declutter vs. unclutter

spellcheck indicates and dictionaries confirm: declutter is not a word.  unclutter, however, is. 

yet, declutter seems to be my word of choice.  the prefix “de-” suggests completeness and finality (i.e. destroy, demolish, deflate, depart); while, on the other hand, the prefix “un-” implies incompleteness (i.e. uncooked, unharmed, unfinished, uninhabited).  and when i speak about removing clutter, i prefer to think of the action as bringing completeness to an area of my life.

i think that is why i will continue to use the un-word “declutter.”

how ‘ bout you?  which word do you prefer: declutter or unclutter?

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    Declutter. For the reasons you said.

    On the other hand, you do untie a knot, undo a folded napkin, unlock a door.

    Hmmm. How does it feel to say “I delocked the door.” In many ways, removing clutter is like unlocking a door.

    So now I think I have changed my mind, because when you are asking someone to get rid of their clutter, you are really asking them to free themselves, not to declaw themselves or disarm themselves. The word “unclutter” sounds easier, in a way. And isn’t that what we want it to be?

  2. says

    I’ve been using the word declutter and I get the squiggly red line in Word. I’ve been meaning to look up declutter in the dictionary – certain that it must be a word since it’s everywhere. But alas, it’s not.

    Declutter sounds more permanent – unclutter sounds like it will be cluttered again in no time (like clean and unclean).

    • Catz says

      You made me think, Kate. Really interesting… If we say “the house is decluttered”, that sounds to me less permanent than “the house is uncluttered”. Decluttered means that it was once cluttered… however uncluttered does not assume that it was ever cluttered.

      If something never has been cluttered in the past, it is more likely to return to that state than if was never cluttered.

      Thanks :-)

  3. wildgoose says

    Unclutter. Because it means that the original state is clean, fuss free. And if we start out by not adding unnecessarily, we wouldn’t have clutter. Whereas “declutter” seems to imply that the mess is original and we need to keep doing, working to remove the clutter.

  4. Sarah says

    I use declutter, if only because I was sure it was a real word!! I prefer declutter though, I just prefer how it sounds. Uncluttering doesn’t sound complete, whereas decluttering does.

  5. says

    First off, spell checks and dictionaries CANNOT confirm that something is not a word. A word is a word because people use it. Eventually, if it is used enough and the right people take note of it, then it is added to dictionaries. However, dictionaries are very limited, not only by space but also by the human resources it takes to compile them. They are far from a complete representation of words in use. With 723,000 hits on Google, it seems pretty clear to me that declutter is indeed a word. In fact, unclutter only has 387,000 hits.

    I use declutter as a verb but uncluttered as an adjective, as in “It looks very uncluttered.” But, “I need to declutter the kitchen.” And even, “The kitchen is decluttered” (though that is a past participle of the verb saying that I have actively decluttered the room, which is not implied when I call something uncluttered).

    A quick Google search shows 34,900 hits for decluttered but 1,190,000 hits for uncluttered. So, it appears that I’m not the only one to see uncluttered as the adjective and declutter as the verb.

    By the way, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_prefixes. It confirms that “de-” means “reverse action, get rid of” — which is why de-clutter makes perfect sense, or at least as much sense as “un-“.

  6. Julia Urwin says

    No matter if it’s declutter or unclutter this posting added nothing to decreasing noise and clutter in my life. You must have simplified your life to a level where you are now looking to find things to fill it up.

  7. Meg says

    @Julia

    Last time I checked, the author wasn’t writing just for your personal enjoyment. I found it interesting and certainly it was valuable enough that others decided to comment.

    Perhaps you should consider whether your comment added anything positive to this discussion and whether it would have been better had you just 1. saved your time by just ignoring the post or 2. just take the blog off your reading list if it is no longer a good use of your time (no one is forcing you to read anything).

    Instead, you chose to write a rude comment that goes beyond just saying that you didn’t like the post and attacks the author personally (i.e. “You must have simplified your life to a level where you are now looking to find things to fill it up.”). What does that say about you?

  8. says

    Declutter. :) I knew it wasn’t a word. My spelling checker hates it.

    And I agree with Meg.. I use it in the same way as she does. I need to declutter, that kitchen is finally uncluttered!

    @Julia I agree with Meg. You’re being needlessly rude.

    • Valerie says

      I didn’t think Julia was being rude- just making a humorous observation. Must everything you don’t agree with be “rude”?

  9. says

    I like talking about how we use words and whether or not they make any sense in our lives as they are currently being used. I agree with Meg. I use declutter basically as a verb (there goes the spellcheck to warn me again), as in “How To Declutter Your Kitchen”, and would use uncluttered as a adjective, as in “I Live In An Uncluttered Kitchen.” So, it’s basically a matter of what we eventually get used to seeing and saying. :)

    I appreciate the topic of the use of these words as I believe a lively topic of any sort can help to declutter the mind so that our world can be less cluttered, or shall we say, uncluttered.

    No topic is less worthy than any other topic when the author clearly has a little sense of humor and that goes a long way to lightening our emotional load. We humans can suffer just as much under a burden of sorrow as we can a burden of material possessions. Thank you for this engaging topic that we all, or most of us, had a little fun with.

  10. says

    You can just wait for the day that ‘declutter’ is in the dictionary. Isn’t it -like- the #1 used word on TV and other media nowadays? Every other show seems to be about ‘DEcluttering’…. so I’d say it’s just a matter of time ;)

    Greetings from the netherlands!

  11. says

    What a great question.. I kind of knw this but ignore it all the same.
    Personally, I use ‘unclutter’ed as an adjective and declutter as a verb.

    ~Rose

  12. Carol says

    Actually I think they mean different things.

    Declutter is a process, and does not necessarily imply the eradication of every last bit of clutter — you might choose to keep some knick knacks you like, for instance.

    Unclutter sounds like one sweeping event, removing absolutely all clutter in a semi-permanent way.

    But that’s just in my head. :-)

  13. says

    declutter or unclutter – interesting question (of sorts) which I had not really thought about before.

    Thinking on it now I would say I use declutter to describe the process and unclutter when the job is done!

    all this discussion leads me to ask ~ who started using the declutter version in the first place?

  14. Christie says

    Oh, I just LOVE semantics. Which is what lead me right to this thread!
    I wasn’t sure of the difference.
    Personally, I like “unclutter”. Declutter reminds me of “de mess” this place is. Where unclutter to me is like un-doing the clutter or mess.
    Great topic. ;-)
    Thanks

  15. Arlene says

    I think Julia up there needs to realize that her post added nothing to decreasing noise and clutter in our lives as well. She must have simplified her life to a level where she is now looking to find things about which to complain…

  16. erin says

    i am so confused that from no on i am going to say “getting rid of clutter” hahaha i’m just kidding! but, now every time i say one or the other (i am not even sure which one i use after reading this, but i think it is declutter haha) i am going to wonder if i said the right one!

    and THUMBS UP TO ARLENE!!

  17. says

    I am with Mary Alexander’s original response. My first book is an empowerment tome called UNCLUTTER (Cleanse Your Spirit and Claim Your Stuff) and for me, the UN vs. DE was used because UN went to UNLOCK, UNDO and UNNECESSARY! It was about removing the clutter that got into the house that needs to go and is not necessary to your life or healthy living. It’s about removing the stuff that can UNhinge your dreams and to do the work to UNearth your joy, which can be UNnerving! So I landed on and live in UNCLUTTER!

  18. says

    Love this discussion; Good lesson to learn about “un-” and “de-” in English.
    As English learner, I try to check GOOGLE if the expression I am going to use is literally, dramatically “appropriate” ( not necessary “correct”). I have noticed that people are more likely to say “declutter my life”, instead of “unclutter my life.”

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