Most of us live with more clutter than we ought to. It happens. Everyday bulk mail, school papers in backpacks, enough packaging to close a landfill. Then there are the saddle shoes, leisure suits, and love beads we hang on to just in case they come back into style.
The coffee table is piled with magazines from when Clinton was in office. The front closet is a repulsive mixture of sports equipment, board games, outgrown coats and broken umbrellas.
Then, you trip over a few toys and make your way to the kids' rooms. They are so hopelessly cluttered you want to buy a few sticks of dynamite, collect the insurance and start over.
The bathroom has 7 bottles of shampoo, each with about a teaspoon of product in them. There are 4 bars of soap in the shower, each in various stages of use. The toothpaste tube has crusties around it because no one can find the cap. There is something growing in the water glass. Here are some quick housecleaning tips.
Decluttering begins with what you do today and then works backwards to what is already a mess. Develop habits today and work on the rest with a daily commitment to do something about existing messes.
The book bags
Each day, when your children walk in the door, commit to spending 10 minutes with each of them. Go through every item in the backpack. Praise the good grades and then pitch them ceremoniously. Have them do the homework. Sign all permission slips, assignment books and anything else that requires action on your part. Promptly put them back in the book bag. Check the date on all library books. When you finish, the book bag should be clutter-free, and there should be nothing from it lying around. This is a good example to your children, as well. It teaches them to keep things organized and in order.
When you retrieve the mail, sit down and take 5 minutes to go through it. Have a waste basket or shredder handy. When you open a bill, throw away the outer envelope. Write out a check or pay the bill online that day. Write the date paid on the stub. File in a folder designated for that bill. If you aren't in a position to pay that day, place in a basket or box set in clear view with other bills to be paid when you can. Shred or throw away all junk mail.
Every day commit 20 minutes to work on one particular area of your home until it is decluttered. Do a kitchen drawer, a linen closet, a toy box. But do 20 minutes of going through each day. If it is broken, determine if it is fixable that week and if fixing it is cost-effective and feasible. If not, throw it out. If it is fixable, fix it. If it is outdated (1983 pocket calendar, 1999 cell phone, old prescriptions) get rid of it.
The big pitch
Clothes. Most of us have much more than we need. Go through them. If you haven't worn them in a year, it's time to give them away. Then, once decluttered, commit to getting rid of one item for every new item you add to your wardrobe or your kids' wardrobes. One in, one out.
Specific things to keep an eye out for
Old prescriptions (dispose of properly), old or duplicate phone books, magazines, electronics, calendars, empty ink cartridges, empty DVD and CD cases, games and puzzles with missing parts, broken toys, stained clothing, completely used up notebooks, dried up things — paint cans, lotion bottles, nail polish.
Remember those mostly empty shampoo bottles? Take away the full ones, add a little water to those old ones, shake, and promise family that they can have new ones back when old ones are empty. Same with soap, toothpaste, and the like. Use it up to earn new. Do the same with catsup bottles, pickle jars and other condiments in the fridge.
This is where you really begin your tutelage. Choose a day when you have no other commitments and make it fun. Tell them there is a pizza at the end of the chore. Then sit with them, undistracted, and focus on the task at hand. Go through each drawer, closet and toy box. Get rid of things that don't fit or are in unwearable condition. Mate socks and get rid of singles. Help them decide on what toys to keep and what to donate. Throw out broken toys and sports equipment. Help them organize what is left.
Lead your home into the world they deserve. Remember, baby steps each day and you'll soon be home free.