In full disclosure, I thought my husband had gone wacky 27 years ago after my twins were born. It was a bitterly cold day in mid-December and we were heading back home from the hospital. With my husband, babies, and older daughter in tow, I couldn’t wait to settle into my warm surroundings.
Walking into our apartment, I was horrified by what I saw. In the short time I was away, everything had been left out. At first, I thought the apartment had been ransacked by burglars (well, not really but it looked that way) until I realized that my husband’s natural tendency for neatness was trumped by post-partum daddy anxiety.
I desperately wanted to return to the same place I had safely left a few days before. But I almost didn’t recognize where I was. It was a confusing hodgepodge of a mess that challenged the painful course of childbirth. That’s because my habitat suddenly became unfamiliar and uncomfortable and it hurt. It was at a time when I needed structure to get my bearings for a stretch of newborn chaos and three children under the age of five.
The Clutter Puzzle
There are many reasons why clutter takes our home and lives hostage. It’s a hot topic and the chaos never seems to end. Sometimes the tips work, sometimes they don’t. Each person has a special relationship with their clutter. The stuff becomes familiar and you become comfortable and used to it. For some, the mounds become overwhelming and you don’t know where to begin. Some don’t see it or aren’t bothered by the clutter at all. Then there are others who don’t put it away because time steals their motivation to do so.
I have a client who I’ve known for years who has a pesky relationship with clutter. She’s a brilliant attorney and is a no-nonsense bad-ass modern woman who can achieve anything she sets her mind to. Except picking up and putting her stuff away. Since I’ve known her for a long time I understand why she needs my help. She clearly doesn’t have the time to do it herself. She works exceedingly long hours, travels around the world lecturing or consulting, so she has a lot going on all at once. Just like the rest of us, but I think even more. She’s never home and when she is, after returning from a trip or an unforgiving day at work, she just drops everything and leaves it there.
I arrive once a week to help her maintain a sense of order so she can manage the rest. I’ve set up systems that she can follow such as filing, closet organization, and storage systems. It’s not that she doesn’t know how she’s actually very organized and detail-oriented. She just doesn’t like doing it and she doesn’t have much free time to get it done. Having help gives her time for other responsibilities, even downtime which she desperately needs.
How to Manage Clutter When You Can’t Afford Help
I’m aware that not everyone can afford the help of a Professional Organizer and will need to manage their clutter on their own. It may seem like an impossible task, but I know you can do it. Once you start, it gets easier. Start small as simple de-cluttering steps quickly add up to give you big results. If you don’t know where to begin, here are useful tips from my years of experience to help you manage your clutter:
Make it a Habit
Make de-cluttering a habit by adding it to your daily routine. You can do this by learning to regularly toss, recycle or donate things that you no longer need, want or use. Five minutes a day is all you need. That’s so much easier than 35 minutes weekly. It’s almost seamless.
Focus on One Area
Focus on one area or room at a time. Choose the space that bothers you the most and just get started. It could even just be your junk drawer. The goal is just to get started. Besides, breaking your de-cluttering task up into smaller chunks makes it more manageable and less overwhelming.
Get Your Family Involved
Chances are the clutter around you is not just yours. Your family members or roommates likely contribute to the chaos and add to the mess. In that case, I recommend making de-cluttering a group activity. When you tackle the problem together, you can get through it faster. Start with a common room used by everyone and make each person responsible for organizing a section of that room.
One in, One Out
This is a useful rule to consider when you are trying to minimize or de-clutter. Every time you bring a new item into the house, take at least one (or more) items out of the house. I do this all the time.
Everything has a Place
The best way to maintain order after you have de-cluttered is to set up systems to make your life easier. Do this by designating specific places for frequently used items. You can then store any infrequently used items in easy to access see-through containers or labeled bins and baskets.
Paper can quickly and easily become a disorganized heap, so it is best to sort through papers as soon as possible. Make time regularly to go through your accumulated paper. Recycle unneeded paper and file needed paper or important documents.
Why Do We Love Our Junk Drawers?
It’s our personal story. Our junk drawers are a kind of treasure chest. As a result, it is the what, who, where and when of our lives. Everyone has one of these and it doesn’t make you disorganized, it makes you human.
- A junk drawer is our messy spot. Everyone needs a messy spot – a designated place you can throw all the odds and ends that don’t belong anywhere else. It is an easy solution for clearing the clutter caused by things that don’t have a specific place.
- It’s a catchall for all things unrelated. Such as the second set of car keys, other random keys, a few stray batteries, magnets, a ponytail scrunchie, a random phone number scribbled on a post-it, loose change, matches from a favorite jaunt, for in. Anything and everything in between!
- It’s a place to store a collection of different items that are easy to find because they’re always in the same place (post-it notes, menus, random pens and markers). Granted, you have to find them under a massive mound. But hey, just a little digging will uncover what you’re looking for.
- It’s a place to put stuff that you don’t have to “think” about where to put it. Or you don’t know where else to put it. It is a drawer of convenience and an easy resolution.
- In that drawer are things you just can’t part with. You may not even know why. It could be for sentimental reasons or simply because you are not yet ready to let it go. Either way, you feel better knowing it’s in your junk drawer.
- It’s easy. No bins, no boxes, no sorting. You just open the drawer and throw the item in or open the drawer to dig something out. No complex systems or processes involved.
- It’s a safe place to control clutter. It’s hidden behind a closed drawer. Close the drawer and it disappears. The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is true and relates to that junk in your drawer.
You Organize and Clean Up. So Why Does Your Home Still Look Cluttered?
So, you have organizational systems in place and have made tidying up a routine, but for some reason you still have clutter. There are a few things that could be causing this. Simple things that are easy to overlook and cause clutter even after you’ve cleaned. Trust me, as a Professional Organizer, I have seen it all and can help you pinpoint the cause. Do any of these 9 reasons strike a chord?
- Everything in your house could be clean and tidy, but unraveling cables under tables or desks can just look unsightly. Tie the cords and cables together or use cable covers to keep the space under your furniture looking neat.
- You have new (or old) mail lying around still to be opened and filed or other papers waiting to be read. As I said above, papers can easily become a problem – make some time to open your mail and file or toss your papers.
- The refrigerator door is overflowing with last year’s holiday cards, photos, baby announcements, address changes, school notes, invitations, recipes, emergency info, and so on. This leaves your kitchen looking cluttered even when the rest of the space is spotless, so keep track of what you hang on the fridge.
- Kitchen counter appliance envy leaves your kitchen feeling overcrowded and little counter space for you to work on. This takes the fun out of cooking or spending time in your kitchen. Rather store your infrequently used appliances in cupboards or shelves until needed.
- Knick knack paddy whack. Shelves crowded with souvenirs, trinkets, ornaments, and collections can quickly look disorganized and add a sense of clutter. Try to minimize the number of items you have on display.
- Baskets, bins, and hangers that are mismatched and don’t coordinate. Having things that don’t match or clash in a room makes it look disorganized and cluttered; leaving you with a sense that something just isn’t right.
- The linen closet is stuffed to the brim (possibly spilling out or pushing the door open) because it is full of towels and sheets that are alike but all folded in different ways and widths.
- Your bathroom looks messy because of make-up and toiletry overload. (The cosmetic companies know where to find you.)
- You have no specified place for all your accumulated pet stuff. As in toys, treats, doggy bags, leashes, bones and everything else which is spread throughout the house or ‘stored’ in various different places.
- Your house still looks cluttered because there is just too much stuff. What is the solution? Buy less!
Know the Facts
The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) reveals some startling facts about clutter that will likely leave you determined to de-clutter:
- 80% of what we keep, we never use.
- Getting rid of clutter eliminates 40% of housework in the average home.
- The average American wastes 55 minutes a day – roughly 12 days a year – looking for things they know they own, but cannot find.
- 50% of homeowners rate the garage as the most disorganized place in the house.
- We wear 20% of the clothes we own 80% of the time, but the rest just hangs there, just in case.
- 80% of the clutter in most homes is a result of disorganization, not a lack of space.
- The average American spends about two and a half years of their life looking for lost or misplaced items at home and in the office.
More Fun Facts
- Clutter can raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body and actually affect your health.
- The average number of items in an American home is 300,000.
- A typical home contains approximately $1600 worth of unused items which adds to the clutter.
- One in 11 households in America needs to rent storage space to hold their excess belongings.
Although it won’t feel like it when you start, the process of de-cluttering is and should be simple. Decide what you want to keep and discard what you don’t. However, I know this is tough for many people. Understand that de-cluttering is not just about cleaning up but about becoming better at making decisions. It is your choice how you live but ultimately it feels really good to create a space free of clutter that is pleasant to live in.
How do you manage clutter? Feel free to ask me for advice in the comments below!