Last week in our quest for de-junk the spaces around us, we walked through cleaning a workstation and keeping it that way. This week, we're taking on a more personal, and often intimidating, space: The home. Personal because it is, after all, your home, and intimidating because it's the place you don't have to keep clean—until somebody's coming to visit. For anyone looking to cut back on clutter to create more living space (and space for awesome projects), read on for tips on putting your house in order. Photo by Carey Tilden.
Know your problem
If you're the type who leaves things behind and lets things accumulate unattended—basically, a household procrastinator—then no amount of storage bins or shelving is going to change your behaviour. You can, however, stop being an enabler for your own worst habits.
When she moved into a new apartment, our editor decided to create a more usable home through a variety of small, sloth-defeating hacks. Among her most basic, but useful discoveries, was the effectiveness of keeping the things actually used each day available, and putting away the things that were rarely touched:
For instance, if you've ripped all your CDs to MP3 and only listen to them in that format, then why line your living room walls with CDs that never get touched? Box up your CD's and put 'em up on a high shelf in the closet and make room for the things in the living room that you do use often. Or, simply enjoy the extra space.
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik.
We'll get to how to be ruthless about the real usefulness of that stuff in a minute. For now, take a look around your home and look for the tell-tale signs that it's in need of some serious re-thinking:
- Junk drawers that grow over-stuffed with minutiae you can't, or just don't, put elsewhere.
- Too many reminders of past moments that get in the way rather than stir up fond memories.
- Books from university you can easily find free online.
- Rooms or spaces so flush with stuff, they feel mentally imposing. In other words, it stresses you out to be there, but you can't exactly explain why.
So you see the problem now, but how do you figure out what gets zapped and what's normal to keep around? Well, you need ...
A fearless inventory
Besides having just too many other things to do, the biggest reason many of us don't get our stuff put away and out of the way is an inflated sense of our free time and personal interests. We haven't pitched those jeans that always end up on the floor because we will, some day, return to our high school waistline. The DVD collection that takes up about 1/4 of the living room will some day be pointed to by cool people and remarked at for its variety and obvious taste.
Those things, great as they may be, probably won't happen. For those hard-to-release items, I'm finding the stuff replacement fund (as recommended by the Get Rich Slowly blog) to be a big help. You sell off or donate anything you know you don't use now, but might possibly one day care about. Put the cash value in an interest-bearing, separate account, and pull from it if you end up really needing a replacement. There's also the six-month "maybe" box,, which you can use as the filter for your "stuff account," or the more hard-nosed replacement.
Sometimes, though, the clutter isn't entirely your fault. If you've got kids away at school, or a spouse or significant other who groans something fierce when a decluttering session approaches, try using Flickr to set up a clutter-tossing stream. The photo service, with its RSS feeds and tags, is perfect for allowing people to know exactly what item you're talking about, and then choose what stays and what goes.
Finally, if you've got an entire room of stuff that doesn't fit any of these tactics, try a tip gleaned from Squidoo's homemaking guide: The "Four Container Method." It's kind of like the nuclear option of home de-stuffing: Set up "Throw Away," "Give Away," "Put Away/Somewhere Else," and "Maybe Toss" bins in the centre of whatever room you're working on. Go around the room or across it in a rows, place whatever's bugging you in the correct bin, and repeat with each room. Soon enough, you've got a charity run on your schedule. What about items you want to earn a few dollars for? That's a different matter. Photo by Monica's Dad.
Get rid of your stuff
If something's not fit for charity, or it doesn't make sense to part with it for free, you've got a lot of options to move it out of your physical, and head, space. Get a few friends together and host a group garage sale—taking these tips on garage sale timing to heart. But if counter-haggling's not your thing, or it's not quite garage sale season, consider Freecycle. If you really want something gone, but think someone might get use out of it, the free-if-you-take-it Freecycle is the way to go.
Those are, of course, just one editor's suggestions for a consolidated plan of attack on your house. What's the best organisational move you ever made in your house? How did you turn a mess-attracting section of housing into a slim, useful station? Tell us in the comments.