Is it a collection or clutter? Spot the difference (with printable checklist!)

When your closets, garages, and basements start to overflow with stuff, you’ve got some clutter on your hands.

What happens when that clutter happens to be something that resembles a collection. Is it still clutter?

Let’s talk more about the differences between a collection and clutter so you can declutter your home with ease.

collection or clutter

Clutter vs Collection

The main difference between clutter and a collection is that a collection generally consists of themed or like items.

Now before you go thinking those crates full of magazines hiding away in the garage or the stacks of empty coffee tins is a collection, a collection is usually the following:

  • Curated with love and care.
  • Something you feel proud of.
  • Something you take care of.
  • Something you want to show off and display.
  • Something that has value, even sentimental value, especially as a whole.

Clutter tends to be random items that don’t have a place or space within the home. Visually, clutter causes stress, but an unwieldy collection can have the same effect.

Yes, even a collection can have clutter.

Check out this article if you need help decluttering your collection.

Is It a Collection or Clutter? Checklist

So how do you spot the difference between a collection or clutter? Use this checklist to help you decide.

collection or clutter printable checklist
Click to download a printable version of this checklist!

If you answer ‘no’ to any of these questions, there’s a good chance it’s clutter and not part of a collection worth keeping around.

  • Is there a theme to the items? 
  • Are the items each a variation on the theme? – Stockpiling multiples of the same item does not make a collection.
  • Does the collection have value (monetary/sentimental, etc.)?
  • Do you display these items?
  • Do you actively build your collection? – There’s a difference between you seeking out key items for a collection and a collection clutter just sort of happening to you. One has purpose/value while the other doesn’t.
  • Is your collection curated and beautiful? – If you’re allowing any piece into your collection, it can easily look like, and turn into, clutter.
  • Does it look organized?
  • Does adding to your collection give you a goal to work toward?
  • Do you connect with other people because of your collection? – You most likely wouldn’t connect with others over jars of bottle caps, but you might connect with people if you have a curated and organized collection of bottle caps from all the breweries in the state.
  • Do you have space for it?
  • Does it leave a legacy or provide a source of nostalgia?
  • Do you spend time caring for your collection? – If you have a collection of items that are left uncared for and deteriorating in the attic, garage or basement, it’s probably safe to classify it as clutter.

Related: Repurpose your old t-shirt collection into a t-shirt quilt

How to Keep Your Collections from Turning Into Clutter

Organize & Arrange Your Collection Differently

A well-cared-for and treasured collection doesn’t need to go just because it starts to get a bit unruly in your living room.

Sometimes organizing and rearranging can alleviate both the physical and visual clutter.

  • Give the collection a designated space. Create an accent wall, install display shelves, or incorporate a display case that gives your collection the ability to shine.
  • Don’t forget about white space. White space helps to cut down on visual clutter. It’s another reason to give your collection a designated space.

Declutter Your Collections

Don’t forget to declutter them from time to time to keep them in check. Set collection boundaries, get rid of duplicates, and keep only the best.

Learn more about that process here.


Ready to address the rest of the clutter in your home?

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2 thoughts on “Is it a collection or clutter? Spot the difference (with printable checklist!)”

  1. I have a lot of fabric, but I have ever thought of it as a collection. I do it display it. I have bought all of it with the intention of sewing garments for myself. It is fully inventoried and I am actually seeing about a garment a week. I have given away pieces that I no longer like. Of course I am trying to weed out my wardrobe. I buy very little fabric now, because I love most of the fabrics purchased over the years.I have clearly purchased more fabric than I should have,but I do like these fabrics. I don’t consider it clutter or a collection. The word I use is “stash.”
    Many people who sew refers to this as “SABLE,” or Stash Acquired Beyond Life Expectancy.

    • Like you I have a ton of fabrics bins and containers. Going back 35 yrs. Now retired i am committed to doing something with it. Along with 20 sewing machines. My girl scout troop used to sew for Community service. I plan on sewing pillowcases for our vets deployed and hospitals. I am going to set a goal and donate to quilt clubs also


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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