7 Tips for Battling Clutter Creep

Ikea bookshelves in living room

Before: Actual shelving in my living room this morning. Lots of stuff tends to migrate here.

We’ve all had it happen. We straighten and clean until we get that one almost clear surface except for the two pictures or knick knacks. We stand back and admire our handiwork, congratulating ourselves on how neat our house looks. Two days (or one hour) later, someone sets the camera and its battery charger there. Then a funny book a friend picked up at the store when they thought of you. A broken Hot Wheels car, hairbrush, candle that you found under the sofa, hair clips, a ripped pop-up book, and some spare change all migrate there, creating a motley and towering pile of clutter.

Clutter Creep.

How is it possible that we have so much stuff?

Even with purging an estimated 60% of the items we own in 2011, we still have lots of stuff. I honestly might be lowballing that number. But new things don’t stop coming through the front door. With kids, this seems unavoidable. More hand-me-downs for the kids to grow into, more electronics with more cords, more coffee cups (where do they all come from?!?).

Here are my seven tips for keeping the clutter monster at bay…

  1. Everything needs a place. I can’t stress this enough. You can’t put it away if it doesn’t have a home. Our kids received a portable DVD player and headphones in May that Jason and I just kept moving around from one place to another. I finally, just last week, gave them both a home.
  2. Don’t put it down, put it away. This is how 95% of the clutter in my house comes to be.
  3. If you don’t love it and it isn’t useful, don’t keep it.
  4. Think about how you use a room. We use our living room for playing with our kids, exercising, reading magazines or to the kids, watching movies with family, and enjoying friend and family visits, sometimes with football or Olympic opening ceremonies on the tv. Once we realized those uses, we realized that having a home for the cameras and video camera, the yoga mats, weights and exercise book, the trucks, cars, and children’s books, the toys, DVDs, and snuggle blankets were all more important than our SIX shelves of books that we rarely look at. So most of the books were moved to the bedroom.
  5. One in, one out rule. Some folks apply this to clothing. We’re not too strict about this since we had so little left after 2011’s purge.
  6. Designate a spot in your house for outgoing items. We have a cabinet that takes up about a third of a piece of furniture in our sunporch (actually a mudroom, since it’s where we enter our house). That cabinet is where I throw things that go out, including returns or hand-me-downs for friends and family. When it’s full, I bag it and drop it off at Goodwill. Before that, I used a cardboard box under a bench on the sunporch. Don’t forget the receipt for your taxes!
  7. Take that 10 minutes to go through just one drawer, shelf, or cabinet. I often have a few minutes while I’m waiting for something or someone. Quickly clear off the mantle of anything that doesn’t belong in those snippets of time and put it all away.

The first three are the most important to me. Last year, we gave everything a home that made sense. This year I’ve been repeating the mantra, “Don’t put it down, put it away.” I’ve found when I get in a rush, we have a rough week, or someone is sick, this is the first thing to go. The worst part is that I often put the thing right next to the drawer in which is should go, and it would have taken exactly two seconds to put it away. I’m easily distracted and incredibly lazy given the right circumstances!

I don’t have any set schedule when I clean out closets or anything. That sounds waaaay too organized for me. My system is this: when I see something that’s constantly a mess or bursting at the seams, I know it’s time to go through and look for donations. For example, we have three places in our house for adult books and three for kid’s books. If those shelves and baskets are always a mess OR I can’t fit another book anywhere, I know it’s time to get rid of a handful.

Ikea bookshelves storing toys

After: While I was waiting for my soup to boil, I pulled everything off that didn’t belong, wiped a damp cloth over (most of) the shelves, and put (or threw) away. Took me exactly 9 minutes. There were about 10 things that went into the donation bin or garbage.


How do you battle clutter creep in your home?


2 responses to this post.

  1. Perfection is WAY overrated. Also, I believe it is the Bigfoot of housekeeping, but i could be proved wrong.

    Love the new approach! I hope it sticks–I know that I really do dislike all cleaning, but it’s so much easier to go about our life and do fun stuff when we can find everything and things like snack bags and diaper bags are already stocked. Hmm, I think I just had about 6 new articles hit me on the head here.

    Thanks for visiting tonight–I hope we get to visit this week!

  2. FYI you inspired me – for the last 2 days I have been adopting (and suggesting that BP adopt) a new strategy I like to call “step it up” which is as opposed to our usual strategy for dealing with tedium, which I now call “suck it up.” You know how usually, you do a chore (clean out the dishwasher, or do the laundry) because you _have_ to, and you do it, do a fine job even, but really you’re just sucking it up and doing it? Well, now, I/we’ve decided to “step it up” – clean out and reload the dishwasher PLUS wash all those water bottles that are a pain in the butt and accumulate there for days before somebody gets up the gumption to use the bottle brush. Do the laundry AND restock the diaper bag so it’s ready when you have to grab and go instead of needing to scour the house for some item when you’re already running late. Wipe off the table, and instead of just neatening the stack of mail, actually sort through it – or, while you’ve got the sponge, wipe off something else that’s been really needing it. It’s been great so far. Instead of feeling like we’re treading water doing the same tedious crap over and over (which, of course we are) we ALSO feel like we’re actually making forward progress towards making our house more habitable and organized. A cleaner house AND a sense of accomplishment!

    We’ll see if the new approach survives the weekend.

    I don’t think you should consider lapses in organization to be laziness, by the way (at least, not with the connotations that usually come with that)! Perfection is overrated!

    Also, go Steelers!

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