When our two children were young, we lived in a three-bedroom house of about 1200 square feet. Compared to the modern American home that is small, but in spite of that my house was usually fairly tidy. Even if the kids were in the middle of playing one of their epic pretend games, with dolls, stuffed animals, play dishes, dress-up clothes, Lego creations, and lots of homemade props, we could make the house "company ready" in a fairly short time.
Does that sound like an impossible dream?
The secret isn't really secret – everything had a home. Everything.
I know you've heard this: "A place for everything and everything in its place." But what does that mean? And why should you go to the trouble?
It means I can hand my child any item that belongs to her or is used by the whole family and say, "Put this where it belongs," and she knows exactly where to go. I can ask her to go get an item, and she can, quickly and without fuss, locate the item and bring it to me.
And that's the reason you should create a home for each thing you own, and why you should develop the habit of putting things where they belong when they're not in use.
"A place for everything" simply makes life easier.
Multiple times every day, it makes tasks a little smoother, a little quicker, and a little more pleasant. Try to calculate the value of that as it happens over and over and over, and contrast it with the constant low-level irritation of a cluttered, disorganized home where you can never find anything when you need it, or you never realize that you're out of ketchup (or that you have three partially-used bottles) because it has no designated home.
To get to that level of organization, you have to start by letting go of unneeded and unloved items. Most of us live in houses that are big enough to accommodate the stuff a family needs, but if you have three couches, four sets of dishes, 19 bath towels, and too much of everything else, you might be struggling to find a home for it all.
Your difficulty is understandable – you have too much stuff! In most cases, items end up "homeless" because there are too many of them. If your cupboard won't hold all of the family's games, you need to pick out the games that you actually play, and get rid of the ones the kids have outgrown, or that are broken or missing pieces. Prune the collection until it fits, or if you truly enjoy and use a lot of games, remove something else from the cupboard so the games can live there.
If your bathroom counter is covered with bottles and potions, you probably have too many. Get rid of the duplicates, the things you tried once and didn't like, and the outdated creams and remedies. Use the medicine cabinet and vanity drawers to store the things you need and use each day, and keep the counter clear of everything except hand soap. It's not only more soothing and spa-like, it's far more sanitary.
I hope you're getting the idea that organizing without decluttering won't accomplish your purpose. My mother's cupboards and drawers were always so full you had to practically empty them out in order to find what you were looking for, even if you knew it was in there somewhere. Many of us live like that, and think that we have a place for everything. But we can't actually retrieve anything or put it away again with ease.
A system that is hard to use won't be used. If your shelves and baskets and closets are packed full, they will quickly become chaotic once more, and your attempts at order and peace will fail.
The answer is not to buy a bigger house. It's not to run out and buy a closet system or more matching containers. All of those things are simply camouflage for clutter. The answer is to put your favorite, most used items in the containers you have, and declutter the lesser-loved items that don't fit. Let your drawers, cupboards, closets, spice racks, book cases, and shoe bags place limits on what you own. Let your containers contain (corral and control) your belongings.
You know you've decluttered successfully when everything you own has a home, and can be accessed or put away with a minimum of fuss.
Don't waste another minute looking for your misplaced phone or that bill you need to pay, or shuffling through drawers looking for your favorite yoga pants. Find a home for these things, and never put them down except where they belong.
In the end, it really comes down to habits. At first it may be difficult to put craft supplies where they belong, to hang your keys on their designated hook, or to train your children to hang up their backpacks or put away their clean laundry. It will sometimes seem that it's just easier to do it all yourself, or to give up altogether, but in the long run it won't be. Trust me.
Once you've put everything in its place, you'll be able to live more peacefully and enjoy your home more. You'll have more time to do activities you value instead of feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by your house.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash