Don’t let them fool you: clutter happens to everyone. Even the most organized people can easily fall victim to clutter. Surprisingly, even the neat freaks among us can go months without realizing their own clutter. There are psychological reasons why we tend to notice clutter in other people’s homes before we notice it in our home, namely being adaption as our minds become numb to the minutia of details we see and experience every day. A growing pile of books on a nightstand or a messy, overstuffed junk drawer become so commonplace, to change it would make things seem unnatural.

Clutter is insidious: it can turn a lovely home into somewhere that makes guests (and potential buyers) feel uncomfortable. While there’s a wide gap between a little extra clutter and being a hoarder, it’s helpful to understand some of the psychological aspects of clutter: from how it can build up in the first place, how it can impact our lives, and how we can help combat it.

The main reason clutter is so pervasive in homes everywhere is that, unlike trash, clutter is comprised of things were like or regularly use  or perhaps even something we think we will use eventually but probably never will. Be it photos covering the entire refrigerator, a bookcase packed with our favorite novels, a desk weighed down with notes and writing utensils – these can easily morph into clutter. Some items that don’t have a clearly defined home, like a set of keys, can easily move around and take temporary shelter on a nightstand after a long day or on the kitchen counter after bringing in groceries. It’s also easy to end up with clutter even with things that do have a special place, such as tossing your jacket on the couch instead of hanging it up on a coat rack. The king of clutter is laundry, be it a pile of freshly washed towels on the machine or a stack of out-of-season clothes you’ve been meaning to transfer into storage. Clutter comes in many shapes and sizes.

Like most problems, the first step is recognizing that there is a problem. While you don’t want to spend every waking hour contemplating the deeper motivations on why guests don’t want to spend extra time at your home anymore, it can be an early warning sign that your “stuff” is everywhere and getting out of hand. Ask friends, family, guests, and especially your real estate agent for their perspective on the situation. Don’t take it personally if you suddenly begin to realize your home is feeling a little cramped, clutter is natural and it’s not an incurable issue.

When it comes to moving, that is usually the best time to really tackle clutter. The simplest technique for cutting down on clutter is to utilize boxes. Since you’ll be moving anyways, putting your items in organized boxes is a great way to start. Begin by labeling boxes – Sell, Donate, Trash. For the other items that you intend to keep, sort and label these items into boxes that can be cataloged: making it much easier to identify which rooms that box goes to in the new home. In terms of every-day living in your house, this is the benefit of storage organizers like boxes used on shelves to help neatly pack away items that might otherwise take up a larger percentage of your available space. Keep in mind this basic principle: if you’re going to put something in a box with no real idea of when you might use it again, it’s probably time to part ways with it now.

The next category of clutter are items you’re more personally attached to: be it your childhood teddy bear that brings back warm fuzzy memories, or an old Christmas gift you’d feel guilty to say goodbye to. While only you can decide what to keep and what to get rid of, it can be beneficial to keep track of these items by finding somewhere to store them with other like-minded items. Perhaps your teddy bear can spend his time occupying the chair in your room. You can even utilize some items as centerpieces in your room and turn them into stylish décor.

To simplify life, it makes sense to take the time to corral the clutter. Start by sorting and organizing your possessions, while shedding some unnecessary baggage to help give you less you have to move, and more free space at your house!