No matter how diligent you are about cleaning, until you learn how to stop household clutter your home will still look messy even when it’s not. So how do you stop household clutter? First, you need to understand what clutter is, then make a plan to address it and take steps to follow your plan every day. (Or just follow my plan in my book, 30 Days to a Clean and Organized Home.)
Really, that’s all there is to it.
How To Stop Household Clutter
Know What Clutter Is and Is Not
Simply put, household clutter is anything sitting where you don’t want it to remain permanently. The laundry on your stairs. The hair clip in your underwear drawer. The bowl from the popcorn you ate in front of the TV last night. You probably have places where you’d rather all these things go. In the case of the things just mentioned, that would be the dresser, bathroom drawer, and the dishwasher, respectively. From there, it’s pretty obvious that if you want to cut or reduce household clutter, you first have to decide where each thing belongs.
It’s that last bit that trips up most people. They look around their home and see so many things out-of-place that they can’t possibly imagine doing anything about it. But the solution to dealing with household clutter is much like that adage about how to eat an elephant: you do it one bite at a time.
Rather than look over an entire room (i.e., the elephant), focus on one small area. What’s bothering you the most? What will give you the greatest sense of accomplishment with the very least amount of effort? For me, that’s my kitchen island: a big flying-V thing where my family loves to dump anything in their hands when they walk in the door. As it happens, I need to use that kitchen island every time I cook a meal, so I am constantly battling its clutter. Once I’ve cleared it, I usually find myself moving on to other spots like the kitchen desk (where the things my family brought in should have gone in the first place), the coffee table, the stairs, etc.
Methodically Remove The Clutter
Start with one surface and look at everything that’s on it. Then work methodically:
1. Toss the trash. This is often the bulk of clutter on horizontal surfaces in the kitchen and family room. Get it out of the way and suddenly the elephant task doesn’t seem nearly as huge.
2. Put away things that belong nearby. Many times, the things on a surface belong in the same room, but someone was too lazy to actually put them away. On my kitchen island that usually means someone’s dirty drinking glass (which should go in the dishwasher), and the day’s mail (which should get processed immediately). Take care of what belongs in the same room where you’re working, and your elephant… I mean, mess… will get smaller quickly.
3. Gather things that go to the same place. If several items go to another room (like the stack of comic books and sweatshirt my son left on the kitchen island this morning), take them there in one trip. This will keep you from running all over the house returning one item at a time.
4. If something doesn’t have a permanent place, maybe it doesn’t deserve one. By now, you’ll have a mostly clean surface. What’s still there? On my kitchen island, the remnants included some coupons I’d clipped a month or so ago and a brochure for a history course on DVD that I’d thought about taking. We’ve gone to the store several times without using those coupons, and I don’t have an extra hour every night to sit watching a DVD. Once I acknowledged both facts, it was obvious that stuff had no business staying on my counter.
5. If you absolutely must keep something, find it a permanent spot. Sometimes we get new stuff. Sometimes that stuff doesn’t have a dedicated spot yet. That slick expandable folder on my counter where I’ve kept my husband’s medical bills does not belong on my counter, but I really hadn’t found it a permanent spot yet. Rather than continuing to shuffle it from left to right, I took the two minutes to tuck it into the cupboard over my kitchen desk. Now when the days’ massive stack of medical bills and insurance statements arrive, it’s handy enough to grab and no longer household clutter.
Deal With Household Clutter for 10 Minutes, Twice a Day
If you have time to update your Facebook and Twitter status, you have time to do something about clutter. If you aren’t using that time to do something about clutter, then you don’t really want to. What you want to do is whine about your household clutter. It may sound snarky, but that’s the truth.
Set a timer in the morning, and again at night. Use the time you’re waiting for the coffee pot to brew, the oven to preheat, the school bus to arrive, etc. There are plenty of things you can accomplish in one minute.
The real key is to just do something, and then once you’ve purged clutter from one room move on to the next. Keep at it, and eventually you’ll have conquered that elephant… I mean, your house.