Clutter control made easy: If eliminating the clutter in your home sounds like a lot of work, consider how much work co-existing with that clutter causes. Professional organizers say if your home weren’t cluttered, 40 percent of your housework would evaporate. Also, if your office is orderly, you save yourself weeks of time each year-time that’s typically spent looking for papers and other materials. Yup, de-cluttering your home is itself a way to cheat at cleaning: It requires less effort than not de-cluttering.
Now, stop groaning-nobody’s going to tell you to get your home ready for a House Beautiful® photo shoot. That kind of “perfection” is no more real world than a Hollywood back lot. More reasonable goals leave room for the occasional messy dresser top, jumbled car trunk, or chaotic pantry shelf, goals such as:
In this article, we’ll look first at the “mental” side of clutter busting-simple ways of thinking about clutter that will help your home automatically fall into order. Then we’ll tackle the physical aspects of clutter: working with containers, shelving, and other hardware and getting optimum use out of the storage spaces available to you. Naturally, this chapter is brimming with the world’s best big-impact-for-minimal-work, corner-cutting advice.
Imagine a child’s toy box. Once a month, the child gets one new toy and puts it into the box. Every 6 months, the child stops playing with one of these toysit’s either broken or he finally admits that he’s outgrown it, and he gets rid of it. What’s going to happen over time, with more toys going into the box than are coming out? The toy box will overflow into an unsightly mess, and the child won’t be able to find the toys he wants.
Your house is much like that. Most of us have many more possessions entering the house (new stuff) than we have exiting the house (worn-out stuff). It doesn’t take a math genius to realize that this will eventually overburden all storage systems in even the largest homes. Possessions will be spilling out onto the floor, swamping the counters, and stacking to the ceiling in the garage. It’s clutter.
Why does this happen? In broad terms, we are the beneficiaries of the Industrial Revolution. Never in the history of humans have so many goods been available for so little money. Just to make sure that we remain suitably wanton in grabbing up new possessions, a mammoth marketing machine eggs us on with hundreds of “buy” messages every day. This explosion of consumer goods is so recent, historically speaking, that society hasn’t developed strong enough defenses against the onslaught. After all, there’s very little money to be found by providing the more helpful kinds of messages, such as “Purge your possessions and live more sim ply” or “You don’t really need a third television.” So businesses don’t do that. As a matter of self-preservation, you’re going to have to reinforce the “buy-less” lifestyle all on your own.
Start with “The Clutter-Buster’s Pledge”. These seven simple commitments will help you curtail your hyper-buying ways, break your irrational emotional bond with possessions, and manage the stuff you do keep so that you have the kind of home environment you really want. Photocopy the pledge, tape it to the inside of your closet door, and review it before every shopping trip. If a mere “attitude adjustment” can slay the Clutter Monster once and for all-well, that’s the very best kind of cleaning cheat.
STEP UP THE OUTFLOW
As you stem the flow of goods into your house, of course, your clutter problems will become easier to manage. However, there’s a second part of the equation on which you also can have a major effect: the flow of goods out of your house. Here are some easy ways to improve your home’s “outflow”-above and beyond taking the trash out each week.
QUESTION YOUR POSSESSIONS When you’re de-cluttering and you’re not sure whether you want to keep an item, ask yourself these five questions,
CLUSTER THOSE OUTBOUND ITEMS Create a little “way station” in your home for items that you’ve decided are headed out the door, These could include items you’re donating to a thrift store, a tool you borrowed from a neighbor, rental videos, library books, dry-cleaning, and clothing you need to return to a department store. If these things are lying all about the house, you won’t remember to take them with you the next time you’re running errands they’ll be that much more clutter. If they’re all assembled near the door, you’ll remember to snatch them up on your way out. I like to hang a shoe bag-like organizer on the back of my door. You also could hang an organizer on the back of your coat closet door or put the items in shopping bags on the floor of the coat closet.
GET ON A CHARITY’S PHONE LIST Many organizations regularly pick up donated items from residences. Phone around to find the groups that will call you the day before they plan to have a truck in your neighborhood. Make sure you have a clear idea of what kind of items the charity accepts. Some won’t take furniture, for instance.
SELL YOUR CLUTTER TO OTHERS Make a yearly yard sale an institution in your home. Don’t just scramble around the day before a yard sale, looking for disposable items in your house. All year long, sock items away in boxes in the corner of your basement-items of obvious value that nevertheless have no place in your life. Three months before the day of your yard sale, distribute a flier among your neighbors, asking them to schedule their yard sales on the same day. Have them share the cost of a classified ad in the newspaper on the day of the sale-bargain hunters from miles around will be attracted to a street with multiple yard sales. Call around to find a charity that will agree to pick up all of the leftover items from you and your neighbors on the day after the sale. And make this a personal rule: No yard sale item may come back into the house.
HIRE A PRO TO TAKE IT AWAY It’s a sign of our times that Junk businesses are thriving. We find the main reason we’re growing is that people are spending money storing junk they’re never going to use,” Junk company will send employees to your home to pick up any clutter you ask them to. This saves you from having to load the junk, truck it away, and arrange for dumping. The company takes care of it all. Their services are particularly advantageous if you’re overwhelmed by a mountain of possessions you just want out of your life.
ORGANIZE BY STATIONS
Trying to de-clutter a typical home is enough to make anyone hyperventilate. However, we have a deliciously easy trick for organizing any home-a technique that strikes at the heart of clutter: View your home as a collection of “stations” for performing the household’s various functions.
Let’s consider an obvious example: Food preparation is a core function of the home, and the station for that is invariably the kitchen. You probably do an adequate job of ensuring that all items you need for food preparation are quickly and easily found right there in the kitchen-not in the basement, not in the garage, and not under little Joey’s bed. As you stand in your primary food-fixing spot, the items you need most-cutting board, knives, and frying pan, for instance-should be right at your fingertips. Infrequently used items should have homes farther away-your monster-size soup pot might go on a high shelf in the pantry, for example.
How does the idea of stations in the home control clutter? Well, in a home organ ized by function, items naturally gravitate toward where they need to be. The “home” for each item becomes more readily apparent, and an out-of-place or nonfunctional item will stand out like a streaker in the village square. If an object in your home is not serving any purpose, you have to ask yourself why it’s there-and set it on a fast track out the door. (Okay, you might argue that art objects aren’t part of a “station,” but your display items do serve a purpose and need to be managed as a group.) Also, the stations concept performs the psychological trick of breaking your home down into smaller, easily managed compartments. You may not be able to de-clutter the entire house when you find a spare 10 minutes, but you can do wonders with your sewing area in that amount of time.
When you regard your home in terms of stations, an interesting strategy emerges that will save you a lot of time and bother: Every station deserves to be completely outfitted with the tools and materials necessary to perform the assigned function. This will save you enormous amounts of time walking about the house looking for the myriad objects you need, say, to prepare a package for mailing. Your mail station will have tape, envelopes, boxes, stamps, scissors, labels, and anything else you need to get a package ready. No trekking to the kitchen or sewing room for scissors. The extra expense for duplicate supplies is nominal (those supplies will get used, after all) and the payoff is huge.
Here are quick notes about just a few other stations you might have in your home. Depending on your lifestyle, you’ll likely want to invent some of your own:
WORK STATION. Everything you need for conducting business, managing finances, and corresponding.
CLEANING STATION. Stock a portable cleaning caddy with spray cleaners, dusting cloths, brushes, and wipes. Have a cleaning station on each floor of the house.
LAUNDRY STATION. This contains everything you need for clothing management-washer, dryer, detergent, stain remedies, and iron and ironing board Of you must). You need a bar for hanging garments and good light for inspecting clothes for stains.
FITNESS STATION. A welcoming place with plenty of room for your treadmill, stationary bike, and weights, plus easy access to any audio or video gear you need.
AUTOMOTIVE STATION. Typically in the garage, carport, or shed, it contains car-cleaning materials, auto tools, extra windshield fluid, oil, and coolant.
CRAFT OR HOBBY STATION. Put all of your craft or hobby tools, materials, and reference books in one place, organized in easy-access storage containers. Consider such needs as good lighting, a work surface, and ventilation.
TOOL STATION. An unused wall in the basement is ideal for a large pegboard or some other wall mounted tool-organizing system. Have a worktable nearby, plus small grab-and-go toolkits already outfitted for your most common jobs. You need plenty of small containers for sorting hardware.
ENTERTAINMENT STATION. Cabinets for television, sound system, electronic game systems, plus generous storage for CDs, DVDs, game controllers, remote controls, and headphones. Stock a portable cleaning caddy with spray cleaners, dusting cloths, brushes, and wipes. Have a cleaning station on each floor of the house.
GIFT-WRAPPING STATION. This is the spot for all your wrapping paper, ribbon, tape, scissors, gift tags, plus a broad work surface. You might want to combine this with a mailing station. We recommend one more kind of station in the home: Each person in the house should have a personal staging area or launch pad. This is an assigned, dedicated spot where that person can park her purse, briefcase, cell phone, PDA, and keys. When she goes out into the world, all of the objects she needs to take along are right there. When she comes home at night, she drops everything in the same place. Kids need launch pads, too, for their book bags and shoes. The launch pad might be a drawer near the door, a bin, a basket, a shelf, or part of a counter.
SIMPLE STEPS FOR ATTACKING CLUTTER
No one is immune to clutter. As carefully as you might train yourself and your family to stop clutter before it starts, little infestations are inevitable now and then-a mound of magazines and books on the coffee table, Lego® pieces and action figures spilling across the family room floor, a car trunk brimming with tennis equipment and broken umbrellas. That’s only natural. But you can make a clutter-busting lifestyle just as natural with these simple steps.
1. NARROW YOUR FOCUS. Which are you more likely to accomplish over the next month: A 5-hour de-cluttering session, going top-to-bottom in your house? Or five separate i-hour de-cluttering sessions, hitting one clutter hot spot at a time? The latter, of course. If you wait until you can tackle the entire house, you’ll never get around to it. Make a habit of launching i-hour clutter attacks once or twice a week. Having that one corner of your home gleaming with order will inspire you to start plotting your next attack on clutter.
2. PULL AND PURGE. Drag everything out of the area that you’re de-cluttering. If your target is a pantry shelf, for instance, take all of the cans, boxes, kitchen gizmos, paper towel rolls, and jugs of juice off the shelf and spread them out on the floor. Be ruthless about disposing of anything you don’t need, has expired, or otherwise has no function in your life.
3. CLEAN. You won’t see your pantry this empty for months or years to come, so vacuum and dust it thoroughly. Some of the items you’re saving could stand a wipe down, too.
4. CATEGORIZE. Cluster all the like things together. In the pantry example, you would put the pasta and canned spaghetti sauce together, the soups and stock together, the baking ingredients together, the snack foods together, and the paper goods together.
5. SET PRIORITIES. Decide what items you need easiest access to (they’ll go on the mid-level shelves) and what items are used less often (high shelves, low shelves, and remote nooks).
6. CONTAIN. Decide how best to display and contain your items (use bins, baskets, hooks, and mini-shelves, for instance). Your arrangement should make the best use of the space available. Items should be visible and accessible. Use a flexible storage system that can adapt to changing needs.
A 10-year-old I know very well had two bookshelves in his bedroom that were chock-full of books he wasn’t using-most of them meant for younger kids.
The rest of his room was a mess because he was out of storage space. Hoping to create more storage for him, I asked him to pull off the shelves all the books he was willing to sell in the next yard sale. He pulled out 25 slim volumes. Disappointed, I then asked him to remove all of the books he was willing to put into storage in the crawl space. He filled several boxes with 400 books!
The moral of the story: Storage space is an important psychological tool. One reason homes stay cluttered is a reluctance to part with possessions. Putting them into storage is a comfortable alternative. When these items have been out of sight for a year, it will be easier emotionally to give them away or sell them.
Storage is a sort of magic wand for creating an orderly house. This applies not only to items you want to stash away for the long term but also to items you want to keep orderly-but still accessible-for daily use. Let’s take a look at how to best manage the storage spaces you have and how you can easily create new storage space when you need more.
WORKING WITH CONTAINERS
Give yourself permission to go crazy with containers. They’re one of the most basic tools for home organization, and they’re usually inexpensive. Here are some ideas for working with containers, from professional organizers and The Container Store .
USE TRANSPARENT CONTAINERS If you have items stored in opaque, unlabeled containers, you’re going to forget what’s in there. Those objects may be out of your way, but retrieving them will be a hassle. So make sure any storage containers you use are either see-through or labeled.
STACK THOSE BINS Vertical space in the typical home is woefully neglected. Stacking bins in your office, entertainment area, pantry, bedroom, or craft room will add tons of storage while only occupying a few square feet of floor space. For convenience, look for bins with slide-out drawers on the side.
TURN STACKS ON THEIR SIDE If you have a spot in your house where papers collect-say, on a dresser, counter, table, or credenza- you can bring them to order with a snap of the fingers. All you have to do is turn the pile onto its side. Buy a vertical folder organizer from an office store and plop it in the same spot where those papers gather. Create a folder for each category of paper and sort the documents into the files. The papers take up no more space, yet they’re instantly retrievable and look better to boot.
PUT SUPPLIES ON WHEELS Rolling carts are a powerful storage strategy, particularly for supplies that you need access to only for temporary work periods. Roll the cart out while you’re working, then roll it back to a closet or a remote corner of the room when you’re done. This works particularly well for cooking, office supplies, shop tools, and arts and crafts.
COVER THE CARDBOARD We like storage boxes that blend in with the decor of the room where they’re used. This is neither difficult nor expensive to achieve. Drop by an office-supply store and pick up a set of corrugated cardboard boxes, the handled kind meant for holding office files. Spritz the exterior of each box with spray glue and cover them in a fabric that works well with the rest of the room. For instance, you could cover the boxes in the same material you used for the room’s curtains. Park these boxes on a shelf. When it’s time to straighten up the room, pull the boxes out, dump the out-of-place objects into them, and slide them home again.
A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FURNITURE
We likes to outfit our rooms with furniture that’s designed to keep clutter off the floor and out of sight. Here are some of our favorites:
ARMOIRES. Station one of these closet-like cabinets in living room, dining room, and in each bedroom. In the main living areas, armoires house the televisions, game systems, and related gear. They’re smaller and less imposing than the typical entertainment center, and can change the tone of the room just by closing the door to hide the TV. In the children’s bedrooms, armoires provide a compact hanging space that’s easy for kids to manage themselves.
FOYER CREDENZAS. Many homes have some kind of surface near the front door where people coming in drop their purses, hats, keys, and such. Why not use a long dresser, one with six to nine drawers, and assign a drawer to each member of the household? That way the miscellaneous personal items will be hidden-but also easy to find when each person dashes out the door for the day.
STORAGE BENCHES. Shop for the kind of bench that doubles as a storage box, and park it in the foyer or in the mudroom. Your children can toss their book bags in there when they get home from school. Little tykes will love stashing a jacket, hat, and gloves there, since they usually can’t reach such items in a conventional closet. If you ask arriving guests to remove their shoes, a benchbox near the door hides the pile of footwear better than the commonly used basket.
DAY BEDS. Unlike sofas, day beds are built high enough that storage bins can be stashed underneath. With a few pillows across the back, you have a comfortable seating area, plus a backup bed for overnight guests. Use a bed skirt to hide the bins below.
MANAGING YOUR STORAGE ROOMS
When you have a bulky object you need to store away, where ya gonna turn? To the garage, attic, basement, crawl space, or shed, of course. These spaces are the utility infielders of the home front, the locations of choice for yard tools, shop tools, bicycles, out-of-season clothes, food bought in bulk, rarely used kitchen gear, backup refrigerators, sports equipment, and much more. Because they house such a hodgepodge of possessions, they stretch your organizational skills to the limit. With a few savvy techniques, however, you can vanquish those cluttered obstacle courses that build up in your storage rooms. Who knows-you might actually be able to park your car in your garage again.
Here’s how to get optimum, organized use out of your storage rooms with the least amount of effort:
HUNT DOWN NEW STORAGE SPACE
Gather up a pen, a memo pad, and a measuring tape. Take a 20-minute tour of your house, from your attic to your basement, from the garage to the shed. Jot down notes about every space in your home that could conceivably be turned into storage. Note the location of each space and its measurements. Include in your list the following:
You don’t need to convert every spot on your list into storage immediately. Identify the locations on your list that fall within the most clutter-prone areas of your home, and start your conversions there. Home-improvement stores, organizer stores, hardware stores, office-supply stores, and discount stores offer multiple ways to create functional, convenient storage out of any of the odd spaces in your home. Keep the list for future reference.
“Utilize every bit of space,”. In a home office, for instance, “A space between a column and a wall might be only 9 inches wide, but that could hold a year’s worth of paper on adjustable shelves.”
Now you are armed with the corner-cutting secrets for keeping an orderly and clutter-free home. Combine an organizer’s outlook with some inexpensive storage equipment and a penchant for cheating, and your home will be ready for a photo shoot in no time. Maybe not for House Beautiful® but surely for House Pretty Darned Good.
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