Clutter and the Avalanche Effect

Clutter leads to more clutter.

Messy desk

It can multiply at an alarming rate. Would you think twice about tossing more junk onto this desk? Absolutely not, because once an area is cluttered, you can easily rationalize it with the mentality of “It’s already messy, so what’s one more thing?

The pile of paper is transformed into an overflowing mess that can quickly overtake the room. This is why you suddenly can’t fit the car into the garage anymore.

neat office desk

On the contrary, neatness promotes neatness

Anything out of place in an organized room stands out, and you feel compelled to put the stray item away immediately.

Look at the neat desk. Would you add mess to it? Probably not.

The neatness of the workspace encourages you to keep it that way.

Clutter is like an avalanche.

clutter avalancheAn avalanche can begin with a small pebble that begins to roll. As it rolls downhill, it gets bigger and triggers more rolling rocks until it becomes an avalanche.

Similarly, clutter begins as a small pile that grows and triggers more mess. The longer it is allowed to “tumble”, the bigger it gets. The results can be overwhelming to clean up. To reduce clutter, you must find the “pebbles” in your home and keep them from rolling to avoid the inevitable avalanche effect.

After cleaning and organizing the same child’s room more than a dozen times, I was frustrated with the fact that it returned to a state of chaos in a short time. Then the light-bulb finally came on! I knew why this was happening! Sure, I had the room neat and clean, but I hadn’t solved the underlying problem that caused the pebble to roll. Once started, it is a downhill slide that is hard to stop.

This time the room has stayed spotless because the problem that started the avalanche each time no longer exists. For this room it was a mess of game console accessories that kept falling out of a cabinet onto the floor.

The key to long-term success is to identify the “pebbles” and stop them from rolling.

Step 1: Identify the “pebbles”

clutter detective

Armed with a pen and paper, you transform into

Clutter Detective extraordinaire!

Your mission: to identify the pebbles in your home.

Walk around your home and make a note of the trouble spots that you would like to correct. Which items do you have to pick up off the floor daily? What areas in your home have the biggest clutter mess?

Step 2: Solve the problem

Is there too much stuff in the area?

If there isn’t enough room to store the items, you will constantly be dealing with items spilling out, so get rid of unused items or get a bigger container to hold them. Clear the area and decide what stays, what goes somewhere else in the house, and what can be trashed or donated.


Small toys scattered all over a small child’s room. I’m talking about those “Happy Meal” toys, action figures, and trinkets from birthday parties. These are the small items that don’t really go with any particular toy category. I refer to them as the “junk” toys, but the kids love them. *sigh*


Limit the junk toys. Have your child pick their “favorites” and store them in a small container. The rule is, if toys come in, toys must go out to keep the amount the same. I find this to be the biggest creation of clutter in my kids’ rooms, so limiting the amount really helps control the mess. As the kids collect more, a few old toys must go to keep the amount limited.

Would a piece of furniture or a few storage containers help?

Maybe you just need to do some organizing of the items so everything has an obvious place. Group like items in labeled drawers or containers if you have a lot of small things.


You have small items such as packets of dried soup mix falling to the floor in your pantry on a regular basis.


Get a small basket to hold smaller items in the pantry. It will keep them organized in a small, compact area and prevent them from falling to the floor or getting lost behind other items. I like to keep a “snack” basket to hold smaller “grab-n-go” items that might get lost or knocked off the shelf.

Would relocating the items be better?


A stack of games cluttering the living room


Find an area to store all games in a child’s closet. A huge eye sore is now neatly hidden away in a closet. Take out the game to play it, and return it to the closet as soon as you are done.

Finding a solution that works best may take some trial and error. Keeping your house free of clutter is much easier once you take care of all the “pebbles”.

Clutter pebbles

Happy pebble hunting!

Related article: Are you scared of your child’s room?

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  1. Think I’m going to like your blog! Being organised and cleaning are two of my fave pastimes! CAN. NOT. STAND. CLUTTER. Drives me bonkers!
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  2. Me too! I am always on the hunt for new ways to keep it under control.

  3. For myself, I try to take breaks from working and in those breaks I’m happy to organize things or tidy up something. Sometimes the biggest problem isn’t donating a “pebble” of one’s own time. I’ve noticed a few people are all or nothing – either everything is clean all at once, or nothing is – and that’s just ridiculous to me. One has to live, and living needs to be acceptably messy.
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  4. I admit to letting the house get very cluttered. I am trying to reduce that clutter but have health problems that limit the amount of work I can do at once. It seems I cannot catch up and overtake this problem. Do you have some tips for people who have serious clutter and need to deal with it in bite sized chunks? It is all mine, I admit, because the dogs do not contribute much to it.
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    • i think everyone gets behind occasionally. In the summer with the kids dragging out 100 projects at a time, I admit I let it slip for a few days and take a vacation ocassionally. 🙂 ha ha

      I would just concentrate on one area at a time. Pick a room and do one section. For example: the closet (clothes only), a couple cabinets in a bathroom or kitchen, the junk drawer, etc. I think feeling a sense of accomplishment at organizing one area at a time is good motivation for continuing the next day with a new area. If you just work a small amount each day one section at a time, it really does make a difference.

      My kids hate to call me into their rooms, because next thing they know I am sitting on the floor decluttering a spot while I am talking/listening. Then they look at me funny and ask, “Can you please stop cleaning Mom?” 🙂

  5. My secret hideaway spots were drawers, but only in my bedroom. Guess who removed all of them? I eliminated al the chest of drawers in my room and moved everything that could be hung into closets. I have a large closet, and I converted another closet into shelf space it’s open so the clothes that would normally go in my drawers are kept there. I love it! 🙂

    Regarding my daughter, we’ve eliminated a lot of her toys. In fact, she gave me a pile to give to children that might night have that many things. Which I thought was great. That alone helped eliminate a huge bulk of the clutter. I’m thinking additional shelf space in her room would help too.
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    • I think it is hard for kids to manage a lot of stuff. I’ve even considered boxing up some and rotating out the toys a few at a time for my little one.

      • We totally do toy rotation in my house (and then I can also, when they’re not looking, weed out the “junk” toys that have been given them that are usually not well made, are for the wrong ages of my children and sometimes are downright dangerous). The girls LOVE when we rotate toys! They love remembering a great toy and it’s like birthdays all over again. Not to mention it gives me time to do a quick clean over of certain well loved toys (that then actually stay clean for longer than a day). Another thing we do, which works for really young kids is that because my kids birthdays are only 2 months from Christmas we end up with a lopsided present giving year, we usually ask for “usable” gifts (money for activities, clothes, things we know they need or will soon need) for birthdays and then the fun stuff comes at Christmas. And even then it’s a lot of stuff. So when we come home (we’re usually traveling over the holidays), we purposely only “unpack” half the haul and at the next toy rotation we let them have the rest. It’s like having Christmas presents all over again in a couple of months!
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        • I have that same problem with birthdays so close to Christmas. Luckily they are old enough they just want gift cards and they make them last all year long. I like the toy rotation idea (for my 4 year old). I think I’m going to do that. I just hope I don’t forget about the hidden box. ha ha

  6. i love to keep things organized, plus it helps to keep work efficient because you can find every thing very easily .

  7. It is so cathartic to go through a big pile like this every once in a while and just get it out of there! Downsizing and purging is the best solution.
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