At JP&CO and Optima Homes, we often talk about creating healthy homes. There are many elements that go into making a home healthy. It’s about the building materials you choose for a new construction (nontoxic, sustainable, etc.). It’s about having optimal sunlight, proper ventilation, and an open, clean floor plan. It’s about feeling comfortable and safe in your home.
But, having a healthy home goes beyond all that. It also has to do with the day-to-day. It’s how we feel when we walk into a room in our home. Unfortunately, many of us don’t feel as positive as we could about the spaces in our homes. They might feel crowded, cluttered, and overwhelming. Even if you do not consciously look at the clutter when you walk into a room, you still subconsciously take it in. This can lead to anxiety, feelings of claustrophobia, or difficulty in becoming completely relaxed. It could also make you feel less than enthusiastic about hosting guests in your home!
One of the ways to alleviate these negative feelings and revitalize your home is to cut the clutter. By streamlining and organizing your possessions, you can open up your space and simplify your life. Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be! Get started with these 12 guidelines:
You wouldn’t build a home without a blueprint, and you shouldn’t start the de-cluttering process without some kind of game plan. Take time to look at the big picture. What’s working and what isn’t? Walk through your house, room-by-room and make notes about areas that are fine and areas that need improvement. For instance, are all your cooking supplies within reach of your stove? Are your shoes buried at the back of your closet? Are all your cleaning supplies grouped in one, easy-to-access area? Are certain items rarely-used or out-of-date?
Think about how you might swap items around so that your storage set-ups make sense. Also think about how you might be able to reduce the amount of stuff in your home. Jot notes as you go and eventually create a Master De-Clutter List. Don’t get too overwhelmed! Read step two…
2. Start Small
You’ve made your list. You know your problem areas. Now you feel completely overwhelmed and ready to throw in the towel before you even begin. Stop! Take a deep breath. Identify one item on your list that will take you half an hour or less. Do you need to go through your spices to make sure none are expired? Do you need to sort through your stack of mail or old magazines? Do these little tasks first so that you can cross something off your list and get a jolt of motivation to move onto the bigger tasks.
3. Think in “4 Boxes”
When you start sorting through common “trouble spots,” like your bedroom closet or your kitchen, start by taking everything out and completely opening up your storage spaces. This, alone, may help you see the storage potential of your closet or cupboards in a new light.
Then, begin to sort things into 4 piles:
- Shelve it
- Donate or Sell it
- Store it
- Trash (recycle) it
“Shelve it” items are things that you use regularly. You need to access them frequently and need them to be easily accessible (think work clothes, gym shoes, or your favorite frying pan). See steps 4 and 6 (below) for dealing with these items.
If you no longer use an item on a regular basis, be ruthless! If the item is in good shape, donate or sell it. If not, either throw it away or recycle it. Many places offer recycling for old clothes. Here’s a great article by Elle Magazine about recycling old clothing.
If you don’t use an item regularly, but need to hang onto it (that roaster pan that only comes out for Thanksgiving or those extra office supplies), there are many ways to store it. Smaller items can be placed in boxes and labeled; larger items can find a home in the less-accessible areas of your cupboards or cabinets (or even the garage–think sporting equipment or your holiday decorations).
4. A Place for Everything…
…and everything in it’s place! Make sure you create a “home” for every item. If, for instance, you don’t have a designated spot for the mail or magazines, they’ll end up in every corner of your house. This is one of the simplest rules of de-cluttering, but one of the most essential.
5. Get rid of duplicates
One of the simplest ways to get rolling with the de-cluttering process is to eliminate duplicates. Do you have several dozen t-shirts from fun runs and festivals? Or 20 coffee cups? Are you hanging onto your old curling iron, even though you’ve purchased a new one? Cut the duplicate items and either toss them or donate them.
6. Clean the closets
Closets can be black holes for accumulating unused items. A shirt or an old jacket might hang in the back of a closet for years, without being thought of or used. As noted in step 3, start by taking everything out of your closet and examining your space. Then, consider each item carefully. Ask yourself, “have I worn this in the past year or two?” If not, it’s usually safe to move the item on. Professional organizer Sharon Lowenheim says, “Don’t hold onto things because you think you might need them someday. One key to de-cluttering is getting rid of things, not simply rearranging them.”
One way to drastically reduce the amount of stuff in your life, is to digitize collections, when possible. Scan in old pictures and meaningful documents. Save digital copies of your CD collection.
If you’re a parent, don’t hang on to too many school projects or works of art. Home organization expert Standolyn Robertson recommends taking a picture of your child with their creation–be it a pastel drawing or a cooler-sized medieval castle–and letting that be your keepsake. “After all,” she says, “what would you rather have in 30 years — a photo of that castle, or the mouse-infested castle itself?”
8. Tackle “paper mountain”
Whether it’s tax documents, the daily mail, or that old National Geographic magazine collection in the basement, it’s sometimes difficult to get control of all the paper that tends to stack up in our lives. Start with a “paper purge” and get rid of old documents, magazines that are collecting dust, and similar items. In an article on Angie’s List, professional organizer Cathy Green says, “Subject every piece of mail that comes into your home to a ‘tough love’ test. Ask yourself, “Am I going to order from this magazine within the next 24 hours?” If not, toss it. Remember that paper is inanimate. It has no feelings, no thoughts. It could not care less that you are tearing it up and throwing it out. Get rid of it.”
Next, find homes for all your paper piles. Make use of a filing cabinet for documents such as tax forms, healthcare information, and other important items that need to be retained. Consider using a basket for your mail and magazines. And, for pieces of paper that require action? Hang them on a “to-do” board, like the one pictured below.
9. Embrace donation
It may be difficult to part with certain clothing, books, art work, or mementos, but take comfort in the fact that they could be going to a new home, where they will enjoy a “second life.” Know your resources. Depending on the quality of your clothing or old furniture, boutiques or vintage shops may take them in. Otherwise, nonprofits such as the MS Society or ClothingDonations.org (where donations benefit veterans) holds curbside pick-up events where you can schedule a time for the organization to pick up your second-hand items.
10. Create “kits”
A great way to get organized and stay organized is to create home organization kits. Group like-items together, or items that you tend to use at the same time, such as manicure tools, tea-making items, shoe care tools, etc. Then, store the items in clearly labeled boxes that are accessible when you need them. Need to write a letter? Pull out your stationary kit. Need to give the dog a bath? Retrieve your doggy care kit!
11. Banish dust collectors
In order to truly create a healthy home, it’s a good idea to trim down the number of decorative items that tend to collect dust. If you’re a collector, try to cut down your items to a single collection, rather than many collections displayed around the house. Remember: a tastefully displayed collection in a curio cabinet has a much more positive impact than a collection that takes over your home.
As an interior designer, my philosophy is always less is more. Think “less” when it comes to putting up artwork, setting out collections or knick-knacks, or displaying photographs. Even house plants can be overdone! Yes, plants can add to the health of a home and make it feel refreshing and welcoming, but too many house plants can make your space feel like a jungle and all those leaves tend to…you guessed it…collect dust.
12. De-cluttering that lasts
De-cluttering your home will do no good if things quickly revert back to the way they were. In order to permanently cut the clutter, you’ll have to make conscious choices. Before buying a new item, ask yourself “Do I really need this?” If so, ask yourself, “Can I replace the new item with a worn-out or outdated existing item?” Many people use the “one-in, one-out,” rule. If you buy a new work shirt, for example, get rid of an old one. This helps to keep your stash of stuff at a manageable size and leads to more conscious spending.
Another way to cut clutter is to borrow, instead of buy. For instance, check a book out of the library instead of buying it. Or, use a Netflix or Hulu account to watch movies instead of buying them. Have a fancy event to attend? Consider borrowing a high-fashion dress from Rent The Runway, instead of buying a dress that you’ll use once and then ditch.
Another part of consciously keeping your home clutter-free is to not fall for freebies. Just because a booth at some networking event is giving away free stress balls or coffee cups, resist! Will you actually use that lime green baseball cap?
Lastly, create a de-clutter schedule. Spend a few minutes every day neatening your home and putting everything in its place. By sticking to a regular schedule, you won’t feel overwhelmed by the piles of items encroaching on your space.
Breathe deeply, set aside some time, and start de-cluttering your home!
Samantha Grose, Associate AIA, Allied ASID Designer for Optima Homes and JP&CO
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Samantha Grose is both Associate AIA and Allied ASID. She is the lead designer for Optima Homes and JP&CO. She takes a unique approach to design creating spaces that are casually sophisticated and timeless in design, where you and your family can live comfortably. She has worked extensively throughout the TWIN CITIES area having completed many new homes and large scale whole house remodels.
Samantha received her BS from the University of Minnesota majoring in both ARCHITECTURE and ART. She is deeply committed to a creative approach giving you highly functional spaces with an aesthetic appeal for everyday living.