Organizing (and practical) principles that help keep clutter at bay

Uncluttering is a process, not something that happens overnight or that has an end point. Sometimes getting more organized can feel overwhelming and chaotic, but there are some basic principles you can use to stay focused on maintaining order. Here are five practical tips I often share with my clients (and use myself). They tend to be useful for many situations and can help you conquer clutter.

Use positive self-talk

It can be very easy to let negative thoughts clutter your mind, especially if you find it challenging to master a particular organizing strategy. And, since your actions are typically driven by your thoughts, you can find yourself feeling down and stressed, two emotions that can stop your uncluttering plans in its tracks.

Though your goals may seem daunting at first, remember that it’s normal to meet upon a few stumbling blocks. But, and this is the good part, you will get through it as long as you keep trying. Replace negative self-talk (“I will never get this place organized”) with more positive statements (“I’m getting more organized by doing a little at a time”). And, coordinate your uncluttering with things that put you in a better mood, like playing your favorite music, exercising, or calling a friend who makes you laugh. You’ll feel less stressed and be able to get more done.

Wait before making impulse purchases

Whimsical purchases can really creep up on you, even when you have your list in hand as you’re shopping. The tricky little buggers appeal to your sensitive nature and convince you to leave the store with them immediately (because they’re special and just right for you). If you don’t get them straight away, who knows what catastrophes might happen?!

Rather than making an impulsive purchase, regain some emotional (and wallet) control by focusing on your list and waiting 24 to 48 hours before buying “that thing.” You could stretch that timeframe to 30 days, if you wish. Usually, after a bit of time to to think it through, you’ll come to a better decision about whether or not to buy it. That doesn’t mean you won’t go back to the store to collect that special item. It simply means you’ll give yourself adequate time to think it through before taking it home with you. This can save you some time and another trip to the store if you decide that you don’t want/need it afterall.

Use the “one in, one out” rule

Another way to limit those impulse buys is to think about the one thing you currently own that you’ll let go of when/if you bring the new item home. This also gives you some time to consider if you truly love (and need) the new item. If you’re working on uncluttering, you might even use the “one in, two out” rule to raise the stakes a bit.

Use lists/checklists

Without a list, you will be lost. Yes, I know there are people who can keep entire novels in their heads and remember every detail. Most of us are not like that, so why rely on your memory when you can just write things down (or do some smart phone data entry)? Lists are great for capturing just about anything and can help you remember things you don’t do on a regular basis, or you might otherwise forget because you’re feeling stressed or rushing around a lot.

Two of the most common ways people use lists is to record their to do’s and needed grocery items. But, you can also use them to keep track of:

  • Favorite travel supplies
  • Places you’d like to visit
  • Seasonal maintenance activies
  • New processes (like a new filing system or steps to completing a new project)
  • Ingredients for a new recipe
  • Home improvement ideas
  • Your bucket list
  • Things you’re going to donate

When leaving a room, always take something with you

One of the things I often ask my clients to do after an organizing session is to maintain the order that has been created in the space we worked in. The goal is to keep the momemtum going and encourage organizing activities so these actions can become part of the client’s regular routine. A fairly easy way to maintain an area is to leave it better than how you found it. Before leaving a room, take something with you that doesn’t belong (like glasses from the coffee table to the kitchen, mail on the kitchen counter to the mail processing station). These small steps can go a very long way to helping you keep things looking and feeling the way you want them to.

Use vertical space

Organizing products can save you from having stuff strewn about your home, office, and car. But, sometimes those products can have big footprints and take up a quite a bit of floor space. “Going up” or using vertical space (walls, backs of doors) removes that hinderance and gives you another option to store your stuff. You can still mount products without permanently installing them by using adhesive-backed products (like Command Hooks by 3M).

6 Comments for “Organizing (and practical) principles that help keep clutter at bay”

  1. posted by Lauren on

    A suggestion about impulse purchases: I maintain lists for several different things, and one of my lists is basically a future purchases list. I add most potential purchases to this list, everything from impulse items I see in sales ads or on daily deal websites to clothing that may need to be replaced to food I’m running out of. I then prioritize purchases based on my budget. I’m new to the the world of living on my own, so it’s extremely helpful to me to breakdown the costs of different items, and see that purchasing some DVD on a two hour only special will stop me from restocking some veggies or something more important.

  2. posted by ep on

    I do something similar to Lauren. Sometimes though, I think I really want something that isn’t on my shopping list. I will put it in my cart and write it down in my shopping list including the price. Once I am all done shopping, and before I go up to the registers I look at my full cart, and at the list of extras, and how much those items cost. At that point, I can see it is an extra expense and I don’t feel the same pressure as when I was looking at the item on display. I usually put most of those items back.

    I also keep a future purchase list with the price on it, that way if an item comes down in cost I will be able to make a better decision about purchasing it.

    I do keep all of my lists on my smart phone.

  3. posted by susan on

    I like what Ep does with her list of including impulse items with the price.
    I once heard it called reverse shoplifing.

    I use the one in one or two out, rule all the time to keep me uncluttered. Over the last two years I recieved 3 thick fleece throws from a friend who makes them and I bought an Alpaca throw. I took 4 other older throws to the no kill shelter and the dogs were thrilled when I laid down their new blanket.

  4. posted by djk on

    I’m a believer in lists of any kind. I have lists on my iPhone (the notes app) for everything from recording our frequent walks/daytrips/spontaneous overnighters so when we try to remember where it was we saw X, we can look back at notes jotted, to one that has only measurements and model numbers for things like printer ink, my favourite lipstick number (the name keeps changing but number
    doesn’t), a list of ongoing “next purchase” items, lists of non-urgent to-do’s, lists of steps I need to take to finish a task or project.
    The act of writing or typing these lists seems to be the key for me. I do refer back to them of course, but taking the time to record them cements their validity to me, and that keeps my goals at the forefront of my mind.

  5. posted by Elizabeth on

    I also have a wish list of things I would like to buy – not essentials but things I’ve seen that I like, DVD or book sets to collect etc and I find it very useful for when somebody asks me ‘what do you want for Christmas/your birthday’. Also for a little discreet lobbying (when somebody special hasn’t asked but needs a little ‘direction’ on what gift I’d really like).

    I also have a list of useful shops and websites for gifts for others – I find museum shops and other specialist sites quite useful. I may only use a site or shop once a year but having it on a list prompts my thoughts when I’m trying to work out ideas for particular people.

  6. posted by linda on

    I use an Excel spreadsheet to record home improvement tasks and prioritize them with a rating of A, B & C.

    Maintenance and projects that avert larger headaches down the line get rated “A”. Many times the lower priority items drop off the list as I learn more and tastes change.

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