Safety: The most important uncluttering and organizing standard

Safety is a far cry from being the most interesting subject in the uncluttering and organizing realm. However, it is at the heart of every uncluttering and organizing project (or, at least it should be). Even if it isn’t named outright, safety concerns are the first and most important issue to consider when taking on your next project.

Clutter, in many forms, can be a safety hazard. Massive amounts of paper can be fuel for a house or office fire. Undetected black mold behind stacks of clutter in a basement or garage can poison the air your family breathes. Clutter that blocks a door or covers a floor can inhibit safe exit during an emergency, and stacked items can fall on people during natural disasters.

Getting rid of items is usually thought of as a safe step, but isn’t always the case. Hazardous items disposed of improperly can injure waste management workers or harm the environment by accidentally poisoning water supplies or wild animals.

Storage can be a safety hazard, too. If materials you’re keeping are stored improperly, you could be putting yourself and your family at risk. Cleaning supplies can accidentally be mixed and create poisonous gasses or if they’re easily accessed could be lethal to a toddler. There is also the risk of injury if heavy items are stored too high and someone falls or pulls a muscle accessing those items. Putting things in cardboard boxes can be bad because critters and insects can get into the boxes, and so can black mold and mildew if the boxes get wet.

To improve the safety in your home or office, start by identifying all the existing hazards. Are you using a fireproof safe to store your papers? Are you overloading the electrical outlets? Is clutter or arrangement of furniture blocking safe exit from a space? Is there black mold or mildew or anything rotting?

Immediately address all safety concerns and be sure to do so in a way that doesn’t create more hazards. Research ways to safely dispose of any questionable materials.

When uncluttering and organizing, be sure to keep safety as your most important priority. Store items in containers that are safe for what you are storing and pest/critter/mold/mildew resistant. Have all pathways clear of clutter. Arrange items so you aren’t at risk of being injured when accessing or returning items to storage. Do whatever you need to do to keep your home and office safe for you and others.

22 Comments for “Safety: The most important uncluttering and organizing standard”

  1. posted by E. on

    I absolutely agree. I started a mass decluttering project after the earthquake shook Japan last year. I live on the second floor of a reinforced concrete building in Tokyo that was build 2 years ago, but things still fell from shelves and getting from one room to the entrance was more difficult than I ever expected. When the building is shaking and you have to walk through a path of boxes and things scattered on the floor, it slows you down. I couldn’t tell how big the quake was getting, so I just wanted to get the entrance door opened so that it wouldn’t get jammed, but it took me longer than it should have to get there.

    Since then, I spent a lot of time away from Japan living out of a suitcase and I realized that I didn’t miss my other stuff at home. When I returned home, my decluttering mission began. Tall shelves are now gone along with the knick knacks that were displayed in them. Empty glass bottles: gone. Anything that could fall along the path to my entrance: gone. I had 95% of all books digitized and paper clutter has been scanned and recycled. With the ongoing shakes, I can’t afford to have clutter get in my way. I could go on an on about the changes that I’ve made, but the bottom line is, with less stuff, I have improved the safety level of my space.

  2. posted by Lyndey on

    Funny you should talk about safety today. I had medical checkup last week and ended up talking about safety while cleaning.

    As part of the checkup I was due for a teatnus booster. I mentioned that I had been cleaning my folks basement and the nurse said that cases of teatnus have ocurred from cleaning, especially in older houses. People get cuts or scrapes and don’t give it much thought until they develop severe symptoms a few days later.

    I realized it’s not only important to clean areas to make sure your house remains safe, it’s also important to make sure you take saftey precautions as you’re in “deep clean” mode:

    1. If you’re cleaning a particularly nasty area (basement, attic, shed, etc.), wear a dust mask and heavy duty rubber gloves. Once you’re finished for the day, toss both. It’s not worth the risk to have those things lying around, even if you do clean them off.

    2. Check your immunization record and make sure your teatnus booster is up to date. Better safe than sorry.

    3. If you’re using strong chemicals, make sure it’s in a well-ventiated area and there are no open flames nearby. Also, wear eye protetction and make sure kids and pets are out of the room.

    4. As soon as you’re finished, make sure you put your clothes into the washer (or a tub of hot water if you don’t have a machine). You don’t want to leave these things lying around in a hamper or laundry bag.

    5. I know this should go without saying, but take a shower when you’re done and wash your hair to boot. This will make sure that you’ve cleaned any minor scrapes you didn’t notice and get the chemicals off your skin and out of your hair.

  3. posted by Rebecca on

    This is appropos for me, too! I (as you already know, Erin) was bitten by a brown recluse spider that had nestled into a pair of pants I was storing on hanging racks in my basement in late February, and this prompted me to finally get rid of any clothes and shoes that won’t fit into my upstairs closet (which I clean out regularly and vacuum regularly and is a much less appealing place for reclusive, venomous spiders).

    These spiders LOVE quiet, undisturbed, cluttered areas (like basements and attics). I live in a part of the country where these spiders (and black widows) are common, and frankly, in every U.S. state there are spiders that can inflict nasty, and potentially quite lasting and harmful, bites. When we went through everything in the basement a few weeks ago, I had on elbow-length dishwashing rubber gloves, long sleeves and pants and socks and good spider-squashing shoes, and I took care to ensure that even if (as) we came across more live spiders, it would be very hard for them to bite me.

    It’s been 3 weeks since the bite tomorrow and it’s healing well (thank goodness for prompt access to antibiotics for that), but I’ll probably have a nasty mark on my hip for most of the rest of the year. I don’t want to experience this again, and these bites can be life- or limb-threatening for the very obese, children under 7, and the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. Definitely a “risk” to protect against when considering safety precautions associated with uncluttering!

  4. posted by priest's wife on

    ok….scary stories…off to clean the garage

    (but seriously- thanks for the suggestions and the push in the right direction)

  5. posted by Lyndey on



    I didn’t even think about spiders.

  6. posted by Jasi on

    i’m an organized minimalist so i don’t really have clutter… much. i run a family and so i have papers and things. safety is definitely a concern around children. but the money i save remembering rebates, answering mail promptly. you know i found a small line in the garage wall, a crack not covered by boxes (because i haven’t any) and repaired it quickly. apparently in the homes in my community it’s a weak spot and can cost tens of thousands to replace later if neglected.

  7. posted by EngineerMom on

    I really like the reminder by Lyndey to wear appropriate safety equipment and clean YOURSELF off after a session in a potentially icky area like a basement or garage. I do the same thing when I’m “decluttering” (weeding, tearing out unwanted ugly bushes, trimming roses that haven’t been pruned in 2 years, etc.) the garden in the fall and spring, but hadn’t thought of doing that during our basement purge this summer!

    I understand about properly storing cleaning supplies, but I would also like to emphasize that the best protection when it comes to small children is vigilant supervision. My son could open the so-called “child safe” locks by the time he was 2, and I was not comfortable storing cleaning supplies next to food in the upper cabinets of our kitchen, so our only solution was to just watch him constantly and make sure any supplies were in child-resistant bottles with child-resistant locks on the doors to at least slow him down.

  8. posted by Klyla on

    Rebecca, I want to add to your reminder about brown recluse spiders. My husband was bitten by one that was in his spare pair of work boots in his company van. His boots got muddy so he changed into the spares and got bit between his toes. Totally, it took him two years to get over it!

    OK, point is, watch out for things in your car or van that are dark and unused for months. Hiding place can be glove box, shoes, purses, etc. Don’t stick your hand in these things before being properly prepared. Especially in Texas!

  9. posted by ninakk on

    I strongly suggest breathing filters or whatever they are called, even for normal dust in great quantities. I regret not using one when cleaning up my grandmother’s house last year, as especially the attic and books/papers were sources of huge dust clouds in the air.

    I like to move bags, boxes and piles out of the natural exit way for the night when cleaning more in one go in my own home. It can be very comfusing when waking up in the middle of the night to trip over something that is normally never there on my way to the bathroom.

    Lyndey, it is ‘tetanus’ spread by Clostridium tetani, by the way! Great reminder, thanks.

  10. posted by gypsy packer on

    Do not forget the black widow spider, who also adores dark cluttered spaces and cardboard. Aspergillus mold, common in damp houses, is a known carcinogen. Don’t discount snakes- I once brought in a kindling box from the garage and a baby diamondback crawled out of it. Keep eyes open, too, for broken glass and for razor blades, which ambush hands from box folds.

  11. posted by kris on

    “Massive amounts of paper can be fuel for a house or office fire.”

    Undoubtedly true.

    But what I’ve often wondered about is this: Is a stack of newspapers a bigger threat than a pile of magazines or a shelf of paperback books or a wall of bookcases filled with hardcover books?

  12. posted by Jodi on

    I have to admit, I read this post and thought good grief (sorry Erin!) But then I started reading some of the specific stories and examples, and gained a TOTALLY different perspective on safety/uncluttering issues!

    Thanks for posting this Erin…and for allowing your readers to comment! This has become a post that has really made me think after all!

  13. posted by Erin Doland on

    @kris — You make a really good point. I don’t like to keep magazines stacked up for this reason, and I also like to keep my book collection down to just two bookshelves. On the plus side, however, bookshelves tend to be pushed up against walls and not obstructing a pathway through a room. Stacks of papers (like newspaper recycling) are unfortunately often kept near doors that could be otherwise safe to exit during a fire. I think each situation should be evaluated to see how big of a risk it poses to safety.

  14. posted by Rebecca on

    @Lyndey — Yes! Definitely a safety concern. I love the thought of just tossing the gloves, too. Hard for spiders to move into something YOU DON’T OWN.

    @Gypsy — venomous snake in a kindling box? *FAINTS* Also, BW spiders generally live outdoors, while BRs prefer to be indoors HOWEVER, this is the generalization and certainly not a rule to take hard and fast. Better to realize BWs are in EVERY state and BRs in most and where there aren’t BRs, there are hobo spiders and aggressive house spiders and yellow sac spiders, which aren’t nice to be bitten by. BETTER TO BE SAFE AND CHECK FIRST. When we were moving our garden beds this weekend, I saw about 3 dozen small spiders, about 2/3 of which were small wolf spiders (unpleasant, but not particularly venomous, bite) and the other 1/3? BRs. I nearly threw up a few times. Hubby had to do most of the work. I kept saying “You’re SO brave. And a little bit reckless.”

    @Klyla — It now takes me 20 minutes to get dressed every morning. My arachnophobia, previously a level 8, is now OFF THE CHARTS. (An 11, to reference “This is Spinal Tap”.)

  15. posted by Tyler on

    This article makes me cringe at the thought of an earthquake because my room already looks like a tornado went through it! haha.

    Thanks for the tips!

  16. posted by Lyndey on

    @Rebecca: Last night I went down into the “black hole” (a.k.a. the basement) and put every stray piece of clothing in a zippered plastic storage bag. There were only a few, as my mother is trying to sort out her things for donation, but your story was sobering.

    @Gypsy Packer: “snakes, why did it have to be snakes….” I love Indiana Jones, and I too, fear snakes.

    It was pretty funny to have a cleaning discussion with a nurse; I even recommended this site to her! She’s a Fly Lady fan, herself. However, she did offer some good advice; apparently this is the time of year (spring in the northern hemisphere) when a lot of people present in ER’s with infections and injuries related to home improvement projects.

  17. posted by Rachel on

    It’s interesting how decluttering challenges can morph into other issues. Perhaps a casual visitor to my home would conclude that I have a fear of running out of words printed on paper. 😀 We just moved, without being able to ditch all the clutter, and you can imagine what’s waiting for me as soon as I post this comment!

    @Rebecca, I have a sympathetic query: I can understand being cautious (especially after you’ve already had one nasty spider bite) but if your arachnophobia is really *off the charts* would you consider working with a therapist specializing in anxieties? I’m not trying to be condescending or unfriendly but there’s a balance between taking precautions and making yourself suffer unnecessarily. On the one hand, I may not be one to talk, since I cope with my own fears (heights, deep water, bridges, tunnels, caves) mostly by 100% avoidance, except for tunnels (sometimes unavoidable on U.S. highways) and heights (I do fly on airplanes and lived for years in a high-rise apartment building). On the other hand, I’m not spending 20 min/day being anxious about my phobias and I don’t feel deprived living without benefit of balcony views, cavern views, water sports, or travel on water craft.

    Well, back to my piles of papers printed with words. I’m developing a strong dislike for living in clutter. I just wish this aversion would develop _faster_.

  18. posted by MaryJo @ reSPACEd: Budget Organizing on

    Out here in beautiful Portland, Ore., we have had a few house fires lately due in large part to hoarding conditions that claimed the lives of the inhabitants. A local firefighter said that typically a fire doubles in size every 2 minutes, but in a house crammed full of stuff, the fire doubles in size every 30 seconds because of the extra fuel. That’s a huge danger for the home inhabitants, but also for the firefighters.

  19. posted by Ruby Resourceress on

    Today I flipped my office chair over to dig out a decade’s worth of thread from around the casters. I found half a dozen spider nests in the underside of the part that holds on the casters.

    When a friend of mine got into Feng Shui, I noticed that I have a tendency to pile things in my own way, in places where I need to walk. Changing behavoir is hard! but I’m much better at that now.

  20. posted by Rebecca on

    @Rachel – your suggestion is well taken; I tend to be anxious anyway! 🙂 My reference to my phobia being “off the charts” was *slight* hyperbole, but I am definitely in a heightened state of awareness. Living with an active population has actually done two POSITIVE things: (1) it has curbed my emotional desire to hang on to things I don’t need substantially; and (2) it has actually turned my “phobia” into realistic awareness and vigilance. Other than the (perhaps extreme) diligence with which I currently inspect my clothing in the morning, my life is pretty normal and I’m not encasing myself in a bubble or anything! But these bites CAN be quite serious and I have no desire to experience on again in my lifetime. If you *don’t* know a BR bit you and don’t get antibiotics, the bites can result in open, necrotic sores that can last months and require surgery and skin grafts. I, very luckily, have escaped only with an ER visit, 4 days of painful edema, a week of excruciating pain, several weeks of a daily bandage and Neosporin, and what will likely be a small scar for several years. It hasn’t been the most fun experience of my life.

  21. posted by Rebecca on


  22. posted by Carey on

    I’m sure there is a reason why no one has mentioned this, but… I have an exterminator come once a year to dust and spray the yard, storage shed, exterior and interior of the house, and especially the garage and attic. I get a good rate with 100% guarantee. I guess I value paying for a professional, because I was bit by a brown recluse as a child and fortunately had a mother who recognized the bite the next day and got me treated immediately.

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