You CAN Conquer Clutter!

As a child I was a hoarder, once going as far as keeping the wrapper from a piece of gum my crush gave me (humiliating, I know). But frequent moves and small apartments have transformed me into a clutter-phobe. Cleansing my living space of excess stuff allows me more peace and productivity.  Here are some tips that have helped me live lighter.

1. Avoid consuming in the first place. Before I buy something, I try to consider if there’s a place for it in my home. I ask myself, “Do I love it?” It’s probably not worth spending money and space on something you don’t love. (Besides groceries and toiletries, of course. I don’t love milk, and yet every week it finagles its way into my shopping cart.)

When I resist going on aimless shopping trips, I don’t end up with bags and bags of things I don’t need or have room for. Perhaps the most effective idea in combating clutter is to remember that the less you own, the less you have to clean and organize. (For more inspiration on how to consume less, check out The Story of Stuff.)

2. Purge belongings regularly. I’m in a situation that requires me to move every six months, and the only perk is that it forces me to get rid of things. But those of you lucky enough to have deeper roots will have to use your imaginations. Once or twice a year, we gather our family and assess the objects around our home (and under the beds, buried in closets, and stacked precariously in the garage.)

We ask the big question,”Would this be worth packing up and bringing with me if I were moving?” If the answer is “no,” hush your inner sentimentalist and donate it! If it seems too valuable to donate, consign it. Even my small town has consignment shops for furniture, sporting goods, kids stuff, etc. I recently began consigning clothes and have enjoyed having store credit to put toward ‘new-to-me’ items.

3. Switch out toys. I don’t remember where I heard this idea, but it has worked beautifully. When I noticed that my one-year-old had lost interest in every last one of her toys, I was tempted to keep buying more. Instead I tried storing a box of toys for a week or two. When I pulled them out again, she acted like they were new! (Which is to say they held her attention for about ten minutes.) My eventual goal is to organize four boxes with a variety of toys and switch them out weekly, so she can enjoy ‘new’ toys each week of the month.

The adult-version of this tactic is to box up clothes you don’t wear often but can’t bring yourself to get rid of. When you come across them during a biannual purge, you’ll appreciate the wardrobe boost–or decide you can part with them after all.

4. Create a filing system. I loathe paperwork. Doesn’t everyone? I could’ve wallpapered my apartment with the maddening volume of bills I received after my daughter was born, but that wouldn’t have looked very pretty. Having a filing system in place makes paperwork less painful. You don’t even have to own a filing cabinet. I use a twelve-pocket accordion folder for each member of my family, and easily file away medical records, pictures, financial info, personal letters, etc. Hooray for knowing where my social security card is!

5. Designate a binder. For years I’ve been tearing articles from magazines and clipping quirky stories from newspapers, with no designated spot for them. Finally I bought a binder and some page protectors and arranged all the loose pages into an easily-accessible reference book. Now if only I would apply the advice from that article I saved about getting a better night’s sleep…

The binder idea also works well with recipes. When I find an online recipe I want to try, I print it out and slip it into a page protector in my “Bound To Be Delicious” binder. It’s not organized alphabetically or even by food category, but at least the recipes aren’t in a formidable pile in a forgotten drawer. Having them corralled into the confines of a binder makes attempting new meals that much easier.

I’ve found that organizing my physical surroundings frees up the energy I need to organize my mind and my life.  And when it comes to parenting, any extra energy helps!

Question: Is there an area of your living space that irritates you every time you pass by it?

Challenge: Try devoting some time this month to addressing the problem nook. I finally broke down and bought a cheap but sturdy shelving unit for my front hall closet. Now instead of cringing before opening it, I’m delighted every time I have to get out the laundry detergent, stroller, or suitcase.

Photo courtesy of Gina Ricks


  1. Emily says

    I have a recipe binder as well. It has saved my pantry from having loose recipes all over the floor! I am ready to do a fake “move” during fall break. Look out, kids, we are decluttering!

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