How To Declutter When You Live With Clutterbugs
Last night I told my husband that I dream of a small mid-century modern coffee table with absolutely nothing on it, instead of the leather storage ottoman jammed full of games and puzzles and topped with a beautiful wooden tray that is currently loaded full of trains, cars, toy boats and books.
Before I was married, I had a white couch and the only clutter was my books, which were on shelves. I moved every year in my 20s (because I got bored of my apartment) so I didn’t hold on to unnecessary stuff. My personal design style is clean, bright and clutter-free. I am the only person in my family who aspires for minimalism.
My husband has always been a clutterbug and loves books, magazines and electronics. He never throws things away, even if they are broken (maybe he can fix them!). My boys each have more toys than any one child should have. So many toys that more than one service provider (plumber, termite inspector, HOA handyman) have commented that our kids have a lot of toys. We don’t necessarily buy them a lot, but they are the only nephews on both sides of the family and my parents love giving them gifts.
That adds up to a LOT of stuff in a small, two-bedroom condo. While I fantasize about walking around with giant trash bags and getting rid of almost everything, I can’t do that to my family. They have as much right to live how they like as I do. So what do I do? I partly declutter in secret and I partly make no clutter zones. I created a few “mom only zones” in my home that are mine and no one is allowed to leave stuff on. If you leave something there, it becomes mine (which means, trash).
I’ve had my “mom only zones” for a while, so now I’m moving on to other decluttering strategies. It’s all a work in progress since I don’t have a ton of time to get rid of things, I am not always physically able and I’d rather be doing other things with my time.
If you’re in the same boat, here are some of my strategies that help me live a semi clutter-free life in a home full of clutterbugs.
Clutter Free Living Tips
As I said, for me, de-cluttering and becoming more minimalist is a work in progress. I love the look of clean lines and clutter-free surfaces. No one in my family cares about that type of thing. In fact, it seems like they intentionally fight it. Here are some things I’ve done to get closer to minimalism.
Decluttering Step 1: Create homes for things.
The only way you will be able to create clutter-free surfaces is if you have homes for things. The only way to have a home for everything is to get rid of things you don’t use or don’t need.
I would love to say I do a giant declutter in a weekend and I’m done. Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic. I don’t have the health stamina or the personal time to do that. I like my family and my weekends are mostly for them. So instead, I do a little bit of decluttering at a time.
I essentially take one storage bin at a time to my room and dump the whole thing out. I group like with like and ruthlessly got rid of a lot of items. Here are some examples:
- My kids have a lot of learning flash cards, science kit games and other pseudo educational toys (their uncle is an elementary school principal). Rather than having them stored in various places, I put them all in one bin.
- I also get rid of anything that isn’t played with or is not age appropriate anymore. Since my kids are four years apart, I hold on to a lot of things for a long time knowing my youngest will eventually enjoy it. Once he outgrows something, out it goes.
- I get rid of anything I don’t need or use. If I haven’t used something in a long time and I don’t anticipate a need for it, it’s out. There isn’t enough real estate in my house to hold on to maybes.
- I do my decluttering when no one is around or when everyone is super busy so that items that are never played with don’t suddenly become a favorite toy/item again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made the mistake of trying to get rid of things in front of my kids (or husband). Suddenly, the item becomes treasured and can never leave the house again.
- Do a major declutter before a gift-giving occasion. I do a major purge before Christmas since my family showers the boys with presents. I also do a smaller purge before each of their birthdays.
- Don’t hold on to things that are old and ratty. I had an overflowing pajama drawer because I never got rid of any pajamas since, well, no one was going to see me in them. I finally went through and got rid of the ratty pajamas and now my drawer closes and I feel better in my pajamas. The same goes for socks. As I’ve gotten older, I prefer to wear socks at home, rather than bare feet (really odd since I always went bare foot). My sock drawer was over flowing so I finally got rid of any socks that were not quite white or had seams that were uncomfortable. I don’t need 50 pairs of socks – no one does.
Decluttering Step 2: Pick one space at a time.
I started with my “me” zones first since they only require maintenance by me. Since I am able to maintain them, I’ve slowly started decluttering other spaces that are shared. For example, we have a counter between our kitchen and dining room. It becomes a hotbed of clutter. The kids put junk there, my husband puts balled up receipts there (don’t get me started) and we also have the landline and pen container there, as well as the fruit bowl and coasters. It houses a lot of clutter.
Last weekend, I took every single item off the counter and cleaned it really well. Then, I only put back items that need to be there – landline, fruit bowl, pen cup and coasters. It was so clear that I was finally able to frame a favorite photo of the kids and put it on the counter. It is now a happy, clean space.
I did the same thing to the small counter above our bar area. Previously, my husband used it to shove papers, more receipts and tech clutter (cables, batteries, etc.). I took everything off and put every item in its proper home. I also gave my husband an empty file folder to keep on his desk. That is the new home for the random bits of paper that he chooses to keep.
When I don’t have a lot of time, I do one drawer at a time. I once read a blog post on decluttering the visible places first since they will inspire you to keep going. While I definitely see the merit in that, I find that when I get through the drawers and bins, I make room for the things that aren’t put away because there probably wasn’t a place to put them. If you have a small home, you know what I’m talking about. Closet space is limited, we don’t have a yard or a garage. If I don’t have a home for something, it sits out so doing drawers and bins first works best for our home.
The most decluttering change I have made is creating a new family rule: if something is left on one of the clean zones for more than 24 hours, it becomes mine (aka trash). You’d be surprised by how well my family does at not making those zones a dumping ground for things they don’t want to put away!
Ready for the next steps in decluttering? Check out part two!