10 Steps to Clutter Free: Being a Better Mom with ‘Less Stuff’

You’re all fantastic mama’s.  You know you are, because you take the time to read posts like these.  Clearing your life of clutter can help you be an even better mother because you have less to keep, clean, maintain, distract, and confuse.  You can have more time for your children.  You can have more patience for your children.  You children and significant others may be more prone to help clean up, because it’s easier to keep an orderly home orderly.  You and your kids will be free to seek more intrinsic kinds of rewards and seek less shallow external stimulation.  You and your kids will be free to use more imagination and creativity, in fact, life will invite you to do just that!  In other words, you and your kids can better focus on what really matters: your relationships, your experiences, your learnings, your health, and your sanity.

How do you know you need less ‘stuff’?

  • Do you touch the same piece of mail or papers more than once?
  • Are all the walk ways in your home clear?
  • Do you have to pre-clean before you or someone else cleans your home?
  • Is it difficult finding things?
  • Do you lose things in your home?
  • When you look around your home do you feel calm or anxious?
  • Does all your stuff have a place where it belongs?
  • Do your to-do items fall through the cracks sometimes?

In a moment, I’ll outline 10 steps for you to become clutter-free.  Before that, I’ll share my little story with you.  This week I was motivated to go on a two-day purge in my home to rid ourselves of clutter. I was inspired by two desires:

  1. To move my office downstairs.  I couldn’t work upstairs while Micah was sleeping.
  2. To make a “Comfy Spot” for Micah as a cool down area he and I could go in together when he was getting overstimulated.  Well, the best place for Micah’s “Comfy Spot” was my old prayer closet which was taken over by coats, pet food, etc.

Thus, the latter are the two reasons for the purge.  In order to move my office downstairs I wanted to get rid of 1 filled book case, a huge desk and credenza (completely full of stuff), and not make a mess of the downstairs too.  In order to make Micah’s “Comfy Spot” I had to empty out enough closes to clear out one closet.  That’s the equivalent of about 30-50 articles of clothing!  The book case from upstairs had to be consolidated with 2 book cases downstairs.  These 2 bookcases, by the way, were so full, we had 2 rows of books on each shelf!  Yikes!  I had my work cut out for me.

Luckily, it rained over the 4th of July so we couldn’t go camping, and my husband and I both had off from work Thursday and Friday. That gave us 4 days to clean. 🙂  We did it!  I feel great!  I can spend more time with Micah and my husband, get more work done, and help Micah collect himself in his “Comfy Spot” with me.  And yes, he does sometimes tell me he needs to go there when I ask him.  Mission accomplished.  Here’s how you can do it…

Here are Ten Simple Steps to Clutter Free:

One. Reduce The Paper Work in Your Life.

  • Clean out old files by getting rid of non-essentials.  You don’t need more than 12 months of utilities bills, every medical statement, and all the holiday cards you’ve ever received.  If you have online billing or an online account with each vendor, you can access most of this information online anyway.
  • Create a mail center in your home with your filing cabinets, a computer, a scanner and printer and paper shredder nearby.
  • Make a habit for all household members to put papers that require attention in one spot, and visit it weekly.
  • Create one spot to hold receipts and coupons, and go through these monthly.
  • Put trash goes in the trash and shred necessary documents immediately.

Two. Do a Fair Assessment.  Ask yourself the following:

  • How out of balance is my amount of ‘stuff’ relative to the amount of storage I have?  Hint: if your walkways are cluttered I’d suggest you need to get rid of 2/3rds of your stuff!  Yes, it’s true!
  • What purpose does each space in my home serve?  Do any of these spaces have to serve more than one purpose?  Is there a more efficient way to allocate space in my home?
  • Am I familiar with every article of clothing I own?  Do I wear all my clothes at least once each year?  If I only wear an article of clothing once a year, is it worth keeping?  What about other family members?
  • Are there books I’m holding onto that I haven’t read in the past 2 years, and probably won’t read in the next 2 years?  Are these specific books available online or at the library?  Would I pay money to read that specific book again?
  • In the kitchen, are there pots, pans, appliances, storage containers, or accessories I don’t use at least once a year?  Are some of these items dual-purpose?  Is it worth keeping if I only use it once a year?
  • In the bathroom, are there products / make up / cleaning supplies / samples that you don’t use often enough?  I was able to pair down my cleaning supplies to basically, white vinegar, baking soda, liquid castille soap, and tea tree oil.  That’s all folks!
  • In the pantry, is there medicine that’s out of date?  Get rid of it!  It’s not safe anymore, really.
  • In the linen closet, how many towels, sheet sets, blankets, etc., do you really need?
  • What is the design aesthetic that my family really loves?  Are there differences of opinions?  How can you meet in the middle?
  • What would a stranger say my home felt like if they walked in?  Smelled like?  Represented?  Symbolized?
  • Are there emotional hang-ups or handi-caps any family members have related to our ‘stuff’?  How can you work on repairing these hang-ups or handi-caps?

Three. Make Decisions.  

  • Determine a purpose for each space in your home.
  • Choose a design aesthetic.
  • Choose a budget to stick with if re-ordering your home requires any purchases.  You may decide you need to sell some things to help recoup some costs.  If so, make lists of what and how to sell these items.  I recommend craigslist, but always arrange exchanges in public, preferably with a friend accompanying you.
  • Decide on what amount of ‘stuff’ can be reasonably held by each space.
  • Figure out what bothers you or doesn’t work about how you are using your space right now.
  • Write these decisions down on paper with the other decision makers in your home.  Keep a to-do list as you clear your home out: stuff to sell, things to think about, things to purchase, stuff to donate, items to revisit in ‘Phase II’.
  • If your kids are older than 5 years old, depending on their maturity level, you make consider including them in part of the process that only pertains to their space and belongings.  I’ll come back to how you can guide children in this process too.

Four. Make a Plan.  The way to keep this manageable is to make a plan.  A plan will outline the actions you can take every day or week to make your vision a reality.  I suggest:

  • Finding 3 large bins that you label: Trash, Donate, or Keep.
  • Clear out one space at a time.  Make the spaces small and specific: i.e. upstairs linen closet, the youngest kid’s dresser drawers, under the bed in one room, the master bathroom cabinet, the master bathroom drawers.  Divide larger spaces (the master bedroom) into sub-spaces: the master bathroom – drawers, under sink area, linen closet, etc; the master bedroom clothes – his and hers closets, his and her dresser drawers… you get the picture.
  • Keep the 3 bins you made (Trash, Donate, Keep) within reach in the space you are working.  Clean out the ‘Trash bin’ every time the trash man comes.  Clean out the ‘Donate bin’ every time it gets full, or you know you will pass a donation center while you are running errands.  Alternatively you can call non-profits who come pick your donations up from your home porch or back deck.  Clean out the ‘keep bin’ at the end of every cleaning session.
  • Designate time you will devote to this task every day, week, month or year.  The more frequently you ‘do’ your de-cluttering, the more motivated you will stay, and you will see results faster as well.  Ideally, it’s best if you can designate days-in-a-row to get this done in the beginning, because the changes you make will be obvious to both you and others in your home.  Then, you can reasonably ask them (and yourself) to help you keep the space looking a particular way.  After you complete Phase I, you can just devote 15 minutes to this process every day in Phase II and you won’t feel so overwhelmed if you’ve practiced your new habits with discipline through the year.
  • Make a de-cluttering calendar with that includes the time and date you are cleaning, which spaces you are de-cluttering, and in what order you will de-clutter them.  You may feel better de-cluttering each of the bathrooms in your home one after another, and then moving on to everyone’s clothes one by one, and then to all the linen closets one by one, etc.  Or you may feel better moving from room to room in your home such as Master Bedroom and Master Bathroom first, then the kids bathroom, then the kids’ rooms, then the kitchen, then the living room, etc.  This decision depends on your personality and preference more than anything else.

Five. Start Your Process.  This step is usually the hardest part of the process.  Enough said.  You have to keep a ‘date’ with yourself.  By now you should have determined when and where to start.  Just get working now.  No excuses.

Six. Use a System.  

  • If this seems overwhelming to you so far, you can use a system such as “X in, X out”.  I like the system ‘1 in, 3 out’ for me.  That means every time I bring a new item into the home, 3 other items need to be taken out of my home.  I like this system because I inevitably forget to do this sometimes.
  • Limit your stuff according to the storage space you have.  I like my clothes drawers only 50% full.  I like my bookshelves to be only one set of books ‘deep’, and I don’t like extra books stacked horizontally over the books lined up vertically because there are too many.  (If I’m being honest, I still feel like I want to get rid of 25% more of our books, but this is a process, and I had to gain the cooperation from my husband…  And, I already got us to purge our books twice this year.)
  • Limit your stuff to a specific number.  At the start of the year I hang my clothes in the closet facing outward instead of in (with the open end of the hook facing me) so by the end of the year I know what I never wore.  Those items are the ones to be sold or donated later.
  • Hold items in someone else’s space if possible.  Rent books from the library.  Store things in a ‘cloud’.  Scan papers into your computer if you absolutely must save them.  Make digital files or bookmarks instead of printing items you want to attend later.  Rent sports equipement if possible, and any other items you don’t use frequently enough to justify the costs to both your wallet or your sanity.
  • Ask yourself some basic questions when you have to make decisions about keeping certain items: How often do you use it? What emotional attachments do you have and are these attachments justified? Will someone else be upset by you purging it, and Is that item worth the amount of emotional damage clutter does to you?  Is it really worth it?  Do you have the space to store it?  If you’re really on the fence about an item, is it worthwhile paying for a storage unit?  My gut instinct would guess it’s not worth it to pay more money to hold onto an item you hardly use, but you will have to make the decision for yourself.  Can you sell it?  If you could get money for it instead, would you rather?

Seven. Make Your System Measurable.  I no longer tolerate owning too many duplicate items, like button-up white collared blouses, or blue jeans.  It’s too much to sort through.  I went out and bought the same type of hanger, in order to help me limit the amount of clothes I own.  If my husband ‘borrows’ one of my hanges, I ‘borrow’ it back!  Ha!  I throw away any hangers that don’t match my favorite ones.  My husband manages his own clothes, but sometimes I try to convince him to toss out socks that get holes, etc.  It’s up to him though – he’s the one who has to wear it, right?

Eight.  Assess Your progress.  Give yourself a check on your calendar or put a smiley face on your written plan every time you accomplish fixing a space or sub-space.  Take a before an after picture if you need the motivation.

Nine.  Implement Rewards.  Do you and your kids reward yourself for following new behaviors?  You should!  Go out to dinner, go get a pedicure, whatever… you decide what would be motivating enough for you to keep up the hard work.  If you keep you de-clutter dates for 4 sessions in a row, reward yourself for crying out loud!  If you get rid of 10 pairs of shoes, allow yourself to buy 1 pair you really, really, really, really love in their stead.

De-cluttering is overwhelming.  It feels worse 50% of the way through the process because you have piles of ‘things’ all around you (instead of being stuffed in a closet or drawer) and even worse when you’re 90% through the process because that means you’re stuck sorting through the last 10% of your clutter and it’s the awkward clutter that you want or ‘need’ but aren’t sure where to put.  You have to figure it out.

Finally, it is in step 9 where where you involve your kids in the process.  Mind you, these are just suggestions:

  • @ ~18 months – You can involve kids in the process by helping them put their things back.  Micah likes the ‘clean up’ song.  Martha taught us a new ‘Toys away’ song that’s cute too!
  • @ ~4 years old, you can let your kids choose a new toy (within a specific dollar amount) if they donate X amount of less-loved toys to kids who need them (maybe earn 1 toy for donating 10).
  • @ 5 or 6 years old or older (depending on maturity and executive functioning skills), you can ask kids questions about how they’d like their personal space to look and feel, and you can help guide them to make good choices about their area.  You can ask them to draw pictures of what they wish their room looked like.  Once they envision what they want you can agree on helping make certain wishes happen if they to agree to help in specific ways too.  Make sure you ask the child to envision storage of their toys in their pictures too, and the ability to put certain items ‘on display’ in their room.
  • If your kids don’t take care of their toys, it means they are disrespecting their things, or they have too many toys for you to chase after.  Do you want to chase after your kids toys anyway?  Not taking care of toys means pieces are getting lost, the kids are smashing toys on purpose or treating them recklessly, or not playing with the toys because the toys are forgotten or the kid’s outgrown them.  If this is the case, you can limit the kids to just X toys of their choice, maybe 10 toys.  The kids can earn access to one more toy if they put their toys away for X days in a row, maybe 3 days in a row.  You can make this process visual with a sticker reward chart :).  If the kids are not caring for their toys again, you’ll remove a toy again.  Eventually you’ll figure out how many toys your kids are capable of caring for, and how many toys are ‘just too much’.

Ten. Start the Next Phase.  Celebrate having completed the phase you just completed.  Be ruthless, and stay motivated.  Being clutter-free is a discipline and a lifestyle.  You will constantly fight things coming into your home and have to help determine which things leave your home.  Once you’ve paired your home down to the essentials, know that you still have more in your home than most of the world’s population, and ask yourself if you might still have too much.  This purge is not about ‘not having things’.  It’s about finding freedom through less clutter.

I’d love for you to post pictures or tell stories of your before and afters!  I wish I took pictures of mine for you!  Hope you found this helpful!

Love, Robyn

P.S. If you need help de-cluttering, get a buddy to help you!

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3 thoughts on “10 Steps to Clutter Free: Being a Better Mom with ‘Less Stuff’

  1. I was inspired by your post here awhile back, but it is only now that I’m about ready to join you for the garage sale. Thanks for the tips on clutter free living.

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