3 Steps to a Clutter-Free Existence

Getting Started: Identify Sources of Clutter

As you tour your house looking for areas that need to be organized, the entire process can seem overwhelming. The good news is that you can make steady progress by committing as little as 10 minutes a day to organizing. Here are a few tips to help you tackle the beginning stages of your organization:

  • Purge your home of unnecessary items. Families need to be as tough as possible when it comes time to get rid of clutter. Organizers suggest periodically evaluating whetherget organized something’s actually serving your family any more. For instance, hold up an item and ask family members when they last used it. If it’s been a while, do they still need it? Is there someone you can give it to?

  • Freeze your buying. Unless you want to end up with things shoved in boxes and baskets, you shouldn’t buy tools for organization until you’ve gotten rid of the things you don’t need anymore and decided on a system that will best meet your family’s needs.

  • Keep it simple. If you want even your youngest kids to help, you’ve got to make the system simple enough that even they can follow it. Choose color-coded bins for specific toys – better yet, affix pictures of the kind of toy that goes in each space to each bin. Above all, don’t make your system so complicated that you can’t maintain them.

Getting Your Family on Board
Organizing a home is a team effort; it cannot involve constant fighting between parent and child about dirty laundry or messy bedrooms. Here are some ways to ensure that all family members participate:

  • Delegate tasks according to people’s strengths. Children can become overwhelmed by a room or a space that is filled with too much clutter. With young children, either work on that space as a team or have them do just a little at a time.

  • Pick your battles. Don’t nag kids about clutter; they’ll end up rebelling by refusing to keep areas clutter-free. But do set rules about putting things away after they’ve been used. Some parents even confiscate a toy or object that was left out and keep it hidden away for a week to teach kids to take better care of the things they use. Don’t stress about a child’s messy room; it really isn’t your space, anyway. But do set rules about what cannot happen in a child’s room – ie., discarded food, dirty dishes, clean clothes on the floor.

  • Involve the whole family in the process. Hold a family meeting about organizing your house. A family meeting gives kids a chance to chime in if they feel their needs aren’t being met – it also helps get both parents on the same page, which may minimize the division that can be caused when one parent is more invested in organization than the other.

  • Be firm about your expectations.  Create consequences, such as barring certain privileges (TV watching, heading out for a play date) until some toys that were left out are put away, until a bed is made or a bureau is neatened up. Giving children responsibility helps build organization.

Sticking With It
No sooner do you get your house in order than you have to ask the next big question: How do I keep it that way? Make sure your newly organized space stays that way by:

  • Purge again and again. Go through things periodically rather than collecting an entire year’s worth of riff-raff. You may even find yourself wondering why you kept things when you went through your desk drawer the month before.

  • Make time to stay organized. Too many busy parents schedule every minute of their day without leaving wiggle room for the unexpected demand – let alone any time for maintaining organization.

  • Learn to say no. Make a list of the things that are important to you. “When you prioritize what matters to you, it’s easier to prioritize what you need to do,” Chaplin says. Remember to think about your big goals. If a piece of clutter doesn’t fit into the big picture, parents have to give themselves permission to say no. 

Updated August 2012