It’s the absolute bane of many families. It stresses us out and steals our joy. It costs us money – ever wanted to return something but couldn’t find the receipt? Or paid a late fee for a library book buried under a stack of magazines? In fact, studies have shown that clutter can dramatically lower our sense of happiness and increase our levels of anxiety.
It is also is a very recent phenomenon, something prior generations could not possibly have imagined. My grandmother saved empty cans and jars, newspapers, pieces of string, tinfoil and envelopes to be used again. She saved Christmas cards to make them into gift tags. Old t-shirts were made into rags. But her home was never cluttered. How the world has changed in 30 years! I think most of us would quickly be buried alive if we saved things like our grandmothers did.
So how to we conquer clutter in this day and age?
First, you have got to keep the clutter from coming into your home to begin with.
The 21st century clutter problem that many of us struggle with exists for several reasons. The most important reason is simply that too much stuff comes into our homes to begin with. My grandmother was a loyal reader of Ladies Home Journal every month. But, in those days there was only that and perhaps a few other magazines on the market. Now there are hundreds! Youtube channels are devoted to “haul” videos, showing us people who own 27 shades of lip gloss, 12 pairs of Ugg boots and thousand-dollar hand-bags! The marketers of the world have become very skilled at convincing us that we need things like Halloween Trees and St. Patrick’s Day serving dishes. It all adds up to a lot of stuff (and usually a lot of debt)!
- Get off the junk mail lists. Go to the-cam.org/consumers/do-not-contact to register your address. This will remove you from the marketing lists used by members of the Canadian Marketing Association. This won’t get rid of every piece of junk mail, but it’s a start.
- Put a “no junk mail” sign on your mailbox. This will mean you don’t get the weekly flyers, but those can usually be found online.
- If you do get some junk mail, toss it right into the recycle bin before you even step through the front door.
- If Youtube “haul” videos make you want to go shopping, stop watching them. The same goes for magazines.
- Really think long and hard before you purchase an item:
- Is it serving a need or a want (wants aren’t necessarily a bad thing – just be aware that this is in fact what you are doing)?
- Do you have a place for it?
- Is it something that can serve more than one purpose (a plain, white platter would be much more versatile than one with footballs all over it)?
- Is it replacing an older item? If so, do you have a plan to get rid of that older item?
Secondly, take the time to clear the clutter.
The second reason that we are buried under clutter is that we just haven’t taken the time to dig ourselves out. For most of us, the thought of de-cluttering the entire house makes us want to run away and hide. Especially in military communities, where we don’t have to pay for our own moving expenses, it is too easy to just keep hanging on to things. Believe me, if you were paying for every pound of stuff you were putting on that moving truck, you’d reconsider how badly you really wanted to keep your collection of Nancy Drew books or that broken espresso maker! Alas, the job of de-cluttering can seem overwhelming. Here’s how to break it down:
Decide if you are a marathoner or a sprinter.
Marathoners are the types of people who are better off setting a whole day aside to go through their closets and drawers – if they start a job, they want to finish it. Sprinters are people who lose steam quickly and are better off breaking the job into smaller chunks of time. A kitchen timer is a sprinter’s best friend – set it for 20 or 30-minute intervals. When the timer goes off, you are done for the day. Just remember to get back at it the next day.
Pay attention to “Hot Spots”.
These are those places in your home that tend to collect stuff quickly. For me, it’s our breakfast bar in the kitchen. For others it might be the dining room table or the computer desk. Wherever it is, you need to keep these spots as clear as possible. Because once there is one piece of junk on a hot spot, it will multiply faster than rabbits! For our breakfast bar, I’ve become a bit of a zealot and have made a house rule that I am not to find hoodies, tablets, homework, hair baubles, cordless phones, empty soda cans or anything else there! Every morning I make sure it’s cleared off, so the rabbits don’t breed. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s helpful.
Get a grip on the paper.
Paper must be the single, worst culprit when it comes to clutter. It comes into every home. And the computer age just seems to have made it worse! Get a filing system going and get the paper under control first. There are a million different ways to manage paper in your life. Just don’t buy a book on it. Go online – you’ll find lots of solutions and won’t have another book to get rid of!
Decide what other clutter “weak spots” you have. For some, it is clothes. They have every piece of clothing they have ever purchased for themselves and their children. Ever. For others, it’s books or craft supplies or children’s artwork. My weakness is home décor stuff. I have a front-door wreath for every holiday and could easily be talked into the St. Patrick’s Day serveware I wrote about earlier. I know this is my weak spot. The first step is admitting you have a problem.
Give everything in your home a “spot”. Living a full life requires that you own things. If you play hockey, you will need skates, a helmet and a hockey stick, among other things. These should all be in the spot where you keep your hockey equipment. The same thing goes for quilting. If you are a quilter, you will probably own a sewing machine and have a sizable stock of fabric and thread. All of this should be kept in the spot where you store your quilting supplies. There should be a spot for the mail, and a spot for the remote for the television. You’ll have a spot for your books and another for your cake decorating kit. You may need a spot for clothes your kids are waiting to grown into. They will need a spot for their toys and another for the coat, shoes, boots, etc. Your new filing cabinet will be the spot for paper. If everything in your home has a “spot”, that will go a long way to keeping the chaos at bay. Of course, things need to be put back in their spots for this system to work. And, if you run out of spots, you’ll need to get rid of some stuff, or buy a bigger house!
Take the time to de-clutter your space. And make it a habit to keep de-cluttering on a regular basis. You will instantly gain a sense of satisfaction as you make your home more organized and peaceful. And hopefully never have a late library book again!
Laura Keller has enjoyed writing as long as she can remember. Eventually she became the wife of a Combat Engineer and mom of 3. With her husband’s retirement from the CF, they are all learning to adjust to life after the military.
Laura also writes her blog at www.HappyCanadianHome.com.
**This article was originally published in our Winter 2015 issue**