Photo by Michelle Meiklejohn at

Confession: I am not a very organized person. In fact, unless acted upon by an outside force (visitors!), most of the time our house gravitates towards chaos. My desk office is a mess, my to-do list is jam-packed, and we’ve just turned the house upside down looking for a lost library book—to no avail. So, when my beautiful, organized, always-seems-to-have-it-together sister-in-law came into town, I took advantage of a quiet moment to find out her “secrets” to keeping a clean, uncluttered house. Then, I took her advice to heart and put it to work in my own home to see what a difference it would make. Here is how it went:

Tip #1: You are the gatekeeper.
My sister-in-law explained that one of the most important things we can do to control clutter and maintain order is to be selective about what enters our homes in the first place. Whether it’s junk mail, toys, clothes, school papers and artwork, or [insert your clutter-inducing weakness here], we are ultimately the ones who bring or don’t bring those things through our front door. By acting as the gatekeepers of our homes and making conscious decisions about what to keep and what to purge, what we need and what we don’t, we are controlling clutter before it even has a chance to exist.

Two weeks after my conversation with my sister-in-law, I have found that considering myself the gatekeeper of my home is a very empowering state of mind. It affects my decisions at the grocery store (because we all know when you grocery shop at Target, you don’t just buy groceries!), it motivates me to deal with mail and papers immediately instead of stacking them on the counter, and it leaves me feeling like I actually am in control of my environment at home.

So far, we’ve made a few changes because of my new role as the gatekeeper. First, we decided to evaluate what we already have before we buy anything new. For example, after spending a morning checking our kids closets, we realized our kids already had fully-stocked wardrobes. This eliminated the need for any back-to-school shopping and helped us avoid having over-stuffed closets and drawers. Second, we took a good look at some of the things we had already let into our home, and we’ve made several donations to our local thrift store. And third, we have had an ongoing conversation with our two older children about needs and wants, quality versus junk, and spending our money wisely.

This simple tip has actually made a very large impact on our home environment and my ability to keep things neat and tidy. Even more, it has led to positive changes in our attitude about accumulating “things”.

Tip #2: Put Your House to Bed Each Night.
I love the simple but steady routines we’ve created to help our children go to bed each night. So, when my wonderful sister-in-law said her second most important technique for keeping order was “putting her house to bed each night,” I was instantly sold. Putting the house to bed is simple: it’s like hitting the reset button for the next day. Anything that is out of place gets straightened, dishes are washed and put away, counters are cleared and cleaned. You wake up the next morning to a clean house, and there’s no chance for clutter to accumulate, since it’s dealt with every day before bed.

I’m amazed at the power of words: simply having a cute name for this task helped me feel excited to do it. And, after explaining it to my kids, they were also excited to have a part in putting our house to bed before they started their own bedtime routine. I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks how peaceful it feels to turn off the light in a room that is clean and in order, ready to start a new day.

We’ve customized the technique a bit, since having three young kids seems to exponentially increase the potential for mess! If I know we’re finished with a room for the day, I’ll ask the kids to put the room to bed while I start cooking dinner. That way, I’m not left to clean up the entire house myself after the kids are asleep. On an average day, my nightly putting-the-house-to-bed routine includes kitchen clean-up, putting shoes into the shoe bins, straightening pillows on the living room couch, and turning off lights. On a heavy-duty day, I take advantage of the time between dinner and bedtime and ask for the kids’ help. So far, they’re eager to help our house have “sweet dreams” by putting specific areas to bed.

I’ve come to accept that while my kids are young, most days my house will look lived-in instead of spotless. But, these two fantastic tips have gone a long way in helping us control our clutter and create a peaceful home for us to enjoy. Now, maybe I’ll have a few extra moments to think of a clutter-free way to thank my generous and so-on-top-of-things sister-in-law for sharing her secrets!

QUESTION: What are your best “secrets” for keeping an uncluttered, peaceful environment in your home? Have you built into your daily life any clutter-busting routines?

CHALLENGE: This week, each time you walk through the door to your home, remind yourself that you are the gatekeeper. You can control what “stuff” accumulates in your home.

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