Clutter. It’s that word we use to describe anything and everything that’s out of place in our homes. Clutter increases stress. It complicates our lives (have you seen the TV show Hoarders?). It has generated a demand for “professional organizers.” And — since Americans spend $25 billion a year on self-storage units — it is the bread-and-butter of an industry of clutter concierges that will help you pack it up, take it away, store it and bring it back.
It’s the “bring it back” part that we should really focus on to reduce the clutter in our homes. Seasonal items aside, it’s safe to assume that much of the stuff that gets in our way (to the point that we have to buy more storage for it!) is likely not being used anyway.
1. Manage everything you touch
Do not pick up a piece of “clutter” unless you have a plan for it: Use it, put it in its rightful place (if there isn’t one, create one) or get rid of it (trash it, donate it, sell it). You will never achieve order if you clean up one area of your home by cluttering up another.
2. Be less sentimental
The idea of keeping sentimental treasures is sweet, but it’s not entirely practical. There’s simply no reason to save that acrylic sweater that your first boyfriend gave you back in high school. And you don’t need every masterpiece your brilliant little artist created. Besides, how much are you actually enjoying anything that’s packed up in a box? If it’s something really meaningful, take a picture of it, or frame it and enjoy it every day.
3. Consider those less fortunate
Image: Lisa Butters-Lander
You’re drowning in useless clutter while others are making do without. Do your part to add a bit of balance by regularly donating gently used items that you really don’t need. Not convinced? Visit a homeless shelter for a little inducement.
4. Make some money
Image: Dave Lichterman/Flickr
Cluttered homes can be a source of some serious income! Sell your excess and unused things. Hold a garage sale and price to sell. (It’s nice to make a few bucks, but the overriding goal is to reduce the amount of stuff you have.) Take advantage of countless online auction sites (e.g. eBay, Listia) — just remember that you’re there to sell, not to buy.
5. Give clutter a new life
Image: Abhiram Kasina/Flickr.com
We go through electronics and technology as quickly as their makers can upgrade them. You’ll never again need that old iPhone or giant desktop computer. Recycle it right. You won’t wear those old eyeglasses again, but someone else can. And a local library might appreciate books, magazines and DVDs you no longer use.
6. Eliminate the trash
Admit it: some of your clutter is not worth donating, selling or saving. Saving that Barbie doll leg really serves no purpose. And that half-done craft project you started two years ago? You’re not going to finish it. If it’s broken or unusable, throw it away.
Now that you’ve reduced some of your clutter, make an effort to keep it that way:
7. Get organized
Not all clutter is stuff you want to recycle, donate, trash or sell. But if the things in your home are not easily accessible, then they’re likely not getting used as they should. Determine what items are without a dedicated place, and start there. If you don’t have a shelf (or drawer, or closet, or box) for an item that you need, then it’s time to create one. (Home Depot, $40)
8. Remember that organization and storage are two different things
Generally, you want to organize the stuff you use, and store the stuff you don’t. So your first task, obviously, is to determine which pieces should be organized and which should be stored. Then, on a regular basis, you should reevaluate your stuff: Things you aren’t using can be moved to storage, and things that have been in storage for a long time can be purged (using one of the tips above). (The Container Store, $52)
9. Utilize storage pieces
Take advantage of appealing storage and furniture pieces that let you hide your clutter in plain sight, so to speak. Many sofas and ottomans boast hidden storage compartments. Entryway benches and media cabinets come equipped with sliding doors and decorative bins to help you make the most of your space. Craft and discount stores are loaded with pretty baskets and boxes that will help you get stuff off the tables and floors and into order. (Overstock.com, $140)
After you’ve invested in the necessary storage pieces, it’s time to:
10. Stop shopping
For many, shopping is an enjoyable pastime. For others, it’s a way to relieve stress. Bottom line: We shop even when we don’t need anything. Rather than viewing shopping as a leisure activity, consider it something you do only when it’s necessary. Keep a list of items you have to buy (a new flat iron, a new set of dishtowels) so that when you do shop, it’s for those things you actually need. Meanwhile, find a new hobby.
11. One thing in = one thing out
Image: Mike Mozart/Flickr
Don’t bring a new shirt (or book or toy) into the house until you’ve purged one of your existing shirts (or books or toys). It’s old-school advice that’s easier said than done, but practice makes perfect.
12. Keep a basket in every room
Despite your best ongoing efforts, stuff from one room inevitably finds its way into another. Keep a small basket in each room of the house. Each evening, put the out-of-place items in the baskets, and each morning, return them to their proper place. (Pier 1, $72)
13. Re-evaluate every space
Every room of your home offers a creative solution for managing clutter. You just have to know where to look. In the entryway, hang pegs on the wall for coats and backpacks. In the kitchen, use hanging bins or baskets to corral mail and permission slips. Hang an over-the-door unit in the bathroom for robes, shower caps, towels. Store off-season clothes under the bed. The objective is to provide a home for things that might otherwise end up lying on the floor. (Wayfair.com, $263)
14. Enlist help
Image: David D/Flickr
Clearing the clutter is something the entire family can do. Toddlers can put toys in bins and books in baskets. Teens can make sure their coats and bags hit the rack and not the floor. If you’ve achieved success in all of the above steps — and everything has a home — then order is easier to maintain long-term.
15. Accept less than 100 percent
Take the pressure off your family (and yourself) and accept that clutter will never be completely out of sight. Your home is where you live, and it’s unreasonable to think that it should always look like a show place. Do your best, and be happy with it.