declutter

[ dee-kluht-er ]
/ diˈklʌt ər /

verb (used with or without object)

to remove mess or clutter from (a place).
to organize and prioritize (one’s commitments, material possessions, etc.): Declutter your calendar and spend more time with your family.

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Origin of declutter

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

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What does declutter mean?

Whether tossing out tchotchkes from your living room or clearing your mind of pointless thoughts, to declutter is to remove messes—or clutter—from a space.

Physically, decluttering involves getting rid of unnecessary things, such as unused clothes crowding a closet, to tidy up a room or area. Figuratively, decluttering involves organizing and making priorities to streamline one’s life.

Why is declutter important?

Declutter joins the prefix de (indicating “removal” or “negation”) to the word clutter. Clutter is recorded in the 1500s, when it originally referred to a “clotted mass.” It evolved to mean “disorderly heap or assemblage.” So, declutter is literally the removal of clutter.

The earliest form of declutter found so far is decluttering, in the 1940s. Declutter took off in the 1950s when it was becoming increasingly applied to the domestic sphere. In 1950, the women’s lifestyle magazine Vogue advised housewives to “de-clutter” their “living rooms.”

This use of declutter, it’s interesting to consider, may coincide with two cultural trends. First, the expansion of the US economy after World War II, a time marked by increased levels of consumption and home ownership. Second, as soldiers came home from war, they brought to mainstream society a lot of specialized vocabulary. In the 1940s, clutter was used in the US military for unnecessary images on a radar screen; we can find declutter being used as the removal of such images in electronic displays in the 1960s.

In the following decades, the cultural practice of decluttering—and the value placed on a clean, orderly home—spread. By the 1990s and 2000s, books, TV shows, and even professional services all centered on decluttering our homes of unused or unwanted stuff.

Enter Marie Kondo. The organizational consultant launched her decluttering empire in the 1990s, in her home country of Japan. Her business boomed, and she began authoring books teaching people her “KonMari” method, a way of decluttering by categorically going through all your possessions and only keeping things that “spark joy.” Her book, published in the US as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, became a bestseller when published in Japan in 2011, and in the US in 2014.

Kondo’s TV series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo was released on the streaming service Netflix in January 2019—just in time for those New Year’s resolutions, including, for many, decluttering our homes. It was a sensation, and corresponded with a spike in online searches for decluttering.

Other trends, and words, underscore a larger fascination with decluttering in the 2010s. For instance, getting notice around this time was death cleaning, or döstädning. It’s a Swedish practice of decluttering your home to spare others from having to do it … after you’re gone.

Now, decluttering doesn’t just apply to our material belongings. You can declutter your calendar to have more free time or to be more efficient at work. You can declutter your mind, which some life coaches have dubbed “mental minimalism.” This practice promotes living in the present, avoiding multitasking, and setting boundaries on everything from checking email and media consumption to personal relationships.

What are real-life examples of declutter?

People use decluttering for cleaning and streamlining many aspects of their lives, from wardrobes …

… to email inboxes.

Decluttering is popularly used in the context of how simpler and tidier home, work, and personal lives can promote fulfillment and productivity while reducing stress and anxiety. Others, however, worry that too great an emphasis on decluttering can be unhealthy or wasteful.

 

However we use the term or feel about the practice, declutter is here to stay.

Example sentences from the Web for declutter

British Dictionary definitions for declutter

declutter
/ (diːˈklʌtə) /

verb

to simplify or get rid of mess, disorder, complications, etcdeclutter your life
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012