We want a clutter-free space. We see the clear countertops in the ads and the smiling homeowner beaming with pride as she calmly sets down the perfect meal, complete with intricate garnishes, on the impeccably-laid table.
Who do advertisers think they are kidding? Our lives are in a state of controlled mayhem, at best. There is rarely enough time in the day to be creative with the tablescape, let alone put all our stuff away properly.
Clutter is insidious. We have no idea where it comes from, how it multiplies, or how to get rid of it once it's taken root.
It can be overwhelming. It helps to remember that it didn't simply appear overnight, so trying to erase it in one go is unrealistic. (Fear not though, you can triumph over clutter!)
Decluttering is a process. Your chances of lasting success skyrocket with a carefully considered action plan. You likely won't last long if you just grab a trash bag and start tossing.
Planning can be as simple as decluttering one bookcase, then another. After you finish decluttering, the maintenance program will ensure the clutter doesn't invade again.
It's important to remember that clutter is not just about things. It's also about how you think about the items in your home.
If you have an insatiable desire to eat chocolate every time you smell it, not walking by the chocolate shop will help, but it doesn't eliminate the urge. You may declutter your home and be able to see the countertops, but the reality is that clutter may come back if you don't understand and consider why it happened, how it got there, and how to avoid it going forward.
What Is Clutter?
So, what is clutter, anyway? What is the definition? You can only get rid of it if you know what it is.
Technically, clutter is any object that is out of its designated place. (Note this definition assumes you have a designated space for each of your possessions.)
The dinner plate becomes clutter if left on the coffee table after the TV show ends. Those five t-shirts living in the sock drawer are clutter. The stacks of magazines on the floor beside the sofa, which you think you need to keep but never look at, are clutter.
The extra makeup on the countertop because the makeup drawer is full is also clutter. Similarly, the extra makeup in the makeup drawer — the makeup you aren't using any longer or have never used — is clutter because it is not in the designated place, either the charity bin or the trash.
How To Get Clutter Under Control
Here are twelve things you can do, starting today, to help you get clutter under control. The first five will prime your brain to declutter. They will set you up for success. The remaining seven will help you get the physical declutter happening.
1. Get a Staging Area Set Up To Make Decluttering Easy
Be clear about how you will sort things — sell, donate, trash, or give away — and plan how you will get things to those places. For example, if you plan to sell something, you need a place to take a picture of the item and then a place to put it while it waits for the sale. No, it doesn't go back where it was.
Next, you need large garbage bags; see-through ones can help avoid an “Oops, I sent the trash to the donate shelter and the donate bag to the trash” situation. Finally, you need a dedicated area for each item. You may fail if you stage in a cluttered room.
2. Talk to Your Housemates
Encourage your housemates to be part of the new plan. If they don't want to be part of your plan, you must determine how you can live with their decisions.
3. Commit To Cleaning Your Space Regularly
Commit to a plan, such as the downstairs bathroom on Tuesday, the front porch and hallway on Wednesday, the living room on Thursday, etc. If you are time-challenged, split the tasks. For example, do the tub and sink one day and the toilet, mirror, and floor on another day. Moving things to clean around them is one guaranteed way to reduce possessions.
4. Spend at Least Five Minutes a Day on Self-care
Self-care does not have to cost money. Spending five minutes sitting with your dog (or the neighbor's dog) is self-care. Taking long, slow sips of cool water on a hot day, served in a beautiful glass, is self-care. Getting a box of crayons and coloring a mandala you downloaded for free is self-care. The key is doing something very different than your normal daily activities, just for you. This activity can help keep your mind clear and your stress level low.
5. Learn About Clutter
Spend a few minutes each day learning about clutter and how it happens. Find a course, search YouTube, or join a Facebook group.
6. Start With Your Kitchen
Your kitchen is an excellent place to start decluttering; you'll get lots of results for your time. Do a quick check in the food pantry and toss any outdated items, duplicate jars of spices, foods you know you will never eat, and open packages you can't remember when you last used
7. Focus On One Piece at a Time
In the beginning, when there is a lot of clutter around, it's beneficial to pick up one piece of clutter and take it to its designated space every time you move to another room. If it has no designated area, put it where it is most logical to find it again if you need it or in the trash.
8. Designate Areas To Provide Storage for Each Category of Item
For example, with clothing: how many t-shirts do you own that you wear and want to keep? Fold or roll that many shirts and determine the number of drawers you need. That's your limit; you can own no more than that.
If a new shirt comes in, an old one must go out. And it's a t-shirt drawer; t-shirts don't go in the sock drawer or stay in the laundry basket because there is no room in that drawer. So once the drawer is full, that's it.
While calculating the space you need, take the opportunity to remove the things you know you won't wear again. Be ruthless.
9. Get Rid of Any Duplicates
Get rid of duplicates, anything you do not regularly use, or items you haven't used recently. Your small bathroom doesn't have much room for all that extra makeup anyway. No one needs three potato mashers or four strainers (not really).
10. Get Rid of Any Clothing You Do Not Regularly Wear This Season
Next season, do the same thing. Regular clothing is anything worn at least once every two weeks. Clothing for special occasions and particular weather are perfect candidates for under-bed storage.
11. Learn How To Do Virtual Albums for Collections
T-shirts, baseball hats, Beanie Babies, photographs of vacations, and any set of more than three like things can be considered a collection. You should also get rid of the physical items after the virtual album is created. For example, you can make these albums in the free version of Canva.
12. Start The Paper Declutter by Canceling Any Snail-mail Subscriptions You Can Subscribe to Online
Cancel paper catalogs, mailers, and bank or utility statements. Instruct the post office or mail carrier not to put flyers or promotional material into your mailbox. Put a garbage can near where the mail lands inside your home; if you know it is junk, don't open it. It goes directly to the trash.
Top Steps for Taming Clutter
With these twelve steps, you can now start to get your clutter under control. And while you are working through these steps, you are also creating your specialized maintenance plan.
After you've tossed out a few over-priced, never-opened cosmetics, your anti-clutter, frugal self will put “never buy without need” at the top of that maintenance program.
This article was produced by Wealth of Geeks.
Linda Joan Erlam had a long career as an interior decorator and professional drapery and slipcover maker. When she left the profession and downsized, she had to deal with clutter. Everywhere. She tried to declutter with the "into the trash bag it goes" system and failed. Several attempts later, she found her system and now writes about decluttering, how to jump-start motivation, and how to live an easier, happier, less stress-filled life.