Clutter Hack: Everything Has a Place

It’s September.

I’m a big fan of setting goals each January, but with a long winter looming ahead the way forward can seem daunting. Christmas – with all its coziness and twinkle lights – is over. The last scraps of wrapping paper in the garbage can are a depressing reminder of just how much snow, sleet, and hail we have ahead of us (at least in Canada, where I live). It can feel hard to muster – or maintain – much enthusiasm.

But September can provide a much-needed fresh start. Crisp mornings, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, the smooth zip of new bookbags. Tanned and refreshed (maybe) from a season of more unstructured living, it feels good to ease back into the routine of concentrated work efforts, academic schedules…and less ice cream and strawberry shortcake.

September also prompts my clutter-clearing itch (but then again, so do the other 11 months). I can’t think of any day that can’t be improved, at least slightly, by reorganizing a sock drawer or downsizing my wardrobe. It really is one of the best mood-boosters for me. We all have our thing.

One friend spends hours working on her hand-lettering skills; my mother knits and quilts; my sister runs Ironman triathlons. I declutter.

My house can, at any given moment, look messy. This is fundamentally different than clutter. Messes mean things are not put away. Clutter means there are too many things.

So if you walk in at 6 pm on a weekday, my front entryway will be strewn with shoes and bookbags; the counters will have supper dishes and lunchboxes scattered in “a festive manner” (a phrase my husband coined for these sorts of messes). But, if you walk in at 8 pm, most surfaces will be clear.

What’s the deal? How do we go from raging mess to relatively uncluttered?

Tip #1: I’ve written about this before but, for me, one of the best ways to reduce clutter is to have less stuff. Go figure.

Tip #2 everything has a place

This tip is as simple as it sounds (though it can involve some head-scratching for less intuitive items): assign every item in your house a home.

This means there needs to be a place for the extra kitchen utensils you only use when cooking the turkey for your annual Thanksgiving dinner (although, for the love of all that is good, please get rid of those specialized utensils in the first place).

Depending on how much stuff you have, this could take some time.

It’s usually a streamlined process for me at this point because I have slowly assigned items a place over the years; now, when something new comes into the house, there is usually a logical destination (new LEGO belongs with the rest of the LEGO; important car documents go in the accordion filing folder tab set aside for auto).

Extra clothes for the kids? Each child has a tote on a specific shelf in our furnace room.

Work receipts? Each calendar year has a specific envelope in a file folder in a particular drawer in the office.

Fingernail clippers (adult and child-sized)? Top left-hand drawer in the main bathroom.

While some items naturally seek out their home (laundry detergent, for most people, likely belongs on or around the washing machine), other items are a bit more nebulous. Where should you store the popsicle molds you only use in the summer (the answer is likely in a donation bag)? What about the waffle iron you use once a week? Swimming towels? Art projects your kids bring home from school? The stamp collection you inherited from your grandfather? Important documents like wills, marriage and birth certificates, and passports? Christmas decorations? Extra non-perishable food? Camping supplies? Allergy pills? Band-aids and Polysporin? Glowsticks? Brooms and mops? Garbage bags? Skipping ropes, soccer balls, and beach toys?

Over the years I’ve designated a place for each of the items listed above (except for the popsicle molds – I really did donate those).

(JUst a few) benefits of everything having a place

Not only does having a place for everything make it easier to clean things up – it also makes them much easier to locate. I like to think I misplace items less frequently than the average person because I know where things should be. If I see a skipping rope or fingernail clippers or garbage bag lying around, I know exactly where to put it.

Another perk: if you put away the laundry detergent your husband picked up at the grocery store and notice you already have 3 jugs, you can put a hold on detergent purchases. If I always put hand-me-downs into a specific place, I can keep a handle on what the kids need when I’m out shopping. It means I’m less likely to buy more than I need; no more impulse buying when I see a great deal on toddler socks, realizing the bambino already has a dozen pairs at home.

My house is often messy. I don’t love messes, but they’re part of life. They’re part of embracing the afternoon swim in the pool, wet pile of towels be darned. I try to balance my love of order with the natural chaos that comes from enjoying adventures as they come.

But messes, without a lot of underlying clutter, can be dealt with relatively quickly – by having fewer things, resetting the messy spaces, and assigning everything a home.

4 thoughts on “Clutter Hack: Everything Has a Place”

  1. I have been realizing during the pandemic how clutter is affecting my focus. I would have told you it didn’t. We moved from a larger house to a smaller one right before the pandemic happened and I have too much stuff. I laughed out loud at the popsicle mold! I have that and hardly ever use it. Honest question – what do you do instead. I think I’m also guilting myself here that I should make my own so that it’s healthier. I also used to think I was really good at letting go of things. I think I was on my own though and with a husband and kids, I find it harder to manage the clutter.

    1. I think for most people (myself included), it’s so much harder to manage clutter when you’re managing OTHER people’s stuff as well. You don’t have complete autonomy over their things but, as a wife/mother, you’re often in charge of managing/organizing the items.

      As for the popsicle mold, I just stopped making them (I mostly just froze leftover smoothie mix in the molds)!

      1. I think I was making the popsicle mold and everyone’s stuff into more. Like the “should” aspect. I don’t even have a freezer big enough (or with the space) for the mold. It’s funny how it’s this thing but it’s everything all at the same time. I appreciate all the sharing on your process of dealing with clutter!

        1. It’s funny what things can bring along emotional attachments. It might be easy to get rid of your grandmother’s china, but nearly impossible to let go of an old teddy bear you won at an amusement park.

          I had the popsicle mold for years and got so tired of piling things around it in an obscure cupboard. And, I haven’t once missed it!!

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