Candy's Kitchen
Dear Peter Walsh,

Last year, our youngest daughter went through a divorce, lost her job and entered nursing school. She moved back home with us, along with her 5-year-old daughter, our only grandchild. We are thrilled to have them both with us, as we want very much to have a positive impact on both of their lives.

However, the condition of my house has suffered tremendously due to the increase of the additional household items from my daughter and from having an active child and three busy adults living here.

I need help getting reorganized. I want to have my house put back into order so that all four of us can have a calm and orderly place to live.

— Candy

Thanks for the letter, Candy.

First, I want you to stop for a minute and think about doing a load of laundry. If you turn the machine off half way through the cycle and let the wet wash sit for a few days, we all know what we end up with—a smelly load of wet clothes. No one only does half the cycle with the wash.

It's the same with your home—you have to finish every "cycle" that you start. If you dirty a dish, you put it in the dishwasher or wash and dry it...not leave it on the sink or kitchen counter. If you take off an article of clothing, you either hang it back up or put it in the hamper...not leave it on the floor or the back of a chair. If you finish a can of soda, you throw the can into the recycle bin...not leave it on the coffee table in the family room. You have to finish the cycle!

In a busy household, this mind-set is critical or else things very quickly get out of place and so out of control. Finish what you start, close what you open, replenish what you empty. The whole family has to agree to this. Also, teach it to the 5-year-old, or you will never get on top of the clutter.

— Peter
Cheryl's Kitchen
Dear Peter Walsh,

I used to be relatively organized, before having children—now 9 and 11—and the accumulation that accompanies them. I homeschool the children and feel that I don't have time during the day to put decluttering routines into place, at least not like other stay at home moms whose children go to public school.

The island in the kitchen is one of the biggest problems in the house. Everything ends up there. Your description of the kitchen counter as a place where "we put things until we have time to deal with them" is a spot-on.

How can I organize my kids' school stuff and keep the kitchen clutter-free?

— Cheryl

Stop the train, Cheryl! There are four of you living in your home. The four of you are creating the clutter, and the four of you have to be involved in the decluttering and getting (and staying) organized.

You mentioned that you don't have the time. I don't accept this. We give time to what we feel is important.

First—it's time for you to have a heart-to-heart with your husband. If you're feeling overwhelmed and without time for yourself, that's the first thing that needs to be addressed. No man wants a home where his wife is swamped. Tell him how you feel and work out a plan together. You need support and assistance.

Second—call a family meeting. You and your husband need to get the kids on board. They are old enough to be helping around the house and stepping up to make sure their mom doesn't have to take care of it all.

Third—find the time. Every night before dinner the TV should be switched off for 10 or 15 or 20 or however many minutes it takes for everyone to do a sweep around the house to declutter, straighten up and organize anything
that needs attention.

The help you have is living right there with you—you just have to put them
to work!

— Peter
Diane's dining room
Dear Peter Walsh,

My husband and I have two beautiful children. Our youngest, Tyler, has cerebral palsy, and with all of his medical needs, special education and medical supplies comes a lot of papers, paperwork and other stuff.

I feel like I can never get out from under all my paper piles. I can get them cleaned up and organized for about a week, and then I am right back under the piles. I don't feel I have a good enough system or the space to keep everything organized. I hope you can help.

— Diane

Diane, you need to get a good filing system in place today! Try a color-coded system like FileSolutions that will enable you to quickly and efficiently file and retrieve what you need.

No file system will work, however, without you committing to maintain it. I notice in the photos that there are a lot of things not put away (the cans of paint on the kitchen counter for example). It might be an old-fashioned saying, but "a place for everything and everything in its place" holds true here.

Stop buying anything but the essentials for three months. Implement the Trash Bag Tango  immediately (everyone in the house takes 10 minutes a day to fill two trash bags—one with trash and one with things for Goodwill). If you feel you have too much stuff, it's time to declutter what you no longer need.

This is tough to say, but you also need to do this for both of your children. You refer to the fact that this is difficult on your daughter, "who has to suffer the most." That line alone is motivation enough to get systems in place today to turn the clutter around.

— Peter
Sarah's dining room
Dear Peter Walsh,

My kitchen and meal area is the messiest area of my house. The other rooms are relatively tidy. My dining table is an extension of my ridiculously tiny laundry room! I hang clothes to dry on the clothes racks by the big glass door in the dining room. The clothes to be folded are piled on the table in great heaps. Again, this just mounts up, and i just feel overwhelmed.

In the back corner is a small wardrobe cabinet, housing only a small part of our overflowing motorcycle apparel. Motorcycle gear bags, helmets, boots and other bulky protective clothing litters the floor around the table and beside the kitchen bench. My ironing board is wedged under the bench stacked with more clutter. I guess its pretty obvious I don't do any ironing!

When I really think about my clutter management around the house, I guess I can trace it all back to my tiny laundry room. Is there any way to get this problem under control?

— Sarah
Sarah, there are two issues here.

First, dishes don't stack up and clothes don't pile up by themselves. You have to commit to washing the dishes when you're done with them and folding and putting the clothes away as soon as they're dry. It's that simple. These two tasks have to become a part of your daily routine.

Repeat after me: "When I dirty a dish or utensil, I will wash, dry and put it away. When the clothes are dry, I will immediately fold and put them

This is part of living as an adult in your own home. There is no magic solution here. Step up and take responsibility for the way you live.

Secondly, it's great that you're trying to store the motorcycle gear in one place, but it sounds like the space is too small. You have to either get a
larger storage place for the gear or cut down the amount you have. You only have the space you have, and if you want to stay organized, the stuff you have has to fit reasonably into the space you allocate for it.

— Peter

Peter's expert advice on tidying up the living room  


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