Merlin Mann reviews It's All Too Much, a book on decluttering


25 Responses to “Merlin Mann reviews It's All Too Much, a book on decluttering”

  1. ThinkPositive says:

    Its wise to hoard. A dark age looms.

  2. Mark Wilden says:

    After years of lugging boxes and boxes of books between houses every time I moved, I gave away a couple of thousand of them. Moving got a lot easier, and now I had space for newer and more interesting books.

    However, there are a few of those 2,000 books that I now regret giving away. At the time, I decided “sentimental value” was not a good criterion for keeping stuff. But I was wrong. I regret to this day giving away the K&R that I learned C from. And there were others.

    So I don’t agree that the criterion should be “whether it’s making my family’s life better today.” If that were a good rule, I’d only own one pair of pants.

    I love getting rid of stuff, too (just as I love deleting programming code). But I would caution over-zealous declutterers to consider whether a given item is irreplaceable, and take that into account.

    I also reject some of the touchy-feely stuff that Walsh talks about. Giving away all those books didn’t improve my “vision” or my “hopes and dreams.” It just made moving easier. :)

    All that said, Walsh does make some good points about organizing clutter rather than getting rid of it.


  3. Joel Johnson says:

    I love getting rid of stuff. Almost as much as getting stuff. I gave away tons of clothing in my last move that I was too small to fit in anymore. Wonderful feeling.

  4. zikzak says:

    Ah, the maladies of affluence.

    Not always though. Some people horde because they feel that having possessions is inherently worthwhile and satisfying – this is the materialist paradigm. But some people horde as a response to the danger of severe poverty or deprivation – for example people who lived through the great depression, or people who were once homeless. They accumulate excess possessions as a buffer against poverty (maybe you don’t need 3 pairs of shoes now, but what if one pair breaks and one’s stolen?), or as a habitual activity even once they’ve escaped the danger of being utterly destitute.

    What I’m saying is that sometimes hording is an appropriate response, so it seems like the author is coming from a naive affluent perspective when they tout platitudes like “not having things makes your life better, not worse.”

  5. Matt Eric says:

    I’m feeling a bit conflicted here, as one of the things I have far too many of is books…

  6. allan says:

    I come from a family of horders. To which I credit my utter hatred for excess junk. My general rubric for throwing out stuff is this: if it has been in storage, in the closet, etc. for a year then chances are I’ll never use it again. If you’re devoted to putting things away in storage bins this 1 year quarantine is pretty effective.

  7. Thad E Ginataom says:

    My last move was overseas.

    I made one *big* mistake. I threw away a whole lot of stuff before doing it.

    Why? My stuff had to be put in a container for shipping anyway… a few extra boxes of rubbishy bits and pieces would not have increased the cost.

    I Love My Stuff. I hate the idea of having to think, “I just need… and I had one once!”.

    Some people like to suck on the corner of a blanket. Some people like to be surrounded by their stuff.

    Some people like to knock all the walls down and live in a big minimalist space: they are not better human beings than I am!

  8. Lea Hernandez says:

    Which means the stuff we stored after our house fire can all be binned. YAY! I’d love to have back that $100./month.
    I live with a hoarder, a person who keeps things like the last soda can a friend drank from before moving away. Agh.

  9. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    “Its wise to hoard. A dark age looms.”

    And you need to know what to hoard. My grandmother was a hoarder. Orphaned in Russia during the revolution, she learned the value of saving stuff that could be put to good use. Her bottles, bolts of fabric, jars of seeds, nails, rubber bands, and other salvaged and scavenged supplies were stored neatly in the basement next to her bags of dried mushrooms, canned garden preserves, and shelves of dandelion wine.

  10. Brian Carnell says:

    @13 wrote:

    So I don’t agree that the criterion should be “whether it’s making my family’s life better today.” If that were a good rule, I’d only own one pair of pants.

    I completely agree. Sounds a bit too much like watching “Clean House” where they sell a specific lifestyle so you see them convince the dad that he needs to get rid of his Xbox or the teacher she needs to get rid of all of her books rather than show them how to properly organize. My extensive action figure collection in my basement office does little to “make my family’s life better today” but it sure gives me a lot of enjoyment.

  11. hlkneedler says:

    Oh wow, I want to pull a pin on this book, throw it in my office and duck for cover.

  12. jimbuck says:

    This author is on Oprah semi-regularly. So I have to hate him. Otherwise I’d like him.

  13. slywy says:

    I have a hoarding gene (no, really, all my father’s side has is, too). I really do have a mentality that I am quite aware of “can never have enough _____ — it may run out.” And oddly, when I don’t buy excess — it runs out and I can NEVER find it again. Grrr.

    But I need to find my floor again.

  14. zikzak says:

    Coming from a non-consumerist angle, I have a unique dilemma. I refuse to buy things, because I realize that satisfaction and fulfillment don’t come from buying things, so in that way I relate to the non-materialist philosophy. We’re only talking /most/ things, mind you. I still buy electricity, water, shelter, health insurance, and (embarassingly) the very occasional bit of electronics.

    This puts me in a weird relationship with materialism. Because if I’m hungry, I can’t just go out to the store and buy a sandwich. Or if my clothes are dirty, I can’t just pick up some detergent from Wal-Mart. This leads to hoarding, not really by necessity, but in a way that seems justifiable to me. After all, if my jeans get torn up, I better have another pair or I’m gonna be pretty uncomfortable.

    But because replacing material possessions is so more difficult than for a consumer, they’re similarly difficult to justify giving up, or not hoarding. This is especially true for food: how many cans of soup is too many? You never know… After a while it becomes sort of ridiculous. There’s clearly a balanced to be maintained there, but the considerations about what you might need in the future are much more serious when your lifestyle involves living primarily off scavenged/foraged resources.

    This leads me to an interesting question: Is non-materialism actually a privilege of those who have enough liquid capital that they can afford to shed their possessions when they tire of them, secure in the knowledge that they could simply re-purchase them later?

  15. elNico says:

    I’d like to live in a Zen garden of nothingness, but RAR my current household, just in case…

    Is this too much to ask?

  16. janai says:

    Goody! Now that we’ve covered the important tips in the book, I don’t have to buy it. Less stuff!


  17. Mark Wilden says:

    I’m also skeptical of this “one year rule.” I tend to get passionately involved in various hobbies (cooking, astronomy, chess, etc.). I’ll buy practically every book and doo-dad I can find (I love buying stuff). After a few months (more or less), I find a new hobby, and the last one (and its stuff) lies dormant.

    However, I haven’t necessarily given up the first hobby. I may not do anything with it for several years. But one day, something retriggers my interest, and I’m back to the recipe books, telescope or chess board. It’s always a delight to discover all the cool stuff I already own. I can just dive right back in.

    The “one year” rule wouldn’t let me do this.

    Furthermore, having the remnants of an old hobby lying around doesn’t do me any mental harm. Quite the opposite: every time I pass that particular bookshelf, I get pleasure.

    Decluttering should be done for a practical reason – not for its own sake. If clutter is causing me unhappiness, I should get rid of it. If it’s not, I don’t. No need to think about “closing loops,” whether the one-year rule period has passed, or how much “mental space” the stuff is taking up. In other words, pure common sense suffices.

    That’s me, at least.

    On another subject, making a vow not to buy anything sounds a lot like a vow of celibacy. On the surface, it sounds noble. But when you get down to it, it’s self-denial, and there’s nothing intrinsically laudable about that.


  18. Anonymous says:

    +10 points for naming the first chapter “This Is Not My Beautiful House”

  19. Swift Loris says:


    Zikzak, could we perhaps get you to write a book, about how to live without buying anything? Seems like these days that would be a lot more useful than how to live without clutter.

  20. Mark Frauenfelder says:

    @16 zikzak:

    How do you get food and clothes and other things you need?

  21. mojay says:

    This concept has already been covered in Sink Relfections. This woman the flylady wrote about how clutter just messes up your life and how you can’t organize it. She’s kind of like the Richard Simmons of hoarders and crappy housekeepers gives them chores to do in order to keep their house clean and organized. It’s seems goofy but she has an army of followers at

  22. Caroline says:

    I fully appreciate this philosophy. Stuff takes up mental as well as physical space. If your stuff makes you feel guilty, anxious, sad, or regretful whenever you look at it, then it should be gotten rid of. This includes “Man, I wish I’d learned to play that musical instrument” or “I wish I could still do that sport.”

    In GTD terminology, physical stuff can also represent open loops, something you have to deal with in some way. It often represents a project you no longer have any interest in, or one that’s become impossible or useless. But since the stuff is still around, you’re still thinking about it. Lose the stuff and free your mind.

    And even if you’re thinking “no, I still want to make use of it!” — if it’s been more than a year and it’s collecting dust, you’ve really already made your decision. You’re not interested, even if you want to be or feel you should be. Own that and let it go.

    I apply the one-year rule to clothes. If I haven’t worn it in a full year, through all the seasons and events that happen in a year, then I’m never going to wear it. This keeps my closet whittled down quite well.

    For those who feel guilty about throwing away stuff, look into Freecycle. There’s a Freecycle group most everywhere and you would be amazed what other people want! I’ve never seen the aphorism about one man’s trash being another’s treasure ring so true.

  23. manicbassman says:

    wow… I have a book that covers exactly the same material dating from some 30 years ago… see I failed, I hoarded it…

  24. schweitzerdude says:

    I have always been someone who feels the need to get rid of stuff I don’t use – I live in a semi-rural area without trash service so I go to the county waste disposal site which has covered shelves where you can put stuff someone might want. Many times I put stuff on the shelf and its gone before I can drive out of the waste disposal site. I imagine it ends up in someone’s yard sale. But I’m happier, someone else is happy, so it’s win-win.

Leave a Reply