Use these tips and ideas to clear clutter and preserve your sanity.
Imagine walking in the door at the end of a long day to an orderly, tidy home, where everything is in its place. Does that sound like heaven? It doesn’t have to be unattainable. Your home and your housekeeping routine should be manageable and lend you peace of mind, not act as a source of stress. Unfortunately, rather than feeling replenished by their abodes, many American families battle chaos at home, and usually for one major reason: Too much stuff. A 2012 study by the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of Families found that managing clutter is a crushing problem in many homes.
In fact, clutter can even be a health concern, raising mothers’ stress hormone levels. (Interestingly, it does not appear to have the same effect on men.) Clutter is insidious. It can creep into our homes, slowly accumulating until it is difficult to clear the dining room table or make a walkable path up the stairs. But we can control our stuff rather than letting our stuff control us. Here, we offer a few ideas for keeping things where they belong. (For more decluttering tips, read Weekend Project: Clear Clutter!.) If your belongings just don’t fit into your home, consider purging things you don’t use—you’ll be happier and healthier for it.
Clear Fridge, Clear Mind: The UCLA study found that one single space in a family’s home was the best indicator of how cluttered the entire home would be: the front of the refrigerator door. The amount of clutter on the fridge door was directly related to the amount of clutter in the rest of the home—and its residents’ lives. Therefore, it may make sense to start your decluttering mission by clearing your fridge door.
Tool Time: Assess your kitchen’s contents with a critical eye. Identify essentials, and donate the rest. Get rid of multiples of tools and resist single-use appliances that eat up storage space.
Open Up: In many cases, it’s easy to convert kitchen cabinets to open shelving, and it can help declutter your kitchen. When you can see everything on those kitchen shelves, you’re more likely to eliminate junk and keep only beautiful dishes you enjoy using daily.
Storage Style: When it comes to décor, consider incorporating beautiful storage areas. Rather than a piece of art on that blank wall, put up a bookshelf. You can house books, records and photo albums (and just about anything else if it’s hidden in a bin or basket) on the bottom shelves, and reserve the top shelves for family photos, framed postcards or decorative items.
Corral Clutter: Living areas can become a dumping ground for everyone’s items. To combat this, keep a basket or tray in the open. During a commercial break or at the end of the day, grab the container, toss in items that belong elsewhere and return each item to its proper place (or owner) without making multiple trips.
Toy Totaler: If your home is overwhelmed with kids’ toys, choose a large vessel—a toy chest, basket or bin—and let your child choose which items to keep “in play.” Everything that doesn’t fit in the container goes into a storage box. Once every three months, let kids pull out the box and choose new toys to keep out. To keep toys in check, have your child choose a toy to donate for any new toy she gets, and ask adults to replace gifts with experiences such as a trip to the zoo, the children’s museum or the movies.
Get Real: The UCLA researchers found that when people replaced an item, they held onto the old one, hoping to recoup its value via eBay or a garage sale. Instead, they ended up storing the old item indefinitely. You will find more health value in decluttering than you could ever get out of your old stuff. Make a family habit out of donating to shelters or thrift stores every few months.
Bed Head: Making the bed in the morning takes only a minute, but it’s amazing the difference it makes in your feeling of calm as you prepare for bed at night in a tidy space.
Clothes Call: We all know the pains of a snowballing clothes basket. If you find yourself with piles of clothes waiting to be put away, check your storage. Do you have room for all your things? You may need to purge. Abide by a simple rule: If you don’t love it, give it to someone who will. Arrange clothing swaps with friends or drop them off at a donation center. Also consider packing away off-season items, clearing room for your seasonal wardrobe.
All Business: Clear space on your desk daily, either before work or after, whenever your brain can most use a rest. Like anywhere in our homes, everything needs a place. Tuck small vessels into drawers to keep them organized. Store loose paper in magazine holders. Keep a bulletin board to display often-used information. Use floating shelves to keep supplies organized but easily accessible.
Mail Model: Do you find piles of mail in your entryway, on your kitchen table and shoved into drawers? Create a station where you process mail when it comes in. Include a recycling bin, stamps for outgoing mail, and a place to store important paperwork. Get ideas for your mail station in Get Organized! Clear Clutter with a Home Mail Center.
Cabinet Clearance: Discard makeup, medications and anything that hasn’t been used in the last year. Makeup doesn’t last forever; mascara is toast after about three months, while lipsticks can last up to two years. Toss unused medications, following any specific disposal instructions or donating to community take-back programs that collect unused medication for safe disposal.
Top Drawer: Make sure drawers aren’t too full. It’s better to keep one easy-to-grab brush than have 10 stuffed into a drawer. If you’ve pared back but your bathroom still feels stuffed, add storage. Wall-mounted shelves and containers that hang on the back of a door can free up space. Baskets, bins and tins help keep things organized.
Finding time to clean your decluttered home is as easy as following a routine. The most important guidelines for your cleaning schedule start with you and your lifestyle—your system should work for you, making it second nature to toss in a load of laundry before dinner and fold it after, wipe down counters while chatting after dinner and load the dishwasher every morning. And it should be realistic. The system has to factor in the size of your home, the number of household members and your family’s available time. We’ve provided a basic schedule that can be customized based on your circumstances. Our system is for a small household with one or two people working a full-time workweek. By following this schedule, you should rarely have to devote more than 30 minutes in any day to cleaning.
Clear Clutter Daily
Morning: Make bed. Toss laundry into hamper. Clear dirty glasses from nightstands. Wipe kitchen sink and counter areas. Empty dishwasher. Take out trash/sort recycling.
Evening: Straighten living area, returning any wayward items to their places. Process mail. Load dishwasher. Rotate in the task of the day from the lists below.
Once A Week
Monday: Sweep/vacuum and dust surfaces
Tuesday: Change bed linens
Thursday: Clean bathroom
Friday: Wipe down kitchen surfaces, including appliance exteriors
(consider doing one task every other Saturday morning)
• Wipe down scuff marks on walls throughout home
• Clean exterior windows, inside and out
• Clean out the interior of kitchen appliances such as the refrigerator and oven
• Clean out gutters
Laundry: A family with children will generate more laundry and need a more incremental system. Consider doing one load a day (or as one load is dirtied), putting the laundry on before starting dinner and folding it during family downtime later that evening.
Bathrooms: If you have more than one bathroom, add one bathroom cleaning to a light chore night, in this case Tuesday, or add it to Saturday morning.
Yard: Depending on where you live, you might want to incorporate seasonal outdoor duties such as mowing, sweeping or raking into your home-maintenance routine.
Divide and Conquer: Divide up these tasks among family members. If you are a two-person household, distribute tasks based on strengths (Who is the better cook?); preferences (Does one person despise laundry but doesn’t mind scrubbing toilets?); and available time. If you have a larger family, maybe some of the children are old enough to take on the chore of vacuuming and dusting their rooms, laundry folding or kitchen clean-up.
Sarah Trover is a Chicago-based home DIY and design writer.
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