Secrets to a Clutter-Free Home

You’ve scrutinized every drawer, sifted through every piece of clothing, and yet, that clutter you worked so hard to get rid of keeps coming back. Is there a way to stop it once and for all? Yes, and no.

Clutter will always enter our lives. Through mail and little one’s artwork, through gifts given, through life itself. Clutter is part of life. But don’t you wonder if there isn’t a way to maintain a clutter-free home? I’m here to tell you, there is.

 

The World Before This One

I lived a different life before I moved to the Pacific Northwest. In Minnesota, with my husband and two boys, our home was a constant source of activity. I don’t think there was a single sport one of our kids didn’t try, all the way through their high school years. When they were young, I’d drive home after work, pop food in the oven, and run to whatever activity was going on that night.

A few years later, I quit my desk job to start a daycare in our home. Six children, Monday through Friday, ten in the summer. It was hectic, to say the least.

Four years after that, I began homeschooling while working two or three part-time jobs, and managing a house. (No need to say it, yes, I know I was crazy.)

My oldest son attended private school during his high school years, and our youngest remained homeschooled. They had many friends, and when the weekend arrived, you could usually find six of their friends hanging out in our 1500 square foot home (yup, eight teenage boys all weekend long. Some of the best memories of my life.)

In all those years, with all those activities, constant commotion, tons of sport equipment, job projects (did I mention I worked at home?), daycare necessities, and the requirements of life, you would think our house would have been a disaster. But it wasn’t. In fact, parents often told me how neat and tidy our home was.

“What’s your secret?” they’d ask.

“I’ll never tell,” I’d say with a smile.

It really wasn’t much of a secret. I’d always been a bit on the minimalist side (completely opposite my guy), quite a neat-freak (again, opposite of a few people – I won’t say who this time, Honey), and loved cleaning (yes, I know, weirdo).

Still, with all that stuff going on in one home, it was a lot to keep the clutter from taking over our lives. Somehow, with a few little tricks up my sleeve, I managed. Below are my secrets to a clutter-free home.

 

Steps to Controlling Clutter Before It Controls You
Number One:
Keep ‘Stuff” In Designated Spots.

Daycare requires a lot of ‘stuff.’ Papers, crayons, markers, paints. Beads and strings, glues and tiny scissors. In boxes, marked, kept in one spot. The trick here isn’t just keeping it tidy, it’s about controlling buying habits. I love craft stores, and could have bought more than I ever did, but I had to learn self-discipline, and buy only what I knew we would use.

Even when buying toys for the munchkins in my daycare, I needed discipline. I bought basics – blocks, building toys, rattles for the babies, books and music. No more than necessary. You know what? They never got bored. The most important part of having toys is putting them away after playtime. I told them it was a game – they loved it, which made my job easier.

Homeschooling also requires a lot– books, paper, games, crafts, and science projects. Seriously, I could have purchased a truckload. But I didn’t. After all, one can only use so much. Again, everything was kept in one place.

Our home had a designated place for shoes and coats. Whether just our sons coming through the door, or their friends following them, everyone was expected to use that spot.

Number Two:
Keep a Designated Place for Items to be Given Away.

Keep a bag or box handy for thrift store donations. (It seems there is always something to get rid of.) Place it by the back door, or in an accessible and visible spot in the garage – somewhere you can quickly grab it and bring it to your local charity. Mine is in my coat closet. I see it every time I grab my shoes or jacket. It’s a great reminder to let go.

Have a handy place for items you are giving to friends and family. I use a closet shelf for this. Whether you have outgrown children’s clothes you are saving for a friend, or books and movies for the library, put it a spot you can’t miss.

Number Three:
Be a Tosser.

Get rid of garbage. Ever open a cabinet and see outdated medications, or sit down in your office to a pile of papers? When you know something is trash, toss it immediately.

That goes for mail as well. And packages. As soon as they arrive, take care of them. Open the mail, recycle the junk, put away the important stuff.

Toss extras from take-out, like those ten ketchup packages and napkins. (Will you ever really use them?) Toss old drawings from your children. (You can’t keep everything, plus, trust me, they will never know.) You can even toss those old little Happy-meal type items that sit in the corner of a closet.

Number Four:
Purchase Only What You Need.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought extra because it was on sale. Guilty! Two summers ago, I was shopping the outlet mall for a new pair of shorts. I hardly ever wear shorts, so I only needed one pair. Yet, when I walked into one of my favorite stores, there was a deal going on I couldn’t resist. Yup, a two-for-one sale. I bought a second pair, even though I didn’t really like them. And there they sat in my drawer till I gave them away. Buy only what you need, even if the deal is amazing.

This goes for everything, from toiletries to food. It’s so easy to purchase more than we need, because it looks like an amazing deal. But guess what, there will always be a deal, somewhere. I guarantee it. (It’s a trick retailers use to get us to buy, always making us think there will never be another special on that item. Don’t fall for it!)

Number Five:
Put it away!

Grab shoes and laundry that are sitting on that bottom step, and bring it upstairs with you. Hang up jackets when you get home (and teach children to do the same – install hooks at a lower level if you need to). Drop your purse, wallet, etc., in their designated places.

That goes for everything. Fold clothes and put them away immediately. Put groceries in cabinets as soon as you get through the door. Make children put their things in their rooms.

Number Six:
Stop the Unnecessary Gifts.

This is tough. People love to show affection by giving. I know I do. Giving is great, only it’s easy to end up with too much stuff. Ask anyone with children.

I wrestle with this myself. I want to give, but I don’t want our children and their families to be overwhelmed with too much ‘stuff.’ I also want to be a good receiver, but how do you tell someone to not buy anything for you?

Lucky for my husband and me, our family has figured out how much we’ve minimalized, and how little we want or need. In the last few years, they’ve given us some amazing gifts – wine, food, hot sauce making kit, slippers, and a gift certificate to a restaurant.

Be honest when someone asks what you want for your birthday, or any occasion. Let them buy something that you truly desire. And do the same for them.

Number Seven:
Use Your Time Wisely.

The biggest secret of staying clutter-free is efficiency. We all have a few extra minutes in our day, whether we think so or not. (Granted, if you ask me, extra minutes should be used for prayer and just breathing, reading a good book, or strolling through a park. But sometimes that’s not possible, and sometimes it really is only a minute or two that we can spare.) While you’re waiting for a tea kettle to boil, or for a child or spouse to come out to the car, something can get cleaned out. Go through a drawer, your purse or wallet, toss old condiments from the fridge, throw those old insurance papers sitting in the glove compartment.

If anything needs extra minutes, it’s the kitchen, the most used room in the house. This is the one room you never want to get out-of-control, and the room that always does. It’s the catch-all for everything from our own work to our children’s, sports equipment, jackets, boots, and mail.

Keep designated spots for all items, baskets and hooks for each family member. Keep paperwork in a different room. No matter what you do, the kitchen will get messy. It’s where we eat, laugh, and create. And truth is, as tidy as I am, I can make a mess as well as anyone else. But I’ve learned a few things to keep my kitchen clean: Wipe-up as you go. Rinse utensils and bowls, and place them in the dishwasher immediately. Wash counters as soon as you spill. Clean pans right away.

There you go, my secrets to a clutter-free house. It’s a lot of information, I know. But it doesn’t all need to be done at once. Life is a journey. One step at a time. Besides, no matter what we do, how hard we try, life will always be messy and a little clutter-y. I know mine is. I kind of like it that way.

Enjoy life!

I would love to hear your secrets for keeping a clutter-free home.

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Should a Minimalist Have Hobbies?

Are you a hobby hoarder? I was. I owned so many craft items, I had a room dedicated just to my hobbies. Kind of crazy, huh?

My craft room was filled from end to end with three desks, easels, canvases, paints of every color, brushes and accessories; a sewing machine with baskets of material, threads and needles, all placed neatly on a shelf; creamy-colored beads, bright, shiny baubles, ribbons and wire and string, bins full of jewelry-making supplies.

But that wasn’t all. Oh, no, because once I started crafting, it became an addiction, and I couldn’t get enough. I bought a leather-punching kit, a hammer, glue gun, thick wire to bend. I tried embroidery, stamping, and bought everything possible to make greeting cards. And of course, the many journals with ideas piled high on my desk.

But you know what? I rarely used my crafts. After work, I’d run by the room, longing to go inside, but usually didn’t. My crafts were time-consuming, and with so many choices, I never knew where to begin.

My crafts became a stress, something I felt guilty about. It seemed like there was too much to do, and never enough time to do them. I had once longed for a craft room, and when I had it, I was overwhelmed. It didn’t get better.

After my brain injury, the stress magnified. The craft room blurred into a wild kaleidoscope of colors that made me nauseous when I walked by. I couldn’t focus on anything, and would slam the door in frustration. Too many pieces, too many things. The room sat untouched until we moved.

Four years ago, my husband and I arrived in our new home. We brought every piece of my hobby room with us, but still, I didn’t use them. It wasn’t until my journey into minimalism that I saw hobbies in a whole new way.

I released many items from our home – old shoes, knick-knacks, books, a flag, kitchen utensils, and even furniture – when one day, I opened a closet door. Inside were my craft items, neatly displayed.

Just thinking about it now stresses me out. All those things I never used, so much time, energy, money, lost. I think how my stomach ached each time I saw them, how anxious I became when they entered my thoughts. I think of how I thought I was supposed to have all those crafts, though I never knew why.

I knew it was time to let go. I released it all, every last jar of paint, every spool of thread, every bead and bauble, every glue and hole punch. Even the sewing machine was given away. And for the first time in a long, long time, I could breathe. Stress was gone from my closet, no longer in my home. Guilt didn’t sit in an unopened box.

Hobbies are a necessity, I truly believe that. They bring out our creative side, give us a way to release. But when hobbies themselves become the stress, it’s time to let them go.

I still have hobbies, but they are few, requiring little space, time, equipment- exactly what my brain needs. A couple sketch pads sit nearby, a little leather pouch with my pencils. I read, do yoga, and walk.

Should a minimalist have hobbies? Absolutely. But only if they truly bring joy.

What are your hobbies?

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Simple Changes in Minimalism

We are always changing, a constant evolution from one thought to another, a continuous progress of our minds.

We change our schedules when old ones no longer work, change food to fit new diets. We change our wardrobes to fit the style of the new people we have become. We move furniture in our home, and take a new route to work.

There is certainly nothing wrong with change. It shows we are growing, moving forward, expanding our horizons.
It’s the same way with minimalism. What we need one day, we may not need another. We let it go, and become someone new.

The opposite works as well. If you’ve read my previous posts, here, and here, you know I’ve purged thousands of dollars worth of items from my home. While I’ve never regretted letting go of so much ‘stuff’, there were two things I missed.

The first was my exercise ball. It was big and bulky, and at the time I had this crazy idea of what minimalism was, and it did not include a big rubber ball sitting in the corner of my room. So I gave it away. Only, as time wore on, I missed that rubber ball. I missed how much better I felt when I used it. I purchased a new one.

The other item was my crockpot. When I gave it away, I wasn’t using it. It was old, and I had more time to cook on the stovetop. But my needs have changed, my life has changed, and that crockpot is exactly what I need. I bought new, and much better, one.

I admit, it was hard to rebuy things I had once given away. But then I remembered, I am not the same person I once was. I am someone new. Like the things in my home, I have changed.

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Dust Bunnies

I’m hoarding dust bunnies. Who knew? I guess I should have, after all, I haven’t seen beneath my sofa or dressers in the almost four years I’ve lived here. But when my husband and I moved the bookshelves out of the study, there they were – tiny little bunnies all snuggled against the wall.

They weren’t very cute.

They make me sneeze, wheeze, and cough at night.

The perfect cure would be to rid our home of carpet. Bunnies love carpet, burrowing down, waiting to attack allergy-sufferers. Bunnies love to tuck deep inside the fibers, hidden amongst pet dander, mold, and even the little pollens that float in from outdoors.

Which makes carpet really, really gross. Here are a few (not-so-fun) facts about carpet:

-An infant can swallow 10 grams of dust a day (by crawling on the floor). Ten grams! Yuk. (home.howstuffworks.com – sourced from Green Guide)

-Dry vacuuming doesn’t pick up dust mites. (Webmd.com) In fact, when using a standard vacuum filter, allergens may escape back into the room. Nice.

According to carpet manufacturers, carpet is not a problem for allergy sufferers. They argue that carpet can be cleaned, and even site a study in which the incidence of allergies went up when carpet was replaced with hardwood floors.

I would love to know more about those claims. For instance, what is the carpet cleaned with? If it’s chemicals, is that better? Doesn’t that affect people with asthma the same, or more, than the mites themselves?

And what about that study? I have a hard time believing those were true hardwood floors. It’s hard to come by real wood anymore. Most of it is manufactured, and filled with all kinds of toxic glues. I wonder what that does to someone with allergy and asthma problems.

I wish I knew the answers to those questions, but I don’t. And honestly, even if I dug really deep, I’m not sure I’d ever get the real facts.

But I do know this, when I am around carpet, I have more problems. I sneeze and cough, get headaches, am stuffed up, and wheeze at night. No one can tell me that carpet isn’t a problem.

I’d love to get hardwood floors. But there are two problems. First, they are expensive. Second, like I said before, it’s hard to find real wood. It is engineered, veneer, plywood, and horrible glues that cause their own set of problems.

So for now, I am stuck with carpet fibers that clutch the dust bunnies. I will sneeze and wheeze until I can figure out how to rid my home of tiny critters.

And maybe I will have to move my furniture more often – before the dust bunnies have a chance to repopulate.

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My Eight Favorite Frugal/Budget Sites

What began as a journey into minimalism turned into a road of simplicity. Simplicity turned towards frugality, and frugality into budgeting. Funny how a path you think is so simple can take so many turns.
But I’m happy it has, and so is our bank account.

I’m not even close to being a money/budget/frugal expert, but I do know this, once I began saving, I couldn’t stop. To help me along the way, I enlisted the help of a few experts online. Listed below are a few of my favorites. As you explore them, don’t be surprised if you find hints of wisdom about minimalism and simplicity. It seems they are all tied together.

My Favorite Frugal/Budget Sites:

Living Well, Spending Less – What’s not to like? Ruth has it all. I especially love her “smart money” section. If you can’t find what you are looking for on this site, it probably doesn’t exist.

Wise Bread – I don’t know how long this site has been around. It feels like forever. In any case, it is absolutely filled to the max with everything from personal finance to career, with college stuff thrown in the mix. So much information, you will need days to explore this site.

A Cultivated Nest – Cute and well-put-together, this site is perfect if you need ideas on frugal projects for your home or garden. But check it out for yourself, there’s even more to explore on this site.

The Dollar Stretcher – Can’t have a list of frugal sites without mentioning stretcher.com. It is everything you can imagine about finance – budgeting, saving money, complete with categories like college and retirement. The topics in the food section alone overwhelm me – from babies to coupons to leftovers, and everything in between. If you want to save money, this site is for you.

Little House Living – More about simplicity than frugality. But like I said before, they kind of go hand-in-hand. Merissa is adorable, sharing loads of tips on saving money and recipes from scratch. Wish I had half her ambition.

Living on a Dime – Another great site with tons of frugal living advice, recipes, and even a section on staying organized.

Frugal and Thriving – A well-designed site, full of information, everything from saving money on food to paying bills, and much in between. One of the reasons I enjoy this site is because she recognizes the importance of a simple life.

And Then We Saved – Anna had a load of debt, $24,000 in fact. Within 15 months, it was gone. If anyone knows how to scrimp and save, it is Anna.

There you have it, my eight favorite frugal living/budget sites. What are your favorites? Share them in the comments below.

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