How to Clutter-Proof Your Home
Level 1: Technical ProblemsAll messes can be attributed to at least one technical problem. Technical problems are simple mistakes in your organizing system that can be as easy to fix as changing a light bulb. Identify your problem area, and try one of these solutions to get started.
Simply put, you can't put things away if there's no place to put them. If items are piles all over the place, it is likely that you never designated a particular spot for them. In other words, the item has no "home."
Solution: Take the time to assign each item a single, consistent home, e.g. hats always go in this basket; scissors always go in this drawer. Label everything so you'll always remember where it belongs and easily find it when you need it.
If your closets, drawers, cabinets and shelves are all packed full—and you still have lots of surface piles—you've got more stuff than storage space.
Solution: You've got two options: (1) Lighten your load, or (2) Add more storage space. Make sure you're using the space you do have as efficiently as possible. Find hidden pockets of storage between cabinet shelves spaced too far apart, under the hanging clothes in your closet, on the insides of closet doors. Maximize vertical wall space and look for dual function furniture (end tables, coffee tables and ottomans) items that feature storage.
Is it too much of an ordeal to put things away? If you have to go climb a ladder, move a piece of furniture out of the way, or cross the length of your house just to put something away—you'll never do it.
Solution: Store things where you use them to make them easily accessible. For example, if you do your bills in the kitchen, store your financial files and calculator there, not in the spare bedroom upstairs. Look for where your piles are and create storage there.
Lets' face it—organizing and putting things away everyday is a dull, repetitive chore.
Solution: Make it more appealing and fun by adding a sense of personal style. Get containers you love instead of withering baskets, broken-filing cabinets and leftover moving boxes. Don't underestimate the power of pizzazz—it can make a big difference in whether you feel inspired to use and maintain your organizing system.
Level 2: External Realities
Level 2: External Realities
These are environmental forces that limit how organized you can be. Recognizing them empowers you to address the true source of the problem, and stop feeling like there's something wrong with you. Identify the source(s) of your disorganization and use the solutions below to put them into perspective.
The "Other" Person
There's nothing more frustrating than having your organizing efforts undermined or disregarded by someone you live or work with.
Solution: Whether it's your spouse, child, roommate, co-worker, or employer, appeal to their own priorities by finding out what the clutter is costing them—your spouse may hate being late for work everyday, your child may be frustrated by losing game pieces, your boss may be embarrassed in front of visiting clients. Design systems together so you both have ownership—and they'll be more motivated to put things away.
Running a home, taking care of kids, helping your aging parents, and holding down a job are huge responsibilities. If you're trying jam 20 hours worth of tasks into a 10-hour day, it's going to be nearly impossible to stay organized. Who has time to clean up?
Solution: Track yourself for a week, noting everything you get done, as well as what you don't. Then take a hard look to see what tasks on your list are superfluous. If everything must get done, get help. Consider delegating tasks to other family members, or hiring an outside service.
Technology has sped up the pace of life, allowing us to work faster, learn more, do more, and be reachable 24 hours a day. It's easy to get caught up in the frenzy of pursuing every opportunity, but perpetual motion will burn you out.
Solution: Apply the brakes from time to time, and be willing to say "no" occasionally. Just because emails and calls arrive instantaneously, doesn't mean you need to answer them immediately. Don't be afraid to turn off the ringer on your phone, or the message alert on your email, and slow down to keep your life in order and calm.
Each time we go through a major life change (getting married or divorced, moving, having a family, switching careers, starting a new business, going back to school,) we experience a breakdown of our organizational systems. It's inevitable—we are dealing with a new set of realities—and it takes time to process the information and to actually see what there is to organize.
Solution: Wait for things to settle a bit, so you have a clearer idea of your new priorities and needs, before setting up any new organizing systems.
Living or working in a tiny home or office with little storage space will challenge even the most organized person. If you are already down to just the essentials—and have utilized every square inch of space—you may have simply run out of room. Trying to store more things than is physically possible will only increase your frustration.
Solution: If the needs of your (growing) family or (changing) job have increased, it may be time to look for a bigger space. Until that's possible, use an off-site storage facility to hold off-season items, memorabilia, and other items you don't need to access daily.
Level 3: Psychological Obstacles
Level 3: Psychological ObstaclesHidden internal forces may be pulling you towards disorganization—no matter how much you crave control! You may be subconsciously sabotaging your organizing systems and holding yourself back. If you see yourself in the categories below, try one of the solutions to get started.
Need for Abundance
Did you grow up with scarce resources and feel like you never had "enough" (money, clothes, food, attention, or love)? If so, possessing large quantities of stuff now, as an adult, is probably comforting. It gives you a sense of fullness, comfort, and security while the idea of a spare, clutter-free environment makes you feel anxious and empty.
Solution: Instead of fighting your personality and forcing yourself to throw things out—try celebrating the abundance by organizing everything you own. Once everything is accessible and orderly, it may be easier for you to see what's truly excess and part with items bit by bit. No matter what you'll have the chance to enjoy your belongings, instead of feeling lost under them.
Do you get so emotionally attached to objects, it's hard to get rid of anything—even if you don't use it anymore? When items symbolize a part of ourselves, a time in our lives, or people we knew, it can be tough to let go. Saving some items is fine, but if you save everything—you won't be able to enjoy any of it.
Solution: Limit how much you keep for sentimental reasons and hold on to only the most important 20 percent in each category: kid's artwork, old clothes, etc. Make letting go of the rest easier by giving it away to a friend or charity. Remember, you can still own all of the memories of your past without holding onto every physical reminder of it.
Some people keep their lives or spaces disorganized because they love the thrill of coming to their own rescue and seeing their way through almost impossible situations. Often, people like this grew up under challenging circumstances and more so than anyone know how to handle a crisis. Actually capable of setting up wonderful organizing systems, they are always dismantling them and starting over-in search of an even better solution.
Solution: Instead of constantly rebuilding your organizing systems, direct your talents to a new challenge. Learn a language. Become a better parent. Get involved in your community. Put those expert-problem solving talents to better use than living in constant chaos!
Clutter can serve as a wonderful and convenient distraction from life's more complex challenges. In other words, as long as you have a closet to clean or a stack of papers to sort, you can avoid thinking about more perplexing problems.
Solution: If you are using clutter to distract yourself from bigger problems, search for a more direct way of coping with major stress. Reach out to a friend or professional who can help you sort out the real issues you're avoiding, and then you'll begin to enjoy your orderly home again.
If your disorganization gets so extreme that you won't let anyone into your home or office, or if you frequently turn down social invitations to spend all your time "organizing" and "re-organizing" your stuff, consider whether you are using clutter as a protective shield—a way of insulating yourself from the outside world. It can be okay to want some private space, but living in that chaos may increase your anxiety level.
Solution: Don't organize your whole space all at once. Go slowly. Start by creating one clutter-free room in which you keep nothing but items you use and love. If the experience feels good, create another room like that, then another. Remember, an organized work or living space is a much nicer "retreat" than a cluttered one.