Be deliberate about what you bring into your home -- from paper to food to freebies -- and you'll soon discover you have the power to prevent clutter before it begins.
If you squirrel away everything, you might have what professional organizer Melissa Picheny calls a gatherer's organization personality. This trait commonly stems from watching your parents behave the same way. The thought of getting organized can be overwhelming, but if you break the process into smaller tasks, you can accomplish them easily one step at a time. Begin by picking one section of a room or one specific category -- such as the pantry or your book collection -- that you want to pare down, and make that your priority. It may take you an hour, a day, or a weekend, but don't start a new project until you're completely done with the room or category.
The entry is the perfect place to set up a central command station. Make this area the landing pad for your daily mail and bills. Find a funky piece of furniture to store labeled files for incoming paperwork. If a piece of furniture won't fit, try stashing a small file cabinet in an entry closet. Don't forget to put a fun trash can nearby so you can throw away junk mail as soon as you walk through the door.
Even if it's your tendency to hold on to more papers than you truly need, you can make it easy to find what you need when you need it by using labels. And with proper homes for important papers, you'll be less likely to see piles accumulate on the desk and table surfaces throughout your house. Inside a filing cabinet, be specific when creating folders. A few extra divisions -- for example, breaking "auto" into "loans" and "maintenance" -- can help paper piles disperse faster.
Want to keep clutter from coming into your kitchen? Stop making impulse purchases. Go to the grocery store with a list in hand and only purchase what's on it. Spend a few minutes assessing your current kitchen needs and making a menu plan for the week. This will help break stockpiling tendencies, saving you time and space.
When your bedroom is cluttered, your mind is cluttered, and it's easy to lose track of items. Become more aware of your surroundings, and take the time to consciously put things back where you want to find them again. Throw back to the early days when your parents made you clean your room: Make your bed every morning, put your laundry away, and empty your pockets before you put your clothes away. It's the little things that make a big difference. At the end (and beginning) of the day, your bedroom will feel pulled together -- and so will you.
When cutting clutter from your home and especially your clothes closet, you may find yourself feeling stuck or overwhelmed by the sheer number of decisions to make. Instead of spending too much time getting caught up in the emotion of deciding, create a "we'll see" pile to keep you moving forward. When you come across something you're unsure of, put it in the "we'll see" pile and address it at the end of the session or at a later date when it's less emotionally charged. This simple trick works every time.
Most people love getting samples, and it's hard to throw away those fun little freebies --but they have a tendency to steal valuable real estate in closets and cabinets. The best solution is to not even allow those freebies to enter your home. But if you truly can't resist, store the items in a resealable plastic bag labeled with the year. If you haven't used the samples by the end of the year, toss the entire bag without going through it and start fresh.
If you're having a hard time paring down your children's book collection because you aren't sure what is actually being read, try a new approach. Place all of the books in a box. Every time your child reads a book, put it back on the shelf. At the end of a three-month period, you'll be able to see exactly what's being read. Once your child has outgrown books, give them to friends or donate them to organizations such as Baby Buggy (babybuggy.org).
It's perfectly normal to feel anxious or overwhelmed during the organizing process. One way to combat this sensation is to take frequent breaks -- 5 to 10 minutes every hour or two. Find a quick way to relax and recharge. Drink a cup of tea, stretch, say your mantra 10 times, and then get back on track. Or set a timer for 15 to 30 minutes and power through as many paper piles as you can in that time. When the timer goes off, you're done for the day. You'll avoid burnout this way and stop while you still feel motivated to come back for more.