Stop overlooking the perpetually out-of-place stuff

Objects can easily go on walkabout and then hang out, as if on vacation, in whatever random location you left them. If this happens to you (like it does me from time-to-time), try these five strategies to help you to see and deal with the perpetually out-of-place stuff in your home and office:

  1. Take photographs of all areas of a room and then look intently at the pictures. I’m not sure how it works, but analyzing an image can often help you see clutter you’ve become blind to in person. Dust bunnies under your monitor, stray toys under your dining room buffet, junk mail on your fireplace mantel jump out in photos but blend into the woodwork in person.
  2. Invite people over to your house for a party. Again, I’m not sure how it works, but having non-immediate family in your home can often make you to see clutter you had been previously immune to in your space.
  3. Become a stray stuff collector. Grab an empty laundry basket and see how many stray objects you can find in a room. Record the number, and then repeat the process in exactly one week. Do this task weekly in a room until the number regularly falls below two stray objects. Then, repeat the process in another room.
  4. Notice repeat offenders. If you are constantly finding the same object out of place, you may have the “wrong” storage space for the object. Would you be able to store the object in a more convenient location so that it’s not constantly cluttering up a room?
  5. A place for everything. Be sure everything you own has a permanent storage space. If it doesn’t, the object will always be out of place. This means you should have a permanent home for stamps, rubber bands, paper clips, spare change, bills, gift cards, medicine, etc.

How do you deal with perpetually out-of-place stuff in your spaces? Share your strategies — and your struggles — in the comments.

27 Comments for “Stop overlooking the perpetually out-of-place stuff”

  1. posted by Ritu on

    I often find the remote controls (TV, playstation) are perpetually out of place in the living room. Your post reminds that its time to look for a solution – probably a good looking container to hold all the controls – that doesn’t look out of place no matter where it is kept.

  2. posted by L. on

    I use paper grocery bags instead of laundry baskets, but I otherwise use exactly your techniques. I’m also always trying to find unused space to put stray things. I just noticed some empty shelves in a closet this morning and started wondering what would go well in there. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. posted by Susannah on

    Sort of a combination of #4 and #5: Are you familiar with the term “desire paths” ? People will walk (in a park, across campus, etc.) where they want to walk, which is not necessarily where the designer laid the paths. A wise designer will pay attention and shift the official paths.

    So if you’re continually finding the same item out of place, and finding it in the same place, stop trying to force your family to return it to its official spot. Find a way to confirm the place where it naturally lands.

    And if it’s new, and you’re not sure where to put it? Leave it out and see where it ends up. (Yes, tolerate the clutter — temporarily!) Then let its “desire place” guide you in picking its official home.

  4. posted by Mark on

    In response to L.’s comment about the empty shelves…

    My approach has been to look at empty space and enjoy it. Just because it’s empty does not mean it needs to be filled. Maybe you can take the shelves down…or some of them.

    I have been taking a good look at everything in my home. Do I use it…do I like looking at it? If the answer is no to both questions then I ask, is it trash, recycle, a give away or something to sell? Then I move it along.

    I can’t tell you how much a difference that has made for me.

  5. posted by Leslie on

    I will find out of place items when I’m sitting/laying on the floor (doing DIY stuff) or on a stool/ladder. I find that the different perspectives pick up things I tend to overlook when at eye level.

  6. posted by chacha1 on

    I struggle with using the dining table as a staging area. I have a LOT of different projects going on and they all require a certain amount of paperwork. I take pieces of various projects with me to work almost every day, so this stuff is in a constant state of flux. Where I probably *should* stage all this junk is in the home office. But that’s the man cave, really, and I tend to avoid using it.

    I am working on further reducing the book & music storage required in our living room/den so that I can bring in a new project staging cabinet, or repurpose something that’s already there.

    Reason being, despite part of me thinking I *should* use the home office, it’s well established that I don’t really want to, so I need to use the space I’m already using, just in a way that doesn’t clutter up our table. Argity argh. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. posted by Alix on

    Posted by Mark – 01/24/2012

    My approach has been to look at empty space and enjoy it. Just because itโ€™s empty does not mean it needs to be filled.

    * * *

    Sounds as though you’ve embraced the Japanese concept of “ma” (“empty space”).

  8. posted by Loren on

    I’ve found that pretty frequently the out of place item is something useful that maybe has a ‘home’ but can’t go there because that drawer/shelf/space if filled with something I do NOT need.
    I’ve got a couple junk drawers that need to be cleaned out so that the cell phone chargers can live there.

  9. posted by [email protected] Small Houses on

    When the kids were home, I’d put items on the floor in a bag and put away. Seems I had one day a week when I’d release those items.

    Hmmm… does that sound mean?


  10. posted by Tara on

    Stuff at my house is perennially out of place. Toys all over the living room, papers in piles on the end table, generic stuff all over the dining room table. I’m not sure how to get from here to neat and tidy most of the time.

    In many ways, the stuff is like an overwhelming To Do list, all the things I want to or need to tackle but never quite get to. I’ve been working on throwing unnecessary things away and scanning other stuff into AboutOne, but it’s hard! Sometimes I wonder if my house will ever be suitable for visitors.

  11. posted by Jodi on

    @Rita. I bought a shoe holder at the dollar store to hang on our pantry door for water bottles, only to find out the cheap dollar store version was too small for the bottles. My kids were given a wii and tv for Christmas (not by me), and the shoe holder worked great for all the remotes and game controllers!

    Here is a picture of the style of shoe holder I am talking about. I paid $1 for the remote control holder, $5 for the one I found for our water bottles, and was given the one I use for mittens and hats free.

  12. posted by snosie on

    @ rita, we have what we call a ‘Castle Hill’ (it’s a family joke, cause we don’t think it suits our decor, only someone who lived in said place would buy one!)

    It’s really called Flort, and it’s from ikea:

    Sussanah, I agree about desire paths!!

    I use the people coming around method a lot, and the photo method (usually when I’m done, so I can think ‘damn that’s how it should look!’. When I’m at my parents, and my brothers have left things all over, I use the washing basket method – instant impact!

    For me, it’s about ‘clear’ surfaces – only TV on TV unit, only cushions on couch, nothing on kitchen table, nothing on bench top (well I’ll settle for draining rack, and kettle, but sometimes both get rehomed…) I have 3 open shelves in the kitchen, so things must be in order there too – and only blue/white/clear, everything else ‘hidden’.

  13. posted by Diahn Ott on

    I love these tips – it’s so true that our eyes tend to skip over problems we see on a regular basis. The only problem I see in my case is with #5. If I followed that advice, I would have to designate the space in between my couch cushions as storage for dirty socks…


  14. posted by organizingwithe on

    It used to bug me terribly when I was the only one attempting to put the stuff away. Every day there was more & more, and everyday it seemed like I was the only one taking care of it.

    But no more.

    I instituted “The Family Clean Up” and now what was once unbearable is now no longer annoying. In fact, it’s almost fun. The how tos are here:

  15. posted by Sue on

    The photograph method works remarkably well, and is so much easier now that we have digital cameras.

    I like the idea of noticing the repeat offenders and then reassesing the permanent place for those objects. I think I do this without realizing what I’m doing. For years I’ve been battling the mail and keys problem – mail ended up all over and my keys were always misplaced. I finally went back to what worked for me in college – hooks by the door. I bought a mail holder with hooks. It took about a week for my husband (who typically gets the mail) to learn to use the holder. And I’ve stopped misplacing my keys on a daily basis.

  16. posted by Lisa on

    Excellent tips as I am on a journey to unclutter. If I accomplish nothing else in my life, I want to get my life organized so that I don’t spend the rest of it shifting items around in my home that don’t have a place. Keep up the good work!

  17. posted by Michaela on

    Anymore when I decide to declutter a room, I have two boxes ready to go. In one box I will put all the items that are out of place (meaning they have a home and need to go there) and the other box will have everything else that doesn’t fit that category. Then when I get done cleaning that room, I’ll go back over the boxes putting all the stuff away from the first one. The second box usually harder for me because I tend to look at what’s left as “what can I get rid of?” Anymore out of place items for me have been getting donated as I have come to realize owning less is really more. So many times, the second box becomes my donation box and it sort of forces me to REALLY look around and see what else can go in it (because I want to fill it). Anything leftover – I then find it a home. It seems simple enough, but it took me a long time to learn all this.

  18. posted by Ritu on

    Hello Jody and Snosie,

    Thanks for these suggestions. I am going to try them and see if this could serve as a permanent solution.

  19. posted by jantzie on

    I might have mentioned this once before on unclutterer, but I like to look at my home through a mirror once in a while. Like Leslie said, when she’s on the ground or higher on a stool, the change in perspective helps her see things out of place. The mirror allows me to see my home as a first time visitor would.

  20. posted by WilliamB on

    #4 is one of my favorites – if an org system isn’t working, maybe it’s not the right system for then/there/that person.

    I decluttered an unintentional landing spot this way. I realized, after a couple of years (slow learner here!) that the Household Inboxes had turned into Ongoing Project Boxes instead. After several attempts at encouraging their owners to use them as inboxes – ie once you look at the contents the contents should go elsewhere – I gave up. By taking them away we also took away the paper clutter that migrated there. The paper clutter now goes to a less visible space and the former landing spot looks better.

  21. posted by Christopher Vigliotti on

    Stuff in our home either goes on the dining room table or goes away where it belongs. The table is (ideally) cleared by dinnertime.

  22. posted by Elaine P Jones on

    #4 and #5 ring very true for me. This may go against the grain by I have a designated “stray stuff drawer” in my kitchen. (adapted from having 1 shelf/drawer free every room in the house) All stray stuff goes in there and gets cleared out once/week. It’s also the first place to look when the “Honey, do you know where X is?” question gets asked. I’ve had this for 3 months now, and don’t get the question anymore, and also noticed nobody looks in the drawer more than once a month.

  23. posted by NutellaNutterson on

    Our biggest challenge is the toddler who grows taller by the day turning all the usual storage options into choking hazard central. We’re slowly reclaiming some space with child locks, but I find the extra step of unlocking causes me to leave more things out. I’m getting used to the locks, and the kiddo will eventually not want to eat the paperclips.

  24. posted by Ann Brebner on

    Great tips, I am sure a few of our customers would really benefit from this. I know I will, I am forever gathering stray items to go away, but don’t stop to scan for them all. Great advice thank you

    Ann and Claire

    Time For You

  25. posted by Elaine on

    A year or so ago I spent several hours constructing a spreadsheet called “Where stuff goes.” I started with my home office and listed in one column every place where something could be stored (desk drawer, orange plastic box, bookcase #1, bookcase #2, etc.). In the next column I listed smaller storage spaces inside larger ones (plastic box #1 inside desk drawer, etc.) and listed every single object that I had stored. I used this time to round up individual objects, decide where they should go, and list those in the next column.

    I use this spreadsheet a lot. Just this morning I was trying to figure out where I left my Sharpee marker. It wasn’t in the desk drawer (first place I looked). The spreadsheet reminded me that I had a second pencil cup on the other side of the room where I keep markers & oversized pens. It’s amazingly helpful, like having a friend who remembers things you forgot, but it’s better because there’s no embarrassment or eye-rolling.

    I’m gradually working on doing the same thing for other rooms of the house, using a separate tab for each room or large closet — but for now, just having the office in order is most important, because that’s where I keep most of me.

    This spreadshee

  26. posted by Hope on

    I put velcro on the back of remotes and on the side of the entertainment center. That way they Martinez easily found.

  27. posted by Marianne on

    I’m using your suggestion #1 to force myself to focus on one hotspot area: the top of my bureau. I have the photo, I sent it to a friend, I’m here at work looking at the photo, listing all of the things that are on top of that bureau; and tonight, the plan is to sort these items, get them off the bureau, and put (or throw or donate) them away. Very helpful, since I’ve been avoiding dealing with this area!!

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