Clear Your Clutter and Create a Less Stressful Environment
With so many of us working remotely and spending more time at home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our personal spaces have become even more important to our overall well‑being. Our series, Twill at Home, will help you explore the positive—and negative—impacts our homes can have on our mental health, and how we can optimize, organize, decorate, and curate our living environments to improve our wellness.
If you've ever had a near-panic attack looking for lost keys among all the stuff in your living space or stressed out while trying to find an important document amongst a stack of paper on your desk, you know that clutter is more than just an eyesore—it can have a tangible effect on your mental health and mood.
Research suggests that too much clutter can negatively affect your ability to focus, be productive, and manage stress. Conversely, those who feel competent at controlling clutter may have a greater sense of accomplishment and experience more positive emotions. Many of us know that living and working in a messy environment doesn’t look good or make us feel good, but recognizing the need to tidy up doesn't always result in a big cleanup session.
If you're prone to procrastination when it comes to truly taking control of the piles, stacks, and debris you seem to accumulate on a daily basis, the following tips may make getting on top of your clutter feel more manageable—and help you cut down on stress.
Tackle Your Paper Problem Daily
Between bills, junk mail, foot-long drugstore receipts, and half-read magazines, paper products have a way of multiplying practically right before our eyes. One of the best ways to cut down on paper clutter is to manage it as it comes.
“Make it a daily habit to go through and sort or discard paper so that it doesn't accumulate. An even better option is to opt in for paperless billing wherever possible,” says Michelle Hansen, a cleaning and organizing professional and creator of Practical Perfection, a blog dedicated to managing clutter at home.
Set aside a few minutes in the morning or at the end of each day to go through the mail and those other piles of paper (you know which ones we’re talking about). Better yet, challenge yourself to sort through the mail immediately upon receiving it and stop those piles from forming before they start.
Be Mindful of Hidden Storage
If you live in a small space, hidden storage may be your best friend. “One of my all-time favorite things to include in small rooms are small ottomans that have storage in them,” explains Michael Helwig, an interior designer based in Buffalo, New York. "They’re great because you can put blankets, pillows, games, toys, and anything else that doesn’t need to be in plain sight in them."
The best part, Helwig adds, is that storage ottomans are multifunctional: They serve as organizational tools as well as footstools or extra seating, and can be tucked away when not in use. But, warns Troy Silva, a wellness design expert and founder of the interior design consultancy Mona Life, be careful not to go overboard with hidden storage.
“Too much storage invites clutter as it puts it out of sight, out of mind,” Silva says. “I mean, how many of those items in your junk drawer have you actually used in the last year?” When opting for hidden storage, be intentional and pick pieces that will fulfill a specific need rather than serve as catchalls.
Drop the Perfectionist Attitude
When it comes to staying on top of clutter, we often make the perfect the enemy of the good, setting impossibly high standards without giving ourselves the time, space, or tools to meet them.
“Don't make it your goal to have a house that's always tidy, but make it your goal to have a house that is easy to tidy,” Hansen says. For example, rather than striving for an entryway that’s so well organized it belongs on HGTV, focus your energy on making it more functional by adding a shoe rack to clear up the pile of footwear, or ask everyone in the household to give away two no-longer-worn jackets from the entry closet.
Take Things One Step at a Time
Like many things in life, the hardest part of decluttering is starting. Sometimes, the task feels so daunting we don’t know where to begin—or simply don’t begin at all.
“Breaking down a decluttering project into small, defined spaces and working on it one shelf or drawer at a time will prevent it from becoming overwhelming,” explains Julianna Poplin, a decluttering professional and founder of The Simplicity Habit, a blog and community dedicated to cleaning and organizing.
Instead of feeling defeated when the whole kitchen needs to be decluttered, break the task down into manageable steps: loading the dishwasher, emptying the fridge of expired condiments, wrangling one pantry shelf today, another one tomorrow, and so on.
Create a System That Works for, Not Against, You
Don’t create a get-organized system for the routine you want—create a system for the routine you already have.
“If you always get changed on the left side of your bedroom, keep the dirty laundry basket on that side so that it's easy to throw the dirty clothes in the bin,” says Amanda Liford, an organizing professional and founder of Easy Life Organizing, an organizing business based in Michigan. "The same goes for mail: If you get it and walk into your house from the garage, place your mail station by the garage door, not the front door."
Build a system that works for you by noticing your routine. Maybe you have a habit of piling your jacket, shoes, and bag near the front door when you get home from work. Noticing this tendency will make it clear that you need to move your coat hooks and shoe rack to that location.
“Creating a system that allows you to do what you are already doing in a more organized way will mean it will be a lot easier to keep things clean longer,” Liford adds.
Bin with Purpose
Bins can be a great clutter-busting solution. Liford recommends keeping a small bin near the stairs if you live in a two- or three-story home. “It will look better, contain the mess, and also make it easier to take everything upstairs in one trip,” she says.
Entryways are another clutter hotspot where a bin could come in handy, Liford says. “I love installing bins for each person in the home by the entryway for small miscellaneous things like hats, gloves, and sunglasses,” she says. "It helps to keep them—and the entryway—organized."
Just be careful not to go overboard. Too many bins will only add to a clutter problem.
Remember That Everything Should Have a Home
“One of the easiest ways to stop clutter from accumulating is to make sure that everything has a home,” Helwig says. “That means your kid’s schoolwork is not piled on the kitchen table—it’s in a cubby or sorted into a system that works for them and for you. The dishes are stored in the cabinets and not piled on the counters or left in the sink.”
You might be thinking, “Okay, what about objects that don’t have a clear home—the ones that wind up in a junk drawer or in random places around the house?” Create rules that provide a sense of order amid the chaos. For example, you may sort items by their purpose (sewing, bath time, baking, you get the idea) or by their owner.
Get Everyone on Board
Creating systems and forging new habits is only half the battle when it comes to controlling clutter. The other half is getting our housemates, whether it’s your partner, kids, or roommate, on board with the plan. That means opening up a dialogue about how you can best work together to make your clutter-free aspirations a reality.
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