A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Organized Excess is the Cousin of Clutter

Organization is a tricky thing. It can fool you into thinking you’re getting rid of clutter and getting rid of your mess and chaos. But often instead of getting rid of the mess, you’re just putting it in cute color coordinating bins or stacking it neatly so it looks more presentable. It’s sort of like people who dress their dogs up in costumes for Halloween. It’s really unnecessary and kinda silly.

As you can see from the picture above, we currently have an excess of Rubbermaid food containers. I had a set and my mom liked them so much she got a set. Together we have a ridiculous amount of Rubbermaid. We do have 10 people in the house and two refrigerators and we go through a lot of food. But when a fridge can be packed with leftovers in all those cute matching containers and there’s still nearly an entire set still left in the cabinet, that tells me we have too many of those things. It just seems a shame to get rid of containers that actually match and you know exactly where to find the lids. It’s organized though, right? So, how can that be wrong?

It’s not wrong to be organized and it’s not wrong to have extras of things. But living in excess and being surrounded in things we no longer need, doesn’t fit with the minimalist mindset. It simply doesn’t fit the paradigm for how I want to live.

That’s clearly more Rubbermaid than we need so why not bless someone else with it? Perhaps someone else out there has a cabinet full of containers with missing lids or is reusing Cool-Whip containers for leftovers like my grandmother used to do. I could help someone like that, so why not? It helps them and it helps me.

How Do You Identify the Excess?

If you want to avoid the excess in your life and avoid its cousin Clutter, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I really use that many?
  2. Would I buy that many if I bought them again?
  3. Could I make do with less?

Those questions can be applied to everything from Rubbermaid to extra socks. The answer to question number three is almost always going to be “Yes.” Try it for yourself and see. You’ll be happy you did.


If this post helped you, consider opting to receive free updates via RSS or EMAIL. You can also follow me on Twitter.

Article originally published on 10/08/2010

Share the love
Get free updates


  1. This is great. We don’t unlimited amounts of things. I save my plastic grocery sacks in a cookie jar on the counter. If it is full, the extras go for recycling.

  2. I really have to fight the urge to save and reuse the sour cream and cottage cheese containers!!….must be something about how I am copying what my mom did….but I have nice containers that would go unused! I also donated the plastic cups from my cupboard and moved to the nice crystal drinking glasses we got when we got married. If we don’t use them, they will never get used-and we deserve to drink out of nice glasses on a daily basis-don’t we?

  3. If it were up to me, I’d save every chinese takeout container my boyfriend and I have acquired since moving in together a couple months ago. (Those containers are nice!) Fortunately he knows we’d never need to use most of them and had the willpower to get rid of them!

  4. Our local feeding kitchen has food to send home from time to time, IF they have containers to do so. We take all the extras to Manna Meal. Check out your local hunger programs.

  5. Thank you for this post. clicked over from the Nester’s place. Trying hard to declutter and this was helpful.

  6. Hi there, poppin over from The Nester and I must say that this is one smart post! Good stuff here.

  7. Kitchen cabinets, here I come!!! Thanks for the great post.

  8. Bravo! Well said! I couldn’t possibly say it better myself – get rid of stuff. I often have friends who want me to help them organize their house and I tell them the wouldn’t want me because I would make them throw out and get rid of most of their stuff. Thus, I don’t help people organize – I’ll teach you how to do it, but I won’t do it for you!

  9. Thank you. I came over from Nester’s and she is right….you are well worth the visit. In this country, a lot (maybe most?) have bought into this idea that we cannot have enough much less too much…..we trade our lives (time) for stuff……crazy when you pop out of the culture long enough to think about it.

    • Faith Janes says

      It’s so true that we’ve just become accustomed to accumulating stuff and we barely think about it. When I finally snapped out of it, I was just mad at myself and what I’d let things escalate too. The only thing to do is move forward and change things.

  10. the cottage child says

    Great advice – I keep telling myself that organizing but not reducing amounts to just rearranging the mess. We got rid of a lot of “second” sets – I had two sets of all kinds of bowls, coffee cups, etc.,and now it’s easy to put things away because there’s room for them. It also helps my young children in learning to empty the dishwasher, because we’re not all on pins and needles about dishes clanging together in a too small space. Actually, a just fine space, with too many dishes.

    One thing I’ll confess to is hanging on to is cottage cheese/sour cream containers, stuff with lids, because I pack my husbands lunches in them and that way he doesn’t have to bring the containers home. But I don’t save a lot of them – and if they don’t have good lids, g’bye!

    • Faith Janes says

      After almost 6 months of moving in with my parents I still feel like we’re drowning in second sets of things. We’re making progress for sure but getting down to things china, has been difficult.

  11. You’re so right! No matter how well organized, too much stuff is still clutter. I recently documented a pantry organization project on my blog and one thing I (reluctantly) did was get rid of several pots and pans so that I would have room on the shelf for just four, lined up single-file (I didn’t want to have to stack them up.) I figure I have four burners so it’s not even possible for me to use more than that at a time–what’s the point of keeping them all? I probably could do with one or two, honestly, but I like having a variety of sizes so I don’t have to waste room in the dishwasher with a huge pot after making a little serving of oatmeal or something.

    I also find that having too many of something causes everyone in the house to value them less. A few years ago we were given one of those ENORMOUS sets of plastic containers–I think it was sixty pieces. Well, there were just so many pieces that everyone treated them like disposables. Leave that sauce in the fridge a little too long? You can toss the container; after all, we’ve got 49 more of ’em!

    Pretty soon we were down to five containers and none of the lids matched. The family had treated the plasticware like very expensive baggies.

    When you’ve only got a few storage bowls and they’re made of something substantial like glass or metal, everyone just seems to respect them more. Besides, nobody should ever have 60 different items stored in their fridge at once!

    • Faith Janes says

      I totally agree. I firmly believe having too many of the storage containers has made our leftover situation get out of control! With 10 people in the house we try to make good use of leftovers but I’m not sure we’re using a good system if there are as many containers in the fridge as that pile in the cabinet. I’ve started using garage sale stickers with dates on the containers but still…something’s not right.

  12. This is very true!

    From Meagan at the happiest mom: When you’ve only got a few storage bowls and they’re made of something substantial like glass or metal, everyone just seems to respect them more. Besides, nobody should ever have 60 different items stored in their fridge at once!

    I gave away all of our plastic rubbermaid and tupperware storage pieces last year. In exchange, I purchased a set of glass containers with snap lids (about six containers in total). My entire family treats them with respect – no more missing pieces – and we also found that leftovers are finally being used up, instead of tossed. I can also attest to the fact that they are extremely sturdy and can even be carted off to school or the office for lunch. One small gesture, literally changed our lives.

    • Faith Janes says

      Glass really scares me since the kids empty the dishwasher as part of their daily chores but I might have to rethink it based on your comment.

  13. Tupperware/rubbermaid/etc for leftovers is ONE area I feel I have conquered. I keep them in an upper cabinet on the lowest shelf – so it is at eye level and I always know what I have, easier to put away and stack like items with lids, etc. My mom kept them in a lower cabinet and it was a disaster area all the time. my sister does the same thing. Her kitchen is huge with space for everything (and then some) yet her leftover containers area is a tornado’s aftermath on a daily basis. She has to get down on her hands and knees every time she needs a container. I have offered to help her move and reorganize it to an upper cabinet. She declines. I guess she likes getting on the floor and knocking everything over to find what she needs?

    I do save SOME sour cream/etc. containers but in an out of the way area. I save them for when I want to send leftovers with a friend, take a meal to a family, that sort of thing. But they are no where near our daily use stuff and not adding clutter. And I limit it to a basket. If it fits, it can go in. If not, then I already have plenty.

    • Faith Janes says

      We moved our Rubbermaid containers to eye level too and it makes a big difference in being able to find what you need.

  14. mary cristina says

    you obviously don’t have a dog. cause my dog is a member of my family so of course he dresses up for halloween. its not unnecessary nor silly: it makes the kids happy and i’m sure he loves going for an evening trick-or-treating walk.
    you have just lost a reader.


  1. […] Organized Excess is the Cousin of Clutter via @ Minimalist Moms. Reminds me of FlyLady’s saying “you can’t organized clutter…” […]

  2. […] playroom in our home dedicated to toys. As they grew and their toys accumulated, I bought bins to organize the clutter. – When the grandparents heaped on the toys at every gift giving occasion, we sat back and let it […]

  3. […] We have countless options for storing it and holding onto it for years and years to come. You can organize it into color coded bins, baskets, and well packed boxes but it’s still […]

Speak Your Mind