No matter how organized the home, just about everyone has clutter hot spots they’re always battling. In some homes, those hot spots are hidden behind doors or in drawers, while in other households they’re out in the open. Here’s the thing about clutter hot spots: if you make a point to keep them under control, you’ll find your entire house stays cleaner and more organized, too.
What Causes Clutter Hot Spots?
The reason taming clutter hot spots has such a profound effect on the rest of your home is best explained by the broken windows theory. This theory, based in criminology, basically says that ignoring something minor like a broken window leads to further acts of vandalism and destruction. On the other hand, where broken windows are tended to promptly the area remains more law-abiding and orderly.
The same goes for clutter: allowing it to accumulate on hot spots leads to more clutter and chaos around the rest of your home. If you enforce a no-clutter ordinance by policing your clutter spots, it will reduce the mess around the rest of your home.
Create a No-Clutter Ordinance
The first step is identifying your home’s clutter hot spots. Once you know where to enforce no-clutter zones you need to patrol them regularly. Do this by cruising by once or twice a day during times when the potential for clutter activity is at its highest. Nab any offending things you find and put them in clutter jail.
Your family (including you!) can bail their stuff out by doing some chores that kids can do. Before long you’ll find the risk of clutter jail deters kids from violating your no-clutter ordinances, so you don’t have to patrol your clutter hot spots nearly as often.
Clutter Hot Spots
1. The Kitchen Counter
Why it’s cluttered: Most single-family homes in the U.S. are built in such a way that the occupants enter through a door opening off the garage or mudroom that opens off the kitchen. Between this layout and peoples’ tendency to congregate there (they don’t call it the “heart of the home” for nothing), kitchen counters are major clutter hot spots.
How to get rid of the clutter: Clear the counters. Use kitchen organization tricks to find space for mail and keys, and to make room for gadgets and small appliances. Organize your pantry so you can move canisters and foodstuff into it. Set up a charging caddy next to your entertainment center, where using a power strip makes sense, to give cell phones a different resting place. Use an out-the-door station in your coat closet for wallets, papers and other items you need to take with you in the morning.
Enforcing the No-Clutter Zone: Police this area twice daily. First: after school or work, to keep things from getting just dumped on the counter. Second: before bed to ensure kitchen gadgets and foods were put away, and to guarantee you’ll start the next day with clutter-free countertops.
2. The Kitchen or Dining Table
Why it’s cluttered: Whether your dining table is in your kitchen or another room, a lot of things take place there besides eating like homework, bill-paying, board games, crafts, and conversations.
How to get rid of the clutter: A bare kitchen or dining table is a convenient landing spot for things people don’t feel like taking time to put away. Pay attention to that word “bare” — it’s why this is a clutter hot spot between meals. An easy solution is to keep the table permanently set: return placemats, plates, and tableware to the table after each meal. Set up a study space for your child to do homework elsewhere, and use that for crafts, too.
Enforcing the No-Clutter Zone: If you absolutely must use the table for activities require everyone to completely put away things before meal times, not just move them aside, then police this area after homework or craft sessions.
3. The bathroom vanity
Why it’s cluttered: People tend to be in a hurry leaving the bathroom, racing off to school or work. Also, they figure they’re just going to use the toothpaste, hairbrush, moisturizer, etc. later that evening, so why put it away? The result is a bathroom vanity that looks messy and is difficult to clean.
How to get rid of the clutter: Purge your bathroom of expired or unwanted products, so there’s room to put things away. If possible, give everyone their own bathroom drawer. Then they can just sweep items into it rather than having to put different things in different places — an irritation that keeps people from putting stuff away at all. If you’re short on space, look into clever bathroom storage solutions.
Enforcing the No-Clutter Zone: Police this area twice daily. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, after the kids are at school is a great time. Working parents may find it easier to patrol when everyone gets home. A second patrol after kids’ bedtime gets the vanity clear and ensures they start the day knowing things don’t belong sitting out.
4. The Bedroom Chair
Why it’s cluttered: Although a comfortable chair in the bedroom looks attractive, it often becomes a clutter hot spot. Laundry piles up there, as do purses, coats, and even wet towels. (If you have exercise equipment in your bedroom instead of a chair it tends to acquire the same type of clutter when not in use.)
How to get rid of the clutter: If you don’t routinely sit in your room (or use the exercise equipment), move it out of there. Think that corner of your room looks too empty without it? Put a silk tree, or even a corner electric fireplace/TV stand there instead.
Enforcing the No-Clutter Zone: Police this area right before going to bed. Time yourself while doing it for the first few nights and you’ll see it usually takes less than five minutes. Next time you’re tempted to ignore the pile of clothes on the chair, remind yourself how little time it takes to put them away.
5. The Coffee Table
Why it’s cluttered: The coffee table becomes a clutter hot spot for things people don’t want to have to leave the room to put away. This often includes dishes and drinking glasses, game or movie DVDs, magazines, books, and toys. Then there are the four different remote controls it takes to operate the TV.
How to get rid of the clutter: Provide a conveniently-located magazine rack to hold reading material. Stash toys in storage ottomans after playtime. Make sure you have ample and easily-accessed shelves or media storage for movies and games. Place an attractive tray or small crate on the coffee table to house the remotes as a signal this is no longer a clutter hot spot.
Enforcing the No-Clutter Zone: Patrol this area before dinner to ensure toys, games, etc. are put away. Patrol again before bedtime to make sure dirty dishes and other items are where they belong. This way every day starts with a clear, clutter-free coffee table.
Consistency is the Key
When it comes to banishing clutter hot spots, you’re breaking old habits (by putting offending items in clutter jail) and establishing new ones (by creating designated spots where things go instead). This takes consistent patrolling of your clutter hot spots and zero tolerance for violations, including your own.
Since getting back their stuff involves doing chores that kids can do (or, for grown-ups, a few one-minute chores), “clutter jail” teaches that being lazy about putting things away leads to extra work.
That’s a point kids (and sometimes spouses) don’t often understand: clutter turns into extra work for someone, usually the person who does the majority of the cleaning. When you turn clutter hot spots into no-clutter zones the extra work shifts from the person who cleans house to the ones actually responsible for the clutter.
You’ll be amazed how quickly they’ll learn to keep those clutter hot spots clear when they are the ones having to do the work!