Studies show that although families are smaller, homes are larger than ever. Even with more square feet of living space, many Americans still fill attics, basements and storage units with stuff. Peter blames overstuffed spaces on our super-size mentality. "We're in a culture that says more is better," he says. "We've been led to believe that things bring us happiness."
For more than 10 years, Peter has helped pack rats organize their homes and reclaim their lives. His techniques go well beyond color-coded boxes and plastic storage bins. Peter says he helps people uncover what's really going on underneath all that junk, which often leads to life-changing breakthroughs.
"[Stuff] robs people of so much," he says. "If your house is full of stuff, all the blessings that could fill your house can't get in. The stuff takes over. It robs you psychologically. You can't be at peace."
Don't distress over your mess—learn to conquer your clutter one room at a time.
Don't let a manicured lawn fool you. Behind closed doors, many families are living with massive clutter. The Gavitt family hopes Peter can help them reclaim their Texas home.
Janet, a busy wife and mother of four, says the clutter started to get out of control when her twin daughters were born eight years ago. Now, with a 5-year-old and a baby to care for, she says she and her husband, Charlton, just can't keep up.
When Peter first arrived at the Gavitts' home, he noticed children's toys and clothes scattered throughout the house...even in the family room. "It doesn't look like a house that the parents run," Peter tells Janet. "You and Charlton have to get back in the driving seat."
Although Janet says she tells her daughters to put their things away, there's no designated place to put them. Plus, there are simply too many things to keep track of. Janet isn't lacking organizational skills. In fact, she works for The Container Store, a retail chain that specializes in space and storage solutions. "Talk about feeling like a fraud," she says.
Janet isn't the only person feeling the effects of the clutter. The mess is also starting to take a toll on Charlton. "I can't do the things I want to do with my children because there's stuff everywhere," he says. "I can't help them with their homework because there's not a place to do it. My job as a father is being compromised by the amount of clutter that we have in our house."
With the floor free of toys, the Gavitts' space looks more spacious and inviting. "We would actually use this room," Charlton says.
New furniture also doubles as organizational tools. Inside the leather footstools, the children discover board games. A coatrack in the entryway also has shelves for additional storage.
The papers that once covered the dining table are gone, and finally, the family can sit and enjoy a meal together. "I totally have gotten that now that we don't need the [stuff]-the stuff was hurting us," Janet says. "We need each other."
Peter and Janet tackle piles of the girls' clothes, which are scattered throughout the house. Peter says the secret is to take everything out of each room first and then sort it in a separate location.
All the clothing is placed on a tarp in the front yard. Now, it's up to Janet to sort the clothes into two categories—items to keep and items to give away. Each daughter gets a set number of bins, and once they are full, Janet must move on.
To avoid clutter, Peter says every shopper should follow the "in-out rule." Every time you buy a new piece of clothing, you should get rid of an old piece. He also makes Janet promise that she will not buy her daughters any new clothes for six months.
When Peter sees Janet and Charlton's bedroom, he knows just what they need more of: intimacy. "When you are intimate, when your relationship is powering along, that will feed the rest of the house," he says.
With junk everywhere, Charlton says there's just no room to be romantic in the master bedroom. "You'd roll over onto a pile of clothes or a pile of toys and so we tried to take it to other rooms, but they were just as bad," he says. "There was no place to be us."
When asked what sort of bedroom they want, Janet says she'd like a romantic space, while Charlton wants a room that's just for him and his wife. Now that they have a shared vision, they can begin to declutter.
Peter tells the couple if they haven't used it in 12 months, it needs to go. That includes the dingy sweatpants Janet's been hanging onto since high school. "If it doesn't fit the vision you have for your space, it's got to go," Peter says.
Peter designated a small space for their baby, Julia, and completely reorganized their closets.
Even though Miranda, Katharine and Audrey are young, Peter says they can learn to pick up after themselves. All it takes is a little creativity.
Peter makes cleaning fun by turning it into a game. Each girl is given a type of thing—clothes, toys or books—to be responsible for. At the count of three, the girls scramble to fill bins with their items.
Peter has designated a place for everything. There are bins for toys, cubbies for art supplies, and shelves for books and games.
How will they keep it tidy? "If we put everything back where it belongs," Miranda says. The Gavitt girls promise Peter that they'll keep the room neat and clutter-free.
Peter's method for attacking a messy garage is what he calls a "kick-start"—a high-speed, easy purge. Although it took years for the Gavitts to fill their garage with junk, it should only take them minutes to decide what they need to keep.
Peter says they need to create a vision and asks the Gavitts what they want from their garage. Charlton names four things: somewhere to work, park the car, refuge and storage.
Now, they must rely on split-second decision making to identify the items that stay and the items that go. "You have to be tough as nails," Peter says.
"Incredible!" Janet says.
Take a tour of Janet and Charlton's home!
Now, Janet and Charlton have stopped hiding their home and started entertaining again. "We've had friends over several nights in a row for drinks because we can. So that's incredible," Janet says.
Peter's philosophies have even carried into different aspect of Charlton's life. He says he even decluttered his appearance by shaving his beard and cutting his ponytail! Charlton's also organized his work life. "I've cleaned out my office at school and it's going go even further," he says. "I teach theater so the prop room is next and we're going to purge all the stuff there, and I've been sharing it with everyone that I can talk to."
Although their home is clean and tidy now, Charlton says he fears things could go back to the way they were. "It's a big fear, and I won't live like that again," he says.
Just like millions of other moms, Ella, a Chicago wife and mother, has a few organizational problem areas in her house. She says her husband, Alberto, and her two sons, Ellington and Chandler, are the main clutter creators.
Peter says the secret to having clutter-free kids starts with teaching them how to sort. He gives Ella's boys one trash bag and two boxes. He tells them to fill the bag with garbage, and put anything they want to sell at a yard sale in one box and charitable donations in the other.
Peter also encourages Ellington and Chandler to make cleaning fun—even boring chores like putting away clothes. "Here's what you have to do every night before you go to bed," Peter says. "You have to shoot baskets with your clothes."
The boys also get a lesson in using baskets and containers to organize their things and learn the important "in-out rule." With their very own label maker in hand and bins at their disposal, the boys start sorting!
Bookshelves were placed in one section of the room to act as a library, and Ellington and Chandler organized bins for photos, toy cars and bags.
"You see how it's so clean now?" Ellington says.
"It's clean. Oh, my goodness! I am so proud of you. It looks absolutely beautiful," Ella says.
Peter says the single biggest problem he sees in homes is closet organization. Many of Ella's issues stemmed from having too many clothes, some with the tags still on. "I always tell her that there's always going to be a sale and not every sale you need to participate in," Alberto says
Peter says we actually only wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time, and that there's a simple test to see which ones you wear most. "What you should do is take all of your clothes and hang them in the closet [facing one] way," he says. "And then every time you wear an article of clothing, you put it back in [the opposite way]."
After six months, Peter says to go through everything that's still hanging in its original position. "Ask yourself, 'Do I ever wear that?' Go through and anything that you haven't worn in 12 months, no longer fits, out of fashion, that you don't love, use as an opportunity to get rid of it," Peter says.
"I can actually see what I want to wear before I even reach for it," Alberto says.
Now it's time to purge the rest of Ella's closet, which is overrun by shoes. "We have to do a quick run on shoes," Peter says.
Peter forces Ella to make snap yes or no decisions on the shoes she wants to keep. "I'm telling you, if you pause for one moment, it's gone," he says as he holds up pair after pair.
As Peter flushes out unwanted shoes, Ella has a breakthrough. "I am certainly willing to make a change. I didn't realize how much I was going to be affected by the change, though," she says.
The blame, Ella realizes, doesn't just fall on her husband and children. She's also responsible for the clutter. "I have to look at myself as well and be very honest about my impact on this whole equation of things," she says.
Ella and Alberto are amazed. "You just don't realize that things have accumulated and it just became overwhelming," Ella says.
"This looks good," Alberto says. "This looks great."
Alberto says the family makes an effort to keep the house looking like it did when Peter and his team left. It's even carried over to Alberto's work. "The next week I went into my office and rearranged my office," he says.
The boys are even keeping their own rooms clean! "It just teaches all, it's [easy] after 20 years of marriage [to] accumulate a lot of stuff around the house," Alberto says.
Tip 9: Establish a "magic triangle" in your kitchen.
There are two strategies for keeping your kitchen lean and clean, Peter says. The first is to establish a "magic triangle" in your kitchen between the stove, your refrigerator and your sink. "Anything you use most often, keep it in the triangle," he says. "Anything you use less often, outside the triangle. It will save you a ton of time."
Tip 10: Identify useful utensils with the cardboard box test.
If you want to see what utensils you're really using, Peter recommends the cardboard box test. "Take all the utensils out of your drawers, put them in a cardboard box," he says. "For the next month, whenever you use one of these utensils, put it back in the drawer. If after four weeks it's still in the box, you don't need it."
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