If you read any decluttering advice online, you’ll frequently see two extremes.

The first is the “minimalist” photos. Beautiful spaces. No clutter. No mess. Nearly-empty shelves. It can feel like these spaces aren’t even lived in, and spoiler alert – some of them aren’t.

There are also whole websites devoted to selling you stuff that helps you organize your stuff, hide away your stuff, etc. Got too much stuff? Then buying more stuff to organize your stuff must be the answer, right?

One personal organizer’s website had photos of a “lazy shoe-san” – a worldplay on “lazy Susan,” the turntables that hold things on tables, in cabinets, etc. The “lazy Shoesan” held several dozen pairs of shoes in a 6-foot-tall spinning rack. Don’t get us wrong; it’s great that you can organize 40+ pairs of shoes – but do you own 40+ pairs of shoes? And is it worth spending several hundred dollars to organize them?

Exposure to enough photos like this can make it feel like these photos reflect “normal.” It’s tempting to either want to throw away everything you own, or go to IKEA or the Container Store and drop a couple thousand dollars on organizational systems to tame your clutter. You pick your side, and then you go all-in.

But that thinking tends to start with the idea that there’s a “right” and a “wrong” way to do things, and that’s just not true. There’s no “right” or “wrong” here.

Maybe you like clean, minimal spaces, and you’re willing to pare down significantly to get to that point. In that case, more power to you! Clear things out, and enjoy your newfound wide-open spaces. But if you’re wanting to clean everything out primarily because you’re worried what your mother-in-law thinks of your apartment, it’s worth a deep think about whether those lifestyle expectations fit you and your life.

And hey, maybe shoes are really your thing. Maybe you have 50 pairs of shoes, and you actually wear all of them. In that case, get yourself a double-decker lazy Shoesan, and don’t feel any guilt whatsoever. Feel the joy every time you give it a spin and pick out your footwear for the day. But if you have 50 pairs of shoes because you’re afraid to throw them away for some reason, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. 

Remember, in the end, there’s only “what works for you.” And thus, unless there’s some sort of safety or legal issue in play, there shouldn’t be any judgement – especially self-judgement – regarding what you choose to own and how you choose to organize it.

This doesn’t mean you have to blacklist all the personal organization websites. But let the advice on the Internet get you thinking good and hard about what you actually want out of life, and how you relate to the stuff you own. Do you need less stuff? Better-organized stuff? More of the right stuff?

This isn’t a competition. This is about making space – both in your mind and in your life – for what matters, whatever that looks like for you.

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