Reader Sasha and others submitted questions to Ask Unclutterer that were very similar in content, asking:
The quote at the end of Tuesday’s post by Anthony Graesch has been on my mind: “The inflow of objects is relentless. The outflow is not. We don’t have rituals, mechanisms, for getting rid of stuff.” After an initial uncluttering project is completed, what rituals and/or mechanisms do you suggest to maintain an uncluttered space? When should we unclutter our homes again?
Many groups of people have uncluttering and cleaning as a ritualistic component of their culture. For example, in many south Asian countries in preparation for Diwali the entire house is cleaned and all old clutter removed before a family begins celebrating. This holiday is in the last quarter of the calendar year when temperatures are mild (60ºFs and 70ºFs) and families can work both out and indoors. Some sub-groups even include painting and decorating as part of this ritual, where walls get a fresh coat of paint and older decorative items are replaced with new (pictures are even swapped in frames). There is a religious purpose for this behavior, but even the non-religious observe the secular aspect of uncluttering and cleaning around this holiday.
On the whole, we don’t have such holidays in the U.S. where everyone observes a ritual for annually cleaning and uncluttering our spaces. I’ve noticed most families only go through such whole-home uncluttering activities when moving or right before entertaining guests. And, when entertaining guests, it’s usually more of a pick-up and put-away surface cleaning than a deep uncluttering and cleaning. As a result, I agree with Graesch and his statement that most families bring stuff in but rarely let stuff go. We’re definitely a culture of acquisition.
To maintain an uncluttered home, I think it’s a good idea to have habits and traditions in place to keep the outflow of goods equal to (or greater than) the inflow.
Four good habits to observe every day of the year:
- Don’t bring clutter in. Keep a trash can, recycling bin, and shredder near the main entrance to your home so you can immediately trash the trash, recycle what can be recycled, and shred anything you don’t need that contains personal information on it (like those preapproved credit card applications you get in the mail).
- One-in-one-out. Try your best to get rid of one item each time you bring in a newer item (this works for most products except for quickly consumable items like food). For example, if you buy a new pair of jeans, get rid of your oldest, hole-iest pair. If you’re starting to notice one-in-one-out isn’t enough, aim for one-in-two-out or one-in-three-out.
- Permanent box for charity. I also recommend keeping a Rubbermaid bin in your laundry room for deposits of donation items. I suggest the laundry room because it is incredibly simple to pull a piece of clothing you no longer want out of the dryer, fold it, and then put it straight into the donation bin. A sturdy bin is great because it can also hold non-clothing items you wish to donate to charity. Once the bin is full, toss it in the car and take its contents to your charity of choice.
- Put things away after you use them. When you put things away after you use them, you don’t have stray items all over your home and you know when your storage spaces are getting full and ready for uncluttering. It also helps you avoid having more possessions than you can store.
Four traditions to observe during the year:
- Spring cleaning. Getting your home ready for the warmer months of the year is good for many reasons. You’ll be able to clean things thoroughly, as well as notice if any damage has taken place to your home over the winter months. For a comprehensive list of spring cleaning tasks, check out pages 185-190 in my book.
- Fall cleaning. Just like spring cleaning, it’s always a good idea to get your home ready for the cooler months of the year. For an exhaustive list of fall cleaning tasks, check out pages 100-105 in my book.
- Cabin fever uncluttering. There is a point during the winter when you become tired of the snow and ice and cold temperatures that keep you indoors and you are longing for warmer weather. When these days set in, I know I’m mentally ready to do a thorough uncluttering in the house. Go through everything in your home and get rid of all the clutter. (For me, this is usually the first or second week of February.)
- Too hot to move uncluttering. When it is too hot to move outside and you start looking forward to fall, this is a good time to do another full-house uncluttering project. You’re inside retreating from the heat, anyway, so you might as well put that indoor time to good use. (Never fails, this happens for me the last week of July or first week of August.)
If these winter, spring, summer, and fall times don’t work for you, find times that do — the week before your birthday, the week before Easter, every weekend in October, etc. Attach rewards to the end of these projects so you have something to look forward to, in addition to your uncluttered and cleaned home. Also, be sure everyone in your home is involved in working to get things done. Everyone should feel responsible for and have a stake in the smooth running of the home.
Thank you, Sasha and the others, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.
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