7 Secrets of a Clutter-Free Family Home
My husband and I live in a 700 square foot (about 65 square meter) apartment. When people come over, they always remark that it's so clean. I actually think they mean tidy and clutter-free. But having things put away makes it seem clean. Honestly, if you stopped by my house unannounced, most of the time I could invite you in and not be at all embarrassed. That's liberating.
When our children were young, we lived in a house that was about 1,100 square feet (about 102 square meters). Compared to the average American home, that's small, but my house was usually fairly tidy then too, even though we homeschooled. Yes, we had art supplies and science projects and many, many books. The kids played epic pretend games with dolls, stuffed animals, play dishes, dress-up clothes, Lego creations, and lots of homemade props, but we could still make the house "company ready" in a pretty short time.
Does that sound like an impossible dream?
The key to a clutter-free family home is actually pretty straightforward. Everything has a place to belong. Everything. To get to that point, you have to be willing to let go of unneeded and unloved things. Most of us live in houses that are big enough to accommodate the stuff a family needs – or they should be big enough. If you have four couches, 32 mugs, 19 bath towels, and a bunch of all-but-forgotten stuff cramming your closets and cupboards, that might explain the chaos. I decided I didn't need so much.
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Your kids need places to put their projects-in-the-making. They need spots for their backpacks, jackets, and shoes, and there needs to be a system for dealing with school papers. They need easy storage solutions for clothes and toys, and there needs to be a limit on the numbers so it's not overwhelming for them to put those things away. They need to know where craft supplies belong, and where to put dirty laundry and dirty dishes. And they need help to develop the habit of using those designated spots!
Even teenagers are sometimes oblivious to the messes they leave behind. Don't let them get away with it. Call them from their rooms, make them get up from the table or end a phone call to put their stuff away. I know it will sometimes seem that it is just easier to do it yourself, but in the long run it won't be. Trust me.
7 Secrets of a Calmer Home Environment
1. Everything has a place.
I know, you've heard it before. But what does it really mean? It means I can hand my child any item that belongs to him or is used by the whole family and say, "Put this where it belongs," and he knows exactly where to go. I can ask him to get me something that belongs to him or is used by the whole family, and he returns with it right away because the item is exactly where he expected it to be.
2. Just do it.
No one loves doing chores, but if you just do them instead of putting them off and letting things pile up, you'll feel so much better. Why not try timing the chores you dislike? Most aren't really that time-consuming – in fact, a lot of them take only about five to ten minutes. Some take only one! Once you realize that, it might be easier to make yourself (or your child) do them.
3. Remember that clutter is a magnet.
Put your keys and sunglasses on the kitchen counter, and before you know it a backpack, today's mail, the TV remote, an e-reader, and someone's dirty snack plate have joined them. If there's always clutter in the kitchen or in the family room, your kids will be much less likely to clean up after themselves. It's as if the standard has been lowered. They think, "Why should I clean up if no one else does?" So you're going to have a mantra, "Don't just put it down, put it away!" (This can be said cheerfully, not in anger, if you remember that everyone is learning new habits.)
4. Keep everything off the floor.
This is an easy cleaning rule – nothing belongs on the floor except rugs and furniture. You could make this the go-to directive when you ask your kids to clean their rooms. Don't obsess about their level of tidiness, as long as the floor is clear (including under the bed). It's so much easier to vacuum, too. In the living room, this means throw pillows, shoes, electronics, board games, etc. must be put away. This rule also keeps towels and dirty laundry where they belong.
5. Embrace the idea of clean enough.
As your kids get older and begin to do more chores around the house, remind yourself that done is better than perfect. Your 10-year-old may not clean the bathroom as thoroughly as you would, but it's cleaner than it would be if she didn't do it at all. Instill some "clean as you go" habits, and her competence will gradually increase.
6. Make your bed every morning.
It's like getting the bedroom dressed and ready for the day, and it changes the entire look and feel of the space! For kids this can be as simple as pulling up the sheets and blankets neatly and putting the pillow at the head of the bed.
7. Clean the kitchen completely after dinner.
I promise you that making the effort to have the kitchen clean and tidy before you go to bed will have a huge effect on your morning mood. Waking up to a dirty kitchen is like running a deficit – you feel inadequate before the day has even begun. So after dinner put away any leftovers, wash the pots and pans, wipe the counters, and run the dishwasher. As they get older, the kids can take turns doing this.
In the end, it really comes down to habits.
Right now you may have a few less-than-optimal habits, and they're making every part of your home life more difficult. The good news is that a few better habits can make a huge positive difference.
The beginning of a new routine can be challenging, but as with all things, practice eventually brings mastery. Once you're living in your clutter-free home, you won't feel heavy and defeated. You'll be able to enjoy your home and your children, because you'll be living more lightly and peacefully. You'll have more time to do things for yourself and together, enriching your family life instead of feeling trapped by your house.