The best books to read when you’re decluttering (or trying to avoid it)

Who am I?

I didn’t choose clutter as a topic—it chose me. Around the time Marie Kondo became a tidying-up sensation, my mother suffered a breakdown and could no longer live in her dangerously cluttered house. I’m an only child, so it fell to me to figure what to do with it all. So much stuff! It got me wondering: How did clutter get to be such a huge problem for so many people? The books on this list helped answer that question and made me feel less alone in the struggle with stuff. I hope you find them useful too.

I wrote...

Clutter: An Untidy History

By Jennifer Howard,

Book cover of Clutter: An Untidy History

What is my book about?

Inspired by the painful process of cleaning out her mother’s house, Jennifer Howard sets her own personal struggle with clutter against a meticulously researched history of just how the developed world came to drown in material goods. In an age when Amazon can deliver anything at the click of a mouse and decluttering guru, Marie Kondo can become a reality TV star, Howard’s bracing analysis has never been more timely. Slim and compelling, Clutter is a book for anyone struggling to understand why they have so much stuffand what to do about it.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir

Why did I love this book?

Anybody who’s had to clean out a family home knows what a messy, emotional, tedious, painful, sometimes lonely, occasionally humorous process it can be. Cartoonist Roz Chast captures all of that in this graphic memoir about helping her elderly parents move out of the New York City apartment they’d lived in for decades. Like me, Chast is an only child. That made a tough job even tougher, and she’s astonishingly frank about the ups and downs. If you find yourself having to help a loved one downsize, this book will make you feel less alone, no matter how many siblings you have. It helped me get through the worst of cleaning out my mother’s house.

By Roz Chast,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 New York Times Bestseller
2014 National Book Award Finalist
Winner of the inaugural 2014 Kirkus Prize in nonfiction
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner of the 2014 Books for a Better Life Award
Winner of the 2015 Reuben Award from National Cartoonists Society

In her first memoir, New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast's memoir is both comfort…

Book cover of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

Why did I love this book?

Randy Frost and Gail Steketee have done groundbreaking research on hoarding disorder, and their work has helped shift the conversation away from the traditional shame-and-blame approach to the subject. In these case studies, they dig into what drives individuals to accumulate extreme amounts of clutter. Emphasis on individuals—each of these people has a unique, often fascinating story, and Frost and Steketee treat them with compassion and understanding. Stuff helped me understand that forced cleanouts and harsh interventions don’t solve the problem, they only inflict more trauma.

By Randy O. Frost, Gail Steketee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stuff as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Bestseller

Acclaimed psychologists Randy Frost and Gail Sketetee's groundbreaking study on the compulsion of hoarding, "Stuff invites readers to reevaluate their desire for things” (Boston Globe).

What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper that’s ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a woman like Irene, whose hoarding cost her her marriage? Or Ralph, whose imagined uses for castoff items like leaky old buckets almost lost him his house? Or Jerry and Alvin, wealthy twin bachelors who filled up matching luxury apartments with countless pieces of fine art, not even leaving themselves room to…

Book cover of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter

Why did I love this book?

Dealing with a lifetime’s worth of possessions feels like a heavy task—heavy in every sense. In this breezy book, Margareta Magnuson reminds readers that it doesn’t have to be a drag. Figuring out what to do with all your things can be cathartic, liberating, even fun, a chance to relive some of the highlights of your life and celebrate where you’ve landed. It’s also a kindness to your nearest and dearest. As she wisely observes, “A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.” I wish I could go back in time and give a copy of this book to my mother with that passage highlighted. 

By Margareta Magnusson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Soon to be a major TV series*

Dostadning, or the art of death cleaning, is a Swedish phenomenon by which the elderly and their families set their affairs in order. Whether it's sorting the family heirlooms from the junk, downsizing to a smaller place, or using a failsafe system to stop you losing essentials, death cleaning gives us the chance to make the later years of our lives as comfortable and stress-free as possible. Whatever your age, Swedish death cleaning can be used to help you de-clutter your life, and take stock of what's important.

Radical and joyous, eighty-something Margareta…

Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

By Susan Strasser, Alice Austen (photographer),

Book cover of Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

Why did I love this book?

How many times have you tossed something in the trash without thinking about it? That throwaway mentality would be unrecognizable to earlier generations of Americans, who reused and repurposed and made do, because they had to. As I went through the process of emptying out my mother’s overstuffed house, I wondered when our things had gotten the better of us. Susan Strasser, a historian who’s also written about housework and consumerism, explains how and why Americans’ attitudes toward trash have shifted so radically since the country’s early days.

By Susan Strasser, Alice Austen (photographer),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Waste and Want as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An unprecedented look at that most commonplace act of everyday life-throwing things out-and how it has transformed American society.

Susan Strasser's pathbreaking histories of housework and the rise of the mass market have become classics in the literature of consumer culture. Here she turns to an essential but neglected part of that culture-the trash it produces-and finds in it an unexpected wealth of meaning.

Before the twentieth century, streets and bodies stank, but trash was nearly nonexistent. With goods and money scarce, almost everything was reused. Strasser paints a vivid picture of an America where scavenger pigs roamed the streets,…

Book cover of Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale

Why did I love this book?

Journalist Adam Minter comes from a family of junk dealers, so it makes sense that he’d be fascinated by what happens to the things we get rid of. Where does it all go? Like me, he asked that question after he dropped off a load of his late mother’s possessions at a local Goodwill. Being a journalist, he decided to go find out what really happens to our discarded shoes, textiles, china, electronics, cars, and more. His reporting took him all over the planet, from Mexico to India to Japan to West Africa. Secondhand made me think harder about the afterlives of things we discard. As that old saying goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

By Adam Minter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Secondhand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of Junkyard Planet, "an anthem to decluttering, recycling, making better quality goods and living a simpler life with less stuff." -Associated Press

Downsizing. Decluttering. Discarding. Sooner or later, all of us are faced with things we no longer need or want. But when we drop our old clothes and other items off at a local donation center, where do they go? Sometimes across the country-or even halfway across the world-to people and places who find value in what we leave behind.

In Secondhand, journalist Adam Minter takes us on an unexpected adventure into the often-hidden, multibillion-dollar industry…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cartoonists, order and clutter, and recycling?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cartoonists, order and clutter, and recycling.

Cartoonists Explore 44 books about cartoonists
Order And Clutter Explore 14 books about order and clutter
Recycling Explore 8 books about recycling

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Breathing Room, Inheriting Clutter, and The More of Less if you like this list.