Ah, the dreaded notion of ‘spring cleaning’… And if you’re on the path to sell For Sale by Owner [FSBO], you can’t get away with NOT doing it on a more-than-seasonal basis! Whether it’s fall, winter, summer, or actually spring, read on for tips on how to discover the hidden beauty of your home.
I was looking at photo albums last night, searching for pictures of the kids when they were sweet, polite, and loving… You know, younger and obedient. The era of teenage rebellion is driving me crazy. I thought the trip down memory lane might cheer me up. Instead, it wasn’t the kids in the pictures that caught my eye… it was my house. It used to be so clean and organized- what happened? I still live in the same house with the same kids, but there is so much stuff piled in here now that it’s hard to believe it’s the same place! I got up and walked from room to room, comparing background shots, trying desperately to see past the kids and clutter and really take in the decor of each room. It was beautiful when we moved in. Somehow, we are now knee-deep in “family treasures.”
So, like many of you out there, it’s time to de-clutter the house! It seems like such a daunting task, but it is do-able. I read an article recently that compared de-cluttering to dieting; it’s unlikely that one clean sweep is going fix the problem all at once. For one thing, it’s too much work to fit into one day. No one wants to spend even a solid week cleaning and de-cluttering, just to have it pile up again in the same spot at the end of the month. It truly is like a diet; I can’t lose 20 pounds in a day, but I can lose it in 30 days. If I work at it, and keep it off by sticking to a plan.
Developing a plan for re-organizing and sticking to it can be easy if you begin by going “room-to-room.” Or, a person could start with one focus in mind; maybe start with linen closets, then clothes closets, then move on to something else, like drawers. Each step of the way, be sure to remove items that no one uses/wears. As well, remove all items that have no business being in there in the first place! You might find that your family accidentally “keeps” a lot of useless items, simply because they’ve been shoved somewhere out of plain view.
When your home is filled with clutter, trying to tackle a mountain of stuff can be overwhelming. I know it has been for me. So here’s my advice: start de-cluttering in just fifteen minutes a day. Baby steps can lead to great results. In only fifteen minutes a day, I turned my catastrophe back into the home I fell in love with. And it can work for you too.
15 Minutes A Day Keeps the Clutter Away
For those who are overwhelmed by their clutter, here is some step-by-step guidance. Pick one to start and go at it for fifteen minutes!
Start with a “clean zone.” Remember, we are starting in one room at a time, so pick a room. Clear one complete area, and call it your clutter-free zone. Wherever you start, make a rule: nothing can be placed there that is not actually in use. Everything from this point on must be put away immediately after use. Once you choose that clutter-free zone, stay committed to keeping the space, well, space.
Example 1. A Bedroom
Clear off the dresser; no papers, no clothes. Put everything away in a properly designated spot; you can decorate to your taste, but use the same display-type items that magazines do… less is better. From this moment on, things beyond your selected items are not to be placed on the dresser again.
Example 2. The Kitchen
Clear off the counter completely. When the counter has been completely stripped, wash it thoroughly. Now, select only a few items that you feel you absolutely have to have on the counter i.e. coffee pot, canisters. Wash each item. Put all other appliances in cupboards (toaster, food sealer, etc.) or eliminate them completely if not regularly used.
Each day, slowly clean/organize 15 minutes at a time. Keep the image of a “ripple” spreading out from a rock thrown in water, in mind; you move further and further, expanding your clean zone until the entire room is completely de-cluttered and spotlessly clean. Drawers, closets, pantries… all of it.
Strategize Your Way to A Cleaner Home
The following strategies will help you maintain the “clean zone” as a permanent condition in your home.
1. Create a “Maybe” Box
Most of the time, a person will know exactly what to keep (the stuff you love the most and use regularly) and what to trash or donate (the stuff you don’t need, use or have outgrown). But then there’s the stuff you don’t use, but think you might want or need someday. You can’t bear to get rid of that stuff! So create a “maybe” box, and put this stuff there. When the box is full, place it in the basement or storage area- out of sight, out of mind and out of the way. Put a note on your calendar, reminding you to take the box(es) out six months from now. When the date arrives, see if there is anything in there that you really needed. There are exceptions, but realistically, if you haven’t needed it for 6 months… the chances are you really don’t need it at all.
2. Teach Kids to Put Things Where They Belong
This rule only applies to those of us who are parents, but if you take the time to teach your kids to put things where they go, and maintain consistency, they will eventually fall into the habit of doing so. Be persistent, and follow up on the process every day. If you explain what and why you are doing something, kids will usually agree to help, and it will go a long way to keeping your house de-cluttered. Of course, they won’t learn the habit overnight, so you’ll have to be patient with them and just keep teaching them until they’ve got it. And better yet, set the example for them and get into the habit yourself.
3. Folders & Filing
Most families tend to accumulate a lot of “paper”. From household bills/receipts to decades of school projects/report cards, some degree of organization can save you from major grief down the line. Once you have established the categories of your family’s paper trail, create files which are labelled accordingly.
Begin by placing a basket on the counter. Use it as a “drop zone” for paper. Papers often account for a lot of our clutter. This is because we tend to leave things like bills/receipts all over the house without even thinking about it. No wonder we can’t ever find anything! If you have too much paper, and need further division, establish a box or basket for each paper item that travels through your house. Office supply/stationery stores stock many kinds of stackable bins and storage solutions. Label them with categories such as mail, school papers, receipts, warranties, manuals, notices, flyers, etc. This one little change can really transform your home’s mess of paperwork.
Once a bill, letter, or assignment has been completed, you can place it in the file folder. This will clearly indicate that the item has been dealt with. Sometimes our papers pile up high because we don’t have good places to put them. Creating some simple file folders with labels for your bills, receipts, and other paper work will help organize your mind and your home. Finally, always keep some extra folders and labels around in case you need to quickly create a new file.
Now that you’ve created your simple filing system, you just need to learn to use it regularly. Every time the baskets start to fill up, take a handful of papers from the pile and go through them one at a time, starting from the top paper and working down. Make quick decisions: trash them, file them immediately, or make a note of the action required.
Get Everyone Inspired
Spend a few minutes visualizing the room you want to start with. When I’m starting out with a de-cluttering project, or helping others start, I like to take a moment just to sit in the room and take a good look around. Consider what you want the room to look like as a finished product, and see what work needs to be done to get there. What are the essential pieces of furniture? Could their arrangement be improved? What doesn’t belong in the room, but has apparently gravitated there? What is on the floor (hint: only furniture and rugs belong there) and what is on the other flat surfaces? Once I’ve visualized how the room will look uncluttered, and figured out what is essential, I simply get rid of the rest.
Pick up 5-10 things and find the proper places for them. These should be items that you actually use, but never get stored correctly because there is no set place for them. Now is the perfect time to establish a place- a handy, convenient, and proper place. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through and choose a spot that will stop you (next time) from dropping the item just anywhere, and everywhere. Commit to putting items back where they belong when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.
Have a chat with your spouse, kids or roommates. Sometimes the problem isn’t just with us- it’s with the person or people we live with. An uncluttered home is the result of a shared effort of simplicity, adopted by all the people living in the home. If you take a few minutes to explain to everyone in the home that this is important to you, and you really want to make it work, their help and support is going to be needed as well. Adding their help can go a long way to getting a system and routine in place that works for everyone. Try to be persuasive and encouraging rather than nagging and negative. To help stay on track, why not try scheduling a “de-cluttering weekend”?
So I’ve De-Cluttered. How Do I Keep It That Way?
Once the whole house has been done, you should be feeling pretty good about things! Here are a few methods/focus areas to keep your home tidy long-term, so the newly-discovered beauty of your home doesn’t go back into hiding!
1. Create a Chore Schedule
The problem with de-cluttering is that we can all work our butts off to get it done, but the clutter can start to slowly come back because we buy or keep bringing home more stuff every day! Create a chore schedule for all family/house members to help you follow up on each room. This will ensure you are using the systems you worked so hard to put in place.
In my house, we assign a room to each kid and one to my spouse as well. At the end of each week, we go to the assigned room, and look for anything that is out of place. It’s our job to return items to their designated spots i.e. in the rec room, movies tend to be all over the floor instead of back on the shelves where they belong. If the process has not yet become a habit, don’t give up. Soon everyone will be putting things back simply out of habit. There is no instant cure for messy.
2. Kitchen Counters
Kitchens are an ongoing challenge; because of high traffic and involved cooking processes, they need continuous care. You use them every day to prepare meals and the dishes tend to pile up. The trick here is to get in the habit of cleaning up quickly after every meal. Keep all “sometimes used” appliances in the cupboard. Clear off everything possible, and restore the counter to its original de-cluttered appearance. Clear off all papers, grocery bags, and all the other junk you’ve been tossing on the counter too.
At least once a week or more, pick a shelf. It doesn’t matter what shelf; it could be a shelf in a closet or on a bookshelf. Don’t tackle the whole bookshelf- just one shelf. Clear all non-essential items and leave it looking neat and clutter-free.
Pull out all clothes you don’t wear. You have already gone through the drawers and closets, but as time goes on, there are always going to be clothes we really don’t need or simply don’t wear. If they’re seasonal clothes, store them in a box. Get rid of/donate the rest. Do this a little at a time until your closet and drawers only contain stuff that you actually wear.
5. The “Junk” Drawer
Pull everything out of the drawer(s). Kitchen or “junk” drawers are the worst. My own have turned up bent, twisted forks, old straws, plastic utensils, expired ketchup packets etc. Just take the drawer out and empty it on a table. Then sort the drawer into three piles: stuff that really should go in the drawer; stuff that belongs elsewhere; and stuff to get rid of.
Clean the drawer itself by first washing it thoroughly, inside and out, and then neatly put the stuff in the first pile back in the drawer. Deal with the other piles immediately- they are not allowed back in the drawer!
6. Medicine Cabinet
Clear out your medicine cabinet. If you don’t have a spot for vitamins/medicine, create one now. Go through everything, looking at dates of expiry on all medications, old hand lotions and creams. Makeup also tends to smell horrible if it’s expired. Also get rid of stuff you’ll never use again, like dirty-looking bandages. Simplify the best you can.
7. Regular Donations
When all is said and done, your clutter must go somewhere! While most of it will go to the trash, anything in decent condition that is still useful may be brought to a thrift store, Goodwill/Salvation Army, toy/clothing donation box, or select community organizations. Wherever possible, donate items- furniture and clothing, especially- to those in need.
Learn to love your home’s de-cluttered look. Once you’ve gotten an area de-cluttered, you should take the time to enjoy the feeling. Make that your standard for life!
We hope that these strategies help you rediscover your home’s hidden beauty.