Let me start out by saying, I do not have this all figured out. Even though I have been organizing people's homes since middle school, my house does not exist in a perpetual state of apple-pie order. And if it did, I am fairly confident that folks - especially my family - would find me insufferable.
I share some of the same struggles that my clients have. For example, like Sisyphus from Greek Mythology, I too am condemned to roll the same rock up the mountain every day. Except my rock more closely resembles a basket of unfolded laundry. Because it IS a basket of unfolded laundry.
After working with a myriad of clients in homes of all sizes and clutter levels, my nerd-brain began to pick up on some patterns. There are things that many of my clients don't do that have significantly contributed to the chaos, clutter, and disorder that exists in their homes.
I noticed these habits because they directly contrast with what I do in my own home. Because as it turns out, I really am a total weirdo.
So, let's get to it! Below are 5 things I do that can help anyone conquer the clutter and, most importantly, keep it from coming back.
1. I Throw Out the Other Half This would make my mother flip her ever-lovin' lid, but I don't keep things “just in case I may need them later”. For example, if I use half of an onion for a recipe, but don't foresee myself needing the other half the next evening, I go ahead and pitch it.
That's right. A perfectly good half of an onion goes straight into the compost. Because if I am honest with myself and play the movie forward, I'm not going to use it. So I go ahead and cut out the middle man. I don't package it up for storage, allow it to wither in the back of the refrigerator, and then throw it away next week. I just straight up toss it.
This may feel irresponsible or wasteful, but in reality it is being fearless about your future. It is saying, “There are more onions in my future and I am provided for.” You can apply this principle to almost everything in your home.
2. I Book Time to Unpack my Suitcase Before I Leave for Vacation
Transition time. It's the time needed to end one task and begin another. When returning from a trip, it's the extra day allotted for unpacking suitcases, doing laundry, and going grocery shopping. Having this buffer of time already on the calendar allows one to decompress and prepare for life back at home.
The end of a trip isn't the only time this happens. There are many transitional moments in our day-to-day life. That moment we get the mail, or pull the clean clothing out of the dryer, or arrive home with a car full of purchases. If we don't account for the time needed to process – to open the mail, toss the junk mail, pay the bill - to fold the laundry and put it away- to store our purchases - we are left with what one client referred to as “piles of delayed decisions”.
And the piles pile up, leaving us feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
In organizing, I tell folks that everything is an experiment. The more open you are to trying new ways of living organized, the more successful I have found folks to be. Experiment with allocating extra time for transition. Seriously. Put it on the calendar.
And speaking of scheduling:
3. I Schedule My Returns. When we push the purchase button, we often fail to consider an exit strategy. What are we going to do if the item we bought needs to be returned or replaced?
Piles of boxes and bags of items that need to be returned to the store or an online retailer form quickly. You promise yourself you will “get to it someday”. But oh-snap, now you've missed the return deadline and you feel bad about it - all that wasted money! And how can you justify donating a brand new item that cost $$$$ to Goodwill? In the end, a mountain of buyers remorse has piled up in your entryway/garage/ bedroom. And you feel guilty every time you walk past it.
When considering a purchase, ask yourself how you are going to return it. Convenience is key. Only purchase from retailers with physical locations that are close to your home and/or have a convenient return policy.
And then when you have a handful of returns, schedule a time to return them. That's right - literally put it on the calendar. Tasks that do not have a date and time associated with them are just wishful thinking.
Returning your unwanted purchases may seem like a waste of time, but if you shift your thinking, you're simultaneously decluttering your home and making money. You're practically a professional home organizer! 😉
4. I Am Not a Member. Every superhero has an arch-nemesis. As a professional home organizer, I have 3. 1. Amazon Prime 2. Costco 3. Sam's Club
I am not a member of any of them. All of my clients are members of at least one, if not all three. They are one of the primary source of clutter in their homes.
These retailers have 3 key qualities, whether real or perceived, that make their goods irresistible.
Do you know what else has these characteristics? Cheap candy stored on the lowest shelf of an unlocked cabinet.
Wise parents do not store candy on the lowest shelf of an unlocked cabinet. They understand the irresistible nature of sugar to their offspring, so they limit access.
Here is the deal. I love Mounds candy bars. I know, I know. Making such a politically controversial statement regarding coconut is dangerous in this day and age, but I am willing risk it for the purpose of making a point. I literally have ZERO self control around this variety of candy bar. So when my wonderful husband gifts me this delightfully moist combo of coconut and dark chocolate, I hand it right back to him and ask him to hide it from me and not to give me any unless I ask.
Mounds candy bars are a weakness of mine. I know this about myself. So I intentionally limit access.
If you have a weakness for shopping, especially the online or wholesale club variety, you must do everything in your power to limit access.
Here is what that looks like.
A. Cancel your Amazon Prime and/or Costco and/or Sam's Club memberships. Think of it as an experiment. Give it 3 months.
B. Embrace a sleep-on-it mentality. That thing you put in your online shopping cart at 11:30PM? Wait until the next day to purchase it. You may find you don't want/need it after all. And bonus: you don't have schedule time to return it later.
C. Establish a dollar amount that you must run by your significant other prior to spending. Is it $100.00? $500.00? $1000.00? Pick a number. And then lower it. I realize that these sound extreme or borderline blasphemous. But by making it harder for stuff to get into your home, it will make it harder for stuff to get into your home.
And speaking of online impulse buys made in the wee small hours...
5. I Wake Up to an Alarm Clock
It's really more of a lamp on a timer, as I don't particularly prefer the being-stabbed-by-a-serial-killer-esque sound of a conventional alarm clock. But I understand the negative effects having my cell phone in my bedroom can have on my both my sleep and my spending habits. So at night, I banish my phone to where folks in ye olden days kept theirs. The kitchen counter.
Friends, I realize that this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a good jumping off place. I would encourage you to be open to the experiment. Try one. Try all five. Give it a few months. Your home, your calendar, and your bank account will thank you!