Too much stuff? How to can the clutter

If you look around your house and see clutter everywhere, it's time to take action. This article offers easy steps to help you on your way to freedom from junk.

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  • I take joy in organizing my home. Having neat and tidy spaces makes me feel calm and happy. It also makes it easier to find things. There are three ideas that have formed my philosophy on organization in my home. Keeping them in mind helps me eliminate clutter and resist buying things I don’t need.

  • A place for everything and everything in its place

  • Your organization needs to make sense for you. If it doesn’t, change it. Be willing to reorganize and shuffle things around as needed. You don’t have to use spaces as they were intended. I turned an upstairs linen closet into a game closet and store craft supplies in an unused kitchen cupboard. I think of items as having “homes” where they “live.” It helps me think of things that need to be stored together and items that need to be easy to find because they are used often.

  • Containers have to be more than cute. They must be functional. There are many options, so measure your space or take stock of your things and look for the right sized bin or container. You can find containers in many stores. They can be very inexpensive up to quite expensive. I have purchased several organization items from Target and IKEA.

  • Help your family know where things go. Try not to be the only person who can find something in the house, or you will be constantly finding things and putting them away. Label or color-code containers, like toy bins, so kids can help clean up.

  • The second law of thermodynamics

  • I had to laugh when I realized I could apply the law of entropy to clutter. Even though I’m sure it’s not what scientists had in mind, it works. The Engineering Toolbox explains that the entropy of the universe increases. An increase in overall disorder is therefore spontaneous. Entropy can be produced but never destroyed. Houses seem to spontaneously increase in disorder as well.

  • Keep up on your cleaning so clutter can’t get out of control. I spend Monday mornings picking up after the weekend, try not to go to bed with the dirty dishes in the sink and add organizing tasks to my to-do list. If your universe is becoming more disordered, consider a new system, getting rid of things, or taking a day out to de-clutter.

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  • Realize your house is not going to be perfectly clean, particularly if you have more than one person at home. Learn to deal with it. A friend recently gave me her mantra about a perfect house. She said, “If you come to visit me, you’re welcome any time. If you come to visit my house, let me know.”

  • Go through your house methodically and de-clutter and organize. Have a garbage bag, recycling bin and a donation bin with you. If you haven’t used something in the past year, consider getting rid of it. Make a list of spaces to organize. Small spaces (like a drawer or cupboard) don’t take long. Make it fun by listening to music or a podcast and enjoying a snack or drink. If you de-clutter each space at least twice a year, the time you spend each time will be shorter. Have kids help sort through toys, clothes and keepsakes in their own bedrooms.

  • Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without

  • Combat clutter by bringing less of it into your home. Do you really need that thing you want to buy? Do you have stuff no one uses or looks at? Ask yourself: Do I have room for it? Is there a place it can “live?” I’ve talked myself out of many things this way.

  • Try not to be attached to things. Hoarding can be a serious problem for some people. Keep a few mementos that are important to you, and find a way to organize them as well. I have one under-the-bed storage box for each child. They can keep school artwork and certificates, but only what fits in the box. Some keepsakes lose their importance as time goes on. Sort through yours on occasion and see what you can do without.

  • Serve others by passing along items you no longer need. Many people have yearly yard sales to get rid of things they no longer use. Several charities accept items in good condition. Look for one in your area. I like to pass along kids’ clothes to friends and family.

  • Ridding your home of excess clutter and things will make you feel good inside and out. Keep these three ideas in mind as you tackle the entropy in your own home.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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