The Psychology of Clutter & Letting Go

Many powerful emotions are lurking amid stuff we keep. Whether it’s piles of unread newspapers, clothes that don’t fit, outdated electronics…the things we accumulate reflect some of our deepest thoughts and feelings.

To come to grips with their clutter, clients need to understand [and confront] why they save what they save, or things will inevitably pile up again.”

– The Psychology of Clutter, by Melinda Beck, Wall Street Journal


On Monday Tip wrote a post on letting go, explaining how real letting go can only happen if we first understand our relationship with stuff.

…and like magic into our inbox popped this video and article on The Psychology of Clutter by Melinda Beck for the Wall Street Journal.

“There’s growing realization amongst professional organizers that the first step towards de-cluttering is when we have to take in our heads coming to grips with why we keep what we keep.”

Remember, stuff only becomes clutter when it goes beyond stuff and causes us to feel a host of unpleasant / negative emotions: stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, paralyzed…and not be able to deal with it.

“Difficulty letting go of your stuff can also go hand in hand with separation anxiety, compulsive shopping, perfectionism, procrastination and body-image issues. And the reluctance to cope can create a vicious cycle of avoidance, anxiety and guilt.”

Avoidance? Anxiety? Guilt?
Yup! Yup! Yup!

To come to grips with their clutter, clients need to understand [and confront] why they save what they save, or things will inevitably pile up again.”

Which brings us back to why we need to understand our relationship with stuff and those ‘piles’ of clutter lying around.

I had a client recently who literally said “I know all the tricks like start with a corner, but I always go between perfectionist tidy and then cluttered piles…how do I know I wont go back there, back to clutter?”…I explained, “that’s because you haven’t confronted and really looked at why you’re doing this in the first place. Let’s deal with that first, and then you’ll see…we’re not going back we’re only going forward to new habits and ways you want to live by. Then next time the first pile starts you have a different way to handle it. But first, let’s have an honest look…”

So we did. Over a Skype call.

Clutter Piles To Do List

The next day she cleaned two piles and found $750 (from rebates she found in one pile and sale of something in another pile) and had already changed the bedroom. Two weeks later all the piles of clutter (17 of them) were gone from her house and while there are still things to tackle – a whole storage room in fact – “it feels different now”… and what’s best is that every time she writes to me she says “I still feel amazing”.

This isn’t magic, although for my client and others like her who deal with why they’re keeping stuff it does feel like it.

At the heart of our process with our clients – one on one coaching or our courses – is first understanding why you keep things and your relationship with stuff…

So that when you remove things you are really letting go.

Not just of the things this time, but of the reasons too.

It really is the only way to create new habits and ways that are happier, healthier, less stressful and overwhelming and well, work for you!

Because really, I know you don’t want to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by stuff.

So go, what are you waiting for? Read Tip’s latest blog post on why we keep stuff and confront why you keep stuff…

and if you are ready for a new way and want some gentle guidance to get you there, contact us and let’s schedule a time to work on it together, once and for all.


Let it go – Part 1 (a.k.a. why we keep stuff)

Just let it go etsy Honeyboo

This is a pretty BIG one on the Happy House Rules scale which is why we often start with it (i.e. let 1 thing go) and then return to it later (let a whole lot more go!) once we ave talked more about stuff and why we keep it, during our courses and consultations. There are many different reasons why we keep things so this post is all about trying to hep you figure out why you’re hanging on to something that seems to be weighing you down in some way.

* Keeping things “just in case” – you know, because you might need it, one day. This is often about a lack of trust in the future & your ability to provide for it. (I used to do this – a LOT. Time to trust it will all be OK.  Because, it will.)

* Identity – sometimes you might feel that your identity is tied up with your belongings. Examples of this could include old concert ticket stubs, old gifts from friends etc. Your things aren’t you – YOU are you.

* Unwanted gifts – As we discussed last week, we’ve all been given things we don’t like but feel obligated to keep. We are giving you permission to get rid of these.

* Status – ‘keeping up with the Jones’ for the reason of boosting self-esteem. But really, who are the Joneses anyway?

* Security – it’s reasonable to have a basic nesting instinct and want to create a home which serves your needs but there is a point at which more things do not make you feel more secure.

* Territorialism – this is all about the ego, which wants to possess and control things. So we buy stuff.

* Inherited “Clutteritis” – learned patterns from our parents/people that raised us. Think about if this might be the case for you … and remember, patterns can be changed.

* A belief that more is better – something the advertising moguls have brainwashed us into believing.

* “Scroogeness” – refusing to let go of things until you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of them…even if they cost you nothing to start with. I totally do this even though it makes no sense whatsoever.  Oops.

* Using clutter to suppress emotions – do you feel uncomfortable with too much empty space around you or too much free time? Ask yourself what you might be avoiding.  (This was also a big one that I had to deal with – I mean imagine if I didn’t have all this stuff to deal with, then what? Scary …)

* Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders – if you’ve reached a stage where you cannot throw anything away, ever. This is a serious level and while clearing your stuff out can help, therapy is also a necessity. This is where you need to find a professional, pronto.

* Spaces of argument – this term, coined by Nat, essentially is a physical representation of an argument you are/aren’t having with your partner or flat mate (or even yourself). Our suggestion – fix it. Do what you have to. Take responsibility for your side of this and just simply end the argument. Let it go and move on. If the “discussion” needs to happen, then address it & resolve it too.


before after spaces of argument

“See that pile of paper that’s been cleared? That was there for months and months (or even a year or two) and it just continued to grow. Hubby helped it grow by picking up my papers around the house and putting them on top of this pile. Anyway, he said, she said … I realised that this wasn’t clutter – this was an argument. A physical representation of the argument we weren’t having about my paper problem. So, my job was to end the argument.” ~ Tip

Take the time to process these and write down anything that came up for you. Did you connect with any? Have any others? We’d love to hear from you.

Poster by Honeyboo on etsy

* Source: Many of these reasons for keeping stuff originate from Karen Kingston. We have expanded on them from our work with our Apartment Diet clients.

Estelle’s Bedroom Before & After

estelle's bedroom after
As we are focusing on ‘le boudoir’ this week, it felt like a perfect time share before & afters from one of our first ever Apartment Dieters Estelle:

“Our bedroom was the most important space to get right. I needed a place I could snuggle in at the end of the day and feel totally at peace.

The Apartment Diet course made me address my embarrassing corners of mess in our apartment. It gave me the inspiration to conquer them and create a more calm and soothing space that I love being in!”
Like for so many of us, the bedroom had become filled with piles of washing, things that needed to be done, things that needed a new home, pictures that needed framing etc. All very ‘normal’, but it was no longer working…
“We were also expecting our first baby and needed to plan how to fit him into our 1 bedroom layout. Apartment Diet was totally necessary in forcing us to create a clutter-free space for our entire family to share for the next couple of years!”
before after bedside

e before after bedroom corner

The result I think you’ll agree is very calm & soothing.

Thanks for allowing us to share your bedroom transformation Estelle!

We hope this inspires you! It certainly inspired us.

Is your Bedroom a place of “rest & romance”?

How would your bedroom look if you (re-)designed it for rest & romance?
bedroom designed for rest and romance happyhouserules apartmentdiet

“Sometimes we forget about the bedroom, we concentrated our effort in our living room, dining, but the bedroom is our sanctuary, the place where you can have a great sleep zzzzzzz” – @1happymess

I’ve spent the last few years making our bedroom calm and empty except for some pretty things to wake up to like art, small bedside tables and a lamp each.

What’s your opinion on technology in the bedroom?

Over a year ago I took it a step further and banned our phones & electronics from the bedroom too arguing they were counter to restful sleep (and distracting, plus they also emit little lights that I’m convinced disturb us).

FYI: while this change was relatively seamless because we both like watching TV etc on our couch, it was not without argument. For the first 2 weeks my Mr would bring his phone in every night and I got mad…until I finally asked him “Why?”. He grumbled that he gets up earlier and didn’t want to stumble 20m out of the bedroom to turn it off. “Oh?” I said and I bought us an old school battery powered, no light emitting, alarm clock. Argument over.

OK, that’s technology but what about those piles that well, pile up, you might ask?

Is your bedroom the household’s storage unit?

bedroom piles apartment diet

From our work with clients (we’ve seen a LOT of bedrooms), we’ve also understood that for many of us the bedroom can become a storage unit.

We get how it happens. Most of us want the public spaces to be neat when people come over, so somehow stuff just lands in our bedroom. We’re here to help you with some solutions. One part of that is to decide to make your bedroom about rest & romance. Sleep and sex/intimacy. That means no ‘not done’ piles that weigh on your head when you sleep.

Don’t be upset if it is. Let’s do something about it, together, with some of our Happy House Rules.

Do you have 5minutes? Take it and start into those piles. Just start small and repeat…over the next week. Then come up with ways to ensure ‘everything in its easy place‘ & letting go.

before after apartmentdiet client

I decided to stop using the bedroom for stuff that doesn’t have a home.

Right now ours doesn’t have many piles (except for two pieces of art that I want to hang) and it’s deliberate.  Where does our ‘extra’ stuff go’? Pretty much everywhere else. I make sure we have a lot of storage. We have a few pieces that are in a storage garage and we use our flat’s public spaces & the top of closets and shelving in the bathroom/laundry area to keep our excess stuff. I have a hamper in the bathroom. It seems to make it easier to get rid of things.

I KNOW the reality is our bedrooms often seem like the only place we can put surplus stuff.

I just want to introduce the idea that they don’t have to be. I bet you’ll sleep a lot better, too.


So: How would your bedrooms look if you (re-)designed it with rest & romance in mind (and sleep & sex).  What would you change? Would you allow ‘technology’ or not? And would it make letting stuff go easier?

Let us know in the comments what you think – we’d love to hear your thoughts!

If this inspired you to act please email us before & after pics, we’d love to share them with the world…or join us on instagram and share your bedroom pictures and what changes you are making just use the hashtag #happyhouserules + @apartmentdiet.

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The long lasting effects of Apartment Diet

The other week this email popped into my inbox:
Apartment diet before and after

“The long lasting effects of Apartment Diet”

Subject: “The long lasting effects of Apartment Diet”
Dear Nat & Tip,
*please use this as a testimonial* (with my name, gladly)
I am so grateful to you at Apartment Diet for helping me see where the energy was stuck in my home.  Ever since I took your course (now it has been 8 months), I have loved my home so much more. It took time for me to integrate the changes I wanted to, and there is still more to be done; however, when people visit they say it’s a place filled with “hope” and “happiness.” Thank you!
- Shannon Walbran, spiritual consultant
Receiving this email made me sing…and then I didn’t share it. I got stuck. I didn’t know how to share it…I guess I was scared. Scared the changes in the photo were too subtle.
This week I feel differently. This week I realised ‘Shannon emailed us, without us asking her to, to tell us we had gotten her unstuck and helped her create lasting changes! And even though she is still in the process (who isn’t?) her space feels better. Everything is already better.’
This week something shifted. We may be at the beginning of our journey as apartment diet the business but I’m really proud of our work - we guide people to make lasting change in their lives, by changing their spaces. It works! Our processes work! Shannon is just one example and I am so glad she let us guide her.
So this week I’d like to challenge you with the #happyhouserules to “celebrate your successes” in changing your space – no matter how small it feels. Some teeny corners are awfully huge emotionally. So, go on, take a picture of a change you’ve made & tag us so we can celebrate with you.

Invite friends over

invite folks happy house rules

For most of us, it’s been Easter / Passover / Spring (or Autumn) break and that often means people – family, friends, food…

One of our #happyhouserules is about inviting guests in, having friends come around and entertaining in general.

We’ve included it for two big reasons but I’m sure you can suggest more:

1. Motivation to tidy / finish

Last week we spoke about cleaning and there’s no better motivation than having friends around. Who doesn’t clean / clear up ‘spontaneously’ just before guests arrive? (There’s a another lesson here, usually  a ‘good enough’ tidy takes much less time than we think, we just need the right motivation.)

We also recommend an invitation at the end of our courses or work with folks, as hosting an event / party at the end of making big changes is also great motivation because…it’s a lovely deadline for showing off, and…

2. New energies, positive memories and experiences in our home

When we have people we love in our homes we get to refresh our own energies and create new positive memories in our homes, together.

Laughter, good food, drinks…and good company are all simple ways to make our homes feel even more happy.

Don’t forget, it doesn’t need to be something big. Inviting friends around for a take away meal or wine and low-key snacks is fun too!

So who have you been having around lately? And how has it made your home happier? If not the perhaps it’s time to invite some friends over?

PS We know that for some of you (and at times, us – like when the MIL comes to visit!) having people around can be stressful. So of course, the antithesis for this happy rule is that for some of us, having guests over can make us anxious and stressed but it doesn’t have to be like this!

One way to help with these feelings is to start with the people you love and trust who won’t judge…and to plan it in advance so that the things you feel are important to complete are organised in time.

Several people who have hired us or done our course have told us that one positive result is that they now feel comfortable having people over, and that their guests literally comment on how good their homes feel.

I am so grateful to you at Apartment Diet for helping me see where the energy was stuck in my home.  Ever since I took your course (now it has been 8 months), I have loved my home so much more. It took time for me to integrate the changes I wanted to… however, when people visit they say it’s a place filled with “hope” and “happiness.” Thank you!

- Shannon Walbran, spiritual consultant

We’re here if you need us…in the meantime, happy holidays!

Go on, Remove 1 Thing

OK let’s start off our #happyhouserules project with something small. If you want to play along, take pics & tag us on Instagram @apartmentdiet & #happyhouserules as well!

It’s spring here so it’s a natural time for clearing (and if you’re playing along in the Southern hemisphere, a natural time for shedding).

Our number one rule is ‘start with a corner’ so…go to a corner of your house (do you dare go to the one you hate most?) and free up that space…remove 1 thing.

remove 1 thing happyhouserules

Maybe it’s those old magazines you’re keeping just in case, maybe a shirt that you don’t ever wear. Perhaps it’s just that you have too many toys that your kids don’t use anymore. Whatever it is, go on and remove 1 thing and revel in the knowledge that you are making space for something new to come in.

…and if you’re still stuck, here are 37 ‘1 things’ the Huffington Post encourages us to get rid of right now.

We’re here doing it with you!

So remove 1 thing – FREE IT and let it be loved by someone else. Donate it, recycle it, give it away or we also give you permission to toss it in the trash if it has gone past its useful life.

PS For those of you who really want to kick into Spring/Autumn clearing, keep repeating this process of looking at a corner and removing things all around your house (one corner at a time) and let us know how you felt or contact us with any questions about this rule.

Join our #happyhouserules project


Quick update, we’ve been busy working on our “Happy House Rules” book & have created a project to go along with it here, and on Instagram & Facebook.

“We’ve been busy getting ready for our #happyhouserules project. Over the last years we’ve been distilling top “rules” or rather habits & ways to live by to make homes & happier and healthier for a book… And we’re ready to share them! We’ll start releasing our #happyhouserules for you to join in using our hashtag (so we can show you off!) We’d also love you to contribute and share your tips for a happy, healthy house and ask us for tips on things you need or are stuck on! Just tag is @apartmentdiet & use the hash tag …. Ooh can’t wait! xo nat & tip ps see you later today with our first “rule” so we can all kickstart spring/autumn clearing together!”

We’d love you to join in…and we can’t wait for you to share your photos, too!

So: What are your favourite happy house rules / habits you’ve learned? Where do you need the most help? Where are you stuck? Leave us a comment here on instagram.

Stay tuned & join us in creating a happier, healthier home!


Can you help my wife / husband / partner?

“Can you help my wife / husband / partner …?”


If Tip & I had a dollar for each time we’ve been asked this (also about roommates, family members, relatives etc)…well let’s say we’d be able to take a very nice vacation from work.

Of course the answer is yes – we’re going to trial & run some partners courses later in the year and already offer coaching on this – but more on that later at the bottom of this post.

Let me digress for a moment:

I once met a happy Swami. He is a friend of my father in law’s, who knew him well before his incarnation as Swami. Over dinner he was talking about mantras and the like. After dinner I said “Oh, can you give [my Mr.] a mantra?”. He looked me in the eye and asked me “Do you have one?”. “No,” I answered truthfully, and tried to bring back the conversation to him giving my Mr. one. “Perhaps you would like one?” he said simply.

This story really did happen to me and here’s the thing. Often we want the people around us to change. Maybe they’re messy, maybe they’re too neat. Maybe they give everything away or have a closet filled to the brim with stuff that doesn’t or hasn’t seen the light of day but they can neither bare to part with it and complain daily that they have nothing to wear. Maybe all the house work has fallen on you. Maybe they have these really annoying habits (they probably do…but guess what, it’s likely so do you). Maybe they talk about things you don’t like or have opinions you don’t like…

I’m no Swami so I get caught up in this thinking often (especially around my little one’s naptime) but it comes back to the simplest of things:

We can’t change people. We can only change ourselves.

(Hey you rolling your eyes, I know I know, I’m rolling mine with you…)

andy goldsworthy

It is true though. But, and this is a big but. There is also something extra that I (& Tip) think is often left out of this sentence – that we can also change the environment around us.

That is, we can create conditions in our environments that make the changes we are seeking more likely. It doesn’t have to be a major change either. Sometimes we just need to move a little.

This is one of the secrets we’ve uncovered through apartment diet. It’s not magic exactly but sometimes it feels like it.

The secret: It’s easier to make the changes we are seeking in our physical spaces than in our heads.

It works like this:
it’s really hard to change your own mind about something. And even harder to change someone else’s. But we can almost certainly move a couch we share for a week (or an hour).

More than just acting positive, what if the physical space you shared was more positive? What if your side of the closet and lots of other areas of the house that are within your control (which can also read as your partner doesn’t care either way) change to exemplify the feelings you would like to convey?

“And when things start to happen, don’t worry, don’t stew.
Just go right along, you’ll start happening too!”

– Dr Seuss, Oh the places You’ll Go

I’d like to add, somewhat ‘miraculously’ – they’ll start happening too.
We’ve had partners suddenly help. We’ve seen partners ‘spontaneously’ build treehouses and cubby’s. Renovate their offices. Mount furniture on walls. Paint walls. Throw out stuff…Kids too.

This type of change…it’s contagious.

So what changes do you want to make to your homes and lives?

PS Yes of course we can help! It just may be that unless they want to do it, or do it with you, we start by helping & working with you. Contact us & let’s start.


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Cat’s Course Transformation

Sometimes we forget the work we do in the hurry of our day-to-day lives.

As part of our personal commitments to gratitude, celebrating our successes and being present in our own lives, we are revisiting some of our early course participants to share their transformations…and how it’s still transforming their lives.

Our first stop, Cat from Studio Hunting Bears.

Cat before


“From being a part time freelance designer and mother at home I was dropped into full time work with my hubs… less time at home meant I wasn’t able to clean and keep tidy as often and when I did it took forever. I was sick of dusting under and over excess stuff so really needed to declutter my house to declutter my brain!

After a knock on my proverbial, pink front door from the wonderful Tip & Nat, as well as being joined on the course by some amazingly lovely ladies I knew from IG, I embarked on my Apartment Diet journey. It was very refreshing to see peoples’ ‘real’ home photos, the problem corners, the messy sideboards with papers everywhere, the piles of laundry. Believe me it’s very easy to avoid posting these bits of your ‘real home’ on Instagram… especially when there are so many perfectly curated feeds. I’m guilty! So shoot me ha. The other thing I loved was being able to share my thoughts, ideas & suggestions with the other course participants to help with their issues and trouble spots. We all helped and learnt from one another and also learnt that we all strive for different things in our homes and that is what it’s all about. What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily what the next person wants.

My journey has only just begun and I plan to continue until my home is what we want it to be. Thanks ladies for all your help… You’ll never know quite how you came to the rescue at just the perfect time! X”

cat after


Thanks Cat for your generous words. So proud to have been a part of your room (and ongoing house) transformation!

You can read Cat’s full story & see more pictures here over on her awesome blog.

 PS Need a kickstart too? Our next course starts March 17th. More here