“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” - William Morris
I have lived most of my life in a cluttered home. Closets were full, drawers wouldn’t shut, things weren’t put away, and unfinished projects could be found in most rooms. That was, unless somebody was coming over. Then, the entire family would pitch in to make sure the house was presentable. Looking back, the problem with clutter wasn’t that we didn’t notice or care. Instead, the problem was we could never get ahead of the mess or ever seem to develop a system that would keep our home clutter-free.
But that is no longer the case. Today, almost every room in our home rests in a state of order – free from the life-robbing presence of physical clutter. Over the past several years, we have found a system that works very well for our family of four. And I am perfectly confident you can do the same… no matter how far away from clutter-free your home may seem.
Consider implementing the four steps found in this Simple Guide to Keeping Your Home Clutter-Free:
1) Believe it is possible. Most of us know it is entirely possible to live in a clutter-free environment. I imagine that is what attracts you to this guide. You are just looking for some extra help to get there.
But some of you are not so sure. Your house has been cluttered for so long, you have given up all hope of ever living any other way. For you, the first step to living in a clutter-free home is to take heart and believe it is entirely possible. Realize that you will never get there if do not resolve in your mind that you can accomplish it. So find some hope and take one small step. Then, take another… and another… and another…
2) Remove the excess. Our homes are full of things. Clutter begins to appear most prominently when we own too much stuff. Conversely, the fewer items we own, the easier it is to keep clutter at a minimum. The first (and most important) step in keeping your home clutter-free is to remove the excessive possessions that are stealing our lives, time, and energy.
In your process of removing the excess, it can be helpful to find a working definition of clutter to aid you in this step. Early in our journey, we began to define clutter as a) too much stuff in too small a space; b) anything that we no longer used or loved; or 3) anything that led to a feeling of disorganization. With that as our guiding filter, we slowly moved from room to room, removing everything that fit the definition above.
In some cases, this step is easy:
- Junk drawers full of unneeded items (rubber bands, old batteries, or old keys).
- Closets full of clothes you no longer wear.
- Decorations that are no longer meaningful and/or outdated.
In other cases, this step will take more time and intentionality:
- Large projects such as the garage, basement, or attic.
- Sentimental items that have collected over the years.
- Other family members’ clutter that have begun invading common spaces.
The most important key in completing this step is to start with the small and easy projects first. Begin there. As you do, you’ll build up small victories. Then, after the small victories have been won, you’ll find extra motivation to begin tackling the harder cases of clutter in your home.
If you still do not feel fully capable on removing the excess possessions from your home, find encouragement in an intermediate step. For example, put the items you can’t quite part with in a cardboard box out of sight with a date on it. Getting rid of unnecessary possessions is essential, but it doesn’t have to be a race.
3) Implement habits to manage your clutter. For most of my life, I thought the key to maintaining clutter was found here. Just organize, clean, and organize again. But I was wrong. Because I had not taken the time to remove the excess in full (or in part), I could never get ahead of the clutter in my home. There were just too many things in too small a space – no matter what system we tried to implement. As a result, healthy clutter-clearing habits never had opportunity to emerge. So do not skip the removal step, it is absolutely important. And the more energy you put in removing the excess, the easier it will be to find and develop habits to better manage the things you keep.
Once you have cleared the excess, you will be able to better discover which habits keep your living space free of clutter. And once you experience the freedom and stress-free life of living clutter-free, you will find these habits easier to embrace.
Some of these habits will recur daily:
- Cleaning the kitchen after each meal.
- Placing daily-use items (clothes, books, toys) back in their designated homes.
- Fully-completing projects around the house.
- Developing an evening routine.
Some of these habits will center on specific locations that serve as clutter collection sites in your home. For us, our kitchen counter typically collects items (mail, schoolwork) during the day, our living room sees a highly-volume of traffic each day, and one of the bedrooms in our home finds itself a bit messier than the others. Each of these specific locations require extra effort and energy than the others.
Some of these habits will center of seasonal needs:
- The changing of the seasons.
- The need to remove excessive possessions after holidays and/or birthdays.
- Significant life changes (birth of a child, new employment) will also require refocusing and adjustment.
Over the years, we have found clutter attracts clutter. Once it begins to collect, it requires intentional action to clear it away. Develop for your family healthy habits today to manage the daily use of the things in your home. Once identified, you’ll find them much easier to implement.
4) Slow the accumulation of possessions. To live is to consume. It cannot be avoided – especially in our society and culture. But if the influx of possessions into our homes can be slowed, clutter can be managed efficiently.
To slow the accumulation of things in our homes, we need to change our mindset and begin evaluating our purchases differently. Realize that your purchases cost far more than the price on the sticker. Each one will also require time, energy, and effort once they enter your home. Before making a purchase, begin asking yourself these questions:
- Is this item really needed?
- Do I have a place to store this when I get it home?
- How much extra work will this possession add to my life?
- Am I buying it for the right reasons?
This thought-process isn’t designed to keep you from making purchases ever again – at least, it’s not supposed to. Again, to live is to consume. But these questions are designed to bring intentionality into your life. They raise in your mind the awareness that some purchases take more from our life than they offer. They help you know the difference. And slow the accumulation of clutter-causing items into your home and life.
Again, it is completely and entirely possible to live in a clutter-free home. With this simple guide, you’ll be well on your way. From somebody who has lived both, I can quickly attest that once you begin to enjoy the physical and mental freedom that accompanies clutter-free living, you’ll make extra effort to ensure your home does not slip back into the home it used to be.
If you’d like to know more about the most important principles we learned during our journey into living with less, you’ll find great value in our book, Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life.