Inside: How you can live in a clutter free home and get everyone involved in keeping it tidy
There are some days when I feel like I have all of my ducks in a row – the washing is done, the sofa cushions are nicely plumped and my sink is nice and shiny.
I feel great and like I can do anything I set my mind to.
Then there are days when my house is littered with teeny tiny pieces of LEGO. the kitchen is full of dishes and the dog has chewed up an old box and left mess everywhere.
On those days, I feel like I might combust. I feel like the walls are closing in on me and I need to get out of there asap!
As a mum of three, you might imagine that most of the time my house leans towards the messy side of things but actually, we have great routines in place that mean we live a fairly clutter-free life.
I say fairly because there are always going to be days when the balls drop and the mess comes back. But on the whole, 9 out of 10 days in a row, our house is ready to accept visitors at any point.
People never believe me, but as soon as I share a few tips they soon see that they can have the same!
Creating a clutter free home
If you’re reading this then you’ve taken the first step – you’ve decided that enough is enough and you want to take action.
Wanting to take action is great and it will get you most of the way there, but you will meet different hurdles along the way – namely, sentimentality and bad habits.
We all have items that have been gifted to us for birthdays or Christmases, given as gifts from loved ones that are even perhaps family heirlooms. It can be so hard to get rid of those things but you aren’t alone in this battle and there is a way through.
Bad habits is the other hurdle that will derail any progress you make but again, there are many that have gone before that have now set the way to make it easier for you.
The first thing we need to do is recognise clutter.
What is clutter?
cover or fill (something) with an untidy collection of things.
a collection of things lying about in an untidy state.
Clutter is the excess of stuff that surrounds us physically and mentally. Studies show that clutter can have an adverse effect on our mental health, causing us to feel stressed and overwhelmed, so eliminating it from our lives should be a priority.
Deciding what to keep
It is quite a daunting task when you first get going, but I absolutely promise you that it gets easier as you go along. When you start to see space, it becomes more and more addictive to create more.
There are 2 questions you need to ask yourself as you work your way through the different objects in your home:
Do you love it?
If you do, then you should have a home for it and look at it or use it often. If you truly love something then it shouldn’t be hiding at the back of a drawer gathering dust.
Do you need it?
Really? How often do you use it? Could you live without it? Could it be easily replaced in years to come should you ever need it again?
Keeping something because ‘you might need it‘ isn’t really a reason to hoard things. If you haven’t used something within the last year then chances are you don’t really need it and won’t use it ever again.
I have created a handy flow chart to help you decide what to do when faced with an object. Sometimes you won’t need it as the decision will be obvious, but for the times you are struggling, work through it and it will make everything clear.
If you REALLY aren’t sure then put it in a temporary box and come back to it in a week to see if you have any further clarity on it.
Ideas for a clutter free family home
From my experience of decluttering a family home and living with 3 young children, I have been able to work out exactly what has and hasn’t worked. My hope is that it can help you too.
Get rid of the excess
The first stage is to get rid of everything that you can visibly see that is clearly clutter. I have created a list of 100 things to declutter right now that will get you started on your journey. So much of it is obvious, the stacks of magazines on the side, the 127 Tupperware tubs in the cupboard, the set of lolly moulds you never use.
Start there and you’ll instantly feel better and want to keep going.
It takes time, so don’t expect to get it all done at once. And once you start to hit those stumbling blocks, use the flow chart to help you make those tough decisions.
If you want some inspiration, you can watch my entire decluttering series on YouTube where I show you my mess and work through it bit by bit.
Don’t let clutter in
Once you’ve got rid of all of the mess, you have to maintain it. I will be honest and say that after my first round of decluttering I didn’t do this and within a year I was almost back to the same mess as I was in originally.
After a second round of decluttering, I’ve learned to make sure I don’t let it in any more. I keep on top of my mail (I’ve actually mostly gone paperless now) and I regularly look around at where piles of mess accumulate and sort through them.
Despite your best efforts, clutter will still creep in. Not necessarily in the junk form as before, but through the natural process of growing out of old clothes, kids toys, likes and dislikes.
Decluttering is definitely not a one-time only event. If you don’t keep on top of it with regular sorting then you’ll end up overwhelmed by mess again. Schedule in quarterly decluttering sessions and rememeber to be ruthless.
Top tip: Tie in the clearouts just before birthdays and Christmas – that way you’ll reduce the stress post-event when you are inundated with gifts. Get the kids involved, explaining that other children can make use of their toys now and set an example by showing how you are purging old things too.
One of the mistakes I made, in the beginning, was hoarding the items that I’d decided to get rid of. I would store it all in the garage but it then resulted in a secondary problem – more mess in another part of the house.
As soon as you have a couple of bags to donate / throw in the trash then take them out immediately!
The one in, one out rule
Sometimes it is hard to keep track of how much stuff comes into the house, isn’t it? So, how about enforcing a one in, one out rule? Every time you buy something, something else has to leave. This works great for clothes – if you want a new t-shirt, is there one you can get rid of that is looking a bit tired?
It also works great for toys – explain to the kids that if they are to get new toys at Christmas or on their birthdays then they must make room. Teach them to learn to live within their means – there is not infinite space to keep absolutely everything.
Is storage the answer?
One of the biggest lies we have been sold is that we need more storage. My husband always joked that I was forever buying storage, storage, storage but nowhere ever seemed clearer.
Storage is great if you need it. But sometimes, what you actually need is to get rid of the stuff entirely. Do you really need a new unit for the toys if you could just get rid of the toys?
So before you rush out and buy storage solutions a plenty, declutter as much as you can and then work out what you need.
Accept the size of your space
It can be a hard pill to swallow, believe me. But once you accept the size of your house and learn to only have as many possessions that comfortably fit, the better you’ll feel.
It is no good wishing you had a bigger wardrobe to fit all of your clothes. Instead, reduce the number of clothes you have to fit the space. You will probably end up wearing more of your clothes as a result as they will be within easy access rather than rammed in.
A place for everything and everything in its place.
If it doesn’t have a home and a home can’t be made – get rid of it. Start with a kitchen drawer – empty it out and chuck away the junk. Start small and work up to bigger jobs like your clothes! Remember, if you don’t love it or need it then it really has to go.
Top tip: Get a box and set a timer for 5 minutes. Go around your house and anything that is out of place and you don’t particularly want to keep goes in the box. See how much you can gather and then get rid of it all – let someone else get good use out of your unwanted items.
Once you’ve reduced everything down and each item has a home, it will make tidying up so much easier for everyone involved.
Get the kids involved.
It is our job to teach our children how to tidy. I know I have had to learn the process as an adult so I want to make sure I don’t leave it to chance for my kids to learn later on in life too.
By teaching them to let go of things, by setting a good example each and every day, it will help you at home daily and set them up for success when they eventually move out as adults.
From a young age, mine have been putting their own clothes away and tidying their toys at the end of every day. A great way to get them involved is by putting on music and announcing a 10-minute dance and tidy blitz. By making it fun, they don’t see it as a chore.
Top tip: make it into a competitive game by seeing who can pick up 5 or 10 things the quickest – they love it!
Not everything is clutter
Some people view an excess of possessions as clutter. But actually, it is all relative to what causes us to feel overwhelmed at stressed out. If you have an extensive mug collection that brings you absolute joy, that is fine. Others might see it as clutter but as long as it makes you truly happy and they are displayed in such a way that you enjoy them, that is your choice.
Don’t throw everything away because of what you think your house should look like. Focus on what brings you happiness and work around that. I have a large collection of perfumes that others may think ridiculous but I have displayed them all on a cake stand on my dressing table and they bring me joy every single day.
Tidy as you go
This may seem obvious but honestly, it is the biggest habit that we, as adults, fail to adhere to. Tidying up as we go brings us two positives – a tidy house and the ability to spot clutter and deal with it immediately.
If you notice that each and every day you are tidying up the same area and it always causes an issue, you can have a mini declutter to reduce the problem and possibly get a better storage system that everyone can use.
Kids are terrible at tidying up after themselves and as parents we get so frustrated with them. But, instead of getting annoyed, get them to have mini tidy up sessions throughout the day. We have a tidy up at morning snack time, just before lunch, afternoon snack time and just before bed. So they may not tidy as they go but they know that they will have to tidy at various stages in the day.
The main thing that we have done as a family has been to reduce the amount of stuff we own. That includes clothes, toys, books and general clutter around the house. Once everything has a home, tidying up isn’t so difficult and when everyone gets involved, everyone takes responsibility, then there is no reason why you can’t live in a tidy, less chaotic, home.