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Tips for Clutter Management

January 21, 2015

If you analyze your life you may find that much of your time either spent cleaning up clutter or looking for something that you can’t find but should have somewhere. Clutter is something useful but in the wrong place. Clutter can take the joy out of life.

How do you minimize time spent looking for lost things? Have a place for everything and keep it there.

How do you do that? It may not be a four-letter word, but it might as well be—organize. Here are some tips to organize big family dilemmas. I have used some of them since our family was small and they can help eliminate frustrations and chaos.

1. What to do with all those family pictures you get in Christmas cards that you'd like to keep? Paint a wall with magnetic paint (available at Lowe’s). It comes in black but you can paint over it with a light coating of another color if you wish and it will keep the magnetic ability. Buy a box of magnetic business cards (one side is sticky, other side is magnetic). Cut them in thirds and attach a picture to each piece. They will stay on your magnetic wall without hassle. Now you can remember to pray for the families pictured throughout the year, and when next year's picture comes you can change them without hassle. 

The same concept also works for a desk area. All those sticky notes that you’re afraid to lose, put on your wall.

2. Place all related toys, crayons, paints, etc. in a separate bin with a lid. For example, I have all our markers in one plastic box, paints in another, and glue for bigger projects in another. Building blocks need a bigger plastic tote. Allow one box of toys or materials to be played with at a time. The remainder stay in the toy cupboard behind closed doors. Mom controls when the next box is taken out. 

3. We have given each of our children their own foot locker. Any treasures, toys, or special things that are theirs only must fit inside this locker. (If it doesn’t fit, they either organize or eliminate.) This helps when little ones want to get into older siblings things as the children each have a defined place that’s truly theirs.

4. If you have a place for everything, then everything can be put in its place. If the place is inconvenient, then what belongs there is hard to put away. If some things are consistently not put away, analyze if the storage space for those things needs to be redone.

5. Store like things together for ease of finding. For example: all office supplies, school supplies, toys, or decorations belong in the same area.

6. The boys have one box to store seasonal clothes. If we are in winter, the box is filled with summer things. If we are in summer, the box has winter things. Since the boys’ ages are all roughly two years apart, passing the box on to the next boy when an older one outgrows the items has worked for us. One box multiplied by eight is still a lot of boxes. But it’s minimal. (Once they each get their own particular ‘style’, clothes aren’t passed down but are given away when outgrown.)

7. When the boys’ were small, they each had three plastic wash basins for clothes. One for pants (changed to shorts in summer), one for shirts, and one for dress clothes. Then two smaller containers for socks and underwear. Nothing was hung up in a closet unless they had a suit for weddings and funerals. If an item didn’t fit, we eliminated it. Four boys’ clothes could fit in one cupboard and all the clothes mess stayed in front of that cupboard. As the boys grew, they were given dressers to share. Keep in drawers only what fits now that they will actually wear.

8. Take one person in our family: they need shoes for public, for play, mud boots for winter barn chores, boots for riding horses, dress shoes, clogs for summer chores, and snow boots. (That’s a minimum of four pairs of shoes for one person, multiplied by nine in our house…) I store seasonal shoes (mud boots and snow boots) in a bucket that we exchange for summer clogs. That helps to eliminate some shoe clutter but we still have a lot of shoes. We throw them in our mud room. (We have nice shelves for them, but who puts them on shelves? Remember number 4? I still haven’t mastered how to organize shoes. Any ideas?)

9. How many coats does one person need? A barnyard coat (which smells like a barn), a rain coat, a winter snow coat, a light coat...multiply by nine people and that’s a lot of coats. I bought a peg rack and have an entire wall of pegs for hats and coats. Periodically I pile them all on the floor and tell everyone to claim theirs. Usually there are a few that nobody claims. I wash them and give them away or put in storage for the next one to grow into.

10. Instead of having three or five different cleaning solutions, use one cleaner that does it all. I have a station for all the cleaning supplies (under my kitchen sink), except the bathroom brush which is stored in the mud room for obvious reasons.

11. I fit all my wrapping supplies in one box on a shelf. We use butcher paper instead of wrapping paper (heavy duty white paper from Smart and Final, lasts forever). I like the ease of Dollar Store bags, quick and done. Keep and reuse.

12. For storing towels, I hung a wooden box y shelving brackets above each of the toilets. Out of the way but accessible.

13. Years ago I tried those storage bags that you fill and then use a vacuum cleaner to suck the air out. The bags popped before I used them once. Someone recently told my husband about them again and he was excited to tell me about them. I wasn’t too optimistic based on my previous use but we tried them again. I guess the quality has improved, because they excite me too. We use them to store a lot of blankets and quilts. Hard to give away handmade quilts.

14. Minimize what you have to what you really need. I once read about a family who lived on a boat. If they bought anything, they had to get rid of something they already had to keep the weight right for their boat. Sometimes that motivates me to reduce clutter, and sometimes I’m just glad that I don’t live on a boat.

15. If you haven’t used something in years, will you ever? This principle is good but doesn’t always work. I got rid of an electric kit after six boys weren’t the least interested in it. The seventh boy would have loved it. Would it have been worth all the storage and ‘clutter’ until he finally used it? Sometimes buying it when you need it makes more sense.

16. One book written by a professional cleaner suggested businesses give their Christmas decorations to GoodWill every year. They would spend less money on new decorations than on storage and time spent untangling and unpacking lights and outdated decorations. I still like my old decorations, but I minimize what I store.

17. If you don’t use it, give it away, or throw it away.

18. Remember the article on tips to save on food? How much clutter is in your food cupboards? Remember when you thought you’d feed your family healthy food and you bought that big bag of ____ but couldn’t find the time or energy to actually use it? Feed it to the birds. They will thank you and so will your clean cupboard.

19. Simplify. If one will do, then why have two?

Sometimes I feel like I have so much clutter that even God can’t find me. How does that happen? Is clutter just an indication of a creative mind? Or of a too busy life?

I work better when my desk is clean. I think better when I can focus not on the distracting things around me, but on that one thing that must be done.

That’s why I find Paul’s words in Philippians 3:12-14 comforting. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

I want to conquer the clutter, so I can see God clearly.



What tips do you have to share that help manage the clutter?

Boy, no matter who it is, clutter is a constant problem. My son and his wife both like a house with "less," (unlike my house where everything is saved!), but even for them it's a constant struggle to keep it that way. There's always new things coming into a house, whether from gifts or give aways or whatever, how do you keep it organized. Thanks for sharing your ideas, I really do want to get rid of some of this clutter.

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Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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