There are consultants, complex systems and whole sciences created around controlling the clutter in our lives – at home, at work, in the car. In fact, some of these approaches are so involved and … well, anal, that we never even begin.
These few simple steps will help you make a difference without making you feel like a neat freak.
1. When in doubt, throw it out. If you aren’t sure whether you need those extra hangers from the dry cleaner, or that chipped platter, throw them away.
2. If you don’t use it, lose it. Clothing that hasn’t been worn in a year, the salad spinner you got for Christmas in 1992 and the baby swing that your 10-year-old outgrew long ago – give ’em away.
3. Keep things handy. Store what you use in the places that are easiest to reach; put things that are seldom used in more out-of-the-way spots. Organize closets and arrange kitchen cabinets so that you don’t have to rummage around to find the things that you use or wear frequently.
4. Sort and open your mail over a trash can. Toss the junk mail, pay the bills and file the rest.
5. Get help. Enlist the whole family to spend 15 minutes every night tidying up the house. Pick up newspapers, clothing and toys. Run the dishwasher. Waking up to a clean house makes everyone feel more organized and relaxed.
6. Don’t take on too much. To avoid burnout, take on one deep-cleaning or organization project at a time. On Monday, tackle your closet; on Saturday, clean out the medicine cabinet.
7. File it away. Have a place for paperwork and keep it contained. A file cabinet is a great way to keep school papers, bills, taxes and other stuff that you need organized. You don’t have to use a file cabinet, though. Wicker baskets, manila folding files and even shoe boxes all work to keep the flotsam and jetsam of life in order.
8. Sort it out. Organize your clutter by categories and don’t let them mingle. Winter clothes, soccer gear, bills and catalogs should never be heaped all together in a pile. Put them in separate baskets, boxes or drawers. Sorting stuff makes it easier to clean up and easier to stay organized.
9. Display only items that are worthy. Eliminate meaningless knickknacks and clutter. Less is more. Examine everything on your mantel and shelves. Ask yourself why it is there. Is it sentimental? Is it truly beautiful? If not, remove it.
10. Always put things away in the same place. Having a place for everything and everything in its place will save time when you’re cleaning up and save unnecessary hunts for keys, glasses or the salad spinner.
Aside from reading about how to de-clutter, you might also consider hiring a professional organizer to help you manage your family’s mess even more effectively.
• The Organized Parent; 365 Simple Solutions to Managing Your Home, Your Time, and Your Family’s Life by Christina Baglivi Tinglof, Contemporary Books, 2002. Room by room and chore by chore, Tinglof offers tips for family in an easy-to-follow lay out.
• Organizing from the Inside Out; The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern, Owl Books, 1998. Morgenstern is Oprah’s organization guru, and her book is the handbook of most professional organizers.
• Stop Clutter from Wrecking Your Family by Mike Nelson, New Page Books, 2004. More of a psychological examination than tips on de-cluttering, this book is still a good read. Nelson’s theory is to analyze first why you clutter, then resolve to stop. He does offer great advice from other clutterers on ways to kick the habit.
Most of all, don't hog all the fun...get tips on how to Make De-Cluttering Your Home a Family Affair.
Carol Band is a writer, mother of three and a clutter conquistador.
The 10 Commandments of Conquering Clutter