Making Space

The Art and Science of Decluttering

It’s time to kick off 2024. A new year brings opportunities to embrace change as we reflect on recent past experiences to set our intentions and resolutions for the coming year. The past three years were tough and, at the same time, filled with key learnings, particularly about our homes.


Regardless of how large or how small your living space is, what we create there matters. Ideally, it should inspire and support us, providing a sanctuary from an external world gone mad.

We spent more time at home than ever before when the world came to a standstill a few years ago—first, due to pandemic pressures then later, due to a changing workplace as work became remote. Suddenly, our homes became the center of our universe; we noticed our surroundings. Some of us moved; some of us fixed broken things, added or upgraded home offices; and some simply embraced new paint and bought or moved furniture. Now, as people travel again and in-office days slowly return, our perspective on our home, nevertheless, has been forever changed.


Creating a home is primarily a lost art in our culture, although it has had a resurgence. Homemaking was a learned skill for me. My mother, while lovely, artistic, and literary, was not the homemaker or Martha Stewart type. Armed with a Ph.D., she set out to conquer a career at a time when women were still proving themselves in the workplace (as many still are). At the beginning of the pandemic with no housecleaner to help (as I would not let anyone into my home then), I am embarrassed to share that even my Miele® vacuum cleaner settings mystified me. Quickly, that changed when I found myself immersed in learning to clean house, researching the best methods to do it, and comparing notes with friends. After endless online searches, I went down a rabbit hole one day, landing on a site intended for housecleaners in a mad effort to find out how to best clean my wooden blinds. There was the answer in addition to countless comments about what housecleaners hated most: clutter in their clients’ homes making a house extremely difficult to clean.


With the pandemic in the rearview mirror and for those fortunate enough to resume outsourcing the task of housework, what we gain in free time as a result we may miss out in other ways. Following a business trip to Asia in 2016, I spent a week at a Zen center in Taiwan. After morning meditation, each of the “guests” was assigned an area to assist in cleaning, as cleaning was part of their practice. Not only was this a bit humbling at first, after a week of doing this, to my surprise I experienced an amazing feeling of intimacy with the space around me. Inadvertently, I had memorized every crack, spot, and crevice and felt a “relationship” to the space. As I began to clean my own home during the pandemic, a similar relationship with my house emerged. Even if you have a housecleaner, you will benefit from cleaning your own space from time to time. Trust me, you will see things in your home you (and your housekeeper) never noticed before.

At a recent dinner party, a friend spoke about this. Hugely successful in her own career, she had outsourced personal things in her life. She had a full- time housekeeper, a driver, and a chef. When her life unraveled following a divorce, her therapist commented one day, “Judy, you don’t really know yourself as you don’t do anything for yourself.” As she reflected on his observation, she realized he was right. She was missing intimacy with herself. She began to make changes and do more things for herself.

If you decide you are up for the challenge, it is important to have the right tools on hand to clean or to do a little spot cleaning between housekeeper visits—especially if you have a pet. My favorite tools for this purpose are my Miele Triflex HEPA handheld vacuum, a battery-powered mop, a collection of e-cloths (available on Amazon or ACE Hardware), a spray bottle of white vinegar or natural multi-purpose cleaner, and Bio-Kleen’s stain remover which gets out about everything, including child or pet mishaps. This list is not exhaustive; if you want to delve further, there are plenty of rabbit holes and countless resources and tricks from pros. Remember though, do not clutter your space (and your mind) with unnecessary items. If you can enlist your whole family in this cleaning effort or decide to regularly clean your entire home, more power to you. You are more Zen than I.


Establishing intimacy with the space and objects around us brings us contentment and joy and can even make us heathier as it makes us happier. When we walk into a room and every object has been intentionally curated, we sense that subconsciously, and others do, too. That brings me to the real subject of this article, which is the biggest obstacle in achieving this goal: clutter.

There are countless books, sites, and Instagrams on cleaning and organizing as well as various approaches and styles (see sidebar). I would not even begin to pretend to be an expert on any of these—there are lots of those. In fact, like most of you, I am afflicted with the Sisyphean task of trying to tame clutter and stop it in its tracks from accumulating. Sisyphus was a mythological king who angered the Greek gods, and Zeus punished him to eternally push a boulder uphill only for it to roll back down, causing him to have to start all over repeatedly. This is the perfect metaphor for clutter.

Clutter takes its toll more than we realize on our psyche and our wellbeing and affects our quality of life. It affects our ability to focus (especially for those with ADHD) and can cause stress which raises our cortisol levels. According to a Huffington Post survey, “worrying that their home isn’t clean or organized enough is Americans’ 5th most common stress trigger.” Dust can accumulate in clutter, which can cause inflammation and respiratory issues. If clutter finds its way into hallways and high traffic areas, it can cause injuries and falls. Plus, clutter has a huge opportunity cost—it steals our time whenever we must look for lost or misplaced things. Estimates of this lost time range from 3,680 hours (The Daily Mail) to 8,700 hours (the National Association of Professional Organizers), so one might also surmise removing clutter indirectly increases our productive longevity.

Clutter steals our time in other ways when we decline more joyful activities to spend time decluttering, which we often do inadequately. It saps our finances, encouraging us to buy things we do not need when we cannot find them, resulting in duplicates (more stuff) and overspending. According to a OnePoll survey, “sixty-one percent of women who have difficulty finding anything in their closets buy new clothes.” Too, often we do not buy things we need to utilize the items we have. This is particularly true with clothes. You might not wear that outfit in the back of your closet if you are missing the right shoes or jacket to go with it. A National Association of Professional Organizers study estimates “80% of your clothes are only worn 20% of the time.”


This was my biggest aha and take-away from Marie Kondo’s little book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It absolutely resonated. While this book was released a decade ago, it has much timeless wisdom, even if you cannot buy into her entire system. I happened to read this advice after having completed an intensive closet purge. My heady sense of accomplishment dissipated quickly when I realized there was still the hall coat closet and my dresser in another room. We often have related items distributed across the home; tackling a category across all rooms at the same time makes perfect sense. That way, we enjoy a sense of true completion and recognize duplicates. Kondo argues if we go by rooms, we will never finish. Back to Sisyphus.


Reflect on the clutter in your home. What category accumulates the most? In my home, books and magazines pile up, and sometimes papers. I have heard there are pilers and filers; regardless of your proclivity be ruthless about what you retain.


To a casual guest, your home might appear clean, organized, and even minimalistic, but lurking behind closed doors are the hidden areas in your home only you see. Do not forget to sort, purge, and organize them. These include dressers, kitchen cabinets, junk drawers, laundry cabinets, pantries, desk drawers, closets, and garages (clutter here can attract spiders and rodents, and cardboard storage invites mold). These hidden areas are where the real disorganization and accumulation happen. While hidden from your guests, it is not hidden from your psyche and has all the negative effects on your mind and body that more obvious visual clutter has.


Finally, do not forget digital clutter. As we move more docs to our computers, files and photos can quickly accumulate on our phones and our computers. Do not ignore this category. Tame that inbox.


In Marie Kondo’s book, she gave her clients a timeframe of six months. That seemed doable, especially for folks who are busy. Decluttering and further organizing my living space is one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2024. How about you? And if you think you can’t go it alone, hire a professional. Here is to creating more space in your life!


  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  • Tidying up with Marie Kondo, Netflix
  • Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo, Netflix
  • Organizing Your Home by Kira Kendal
  • Organized Living by Shira Gill
  • National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (
  • Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston
  • Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson
Lydia Graham

Lydia is a passionate advocate of healthy living. She has launched and positioned many health and wellness-related companies, products, technologies and organizations receiving more than 100 awards nationally and internationally. Her focus in the health sector is specifically on healthy living, aging and longevity. She is a partner and investor in several recognized national brands. She sits on the board of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging whose mission is to eliminate the threat of age-related disease for today’s and future generations. It is the only independent research organization globally dedicated to extending the healthy years of life. Like the scientists at the Buck, Graham envisions it will be possible for people to enjoy life at 95 as much as at 25. To support Buck’s mission, please visit