“Mom, what are you writing about over there?”
Busted by my seven-year-old. Maybe I’m not the most clutter-free person, but that’s why I’m writing this. I aspire to be! I envy homes with clear countertops and wide open kitchen tables. I am organized; I know exactly where everything is. I will forever defend that being organized and being clutter-free are two different things, but I digress…
My house just has a lot of clutter.
I would love to blame it on the three young children living here, but honestly, I’ve always been this way. I set things down and forget to put them away in a proper place. Then, the neurons in my brain form a connection that that thing is on the floor next to the dresser and suddenly that is its rightful place. I know that object doesn’t belong there, but that is where my brain thinks it lives now. Multiply that times fifty objects in my house, and we’ve got a small clutter problem on our hands.
Here’s the problem: I am deeply triggered by clutter.
I can feel anxiety rising in my chest when I walk about my house and notice all the things that don’t belong on the floor, on the table, on top of that bookshelf, on the stairs, etc. It is very overwhelming when I notice how many things are actually in the wrong spot, but here is my second problem: many of those objects don’t even have a spot. I can’t just pick them up and put them away because I don’t even know where they go.
So for the past few years, I’ve been on a decluttering journey.
I read articles and follow the right Instagram accounts, begging for these people to teach me their ways. Here is my third problem: these people seem to genuinely enjoy decluttering and I…don’t. I’ve noticed that I start to dismiss these people’s very good advice because they seem way too happy to be organizing bookshelves according to the colors in the rainbow. I’ve realized I need a very, very basic guide to decluttering for people who will never find joy in moving things around. A survival guide, if you will.
If any of this resonates with you, here are a few things I’ve learned to implement over the years that actually work to keep my house at a manageable clutter level:
1. Never leave a room empty handed.
I have to admit this was my husband’s loving suggestion when I complained (for the thousandth time) about the clutter level of our house. He is excellent at managing clutter and swears this is the only thing he does. It works like this: if you are leaving your living room to go to your bedroom, grab something in the living room that belongs in your bedroom. I know this sounds ridiculously simple, but it works. Before you leave a room, look around and see what is in your current room that belongs in the room you are going to. Make it a habit and you’ll start to feel strange leaving a room empty handed.
2. Worry about high visibility spaces over hidden spaces.
Listen. I know that pantry you saw on Instagram looks ahh-mazing. We are not there yet. Counters, table tops, floors — anywhere you can immediately see upon walking in the door — is where we focus. Make a plan for things that routinely build up. Does mail pile up in one spot on your counter? Make a plan for a new place it can go OR a time you are going to go through it. I once tried putting the mail in a new spot that wasn’t so visible, and completely forgot about it for weeks. Oops. So now it’s allowed to live on the counter, but I set reminders in my phone to clear it off and go through it when I know I have time.
3. You need a Monica closet and a junk drawer.
If Monica Geller, the world’s most organized neat-freak that ever existed, could have a closet of junk, you can, too. Go ahead and throw it in a drawer as well. Some stuff just doesn’t have a place. Instead of letting it sit out for days or weeks while you “figure out where you want to keep it,” designate one place in your house for miscellaneous stuff. I promise you won’t lose it in there.
4. Keep an ongoing donation box in your garage.
Finally, some stuff just doesn’t belong in your house at all. Some of my friends are really good at listing stuff on online marketplaces, and I love that! I’m not as good at that, so we keep a donation box in our garage. When it gets full, we donate it and start over. It really helps with those things that you know you need to get rid of but aren’t sure where to put it in the meantime.