done in a very systematic, well-planned-out, therapeutic approach.” (p. 143)

I would like myself to make a distinction between cluttering and polluting. Cluttering only messes up our own lives and those who have to live with or very near us. Pollution can destroy far and wide. So relax, fellow clutterer, you are not a polluter, at least not in my view. By the way, I’m known as neat, but I know the hidden truth: you should see the files on my computer!

Nelson gets down to the nitty-gritty of getting rid of clutter in Chapter 4 “40 Ways to Leave Your Clutter” (with no apologies to Paul Simon, or to those used to an ordinary 12-step program). First there is kindness and understanding in the guidance: “Be kind to yourself…Start small. Make small, reachable goals…Your goal is to have a home where you feel comfortable…Think locally, not globally. Try decluttering in 15-minute increments….” (pp. 54-55)

One gets the sense that Nelson has been up against it for a long, long time (and he has). But is he getting soft? Well, no. Consider some more of the 40 ways: “Make cluttering an area you’ve decluttered a crime in your house…Shopping is not a sport. The less you buy, the less you have to declutter…You’re allowed to have more than one shredder…Never, ever, ever, ever give up. I have enough faith in you for both of us.” (pp. 55-57)

Here’s an answer to the joke question, “how do you know you’re a redneck?” “The new TV sits on top of the old TV.” More probably this could be a clutter joke-on-the-square. I’ve seen it, and I’ve heard the excuses for it. “Better height this way. The new TV isn’t broken in yet. You never know…”

Nelson understands all this and a lot, lot more. There’s even a chapter on “OPC—Other People’s Clutter.” You think you’re doing your surviving relatives a favor by leaving all that junk to them so they can go through it after you’re dead? Forget it. You are just giving them a burden. Nelson emphasizes that it can be very emotionally painful for your loved ones to go through all that junk. Shape up and ship it out before you go-go.

Chapter 7 is on paper clutter, and paper clutter leads to computer filing, and yes, you can be (I am! I’ve already confessed) a file clutterer and an email clutterer

I’m going to work on it. I promise. Yahoo gives me unlimited space (ah, the riches), so why should I delete a single email? Well, because I can’t find anything. Nelson’s advice is succinct: “Read, respond, delete.” (p. 225)

Chapter 7 also includes a little multiple choice test to find out what kind of learner you are, so you’ll know how to go about learning to clean up the clutter. I’m a “D,” a logical learner with A (visual) tendencies. C’s (emotional learners) declare, “I can’t breathe. I’m drowning in clutter.” D’s state firmly that they’ll start “at the left corner of my desk and work to the right.” Yeah, but how about the procrastinator learners?

Nelson also guides us on how to live with clutterers. He makes this salient point (among many others): “Cluttering is about control. In a household with a clutterer and non-clutterers, the clutter always wins.” (p. 162) He adds, “For clutters married to each other, each one sees the other’s clutter as “a real mess,” and will be sure to point that out.” (p. 163)

Dang! This is a good book! I could go on and on. Fortunately Amazon has a word limit… Well, one more thing. Nelson ends the book with affirmations and promises. Here’s one of the best for clutterers: “I live in a clutter-free environment, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.” (p. 245)

--Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”
November 24, 2015
A former clutterer himself, I admired how he honestly appraised his failures to his severe clutter problem. He also truthfully assessed the sometimes psychological turmoil he went through sifting through his piles. I've read a lot of books on clutter, but a lot of them recommend therapists in order to skip the psychological aspect of actually sifting through all the mess -- which can take months to clean-up.

The author of this book Mike Nelson has the guts to look at himself and tell us all the emotions he went through when he started the long task of cleaning all his mess.

"Stop Clutter from Stealing Your Life" by Mike Nelson and "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by are the best books on clutter control -- (and I've read dozens of books on clutter control).

"Life-Changing Magic" taught me to forget about making a schedule and just tackle the clutter NOW and do as much as I can. "Stop Clutter from Stealing..." taught me about the psychological turmoils I might encounter, but that is part of the process to cleaning up the clutter. He says these dredged-up emotions are important and they help us learn more about ourselves. Forget about getting a maid. Cleaning up the clutter -- no matter how long it takes -- will wake us up to emotional memories as well as other qualities about ourselves we forgot about.

I listen to both of these titles on audiobook format and I am sometimes motivated to clean while listening to these titles.

My place is now clean enough to invite people over whether they be friends, family members, co-workers, or even just a repair man.
Profile Image for Ruthmgon.
311 reviews4 followers
July 9, 2010
So far, pretty great! This guy is a good writer, not too goofy or step driven. He approaches it like a 12 step program, though there aren't any in Colorado..sadly for me. Hes got a little of everything here, and his tips are psychological not exactly a how to. Why do people do what they do, what is the root of the reasons for clutter...some stories from reformed clutterers in their own words...that kind of thing. I liked the diary section best I think. Essentially the message here is: The decluttering process is about making decisions and no one else can really make those for you.

This book is super positive, dont give up, one step at a time, etc. How to get help, who to ask for help from..pros and cons of using a professional organizer, a friend, or your own steam...Great references to Suse Orman like...in the clutter diary section..."Found a check for $32.84 and...another for 43.90. Suze Orman was right. The prosperity is flowing in already. " Most of his stuff aligns with Suse's work too which is a bonus.

However, there is the looming 12 step higher power references, which may bother some people. Unfortunately, I cannot get the image of him meditating in the bathtub with a cigar and coffee out of my head.
10 reviews
February 21, 2021
I enjoyed this book's relatively informal approach to the problem of decluttering. It's just kind of matter-of-fact about the issue and very conversational. It also makes you think differently about why you are in this situation and invites some new ideas and approaches I had never heard of in previous organizing books I've read. The concept of Clutter Buddies so that you aren't in this alone. The knowledge that it is actually fear or filling in some void that makes us clutter (think about it). It's a quick read that I think anyone looking to declutter should read. My favorite of all I've read, but great to read in tandem with other decluttering books. I don't think any single one is a be all end all of all decluttering books -- not even Marie Kondo's.
Profile Image for Laura Gilfillan.
Author 6 books56 followers
November 22, 2011
I don't really have a clutter problem, I just like reading books about it. ha-ha. One nice thing this book did was to explore the different grades of clutter problems. Almost anyone could feel better about wherever they are at, hearing a description of what this problem can be at its worst. I like how the author explored the deeper emotional problems that almost always underlie a cluttering problem, and gave advice for how to address those problems, while working at improving organizational skills. I also like the personal side he gave to the book by sharing his own struggles. I may want to re-read this book at some point, just for the encouragement it gives, and the personal side of it.
34 reviews
December 4, 2009
This book was perfect for me. It doesn't talk about how to get rid of clutter directly, it focuses more on the psychological aspects and leads us to clutter. It acknowledges that it isn't a simple matter of having more stuff than we need, it helps you to see why you are holding on to things. It was great to read and have those A-Ha moments, that helped me to see I wasn't crazy, my brain just works differently than other people. It was a great affirming book that helped to build you up so you can release things that might be holding you back.
Profile Image for C. Janelle.
1,396 reviews37 followers
December 2, 2009
This book certainly had a different angle than other decluttering books. Nelson set out to explain the various psychological reasons for cluttering behavior. It helped me to realize that my clutter issues are fairly well in hand, and it helped me have more empathy and patience for those who are mired in clutter. I could use some more practical tips to help cull and organize my stuff, but I suppose there are plenty of books out there with that kind of information.
528 reviews21 followers
July 8, 2016
This title did not have nearly the insights that The Hoarder in You by Robin Zasio did. Her book had a lot of psychology in it that expanded far beyond hoarding. This was fine for what it was- he has a patience for the issues people face, as he is a recovered hoarder himself, but had no real insights into human nature, which is what fascinated me with the other book of this genre.
Profile Image for Janet.
2,015 reviews20 followers
February 23, 2009
Unfortunately this read more like a self help book than instructions on how to clear your clutter, and that's not what I was looking for here. The author also inserts too much of his own story/problems and again, not what I wanted.
295 reviews1 follower
September 3, 2013
Wasn't what I was looking for so I wasn't happy.
Profile Image for Ami.
526 reviews12 followers
June 25, 2014
This is a great book. Very helpful and motivating. Gives a lot of advice and personal stories from other people who "clutter".
Profile Image for J Crossley.
1,719 reviews11 followers
November 22, 2017
Clutter squeezes the life out of you, and this book discusses ways to overcome your clutter issues to live life to its fullest.
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