Declutter 101: Staying Clutter-Free

There's a bedrock belief among the clutter-afflicted that if they could only get rid of all the clutter, just once, the clutter problem could be solved.

It's not quite so simple. True, it's easier to maintain a decluttered environment than it is to achieve it, but there's more to the problem than the mere absence or presence of clutter.

Clutter doesn't arise out of nothing. If everyone in the family dumps book bags, briefcases, handbags and outer clothing on the living room sofa, clearing the sofa today isn't going to prevent tomorrow's deluge. Twenty-four hours later, the clutter has returned. Decluttering alone will not cure the real problem: the lack of family launch pads, and the failure of family members to use them.

Once clutter has been banished, the real work of change begins. To conquer clutter once and for all, focus on these clutter prevention ideas:

Home, Home On The Range

A primary cause of clutter? It's the homeless...mail, toys, or newspapers. Without a home, common household items wander, lose their way, meet up with bad companions and make the transition to clutter.

Establish good homes for your stuff. Newspapers may be folded and stacked on a coffee table before being read, then given shelter in a box while they await recycling. Devote prime domestic real estate to use as a launch pad for each family member: a location for purses, school papers, back packs and briefcases. Give paperwork proper files so it never has to huddle in lonely stacks on kitchen counters.

With a home to go to, good stuff will never become bad clutter.

Establish Clutter Preserves

There's no such thing as clutter-free living. Even the tidiest among us still tosses clothing on floors from time to time.

Accept reality by establishing dedicated clutter preserves. Like wildlife preserves, these are limited areas where clutter may live freely, so long as it stays within boundaries. In a bedroom, one chair becomes the clutter preserve. Clothing may be thrown with abandon, so long as it's thrown on the chair.

A kitchen junk drawer can house vitamin bottles, rubber bands, clipped recipes, expired coupons and shopping receipts unwelcome outside their clutter preserve. 

Children may use a flat-bottomed plastic laundry basket to corral stray playthings in bedroom or family room. A large magazine bucket in the living room is fair game for catalogs and magazines, so long as they can fit inside the bucket.

Build Good Habits To Bust Clutter

Focus on stuff-related household activities to get a handle on the clutter process. Build good habits to choke off the tendency to create clutter.

For example, establish a "returning home" habit or routine. As you shut the back door, hang the car keys on a hook just above the light switch. Remove jackets and coats two steps inside the house, and hang them on the coat rack. Place purse or briefcase in the launch pad area next to the coats.

Bringing in the mail? No more slumping down any old where to review the day's catch. Instead, form a new habit: sort mail over the trash can, dumping the junk, then file it quickly in a plastic pocket filing unit on the adjoining wall.

Habits, once adopted, kick in as a mindless protective device. To stay clutter-free, work hard on new clutter-busting habits as you declutter.

One In, One Out

For more exotic clutter contenders, adopt a one-in, one-out rule.

From here on out, when you buy a new pot, shirt or magazine, an old pot, shirt or magazine must be discarded, recycled or donated.

One-in, one-out keeps the level of stuff below the clutter point by limiting total numbers.

Want to bump up downsizing? Adopt a variation of the rule: One In, Two Out. You'll reduce surplus stuff, painlessly.

Observing the One In, One Out rule can also save money. Charmed as you may be with that colorful Italian pasta bowl, buying takes on new importance when one of your current favorites will have be discarded as a result. Old friends are best!

Outsource It

Finally, focus on out-of-house resources to whittle down the sheer number of things that enter home. For example, there's no need to buy, keep, sort and store back issues of magazines once you realize that the public library provides this very service for free!

Rent, don't buy, paint sprayers and specialty tools for home repair projects. Swap garden tools or hobby equipment with a neighbor. Borrow books, CDs, and videos from the library or video rental store.

The less you permit stuff to get a foot in the door, the less clutter will grow in your organized home!