The 6 Biggest Clutter Culprits

I can’t think of a single corporate position that would involve an employee showing up to work and randomly selecting odd jobs to complete at their own whim. Success, in nearly every industry, equates to careful planning and the ability to accomplish the plan. Being a stay at home mother, or a working mother for that matter is no different.
I recently had a reader come to me asking for help keeping her small home, with many occupants clean. I have had many many people comment on my “Cleaning Your House Like a Professional” post with additional questions, comments, or concerns. To answer your questions we must first remember that not all homes are created equally, nor are all mothers created equally. The size of the house, although it may have an impact, is not of importance to cleaning success. A small house may have fewer rooms and bathrooms to clean but because of the lack of space to organize and store belongings may actually be more difficult to keep looking nice. Whereas a large house may have plenty of spaces for storage but can take a great deal of time just to get around to all the rooms. Scrutinizing the size of your house is not NECESSARILY the problem, however, planning your schedule and your organizing your belongings ARE where you should begin.
How much do we own and WHY? Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine if you have too much stuff!
Do each of your children have dozens and dozens of clothes so that completing the washing each week is not necessary?
Do you have closets full of toys that are never played with or that have broken parts or pieces?
Do you have piles of Paper (mail) sitting around on the counter top that you “hope to get to soon”?
Do you have furniture that takes up too much space and isn’t functional?
Do you have so many dishes that you can go days without washing (or do you buy disposable dishes)?
Are you storing items in unlikely places, (the groceries are in the oven because the cupboards are too full)?
Do you collect knick knacks and decorations that are taking up valuable storage space?
Clothing, toys, paper, furniture, dishes and decorations are the top six problem areas in a messy house. We live in a throwaway society yet many of us lack the ability to actually throw things away. We buy many items that are of little worth and should be disposed of often yet we hold on to them as if they are adding value to our lives. If getting rid of things is something you struggle with now is the time to overcome your fears.
So how many clothes does a person actually need? A question I always ask myself is “would my grandmother have had this”. Adult clothing is a tough topic because we all have a tendency to keep things we don’t wear because we just know we will ‘fit into it soon’ or ‘have another baby’ or ‘it will be in style again next year’. Don’t fall for it. Only keep what you wear and toss the rest. Ten to fifteen shirts, a few nice clothes for going out and 7 or 8 pair of pants should be sufficient if you are lacking closet space.
My kids each have 5 drawers for their clothes; one for tops, one for bottoms, one for pajamas, one for socks, underwear, and swimsuits and one for Sunday clothes. I also keep on small box of clothes, per kid, in the closet for out of season clothes that I anticipate them being able to wear as soon as the weather changes. Whatever doesn’t fit in their designated space doesn’t get to stay. As it works out, my kids each have about 10 pair of pants (6 nice ones for school) and 13-14 shirts. This is enough for them to wear a variety of clothes but it isn’t enough to get through if I don’t do the laundry regularly. (One day I ran in to an acquaintance at Wal-mart. During the typical “hows it going” conversation she told me she hadn’t had a chance to get to the laundry so she was at the store to buy her little boy some pajamas before bed. Really? It wasn’t even late at night, she could have WASHED her boys clothes in the time it took her to go shopping!)
It didn’t take me long after having my first kid to see that baby clothes can consume a person in no time. At first I saved EVERYTHING my oldest daughter ever wore. As she grew older I realized I didn’t have the space for a gigantic tote to hold each size of girl clothes AND boy clothes we ever purchased. I had to decide what to keep and what to send to good will (or to my nieces up the street). After a few years of practice I have decided to keep only the clothes that cost a lot of money (mostly Sunday clothes) AND were still in very good condition.
The next item of contention is toys. Make this simple and involve your kids. Determine how much space you have for toys, put the most important toys in the selected space and get rid of everything else. If you start feeling guilty remind yourself of the ‘grandmother rule’ – “Did my grandmother have this?” If she lived a happy successful life without a bazillion toys your kids will too. Kids are more resourceful than we give them credit for. If they have less they will learn to use their imaginations and be much more capable of entertaining themselves. When we are constantly shoving electronic devices and random toys in their faces playing is more difficult for them because they never quite figure it out!
As much as I love to read catalogs and magazines I am anxious for the day we can live in a paperless society. First things first: start at one end of your house and pick up every piece of paper you can find. This includes books, recipes, letters, magazines, catalogs, bills, photographs, homework, etc. Place ALL Of it on a clean flat surface and get the trash can. Go through each piece of paper and either throw it away or put it in an unseen home. Bills go in the bill folder, homework goes in the back pack, junk mail goes in the trash, and pictures go in the photo box. Start with a PAPER FREE HOME! Make the determination to keep papers out of your visible sight. When you bring in the mail sort it immediately, throw away the junk, file the bills, open and read the correspondence. Most importantly (at least for me), go through your kids back packs every week. Only keep the projects that actually took some time and effort to complete. Read and discuss the rest and then throw it out. No one will ever care that your kid knew how to add 2+4 in kindergarten.
Analyze your furniture and replace or remove anything that isn’t working for you. If your home is small and you want it to seem bigger, use less furniture. The more floor space that is visible the cleaner your home will feel. When my 3rd son grew out of the crib I moved him into a room with my other boy. I had to get rid of a very cute (and matching) dresser because it was not useful for storage. I replaced it with a cubby cube to hold baskets for his clothes since the closet was too small for both boys.
Dishes are as constant as laundry and often have the same problem. If you have 4 people in your home there is no need for you to have 30 plates (if you like to keep additional dishes for company you must first have the storage capacity to hold them). Dishes should be COMPLETELY finished every day, spilling into a second day on occasion when circumstances dictate. If you have more dishes than you need you are much less likely to wash them on a regular basis. When lunch time roles around and all of the dishes are dirty you will be forced to take 10 minutes to clean out the sink. Buying disposable dishes only gives you ANOTHER excuse for not empting out the sink.
Don’t expect yourself to do the dishes all by yourself. In our home my 5 and 7 year old are required to put all the dirty dishes in the sink after a meal and to empty the dishwasher every day. My 3 year old also puts his dishes in the sink and he puts away the clean silverware. My husband helps out whenever he can, especially on the weekends. Dishes can consume our lives if they are not done every day!
I love a beautifully decorated house as much as the next guy but I love a CLEAN looking house even more. Decorations no longer serve their purpose if they are not showcased to stand out and draw ‘happy’ attention. If you have too many decorations or too few places to put your decorations they need to be disposed of (a fireplace mantel shouldn’t be home to dozens of trinkets). Choose the items you love the most or the ones that have the most value to you and put them in a place where they can actually be seen and appreciated (2 or 3 of your favorite items on the mantel will be seen and valued!).
I saw on a tv show once a lady who collected dolls. She had so many dolls they were taking over her home. After speaking to a therapist she went through her collection and realized that only one fourth of them actually had any monetary or sentimental value. The rest were purchased simply to increase her NUMBER. Having more is NOT going to raise your value of life. Pick your favorites and get rid of the rest!
Years ago I remember going into the home of an acquaintance and was startled at the condition of his home. His mother obviously had a rather serious clutter problem but that didn’t catch my attention nearly as much as the fact that she had DECORATED her clutter. Near the kitchen table was a 5 foot tall wire shelf (very cute indeed!), the perfect place to show off some fabulous Easter decorations. However, rather than placing the knick knacks on the cute little shelf (which was the shelf’s original purpose) she put the decorations on top of the clutter that was consuming the shelf. Decorating mess was something completely foreign to me. I felt sad that this guys mother had cute holiday d├ęcor that couldn’t be fully appreciated.
*The Solution
Now that we know what is making our houses a mess all we need to do is take care of it. Depending on the condition of your home right now this could be an intense project or it could be a simple reevaluation of how you manage your belongings. Keep in mind that by getting rid of all your extra stuff NOW you will make maintenance LATER so much easier.
Things to ask when dejunking:
·         Would my grandmother have had ‘this’?
·         Does ‘this’ make my home feel smaller and more cluttered?
·         Does ‘this’ give me an unnecessary amount of mess to pick up each day?
·         Do I have so many of ‘this’ thing I am not REQUIRED to clean the dirty ones?
Remember, a house is only a home when it provides us with comfort, security, and peace. A messy house is not a peaceful house. Now don’t get me wrong, anyone who has ever dropped by my happy dwelling unannounced will know that that my floors OFTEN disappear under a pile of toys, clothes, snow boots, back packs, and LOTS of children. A home should be lived in and enjoyed while still being maintainable. There are days when my home looks like an upturned snow globe but the clothes are washed and put away EVERY WEEK, the toys all have a special home, the paper gets tossed out on a regular basis, the furniture is sparse leaving plenty of open floor space, the dishes are cleaned daily, and I only have a small handful of locations designated for holiday decorations. No matter how ‘lived in’ my house becomes on a given day I know I can have it ready for visitors with an hour’s notice. I take comfort in this knowledge.
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