There once was a beautiful princess who fell in love with a mean troll. The mean troll constantly made the princess hang up her clothes, put jewelry in a jewelry box (instead of on whatever flat surface happened to be nearby), and hide all of the dishes in cabinets. He constantly roamed the land muttering, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” They lived happily ever after.
Okay, so the princess was me and the troll was my husband during our first year of marriage. Having been raised by a pack rat, my level of tolerance for clutter was much higher than my husband’s, who was raised by a neat freak. It wasn’t always easy, but here’s the good news–once you commit to it, living a clutter-free life is remarkably satisfying, relaxing, and, yes, even easy.
As a reformed clutterer, here are my best tips for learning to live with less and love it.
Downsize: This is the most important aspect of living clutter-free. We’ve already given you some great tips on downsizing, so you know the basics. But it can’t be emphasized enough–it will be very difficult to ditch clutter if you are holding on to too much stuff. Try to pare down your possessions and get rid of things that are duplicates or that you never really liked in the first place. Think in categories–start with clothes, then books, then kitchenware–and get rid of what you don’t really need.
Everything Has a Home: This was one of the most difficult things for me to get used to, but it was absolutely key to learning how to live clutter-free. Everything has to have a “correct” place to exist. You can’t cut clutter if everything is optional.
There is a correct place for your keys. There is an ideal place to leave your laptop bag. Your cleaning products, coat, and toothbrush all have a correct location. The mail–Oh! The mail!–has an ideal place to live where you will see it, process it, discard what you don’t need, and take care of what you do need. If you set things down in a different place all the time, you’re going to constantly battle clutter, but if you know where everything goes, you’ll be able to put it there the first time.
This also means that everything you bring into the house needs to have a correct place to live. If you buy a new serving platter, there needs to be a place for it. If you buy a new hair dryer, you either need a new place for it or it needs to be replacement for the old one and live in that place.
Flat Surfaces Are Your Enemy: If you have a bathroom counter full of makeup, toiletries, and hairbrushes, and “store” your flat iron in the sink itself, I am going to tell you something crazy. Your bathroom countertop should be bare. There should be soap, maybe a hand towel, and that’s it. Everything else can go in bags, bins, or cabinets and be used, then replaced, as needed. Really–this is something you can do. If your bathroom does not have storage space or shelves, install them, then use them to keep everything neatly put away except when actually in use.
Choose one flat surface to get control of. I chose the bathroom counter, but maybe your kitchen counters are a cluttered mess all of the time. How much can you minimize clutter just on that one surface in that one room? Get control there, then move somewhere else. Do you pile clothes on a convenient chair in your bedroom? Stop doing that. Is your desk a mess? Get it under control. The more you control individual spaces, the more the entire room and eventually your entire home will benefit.
Use the 5-minute rule: Each evening my husband walks around the house looking for items that are out of place. Maybe it’s a towel that was left somewhere, a blanket that is lying out without being folded, or maybe there’s a water bottle that needs to go to the recycling bin. It never takes more than five minutes and ensures that everything gets a quick straightening once a day. That means that every morning we wake up to a neat house with everything in its place. That’s a good way to start the day.
Living clutter-free means never having to worry about a big clean-up project taking up your whole weekend. Keep things better organized and unexpected guests are a pleasure, not an anxiety producer. And if you’re looking for a home you’ll love too much to keep it cluttered, let us know! Our Eng Garcia Grant real estate pros will help you find a house with the style and storage you need to keep everything straight.