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