How to Stay Organized and Stop the Frustrating Cycle of Clutter
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.
I am actually de cluttering right now lol
Nice! Good luck. 😊
One of the main reasons why I struggle having an entirely tidy and clutter free home is basically due to the fact that my flat is tiny, which means it’s not that much space for storage solutions. Luckily it also means I can’t purchase “everything” that I fancy either, so I do need to think about whether or not I have the space for it.
You’re right, Kristin. Having a small space complicates things. The key in a small space to have furniture and items that can serve more than one purpose. AND, you have to be ruthless about how much you are willing to keep. It sounds like you already know how to make the most of your space, so keep it up!
I love the checklists! I am in the declutter mode and will keep coming back here for the next steps when I’m done!!
Thanks and good luck with decluttering! Let me know how it goes and if I can do anything to help. 😊
Love the one in out rule, always helps and keeps you in check plus an organised home just feels perfect.
I agree with you, Joan! I love a clutter-free and organized home. I don’t use the one-in, one-out rule for everything, but whenever it makes sense.
Love this post! Lots of helpful ideas! Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for the kind words, Pam! I’m so glad you found the post helpful. 😊
Great tips! I go through the same cycle – get frustrated, clean up, wait a few months, get frustrated, clean up…it’s exhausting. I love the idea of having a designated donation area in the home!
You’re not alone in that! And like I said, I’ve been there before. The key really is to have less stuff. And, the donation area really helps me stay in the mindset of constant editing. 😉
Buy with purpose and intentionally!!
So true. A very useful post
Yes! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Anshul!
I needed this like two months ago! downsizing from a four bedroom house and a full basement to a one bedroom apartment was a task NO ONE WANTS! ill keep these in handy as we still have a storage unit to go through!
That sounds hard! I’m glad you found the post helpful. Let me know if you need any help as you downsize further. 😊
This is great! Being consistent is KEY!
This post is too relatable! I love staying organised, yet somehow the things I own just seem to multiply… and multiply… and multiply.
Haha! I had the same problem. That’s when I had to start shopping with more intention. 😉
Thank you so much for these wonderful tips! I love being organized, but I always seem to fail after a few days already. So your tips were really helpful! <3
I’m happy to hear that it was so helpful for you! Let me know if I can do anything to help you stay organized, Elaine. 😊
I love this! I’m moving in less than a month and our new apartment is bigger and smaller at the same time (if that makes sense at all lol) and with a house of 6 theres ALWAYS clutter. I’ve told everyone that for this move we are getting rid of everything that does not spark joy and has no functional purpose! I think I struggle the most with sticking to the one in-one out rule the most.
Thanks! Having a lot of people in the home definitely makes it more challenging. We’re a family of 5, so I feel you! The one-in, one-out rule is great, but it doesn’t work well for everything. Apply it where it’s needed, but don’t stress about it. 😉
YES TO ALL OF THIS!
I’m a not so closeted hoarder by nature.. I’ve crept in some new minimalism traits over the past few years.. but I still HOARD.. and the clutter gets overwhelming and I freak out and throw almost everything i can OUT! It’s a vicious cycle.. Luckily, my 15yr old daughter is NOT a hoarder and naturally very organized, so she helps get me in line when it gets bad.. but I’m an emotional hoarder and that’s the worse! So, I usually have a mini breakdown when I purge.. LOL!
Thanks for all the great tips!
I love that you are so self-aware and that you’ve been able to slowly apply minimalist principles over time. That’s the way to do it! It’s much more sustainable that way. And, I’m glad you have the support you need from your daughter. It is definitely most difficult to get rid of sentimental items! Hang in there, and let me know if I can do anything to help you minimize the clutter in your life. 😊
These are great tips. I spent an entire weekend decluttering and am struggling with keeping it organized. I think one of the things I struggle the most with is what can I do with the things that are too junky to even donate-old shoes, clothes that are too stained and full of holes. I don’t want to throw them away (carbon footprint) what do I do with them?
Thanks, Kristen! Maintenance is the hardest part, but it’s also the most important. Find a strategy that works for you (it may take a little bit of trial and error). Here’s an article I found on what you should do with items that are too worn to donate: https://livegreen.recyclebank.com/because-you-asked-what-should-i-do-with-worn-out-clothing. I LOVE that you are being intentional with your impact on the world!
I love this post so much. I was the exact same way as a kid. I was organized and kept all of my things extremely neat and tidy. To the point of obsession. Lol. And I’ve carried that into my adult life; however, I still found my house being cluttered! A lot of it had to do with my husband not being as neat as me and having an overwhelming amount of toys for my daughter who’s 7.
I recently went through my entire house and decluttered and purged. We cleared out her playroom and donated many bags and boxes of unused toys. I’ve been teaching her to keep everything tidy and to keep her toys in her playroom instead of her bedroom so the spaces can serve two different purposes, and in turn will help me keep my sanity. 🙂
I continue to go through my clothes almost weekly and have purged a LOT of stuff. I’m down to the essential pieces and have been on a buying ban for a few months. And I don’t even miss buying things! I have what I need and it feels great!
Thanks, Brandie! I’m glad I’m not the only one who was like that as a child. Having a family definitely complicates things, doesn’t it? It was the same way for me as well. I found that I wasn’t able to keep all of their stuff organized as well as my own, and that was overwhelming! Having the toys in a playroom only and not in her bedroom is a great strategy. Thank for sharing that tip! And I agree with you…you definitely get to the point where you don’t feel the need to shop all of the time. I’m so glad that you’ve experienced the benefits of living with less and can share that will all of us. 😊
I agree 100%! As a professional organizer, I can attest to too much stuff being the key issue most people who struggle with clutter and disorganization face. That’s because the more stuff you have, the more of a hassle it is to put things away, which is what ultimately leads to disorganization. My advice to clients trying to figure out how much stuff is the right amount to keep: make it so that everything you own can be seen and accessed easily without having to move other things around. Make things easier to put away and you will be more likely to do that!
Hey, Valerie. It’s nice to get validation from a professional! What a great explanation for why having too much is the primary issue. And I love your advice! Thanks. 😊
I LOVE the taking a photo of the organized room idea… what motivation! This is a great post. I’m printing it out and pondering it for a day or so before deciding which tip to act on first.
I just recently found your blog. Do you have suggestions where to start for decluttering and organizing. I like you enjoy organizing too much and now my house doesn’t even LOOK like I do that because it’s all been so overwhelming and chaotic and yes, I have too much stuff. So do you have any recommendations on where to really start? A list? A post you have on how to get started?