millennial clutter

Could it be that Millennials are the messiest generation in America?

In a recent survey commissioned by SpareFoot, American adults were asked whether they think their house or apartment is cluttered. In all, 27 percent classified their home as “very” or “somewhat” cluttered.

Among 18- to 29-year-olds, who make up the bulk of the Millennial generation, 30 percent hung the tag of “very” or “somewhat” cluttered on themselves. That’s the highest percentage for any of the age groups in the SpareFoot survey. It’s an interesting figure, given that digitally savvy Millennials aren’t inclined to keep newspapers, magazines and similar stuff around the house.

(Editor’s note: Keep in mind that this survey represents a statistical snapshot, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This means, for instance, that the 30 percent result for the 18-29 age group could swing up to 33.5 percent or down to 26.5 percent.)

Too Self-Critical?

So, are Millennials truly the most clutter-prone age group in the U.S., or are they just the most honest about a lack of household tidiness?

Professional organizer Lauren Silverman said she wasn’t surprised that the survey exposed a somewhat high percentage of clutter among Millennials.

clutter among age groups

“Young people who are just leaving home for college or setting up their own spaces post-college often do not have the skills or experience to evaluate their belongings or keep them in an orderly fashion,” Silverman said. “The transient lifestyle and the sometimes haphazard accumulation of furniture and household goods makes it difficult to think about decluttering and setting up organizing systems.”

Alison Novak, a visiting professor in media studies and production at Temple University who has studied the Millennial generation, said 18- to 29-year-olds might just be more self-critical than earlier generations are, rather than more cluttered.

“Because they grew up in a mediated environment that emphasized what a home ‘should’ look like, they are more comparative of their home spaces than others,” Novak said. “This is reinforced by the popularity of DIY home blogs, and lists about ways to get more organized or live a less cluttered life.”

A Recovered Clutterer

Ethan Wasserman, the 25-year-old founding partner of marketing firm Clutch Maven, confessed that he’s been guilty of Millennial messiness.

“As someone who grew up with all the distractions of this age—video games, cell phones, computers, TV—it doesn’t surprise me that many Millennials are messy,” Wasserman said. “After all, video games are a lot more fun than organizing your paperwork or cleaning up. Growing up, I was extremely messy, and that was part of the reason.”

Now that Wasserman is older, however, he said he’s turned a corner. He declares himself clutter-free and “very organized.”

“Making the change took years and, true to the nature of a Millennial, I owe a lot of my organization to technology,” he said. “By keeping track of all my tasks and by setting up reminders and utilizing technology like that, I changed my habits.”

Ethan Wasserman

Ethan Wasserman says he’s turned around his “extremely messy” ways.

Getting Rid of the Clutter

If you’re a Millennial—or anyone else—who wants to get organized like Wasserman did, follow these five tips from Silverman.

1. Define your project. Do you want to organize your bedroom closet so that it’s easier to get ready and get out of the house each morning? Or do you want to bring order to your kitchen cabinets so that fixing dinner is more appealing than ordering takeout?

2. Think small. Once you’ve decided tackle your closet, resist the urge to empty the racks, drawers and shelves all at once. Choose a mini-project, like organizing your shoes, and finish it before starting another project.

3. Declutter first. Ask yourself, “Do I use or wear this?” or “Do I love it?” If the answer to either question is “no,” get rid of it. If the item is in good condition, you can sell it or even donate it to a worthy charity. Beware of the “I might need this someday” trap. Chances are, you won’t need it.

4. Put it away. Find a home for your things by storing “like with like.” In the kitchen, that might mean all baking utensils and ingredients are stored in one cabinet, while dinner supplies are put in another. An area designated for beverages should hold your coffeemaker, coffee and tea, sweeteners and coffee cups. Items that you use frequently should be the easiest to reach.

5. Keep it up. Spend 10 or 15 minutes each evening on straightening up your place and returning items to their proper homes. “Getting organized is a life skill,” Silverman said, “and staying that way is a good habit to adopt as you set up your first place or a more permanent one down the road.”

Survey Methodology

For this survey, telephone interviews were conducted with a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults living in the continental U.S. Telephone interviews were done by landline (502) and cellphone (501, including 280 without a landline phone). Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI) conducted the survey. Interviews were done in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from Oct. 9-12, 2014. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.