Before I can clean, I have to get the clutter out of the way. In my ideal world, I would put everything in its place as I go, but this isn’t always possible. If I want a clean home, I have to come up with some intentional strategies to deal with the clutter. I refined these methods by trial and error while caring for two babies born eighteen months apart. Interruptions where part of every task, and I was lucky to have one hand free at some point during the day.
Make storage spaces. One of the key pieces of advice I received from an experienced homemaker early on was to control clutter by reducing the number of things. Reduce the total amount in my house, and reduce the amount available to my children.
It is helpful to have a space designated for things that need to be discarded, or might need to be discarded. It helps me determine if we value the new quality of our home more than the items we must sacrifice to get that quality. It also gives me time to bring them back if I truly need them, which happens occasionally. Things that make us miserable are not worth having. Once a year, or when I’ve completed a major de-cluttering push, I can have a yard sale, take things to Good-will, etc.
One strategy my friend shared was to make a space to store some toys for a month or two. Then bring out the now new toys from hiding and enjoy the Christmas effect all over as the familiar toys quietly make an exit to the storage space. Repeat as often as your children get bored. Currently I apply this strategy to books.
Recognize the natural flow of our home. Our keys and wallet have to go somewhere. My husband will naturally empty his pockets at the same place in the house no matter how sincerely he means to empty them where I asked him to. So, I realized that it is better to move the key basket to where he will use it, and just plan to tidy that area up once a week or so. When settling into a new space, I take some time to notice where my family tends to use and leave particular items. Then I designate clutter stations where the clutter can be intentionally collected and contained until I have time to think about where each of those little things should go.
Get a basket. Clutter is a bunch of little things. You can carry a lot of little things in a laundry basket or something similar, even while carrying a baby on the other hip. This really helps in daily cleanup. When I lived in a townhouse, I had a wicker basket whose only function is to take multiple objects up and down the stairs.
Using a basket is especially helpful if I’m interrupted for some reason. I want the clutter to stay collected until I have a chance to get back and deal with it. If I leave it loose, it can run off and multiply again.
The initial attack
If you’re bothering to read a blog about clutter, you’re probably some what buried. Most households that I’ve visited in the U.S. are. The rest have at least one determined member who spends significant energy making them neat. Don’t expect the problem to be over come in one day. I like to choose one room that is most central to my family’s wellbeing, and get it to clutter free status. Then, we maintain it while I tackle the second. Then we maintain the first two while we go after the third. Maintaining progress is very important, otherwise the clutter will just move around the house. This is the same process that I use when moving into a new home-something I’ve done four times in the last three years.
First I go into whatever room annoys me most, room of choice, and put everything that is in that room that belongs in that room back in its place. I put everything else in my basket. When I finish with the room, or when my basket gets full, I empty my basket by throwing away all the things which would qualify as trash, putting as much as I can in the space I have designated for a discard pile, and putting everything else away some where in house.
If I determine that an object should be kept, it must have a clearly defined place that qualifies as its home. Even dirty laundry has a home in the hamper. I repeat the process on as many days as I need to until the first room finally has everything put away. Then, whenever I want to work on clutter, I clean the first room before moving to the next one.
Again, using a basket is especially helpful if I’m interrupted for some reason. I want the clutter to stay collected until I have a chance to get back and deal with it.
As I cycle through this process, I start adding containers and storage bins. It’s amazing how having various kinds of personal items grouped together in the bathroom keeps the whole shelf from getting out of hand, or how even dirty laundry appears neat when it’s all in the proper hamper. Each container should hold things that are related to each other. For example, in our bathroom, everything in the shower goes in the shower caddy, cleaning products have their own basket, my husband’s shaving supplies and deodorant go in a basket, my hair supplies are in one basket, then the children’s things have their own baskets. Everything goes back in a particular basket, and if it doesn’t belong in a basket found in the bathroom, it doesn’t belong in the bathroom. This principle can be applied to every room in the house.
Habits that maintain
I need to spend five to twenty minutes each day addressing clutter. When I first wrote this article, I believed that if each room in the house is brought back to order once every twenty-four hours, the situation does not spiral out of control. I have since discovered that the play room needs attention twice a day. My guess is that some homes that don’t include small children might need attention of this kind only once a week. With a little experimentation you’ll quickly learn what the time limit is that determines whether your home has been over taken by entropy or is maintaining homeostasis. Once a week I clear out each clutter station.
Now that my children are old enough to participate, I do ask them to clean up one room at a time at given times of day. The play room needs to be cleaned up before lunch, and before bed. I’ve noticed that when they know they will have to clean up, they will be more reserved in pulling toys out. Since turning three, my son cleans his room before breakfast. It takes longer to have him do the work than to do it myself, but I’m told the effort will pay off later.
Of course, putting everything away as you go is an old tried and true philosophy to clutter control. As much as it lies with me, I try to practice putting things away as I finish with them, and encourage my children to do the same.
I have found that moving does wonders for motivating me to discard unneeded items. If you haven’t had the privilege of being forced to move more than once a year in the past couple of years, you may want to make a yearly project of pretending that you’re going to move, and reconsidering the value of the objects that you own. Many people do this as part of spring cleaning, but it could be done at any time of year.
I also find it to be helpful to plan to continue maintaining a discard storage area which I then clean out from time to time. If unwanted clothes and toys are already collected, activities like consignment and yard sales become much easier.
The emergency clutter sweep
My experience has been that even with all my most diligent planning and maintaining, clutter will still sometimes be out of control when I need it to be in order for company. When that happens, I do an emergency clutter sweep. This consists of taking my basket to one end of the house and putting all the clutter I find into the basket as I visit the rooms my company may use. I then put the basket in my bedroom and shut the door.
Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while before you feel that the clutter in your home stays under control. Simply continue reworking these processes and looking for new tricks. It will get easier with time.
What strategies work for you?