Do You Have “Squatters?”

Frog in a birdhouse. objects who are “living” in our space without our permission or knowledge.
Image by anjoha05 from Pixabay

Do you have squatters? In spite of our best efforts, most people have squatters dwelling in their space. No, I don’t mean human beings – hopefully we would be aware of people living in our midst. Instead, I’m talking about objects who are “living” in our space without our permission or knowledge.

Generally speaking, we think we know what we have. After all, there aren’t fairies coming into our spaces while we sleep and slipping items into our homes. However, it has been my experience that when people take the time to cull through their belongings, they typically come across some surprises. Most people have a “squatter” or two. Here are a few ways to recognize them.

We have no idea where they came from.• “I don’t remember buying this”
• “Was this a gift?”
• "Whose is this?”
“Did this belong to the previous owner/tenant?”
• “How did this get here?”
• “I have no memory of this item at all.”
• “I have no idea what this is.”
We can’t recall how long they’ve been around.• “How long has this been here?”
• “This doesn’t go with anything anymore.”
• “How old is this?”
• “I didn’t even know we still had this!”
• “I thought we got rid of these ages ago.”
They have been living in our space undetected.• “I had no idea this was here.”
• “I’ve been looking for this forever.”
• “I have no idea what’s in that pile, it’s been there for a long time.”
• “Who knows what is in that room, we just keep tossing stuff in there.”
They are dirtying our space.• “Whoa, this is covered in dust.”
• “Mice have been living in this.”
• “Clearly the bugs have enjoyed this.”
• “I actually haven’t cleaned there for a long time because I can’t get to it.”
They aren’t “earning their keep.”• “I haven’t used this in years.”
• “We’ve never even used it.”
• “It still has the tags on it.”
• “That doesn’t work with the one we have now.”
• “I actually hate that color.”
• “I never use it because it is hard to use.”
• “I don’t like this one, it’s uncomfortable.”
They are spreading out and taking up more and more space.• “I didn’t realize we had so many of these.”
• “I can’t even get into that room anymore.”
• “The junk has just taken over that closet.”
• “We’ve surrendered the garage.”
• “I’d like to use that (closet/drawer/room) but it is full of stuff.”

The reality is that items are always coming into our space. Just as a landlord needs to sweep out and maintain order in a building, so we need to guard against letting items that we don’t want pile up and take over.

I tell clients that all of their belongings– especially those we didn’t intentionally acquire– need to justify the space they are taking up.

  • The free earbuds from the airplane are not worthy of space in your top desk drawer.
  • The hot dog cooker you got for Christmas that you never use doesn’t deserve room in your convenient cabinet.
  • The bag of hand-me-down clothing that a friend dropped off for your daughter but that that your daughter won’t wear doesn’t warrant space in her closet (or yours!).
  • The book you were given by a colleague, started to read, but quit after two chapters because you didn’t really enjoy it, shouldn’t be stashed back on your bookshelf.
  • The jar of chutney that arrived tucked into a gift basket and that you will never eat shouldn’t be living in your pantry.
  • The “free” photo duplicates, complimentary holiday cards, promotional t-shirts, charity sheets of return address labels, happy meal toys, unflattering “gift” lipstick, stockpile of chopsticks, etc. are more marketing and offloading by companies than they are pieces you should save.
  • The decorative piece of art from your mother-in-law that you never liked shouldn’t be kept in the attic, but instead donated to someone who will appreciate it.

Anytime we come across a squatter, we should chase it out of our space like the unwanted visitor that it is.

*     *     *

Do you have squatters? Can you think of one to share?

24 thoughts on “Do You Have “Squatters?””

  1. So many of the questions I’ve heard before. And maybe I’ve even uttered a few myself. This all speaks to mindful living. Being aware of what comes in and what’s taking up space requires a certain awareness. That, paired with decision-making, is a great formula for reducing the amount of “squatters” in your space. Being that spring just began, this is an excellent season to evaluate and focus on the questions you posed. I see clearer spaces ahead!

  2. This is great advice on all items that may be in the home and how to figure out if they are truly wanted/needed versus just “squatting”. So, truly appreciate you sharing and will now use your advice around my home now.

  3. Recently I revisited some of my grand mothers things that were just stored in my closet doing nothing. So I decided to give them a use. I created hurricane lamps for electric candles with crocheted lace pillow shams. I shared it on my blog and people seem to really like them. I also cut a piece of the crochet lace blanket and bought a shadowbox and now am making a tribute box for my grandmother with photos and her pieces of things that I kept. Great post! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Unique Clutter Free Ways To Organize ShoesMy Profile

    1. What a neat way to repurpose items that had sentimental value, but not in their original form. Looking at our belongings with an eye for how they can add value to –not detract from– our lives. Love the hurricane lamp idea!!

    1. I truly believe we all have them, even organizers! When I dig through, I always find something. I hear those phrases all the time with clients as well. 🙂

  4. I love this concept of “earning it’s keep” so to speak. In order for an item to be kept, it needs to have sufficient value to take up space. That’s a great analogy for our clients and ourselves to put the value of an item first in order to assess whether to keep or let go of that item. Thank you for finding a new perspective for us!

    1. I say that phrase to clients all the time – “it has to earn it’s keep!” Let’s make sure we are allocating our valuable space with intentionality, right?

    1. The whole concept of squatters is kind of fascinating. I was doing a bit of research as I prepared for this post. Tricky being a landlord, and also tricky if you’ve been living in a place for a long time. At least with non-human squatters, you don’t need to worry about hurting feelings or upsetting a life. It’s all a benefit. 🙂

  5. ha! I love this! This house is full of squatters and I’m specifically noticing it in the winter wear category. Sometimes it’s gifts we don’t remember getting, and in the olden days (before COVID), we’d always inherit other people’s winter wear and not know where it came from after sledding play dates.

    1. Ugh, the “winter wear” seems to give birth sometime in February. It just piles up. So happy for the warming weather. Time to wash those items, pitch the “dead” ones, pass on the ones that don’t fit anymore, and get ready for spring!

  6. OMG, Seana, this is the best description of those “strangers” (in the old NSGCD/ICD “friends/acquaintances/strangers” approach to decluttering) I’ve ever heard. Let’s stop giving our valuable space to things that don’t pay their fair share of the rent (in utility, sentiment, spatial appropriateness, or any other kind of value)! Reading this should really boost people’s ability to LET GO of so much that isn’t serving them. Great job!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Paper Doll’s Tax-Smart Organizing Tips: 2021My Profile

  7. This is about bringing what’s around us to our attention. We have to be the spotter of our squatter. ?
    I’m really glad you wrote about this because it makes us more aware of all the stuff in our lives that serve no purpose.
    I’m showing this to my lovable husband who is a squatter magnet. There’s always hope!

    1. I’m doing a cheer for your husband over here. That is impressive! Sweep those squatters out and enjoy the breeze in the freshly organized closet!:)

  8. I definitely have some of those. Clothes especially and jewelry I bought to go with certain outfits I don’t own anymore. I just cleaned out a drawer and got a whole bag of jewelry to give away. Next I need to do my jewelry box. Most things I still wear but not all.

    1. That’s a good one to talk about decluttering. We often don’t think of jewelry, but it can build up. It is fashion, after all. Of course, the valuable pieces we keep. But the costume jewelry we aren’t wearing, and the items that are broken, can go!

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