When I Realized My Own House Was Making Me Cranky

When my family wrapped up our recent vacation, we came home to a heap of stress.

We were all tired and sleep-deprived, my husband started a new job the morning we got back, and we had approximately 17 loads of laundry to catch up on.

I was anticipating a stressful homecoming, yet I was still shocked at how snippy I was.

I wanted to be happy to be home. We’d been on the road for 5 days, living out of suitcases in small, spare hotel rooms. I wanted to relax in my own space–but I found my own space surprisingly hard to relax in.

And that’s when it hit me. Those hotel rooms were small and sparsely furnished, but they were also impressively clean and–most importantly–clutter-free.

My own house–the one I was so happy to return to–was making me cranky.

I know from experience that clutter is one of my “trigger points:” one of those things that throws me off balance and upsets me beyond reason. But I had thought that the clutter didn’t upset me until it got “out of hand.”

Apparently, my definition of what “out of hand” looked like needed adjusting. So I tried to make the necessary adjustments without staging a wholesale freak-out.

When I realized my own house was making me cranky, here’s what I did:

I pulled everything off the floor and put it in a big laundry hamper for temporary holding. That way, I can enjoy the calm and clutter-free living spaces now, even if I’m not done sorting through all the stuff yet.

The bookshelves were crammed full, and I pulled about a third of the books off and put them in storage. I feel like I have a little extra space to breathe when our stuff isn’t packed tight into our living spaces.

I’m keeping our living spaces clutter-free. We have kids, and it’s just so easy for papers to pile up on the floor, or  toys to accumulate on the couch or the coffee table. I’ve been trying hard to recalibrate my internal clutter monitor.

I’m being vigilant about the little things: properly placing the pillow on the couch–and not on the floor (kids!)–makes a world of difference in the feel of the room. I’m prioritizing these little things that make a big difference.

I’m working on a paradigm shift about my family and Our Stuff. If having stuff lying around makes me cranky, then clearly keeping that stuff cleaned up–and limiting how much stuff there is to begin with–needs to be a major priority for me. This is a big change, but I see the importance of making it.

In the past, I’ve often felt like time spent de-cluttering or cleaning is wasted time. The past two weeks, I’ve realized that time spent cleaning is not wasted time for me. It’s time well spent.

Because I don’t want my own home to be a trigger point.

If you suspect your own clutter makes you cranky, I recommend the following posts:

I Finally Figured Out Why I Lose My Temper on Thursdays: Here’s where I first share how I discovered clutter is a trigger for me, and what I decide to do about it. Good insights and good advice here.

My #1 Dead Simple, Can’t Believe I Never Thought Of It Before Lesson From Pinterest: Think your home isn’t Pinterest material? Think again. Beautiful homes rely on one simple trick that is totally within your reach.

How to Shift Your Perspective to See Clutter (at Small Notebook): When we live in our homes everyday, it can be hard to “see” what they really look like. Rachel shares a brilliant trick that will help us see our homes for the first time–without leaving home.

Is clutter a trigger for you? PLEASE tell us how you deal with it!

Don't let clutter make you cranky

more posts you might enjoy


Leave A Comment
  1. Linda says:

    I have been working through de-cluttering my home over several weeks. It really is amazing how freeing yourself of the bondage of clutter totally changes your persevtive.

  2. Leanne Penny says:

    Yes it absolutely is and I have a closet office where I can stack papers until I sort through them, and a clutter basket for the toys in the living room. Holding areas are key because you Can’t drive yourself nuts with it all.

    I’ve realized that keeping all the little crap picked up, IE little people toys, little people socks helps me breathe easier. I keep telling Kel that it matters if my corners are clean, what I mean is that a visual scan of all my home doesn’t result in blips of clutter, blocks in the corners etc.

    I also have a few grace zones where it’s alright for clutter, like the top of the Dryer for example. This is where I put stuff that needs to be stored in the garage or Kels tools that get used and left around the house.

    Also making our bed makes my DAY!

    You’re so Self Aware Anne, and it’s a huge asset and benefit to the rest of us.

    • Anne says:

      Leanne, if that’s what a grace zone is, then there are a LOT of grace zones in my house! It’s the stuff everywhere in the living areas where we spend all our time that drive me nuts. The kids’ bedrooms are pretty horrible, and so are a lot of spaces where we don’t spend hours a day.

      I wonder if this is why I have a minimalist bedroom? (I think it has to be!)

      Sometimes I am self-aware, and I’m so glad it’s helpful. Sometimes I’m not so self-aware. Trust me on that one 🙂

  3. Clutter is not a particular trigger point for me. Oh, sure, I’d love a clutter free house as much as the next person, but I know that when I get a big urge to declutter, it’s usually because I’m putting off working on something that, in the vast scheme of things for me, probably deserves more attention than the clutter. I kind of think of it as a defense mechanism I’ve developed for working at home. If I couldn’t concentrate in the midst of clutter, I’d never get any work done. Because my 3-year-old isn’t about to start arranging the pillows just right on the sofa quite yet.

    I do like the hamper/box method of decluttering, though. Throw everything in there, then at some other point you can redistribute things back to their home or dispose of them.

    • Anne says:

      Laura, I wish it didn’t bother me! But at least knowledge is power: my own work space (at home) is spare and sparse.

      I’m laughing about the pillows–that’s about the only thing my soon to be 3-year-old can do! That, and put the Thomas trains away 🙂

  4. Clutter is a trigger for me, too. My husband thinks I’m nuts when I start running around the house, frantically sorting through random piles and muttering threats to just put it all in a garbage bag and toss it. You’re one step ahead of me though, by being proactive about keeping the clutter from piling up to begin with… Still working on that one.

    Off to read the links you provided.

  5. Oh how good it feels to hear I’m not alone in my opposition to clutter! I often spin in a vicious cycle of hating clutter then hating myself for being a clean freak. It’s so hard for me to find the right balance!

    • Anne says:

      Oh, that sounds like a terrible vicious cycle! I’m not quite clean enough to hate myself for being a clean freak, but I do get down on myself for freaking out about the clutter in the general direction of my children. That’s my big struggle with balance: help them get it cleaned up without being mean and nasty about it. It’s definitely a work in progress.

  6. My clutter DOES make me cranky! I have told my Mr. that the reason I say “it’s not clean in here!” when all that needs done is a few things need put away is because the clutter is driving me bonkers. BONKERS. I once went crazy scrubbing every surface of the kitchen and dining room because a small stack of dishes was making me so anxious.

    Less clutter = Happy Deva. More clutter = RAGEY HULK DEVA.

    I know which Deva I prefer.

  7. Lisa Rose says:

    Don’t you love it when you open a post and POW it is just what you needed. I have been escaping from my house this past week every chance I get. There is so much to catch up on due to us being so busy lately and it made me realise I have been running away and need to take it on, or stay miserable. Also to top it off the girls have been adding to the mess but I was thinking yesterday that they probably think well if there’s so much untidyness around at the moment why should we bother being tidy. I am so setting a bad example at present. BTW I don’t get snippy I get rather frantic and stressed, not sure which is worse … lol

  8. Heather says:

    Clutter drives me crazy! Something that really helped was getting the bookshelves out of the living room. They’re now in the large spare bedroom that will be a homeschool room someday. We’re going to build window seats and it should be an awesome place to curl up with a book and cup of tea. But down in my living room room, I just want to relax and breathe and see elegance and clean lines. Not a couple hundred mis-matched books!

    • Anne says:

      Window seats and bookshelves and cups of tea? Yes please!

      I love having the bookshelves in my living room, but not when they’re jammed in askew and spilling onto the floor (like they are at this very minute).

  9. Elizabeth Kane says:

    Clutter is *definitely* a trigger for me. Before I can work on anything or relax on the couch, I need to have a clean space. I just can’t concentrate with stuff everywhere. You’re not alone!

    And I’ll find just about any excuse to give things away or throw it out completely. Once a week, I’ll do a big cleanup/clean out. Big sweep out of my purse, bathroom, closet, floor. I set a timer for about 15 minutes and take a glance at what’s covering the floor, countertops, and tables. I don’t sparkle clean my whole living place every week by any means. Just take some time to tidy up so I breathe again.

  10. Jennifer H says:

    Clutter in my own home definitely makes me cranky. Funny thing, though, when I visit your house, it feels so homey and comfortable to me. I love that you have to pick up a stack of books to find a place for me to sit; I love all the kid art everywhere; I love the toys and books. I wonder why that is.

    But here’s my tip for coming back from vacation. I know that I will be cranky if I come home to clutter. So, I have made it a rule that we do not leave the house unless it is picked up and clean. I start reminding my family of this the weekend before we leave. Every time, they wait until the last day, and I start threatening to cancel the vacation, but every time I leave a clean house and come home to a clean house. As for laundry, we usually stay in a condo to save on meals, and we do laundry every day while we’re there so there may only be one or two loads when we get home.

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for that, Jen! (It might be because before you come over, I make the girls pick up the teeny-tiny shreds of paper that they’ve shredded to smithereens with their scissors and scattered all over the living room floor. Maybe 🙂 )

      And I LOVE that aspect of vacationing in a condo, and not a hotel room. We usually go the condo route, and I appreciated our regular vacation routine all the more when we returned home with all those loads of laundry after staying in a hotel all week!

  11. Sarah says:

    Perfect timing with this post, Anne! I’ve never loved clutter but as I’ve gotten older, I’m finding my tolerance for clutter is shrinking. I love to de-clutter and get rid of “junk”…in other words, anything that takes up space in my house and doesn’t serve some sort of purpose. In fact, I’ve just been telling my friends about how crazy my insanely cluttered basement has been driving me…even though I spend very little time down there. And next week, I’m taking a day off from work just to devote to tackling that space. Call me crazy but the way I see it, getting that space clean will help me to de-stress and be ready for all the fun and joy that I love around the holidays (and maybe the little bit of stress that often accompanies them).

    • Anne says:

      “Getting that space clean will help me to de-stress and be ready for all the fun and joy that I love around the holidays.”

      Yep, I get this. And I spent an hour this morning tackling my cluttered basement. I got a ton accomplished. The house feels lighter, somehow–and I love it!

  12. Suzette says:

    I’m not kidding that when there is clutter in the house, behind closed doors or just a sink filled with dishes my whole world is crashing. I’m slowly getting a hold on everything, actually I’m NOT holding onto everything, haha! Getting rid is the best remedy. There are some things I wish I hadn’t given away, but usually I can find a just-as-good substitute still in our home. It’s nice, so very nice having essentials properly placed!

    At the same time, I’m learning that babies and toddlers do not care about material objects. They just don’t and overall that’s pretty amazing for me to experience. The world I’m raising these sweet babies in is totally wrecked with selfishness and jealousy over possessions. I hope that I can encourage my little ones to always treasure quality time over “stuff.”

  13. Clutter has been one of my major triggers since I developed post-partum depression. My husband taught me how to do a “man clean,” which mostly involves taking a few minutes to move the clutter around into a more sightly pile. Then we can go back and actually clean later.

    I also try to use the 5-minute clean technique from your summer reading book, Switch. Set a timer for five minutes and clean as much as you can. When the bell dings, you’re excused. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you know you only have to work for so long.

    • Anne says:

      I love 5 minute cleans, and so do my kids! (Or at least they love a 5-minute clean more than a clean-till-it’s-done clean.)

      Alison, what you said reminds me so much of what Martha Sears said in the Dr. Sears baby books–that usually she can roll with the dirty dishes, but when she’s already stressed in the postpartum stage, she needs a clean house to function properly! And she wasn’t even talking about PPD, but just about fairly normal stresses adding up until they reach the unmanageable level. I’m not exactly like that myself, but I can relate to what she’s saying about being more sensitive to housekeeping things at some times than at others (and that that’s okay).

  14. Allison says:

    Clutter is also a trigger point for me! If I can’t be 100% sure that my living room/kitchen (we live in a 2 bedroom apt atm) is tidy enough so that we could have friends over without a massive clean up first… I get very anxious and upset. I want the freedom that comes with having a clean place all the time!

    Our solution: less stuff. Investing in a Kindle has PAID OFF. Trips are so much easier when I don’t lug around half a suitcase full of books! (I LOVE reading!) That meant half of the books I own I was able to sell on Amazon or donate to the library sale here. For a while I worried about “What if I lose the digital files for this book I absolutely adore?” but I realized that I can always snag a used copy for ~$4 if I really want it back.

    Same thing with clothes, my husband and I pruned down to sharing one six drawer dresser and 3 feet of closet rack each. It’s so wonderful to never stand in front of the closet looking lost… everything in it is something I love to wear.

    My answer to less clutter was to simply have less stuff. Now my entire living space takes about 2-3 hours to clean every week. All that saved time means far more to me than the things I got rid of! We still wrestle with our big kitchen counter, since it’s a great dumping point and project workspace, but it’s getting better over time.

  15. Beth @ dot in the city says:

    So true! I was just de-cluttering this past weekend and it was so nice to sit in my dining room last night and enjoy the space w/o clutter! Great suggestions and I need to bookmark this post, so I can come back for the helpful reminders 🙂

  16. Tim says:

    A lot of people have already commented on teh clutter aspect of the article, Anne, so all I’ll say is that your first tip of putting everything in a hamper for temproary holding is one of my go-to tactics. I see setting all teh stuff in one place as a type of staging area from which I can them make informed and thoughtful choices of where it should end up.

    But the part of your post that really got me was that your husband started a new job the day after returning from vacation. Wowza! Once when we were still pre-kid we returned from Europe at 11 PM and I was at the office the next morning. We were young and foolish! I learned when the kids were still in elementary school that our best vacations ended two days before I had to return to work. I can’t imagine coming back and starting a new job the next morning.


    • Anne says:

      Tim, I’ve said that I’m a maximizer by nature, so I would definitely try to make the most of our vacation time in the past by filling our time off work with a “real” vacation–and no rest at home. I was about to say I’ve learned better by now…but my husband did just start a new job less than 12 hours after returning from vacation!

      Um, you do what you have to do, sometimes? (It was a great wedding, really!)

      • Tim says:

        Less than 12 hours? You guys are amazing! Glad to hear it was a good trip, and yes I agree that doing what you have to do is often the driving force behind these types of trips. I call it DWYGT – Do What You Gotta Do!

  17. Miranti says:

    Oh I felt like this post spoke directly to me! Clutter drives me bonkers! I’ve actually recently decided that I am aiming to throw out or donate 213 items from our home by 2013… start the new year with less stuff! We have a spare room in our house that often acts as our “holding area” while I work my way through to de-clutter. At least for a little while, the rest of our house feels manageable. I’m also a fan of regular household purges. Loved this post… thanks for sharing 🙂

  18. deborah says:

    I would definitely say clutter is a trigger point for me and makes me grumpy. The hard part is keeping up with cleaning up, yet living too! 🙂

    I recently realized that I am more drawn to a blog with a look that is light-colored, and seems organized and tidy.

  19. Tracy says:

    Wow, this is timely! I just happened on this quite by accident and I am at the beginning of this process. I don’t have any insight for the big picture but here is my post-vacation laundry tip: Go to the laundromat. A couple of hours and you’re done! This is also works after the flu runs through the house.

    Now I need to read through your archives. 🙂

  20. Shelley says:

    This absolutely, positively describes me to a T!!! Wow. I regularly declutter…less stuff really helps. I clean a bit everyday and now that the kids are older (9, 10, 13), they help. I also am rather picky about having them pick up after themselves. You know, the water cup on the end table, the dirty socks on the floor, the books all over the couch after you’ve gone to bed. My mantra is, “If you are done with it, put it away!”. Now, if the kids have built a large Imaginext city that will be played with for the next few days (hopefully in the playroom) or an ongoing board game, then that’s fine…as long as they are still using it…otherwise, “Please come downstairs and put this away”…sweet smile. 😉

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