If you walk into your home, and the first thing you see is a dining room table full of mail, keys, bags, whatever, does that feel like a place you can unwind? Or does all the clutter notch your stress level up a bit, maybe you even feel guilty for thinking, for the 5th time, “I really need to take care of that.”
Clutter creates work, which in turn takes up your time, your energy, your chance to spend time with others, or do the things you enjoy. Even pretty clutter, like collections, or books, require a certain amount of maintenance, hence some of your time and effort. Now, I’m not saying we should all turn our houses into something out of a minimalist magazine, unless you just happen to dig that style. Certainly, it’s not for me; I like rustic, warm, and lived in, with just a hint of industrial. Whatever your style, the secret to an environment that you love, is to find that happy medium between almost-nothing and waaaay-too-much.
If you are long past way-too-much, or even suspect you are approaching it, then this post is written just for you! And if you happen to be someone like me, someone who is actively striving to live a little smaller, and live a little better, then I hope this helps you pare down to a level that make sense.
Easy Steps to Less Clutter
- Put yourself on a “stuff” buying freeze for the duration of your de-cluttering effort. No magazines, new kitchen gadgets, pillows, toys, new makeup or unessential hair care products, shoes, or whatever your stuff addiction may be. I’m willing to bet you have enough to get you through this little project already in your possession.
- Commit to a timeline. Don’t tell yourself, “I’m going to do this in a weekend.” You’ll just end up tired, and dusty, and more than a little grumpy. Instead, commit to a consistent and reasonable schedule to begin de-cluttering, then stick to it. For example, I decided to work on this project 4 hours every Friday, because that’s my day off, and it makes me feel like my weekend is off to a very productive start! 4 hours is enough to get quite a bit done, but not so long that I’m getting frustrated or tired by the end of it.
- Start with the smaller stuff. If an entire football team could easily hide in your garage, that’s probably not the best place to start. You will be overwhelmed before you really get going. Start with a closet, or a cabinet, or even just the junk drawers in the kitchen – you know the ones I mean. Success breeds enthusiasm, and as you conquer these smaller areas, you’ll be inspired to keep going!
- Develop a criteria for what stays and what goes. I like to keep it pretty simple, so here’s what I’m using to sort through everything:
- Is it used often? Daily or weekly is pretty reasonable to keep. If it hasn’t seen the light of day in 3 months, then it’s probably good to go. I exempt seasonal items, like Christmas decorations. That being said, if you have St. Patrick’s Day or Leap Year decorations, let ’em go.
- Do I have more of this item than I need? ie do I really need 7 different spatulas? Can I get by with less Halloween decorations? How many pairs of flip-flops are really necessary to my life?
- Is it in good repair? This is easy. If it’s not, pitch it.
- Does it add happiness to my life? Or put another way, will I be any less happy if I don’t have this thing? The answer is often “no” and if so, then why keep it?
- Does it create work, or eat up my time? Do you really want to spend time dusting the crystal? I don’t.
- Does it have genuine sentimental value, or am I keeping it because I feel like I should? My dilemma here is my grandmother’s, and my husband’s grandmother’s china. I have lugged it everywhere I’ve lived for 25 years and I have NEVER used it. It’s going, but I’ve got to check with family to see if anyone else has a burning desire to own it.
- Make a checklist of the areas to de-clutter. Post it on your fridge, and check off the areas you have completed. You can print off my checklist, which includes various areas, and suggestions for what can go.
- Sort as you go. When I go through an area, I have three large bags, one for things to recycle, one for things to donate, and one for things to throw away. Use the “one touch rule”; pick it up, and put it in the appropriate bag. Then move on to the next thing.
- Learn to recognize clutter, and throw it away. Sometimes, it’s been around so long, you don’t even notice it any longer. Here’s a short list of the no-see-ums, to get you started.
- Half pairs of earrings, or broken jewelry.
- Gift bags, wrapping paper, cards, stationary
- Outdated media, ie magazines, CDs, DVDs, Video Games, your 8-track collection
- Clothes and shoes you don’t wear or that don’t fit. Get rid of the hangers, too.
- Tax records and receipts more than 7 years old.
- All the extra glasses, cups, dishes, Tupperware, coffee mugs, etc you don’t use, or that don’t match. No family needs 24 coffee cups. I promise.
- Old craft supplies.
- Power cords to who-knows-what, old cell phones, old electronics
- Manuals to appliances, tools ,etc. If you really need them, they are usually online.
- Clean up the digital clutter, too. Delete old papers, old pictures, music you don’t listen to anymore, accounts you no longer use, unsubscribe to all the junk that clutters your email box.
- Use up what you have. Before you go out and buy new stuff, is it already in your house? Use up the nail polish, the bubble bath, the cleaners, etc before you buy more. Need cleaning rags; use old t-shirts that you no longer wear. Need packing; use old magazines. Halloween costume; Use an old shirt and tie. The point is to look at what you have, and can use or repurpose, before you auto-pilot your way to Target.
- Pare down the Tchotchkes. You don’t have to throw out every bauble or pretty you have collected, but take a long look and decide if you really like them, and if they are worth the work and time needed to keep them. If not, donate them.
- Go Digital. While shelves full of books are appealing, think of the space they take up, the resources used to make them. Get the Kindle app. Really. The same is true for CD, DVD, and video game collections. Almost everything can be downloaded or stored in the cloud, so you can let that stuff go. One of the best presents I ever got was a digital picture frame. Instead of being stuck in a scrapbook in the back of a closet, my pictures are on my desk where I can see them everyday.
- A place for everything, and everything in it’s place. Take a good look at that pile on the kitchen table. It’s most likely stuff that gets used everyday. So find a place for it, then teach the entire family to store it there. This has the extra advantage of knowing where things like your car keys, purse, kid’s shoes, etc are located, which will save you time in the long run.
- Maintain your un-cluttered life. Once you’ve gotten through the intial de-cluttering, be mindful of what you bring into your home, and what you keep. If you buy new clothes, take a few minutes to see what’s in your closet that needs to go. If your child wants a new toy, ask them to donate an old one to charity. (Bonus: It teaches that stuff isn’t as important as taking care of others.) When the current issue of your magazine shows up, put the old one in the recycling bin. You may even find after a while that things you just had to keep at first, really don’t have a place in your new, uncluttered world.