Simple Rules For Getting Clutter Out Of Your Life

Here are the rules that are your path out of a lifestyle bogged down with stuff, immobilized by disorganization, and stymied by interruption. They will assist you in your day-to-day decision-making process when clutter or household organization is the subject at hand. This is one of the rules from our book, Clutter Control. Keep these rules in ongoing use, even after you’ve uncluttered your life, so you’ll keep it that way!


Let’s say you just spent an hour picking up in the family room. It’s in impeccable shape – splendidly uncluttered by things that don’t belong there. You know only too well that it can be turned into a war zone by the family in minutes:  discarded clothes, food, dirty dishes, shoes, toys (kids’, dogs’, and cats’), soft drink and/or beer cans, school papers, newspaper, magazines, cups, and glasses.

It goes something like this:  One child comes into the family room with a soda and turns on the TV. He tosses his jacket on a chair and rummages around for the remote. The desire for a sandwich becomes irresistible. He abandons the empty soda can and returns to the kitchen, gliding past the recycle bin where the soda can belongs, as well as the coatrack where the jacket belongs. A few more trips by other family members and the room is done for.

Things Not To Do Later: A Partial List

  1. If you brought stuff into a room, take it back out the very next time you leave that room (after you’re done with it, of course.)
  2. Take things upstairs if you are going there anyway.
  3. Take things downstairs if you are going there anyway.
  4. Take everything out of the car that was added this trip.
  5. Pick up things when they drop.
  6. Wipe up spills when they happen.
  7. Vacuum up messes when they occur.
  8. Wash dirty dishes and wipe off the counters before the food dries on them.
  9. Fold or hang the clothes when they emerge from the dryer.

A lot of the clutter in your home will disappear if you follow this rule. It’s not much more than leaving a room the way you found it. If there wasn’t toothpaste spread on the sink before you came into the room, there shouldn’t be any there when you leave it. This rule solves clutter problems without adding one second of time or one ounce of work to anyone’s overwhelmed schedule. It doesn’t involve any extra time to take dirty dishes to the kitchen if you’re going there anyway to get a glass of water. It doesn’t take any extra time to carry your shoes to your bedroom if you’re going up there anyway to do your homework.

In some cases, it actually saves a great deal of time. If you don’t wipe up a spill when it happens, it will eventually take much more than a simple wipe. It may call for hard scrubbing or several different scrapers or cleaners that require a trip to the garage or the store. It may even have developed into a permanent stain.

Naturally you know and practice all these sterling principles. It’s the other members of your family who are somewhat less enlightened. So how do you get them to cooperate? Setting an example sometimes works (every ice age or so.)

But this rule isn’t going to get off the ground unless everyone practices it, and consistently so. Try calling the household together and sitting down at a peace conference with them. Tell them the subject of the meeting, and all parties will probably readily agree (with varying degrees of enthusiasm, perhaps) that clutter is a problem. Ask everyone to volunteer ideas for your own “things not to do later” list. Don’t allow accusations to be hurled. Just make the list. Read them our list if you need help getting started with yours. Next, make a contract, with your new list as its terms. All parties must affirm that they agree to the terms. Then agree on a list of reward for adhering to the contract and punishments for infringing it. Nothing extravagant or gruesome; just an appealing payoff for compliance and a somewhat obnoxious deterrent for noncompliance.

There are several additional ideas for things to do daily that will help keep the house civilized between cleanings, save time when you do clean, and contribute to your sense of successfully managing your home.

In the bathroom:  Put a window squeegee (or a squeegee specially designed for the bathroom) in the shower. The last person to shower should use the squeegee to remove water from the walls and doors that would otherwise dry and turn into difficult-to-remove water spots. It only takes a minute or so. Not only will this make cleaning the shower easier than it’s ever been before, the shower also will continue to look clean for a much longer time. If you have particularly hard water in your area, take one more step and quickly wipe the walls dry with a towel after you’ve squeegeed them. Now cleaning the shower every week or every other week practically drops off your list of things to do because it never really stays dirty.

Do the same thing around the sink. The last user should sop up the water on the counter and then dry the fixtures. Dry the sink itself if hard water also makes that difficult to clean later. Use a towel that’s on its way to be laundered, or leave a special towel or cleaning cloth hanging nearby.

In the kitchen:  Wipe the counter, sink, and fixtures dry after each meal. Also after preparing a meal, take a couple of dampened paper towels and wipe the floor – but only the small are of the floor close to where you prepared the food – and in front of the refrigerator if it needs it.

For the rest of the house:  Vacuum as often as daily when pet hairs or general debris are getting to you. We’re not suggesting a full-blown vacuuming, just a quick vacuuming of the main traffic areas for three or four minutes. To make this even faster, leave your vacuum in the corner of the dining room (or somewhere else, but not put away) during those times of the year that require frequent vacuuming. Besides making the house look so much better, this extra vacuuming also saves time when you do your regular cleaning. Your carpets and floors will look better longer and will also last longer.

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