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Tips to Clean Out Clutter

When I think of it being time to clean out clutter, I think of one of my favorite clutter clearing experts–Dana White. She has a new book out, Organizing for the Rest of Us: 100 Realistic Strategies to Keep Any House Under Control. In her earlier books, I learned the incredibly simple, and no doubt completely obvious, secret to having a manageable house for those not afflicted with hoarding tendencies. Your home is a container and you must fit your family, pets and belongings into that container comfortably.

The things within your home are more containers for things—your fridge contains your fresh food and your bookshelf is the container for your books. Your wardrobe or closet is the container for your clothes. This concept was revolutionary to me. I didn’t recognize physical limits and would simply pile and cram in more until stuff was overflowing. My bookshelf had books stacked in front of books. Books started piling up on the floor and were jammed in horizontally above other books. This made it difficult to see what books I have and it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. Time for a clear-out.

I give White full credit for pointing out the obvious. Your bookshelf is the natural limit or boundary for your books. If you exceed that space, then you need to start tossing. Your fridge sets the natural limit for fresh food storage. If you jam too much in, then you’ll later discover something rotting in the deep, dark corners. When you disrespect natural limits, things are hard to find and retrieve, and it’s difficult to keep clean. Your abundance goes from being something great to becoming an annoyance. You’ve crossed the positive tipping point and it is time to get sorting.

This works for anything. Clothes jammed too tightly in a wardrobe get wrinkled and are hard to find. That then makes it harder to get dressed in the morning. By giving your clothes space to breathe, they stay neat, are easy to see and are ready to wear. 

My two favorite life hacks from her book, Decluttering at the Speed of Life were the following. First, run the dishwasher every night regardless of whether it is full. We try to be eco-conscious and thought that you should only run the dishwasher when it is completely full. But when you do this, it might run mid-day. As a result, family members will pile up their dirty dishes by the sink, making the kitchen a mess. If they washed them by hand like a good citizen should, then they’d actually be using more water than it takes to run the machine. So, argument settled.

We now run the machine nightly and then empty it every morning. This ensures that during the day, we can pop the dirty dishes inside. That keeps the kitchen clean and tidy. Duh! But it wasn’t until I learned the logic that I implemented this simple tip. 

The second brilliant tip prevents a petty annoyance. Keep the lids on your storage or Tupperware containers. If they don’t fit, then get rid of the excess (or use to store art supplies or as drawer dividers). It saves digging around for the right lid. And it also becomes a food management signal. If you are running low on your storage containers, it’s time to have a leftovers night!

So you can imagine I was pretty excited to find a new book with 100 tips! Unfortunately, many of these are repeats from her other two books, so I didn’t learn as much as I had hoped. However, I still came away with many useful tips. Without spoiling her thunder, I thought I’d share the two new tips I liked best.

First, use an over the door hook rack for the clothes you’ve worn that now aren’t clean but also aren’t dirty enough to wash. By leaving them on the hook, you’re reminded to wear them again. For some reason, I don’t like putting worn clothes in with the 100% clean clothes. So, I’d end up draping them over the chair in the bedroom. This made the bedroom look messy. With the simple addition of door hooks, I can now hang them on the hooks and they don’t comingle with the clean clothes. I also put a basket in the bottom of my wardrobe for cardigans I’ve worn but aren’t dirty. Problem solved!

Her next suggestion is also brilliant. I’m working on culling the five large plastic boxes filled with old photo albums and photographs and creating a digital collection. I was about to invest in a photo scanning device for a couple of hundred dollars when White suggests that you can simply use a bit of blue tack to pop the photo on a wall and then use your phone to snap the photo. Instantly digitized without a scanner. I was trying to photograph them by putting them on a table, but then my shadow made that tricky. The wall sorts out the shadow issue. Thank you, Dana! 

If you are new to White’s books, I’d recommend starting with her brilliant book, Decluttering at the Speed of Life as a first choice. In it, she dives deep into the container concept and explains how to declutter your home without making a bigger mess. This is a great strategy for busy families. However, the new book is a nice summary of her works if you don’t need to go into depth to get the idea. 

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