Last summer, a friend of mine looked after our home while we were away for a couple of months. She came in twice a week to check whether everything was ok, put the aircon on, water the plants, and collect the mail from our mailbox. I know it can feel a bit weird to go to a home that is empty of its usual inhabitants, but she told me that she was ok with it and that in fact, she found our home to be welcoming and peaceful, not only for its green surroundings but most importantly for the absence of clutter.
My friend was surprised to know that I spend less than 15 minutes a day keeping my home clutter-free and organised. Of course, I appreciate that there are times when it is more challenging to achieve it, especially when you have young children with evolving needs and interests, with a constant flow of new stuff coming in and stuff they have outgrown that should go out, or that you may want to keep for a younger sibling.
But considering we spend 55 minutes a day looking for things we know we own but can’t find, wouldn’t you prefer to invest if not all but at least part of this time limiting clutter and sparing you frustration? If you do, here are the 6 habits that I practise daily and that I hope can help you make your home clutter-less, welcoming, and peaceful too.
I put things away when I am done using them.
I encourage everyone in our family to immediately put away the things they are done using, especially if it’s going to take them less than 1 minute. Failing to do so means that at some stage you will have to pick up those items and put them away, and finding this motivation is certainly not easy for most people. Stuff that is not put away is likely to start a pile that will quickly turn into clutter.
Here are a few examples of what I mean by putting things immediately away.
When I come back from a session with a client, I remove my client’s file from my work bag and file it, bring my water bottle to the kitchen sink, and put away my work bag.
Similarly, when our son was back from school, he would put his school bag in his “launching pad”, bring the lunch box to the kitchen, the PE kit or sports uniform to the laundry basket, and the schoolwork to his desk.
When I finish working on a task at my desk, for example writing a blog post or a client’s session notes, I put the folder away before starting my next task.
In the kitchen, I put the ingredients away after I’m done prepping the food and do as much washing up as I can on the go, so I’m not left with a big mess when I return to the kitchen after the meal.
Being able to put things immediately away requires every item in your home to have a dedicated home so you know where it goes. Ideally, its home should be as close as possible to where you use the item and easily accessible so there are no extra steps needed to complete the task. So, if your belongings do not have a dedicated home, that’s where you need to start, at least for the hot spots in your home. If you need help to get started or design a system that’s going to work for you, reach out.
I end the day tidying up what has not been returned to its home.
Despite our best intentions, there are times when we can’t put things immediately away, whether something urgent vied for our attention, or we just didn’t feel like doing it. In that case, I will spend a few minutes before going to bed to reset our home – putting a cup in the kitchen sink, returning the remotes to their spot by the couch, the shoes to the shoe cabinet, etc.
As much as I’d like this to be more of a family effort, I must confess that this task often falls on me. But I’m ok doing it because (1) it doesn’t take much time, (2) it’s not worth arguing with my family about it, (3) starting the next day in an orderly environment brings calm, especially if your mornings are chaotic, and (4) it encourages me to keep my home tidy.
The 5 minutes I spend resetting my home before going to bed feels like a great investment to me.
I start the day by making my bed.
Well, in truth, I make my bed after I’ve had breakfast – because I need my coffee first to function and be sociable 😉
A bed that has been made brings order right away, makes the room look put together, and might prevent you from making it a dumping ground. And as my son says, “It is the first win of the day”.
I immediately set aside the items I won’t be keeping.
I have a dedicated shelf in my study room cabinet where I gather all the items that we won’t be keeping. Every time, I come across an item that we no longer use, need, or like, or that’s damaged and can be recycled, I’ll add it there. When the shelf is full, I’ll get rid of those items by either taking them to a charity, giving them to a friend, selling them (if the price I’ll get from it is worth my time), or taking them for recycling.
This habit prevents me from accumulating in my cupboards stuff that has outlived its purpose which means I don’t have to block a few hours to declutter a cupboard or a room. It also saves me time by making the things we use, need, and like more visible and easier to access.
Professional Organiser Barbara Hemphill said, “Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions.” How true!
Of course, we all have some hot spots in our homes that might still need a more thorough decluttering, children’s clothes, toys, artwork, arts & crafts, or paper for example, but by putting aside what you can as soon as you realise it no longer deserves a place in your home, you’ll considerably reduce the time spent on these time-consuming decluttering overhauls.
We must learn to be honest with ourselves and accept that keeping things we don’t need, use, or love won’t make us use them. It might not come easily at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes (I’ve been there!).
I limit what I bring into our home.
There was a time in my life when I was buying much more than today, especially clothes. Becoming a mother and 2 years later deciding to leave the corporate world so I could work from home while taking care of my son drove me to make space in my home for all the baby paraphernalia and for a home office. Even though the decision to purge came out of my desire to keep things organised in our home, it made me realise that owning less also made my life easier, so I started slowing down the amount of stuff I was bringing into our home.
I know temptations to buy stuff are everywhere but here are a few examples of how I resist them, at least most of the time.
I have a pretty good idea of how much stuff our cabinets and cupboards can accommodate, and I like them to be no more than 70% utilised. You might be happy if your stuff doesn’t overspill from your storage space, even if your cupboards and closets are rather full, and that’s ok. But ultimately you need to set up some limits on stuff so that you don’t buy more than your space can accommodate.
I take stock of what I have and buy based on a list. I buy my groceries based on a meal plan and the contents of my fridge, freezer, and pantry. I avoid buying in bulk even if it comes at a discounted price if I don’t have the space to keep it. Many people think they save money by buying in bulk but as they don’t have enough space for it, it creates chaos in their cupboards, they end up buying more because they can’t see nor remember what they have. There is also the risk that the food might expire before you had time to consume it.
I also have a list of clothes, toiletries, books, etc. I need or want to buy. When tempted by a shiny object that was not on my list, I take some distance from it and give myself at least 3 days to think about it and decide whether to return to the shop and buy it. Of course, there are times I’m just not able to resist the temptation, but I’d say that I pretty much stick to my list at least 90% of the time.
I buy the best quality I can afford, or that I feel is worth putting in, so that things will last me longer.
I practise the one-in one-out rule.
If you really can’t resist the temptation to bring in stuff, not only the things you buy but also the things that your family and friends pass onto you and that you struggle to say no to (hands-me-down from their children for example), then try to get rid of as much as came in.
Right now, I’d like a new pair of white trousers. When I find them, I’ll let my current ones that are out of shape go. When I file a paper, I try to get rid of anything I can from that file e.g., the oldest bill, the warranties that have expired, the user manuals of the appliances I no longer own, etc.
Embracing those habits…
I have been practising the above habits for so long that they just happen naturally, without me consciously thinking about them. But I’m aware that acquiring a new habit is not easy, so to increase your odds, keep the following in mind:
- Reflect on those good habits that you already practise (there are bound to be) and what helped you acquire them
- Focus on one habit at a time, before moving on to the next one
- Block time in your diary with reminders until the habit becomes second nature
- Accept you will fail at times, don’t let it discourage you when it happens, and keep going
- Reward yourself – either immediately by doing something you enjoy after you’ve practised the habit or once you’ve achieved sufficient proficiency at it.
I’d love to know what other habits you practise to keep your home or life in check. Please comment below.