How to Attain and Maintain a Clutter-Free Home

4 years ago

I wish someone had told me this years ago, instead of pointing me toward The Container Store, or the magazine Real Simple, or suggesting that closet systems and storage bins were the answer to my problem.

Finally, after years of clutter and struggling to keep our house clean, my husband and I learned the secret:

Get rid of things until your possessions fit inside your home.

So simple, so straightforward . . . and so difficult.

I don’t think I ever realized what it really meant to have a life that fits. There is very little in our culture that tells us we will be okay with less — it’s always more, more, more, and newer, better, and bigger.

It took a fundamental shift to realize I needed less, and would be happier with less, and could manage day-to-day life better with less.

But it is profound how much more enjoyable everyday tasks are when you don’t struggle against clutter. When you can open a drawer easily and find what you need. When you can put folded clothes away and actually close the drawer. When you can have friends over and not spend half an hour frantically throwing things into a closet so your house looks presentable before they arrive.

It makes a difference.

Credit Image: mikecogh on Flickr

And then it makes more of a difference when cleanup takes a fraction of the time it did before — because you simply don’t have as much stuff to put away.

It’s like taking a deep breath of fresh, cleansing air every day.

So how to start on this path of de-cluttering?

1. Start with something small and manageable, but that makes a big difference.

For us, it was the kids’ room. (But it could be a particular closet, or desk, or other room). We went through and got rid of every broken toy, then every one they didn’t play with any more, then finally every one that simply didn’t fit. In all honesty, it wasn’t an overnight project. It took us months.

But then one day I looked into their room, and I realized we could put everything away in a couple minutes. We could make the bed. They could find the toys they loved.

I wanted that for the rest of my house.

2. Repeat the process, room by room, and closet by closet.

We started with things that were easy to let go of, and were surprised that the more we de-cluttered, the easier it was. We could finally see what was important to us, and what was dragging us down.

We had to start by just giving things away. We were so overwhelmed with stuff and wanted so badly to be out from under the weight of it that we couldn’t even think about getting organized enough to sell it. We just wanted it to be gone.

3. Start by donating and throwing away before you tackle selling.

When we had enough closet space to set aside a “sell” pile, we managed to get together with friends and do a yard sale. It was a big success for us, but we still had leftovers. That got divided into an eBay pile and a Goodwill pile.

The eBay pile fits into half the guest-bedroom closet, and the Goodwill pile immediately got put into the truck and donated. We continue to go to Goodwill about once a week as we get stricter about what we really need.

What’s so amazing is the effect it’s had not just on the cleanliness of our home, but our finances and outlook about “needs”. We look at everything we use every day and say, “does this make sense to have in our life? If not, what should I do with it?”. If it’s not useful to us anymore, it’s thrown away, donated, or put up for sale. And we use the same process when it comes to buying things.

Is this important? Is it useful? Is it necessary? Is it necessary right now?

If it doesn’t pass these tests, it doesn’t stay, or it doesn’t come into our house.

This new mindset has become most clear in our preparations for the new baby. The only thing on our “must have” list for this baby is a car seat.

I purposely avoid baby magazines, or the baby aisles in stores, because I know they will tempt me with adorable things and make me wonder if life will really be as good if I don’t own it.

Instead I sit on my couch in my newly decluttered home, listen to my boys play in the mud outside, and look around my living room, which neatly fits only the things I need, and think about how full my life is when I’m only hanging on to what I can hold.

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