For years I would repeat the same cycle over and over again. I would be frustrated by the chaos caused by all of the stuff inside my home, so I would spend hours reorganizing everything. Then, a few months later, I would be frustrated again and realize it was due to an unorganized home…again.
It wasn’t until this cycle repeated itself for years and years that I realized I needed to figure out how to stay organized. Like, for good.
The problem was…I kinda loved organizing. My love for organizing began when I was a kid. I never even really played with my toys as a child. Instead, I reorganized them repeatedly.
I joke with my husband that I never learned the art of imaginative play, much to the detriment of my children. For instance, all of my Barbies never talked to each other. I simply set up their home and grocery store, changed their clothes, and then did it all over again. And somehow, for me, this was “fun”.
As a teenager, I organized notes from my friends. I organized my clothes. And I organized my school supplies. I could spend HOURS alone in my bedroom listening to Emery and reorganizing all of my things.
This love for organizing carried over into adulthood, but the problem of feeling unorganized was new for me. Like I said earlier, after years and years of reorganizing, I finally realized that I need to figure out why I couldn’t STAY organized.
Why can’t I keep my home clutter-free and organized?
I knew that I wasn’t purposely messing everything up just so I could fix it. (I loved organizing, but I never took it this far).
Finally, as I took an honest look around my home, I realized that the problem was that I had too much stuff. This was the real reason I couldn’t stay organized.
I couldn’t handle the amount of stuff I had let creep into my home over time.
It looked like a “normal” amount of stuff, so it felt like the problem was with me. Why couldn’t I handle keeping up my home? Or should I blame the husband? The children?
No, the blame was on me, at least in part. I needed to own up to the fact that I had a tendency to buy WAY more than I needed.
My home was filled to the brim with things that meant nothing to anyone! Things that were stealing our time, our money, our space, and our sanity. If I wanted to stay organized, I needed to deal with the number of things in my home first.
How can I stay organized?
So, how could I stay organized?
First, I needed to declutter.
I needed to create a new vision for what I wanted my home to look and feel like. I wanted my home to feel inviting, cozy, and calm. And, I also wanted my home to look clean, organized, but still like we lived there.
It seemed impossible at first. How do you strip your things down to only the necessities and still have a home with personality?!
The problem was that I was imagining other people’s homes when I thought of my own home decluttered. I was comparing my home to the homes in magazines and to the super neat and organized homes of people I know.
But, my home would be able to feel like us and be clutter-free, and here’s why: Our bare minimum necessities look different from those of others.
My bare minimum still includes a large number of films on DVD. My husband’s bare minimum includes a craft beer collection.
One of my daughter’s bare minimums still includes a large number of craft supplies. My son’s bare minimum includes a huge collection of basketball and football cards. And, my other daughter’s bare minimum includes a lot of dolls and play figures.
Because we love and use all of these things.
Second, I needed to come up with a strategy to keep the clutter away.
It would be easy for me to fill our home with excess stuff all over again and find myself back in the clutter cycle. If I was going to stay organized, I needed to have a plan for keeping my home clutter-free.
How do I keep my home clutter-free?
So, when the decluttering is done, how will you ever be able to maintain your home so it stays that way?!
The key to being able to stay organized is to have a maintenance plan.
Here are the essential parts of a maintenance plan that will allow you to stay organized for the long haul:
1. Commit to not adding anything new to your home.
The first part of a maintenance plan to stay organized is committing to keeping each room the way it is currently…at least for a while. Your goal here is to get used to living with less. Practice keeping each room exactly the way it was after you decluttered.
TIP: Take pictures of each room when it is decluttered so you have a point of reference!
2. Communicate the new standard with those that live with you.
Explain why it’s important to you that the home remains in its current condition. If you took pictures of each decluttered room, make sure you show these to your family members.
Let them know why it will be better for them as well. There are so many benefits of living with less!
3. Pick up after yourself and train others to do the same.
Make a habit of cleaning up after yourself as soon as you are done with something. Or, possibly, set aside a time or two each day when you will sweep the house and put your things away. This requires that you already have a designated place for everything!
Lead your family by example, AND be consistent in your expectations of them. Help them create the habit of picking up after themselves, doing their dishes right away, reusing dishes, hanging up their jackets or backpacks…whatever you need from them.
4. Buy with purpose and intentionality.
When you are shopping, shop with a purpose. Go with a list, and stick to the list. If you didn’t know you needed it when you were sitting at home, you still don’t need it when you see it at the store. 😉
Ask yourself these questions when you are at the store or planning to buy something:
- Do I really need this?
- Do I really love this?
- Am I able to store this?
- Am I willing to maintain this?
- How often will I really use this?
- Could I borrow it (or rent it) when I need it instead?
Don’t buy duplicates of what you already have at home. And, don’t buy things you won’t add a ton of value to your life today. Finally, save your money for things you love to do…alone, with your family, or with friends.
5. Practice the “One In, One Out” Rule.
This rule simply means that when you bring something new into your home, you find something else that can go. This allows you to easily maintain the number of things in your home.
The “one in, one out” rule works great for duplicates and necessities that maybe don’t bring you much joy. (For example, I don’t use this rule with my beloved DVD collection.) 😜
If you find a coffee maker that works better and more accurately meets your needs, sell or donate your old one.
If you buy a new and better cardigan, sell or donate your less amazing cardigan. Girl, you know you won’t still wear it when you own a better one! Most of us tend to wear the same things over and over again, actually, most of us only wear about 20% of our wardrobe.
6. Ask for experience-based gifts.
It is difficult to control every little thing that enters your home, but do what you can and communicate your preferences. When it comes to gifts, some things will be better for you than others when you are trying to maintain a clutter-free home.
When a birthday or holiday is coming up, let people know exactly what you want or need.
If there isn’t anything you really want or need right now, ask for consumable or experience-based gifts.
Think about your hobbies, activities you enjoy, classes you would like to take, or items you are saving up for right now. For that last one, ask people to contribute towards the money you have saved or go in on a more expensive item as a group.
7. Keep a designated space for donations.
The truth is, decluttering your home probably won’t be a one-and-done. You have a maintenance plan in place to stay organized and decluttered, and if you stick to it, you won’t have to reorganize and declutter constantly.
But, you will probably continually edit your things. If you’re like me, you will declutter occasionally as you realize your priorities and what you want for your home. Some of this is that you need to experience living in your decluttered home before you truly realize what you really need and want.
Since you will likely be continually editing your things, have a designated space for donations. That way, when you find something that you now realize you would rather live without, you have a place to move it.
You could have a donation spot in your garage, mudroom, basement, or closet. Just make sure to put a date on the calendar to drop off your donations or schedule a pickup.
If you have too much stuff in your home, no amount of organizing will help. You can stay organized and stop the frustrating cycle of clutter in your home by decluttering your belongings, having a maintenance plan, and sticking to it!
Theresa Bedford is a syndicated freelance home and travel writer with regular contributions to the Associated Press wire and MSN. She helps everyday people love the life they have through simplicity, organization, and prioritization.