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Cut through the clutter

It’s hard to get organized if you are drowning in clutter, both physical and mental (and physical clutter creates mental distress!).

Part of de-cluttering is identifying the situation that is causing the problem in the first place. If your kids come home from school and dump everything on the kitchen table, perhaps you need to set up an organized, convenient spot for the backpacks and jackets, and invest a little time to install hooks and a shoe rack. If the mornings are chaos, you need to reconsider what you can accomplish the evening before to help limit forgotten lunches, missing socks, and fighting over bathroom time. If you simply clean up and de-clutter without addressing the underlying issues, it won’t be long until you’ve got the same problem all over again. So while you’re getting rid of all the excess stuff in your house and identifying areas that need work, always ask yourself why it got that way in the first place.

The best methods for dealing with clutter are often dependent on the area of the house you are trying to manage, such as a closet or kids’ rooms, which we will cover in individual chapters. There are some basics for cleaning up and avoiding general clutter in your home, however.

First, here’s what NOT to do:

1. Don’t go to the store and buy all kinds of containers, racks, baskets, and organizers. Shopping for items to get yourself organized before you have gotten to the root of the problem, devised a system, and evaluated what you really might need causes…more clutter. It can also waste money, too. Most of the best clutter-busting or organizing ideas cost little or nothing and don’t require much more than a little elbow grease and a system. Hold off on the purchases until the last step.

2. Don’t try to do everything all at once. De-cluttering and organizing is like losing weight. You didn’t gain it all overnight, so you can’t expect to lose it overnight. All that stuff you’ve accumulated got there over time. The systems that aren’t working, or the lack of systems, are born of habits, and habits take time and discipline to break. Start with one small project, and then maybe take on one new thing a week. You’re busy, and the last thing you need is a huge, overwhelming project and life-change. Baby steps are in order here.

3. Don’t get rid of all your stuff. Yes, you need to de-clutter and make some hard choices, but there is room for saving those sentimental items and your fabric stash, as long as you establish a neat, organized way to deal with them. Often, you read organizing advice that says you shouldn’t buy in bulk or stock up when your favorite shampoo is on sale. I disagree. Part of being organized and efficient is limiting shopping trips and out-of-toilet paper emergencies. Usually clutter is not about the amount of stuff you have (unless you have a hoarding issue); it’s all in how you deal with it. One of the most organized people I know goes shopping at garage sales every week. She never fails to find treasures to bring home, but she doesn’t let them turn into clutter.

4. Don’t expect your family to be excited about the changes. You are going to be asking your spouse and your children to make some changes and build new daily routines. People are, in general, resistant to change. If you know this in advance and cheerfully encourage (rather than nag), stick to the program, and cut everyone a little bit of slack, they will soon see that the changes actually save them time and trouble. Soon the new ways will be good habits.

Here are some general principles for conquering the clutter in your home:

1. Identify problem areas. Is the living room coffee table a dumping spot for toys, school papers, and other miscellaneous items? Are you always fighting a mound of plastic sacks that are stuffed in the pantry? These problem areas need to be de-cluttered, but they also need a new system to keep the same problem from happening again.

2. Deal with things immediately. Instead of piling up mail or throwing jackets on a chair to pick up later, spend the extra few seconds to deal with potential clutter before it becomes a problem.

3. Develop systems to stay organized, and stick to them. Instituting a 10-minute clean-up every night and planning the next day with everyone after dinner is a small investment of time that will do wonders for your home and save time in the long run

4. Shop wisely. Before you buy something, ask yourself if you truly need/want it. Imagine yourself six weeks from now. Would you still want the item? If they answer is yes, ask yourself if you have a place for it. If the answer is no, is there something you would be willing to throw away or donate to make space for it? If the answer is still no, do not buy it.
For tips and strategies like these, check out The Organized Mom.

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Laura Torres

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