For Ann Marie McManus, home organization was not an innate ability. Shooting from the hip with cleaning and tidying worked okay when she had two children, but when her third baby came along, something had to give.
“We moved from a man-to-man to zone defense,” said Ann Marie, explaining how the addition of another baby forced the issue of simplifying. As a successful realtor, she was in a profession that can be all consuming, and her husband was starting a new business. Things felt out of control.
But while organization seemed to come naturally for her husband Gene, Ann Marie couldn’t figure out how to get on top of the chaos in her home.
“Gene needed order,” explained Ann Marie, “and he’s very orderly. But he didn’t have time to set the tone domestically to make things orderly.”
Ann Marie knew she needed help, but she had no idea where to begin.
“I was walking through the library during story hour, saying, ‘Please God, please God.’ I kept saying, ‘Something’s got to give.’ And then a little book jumped out at me.”
The book was called Sidetracked Home Executives. It was short and sweet and filled with great advice and funny anecdotes. It was exactly what Ann Marie needed.
“I read the book 10 times,” said Ann Marie. “When you think something is divinely inspired, you’re going to take it to heart.”
The book helped Ann Marie know she wasn’t alone in her struggles—lots of people are overwhelmed by clutter and simply need a clear direction for how to tackle it.
“The mantra, so to speak is: Put away. Give away. Throw away,” said Ann Marie. She said the authors’ advice was to start in one room and go from there.
It was a simple approach, and it was doable. Ann Marie gave it a try, and it changed her life. She and her husband now have five children in high school and college, and discovering that book years ago helped her tame the clutter beast once and for all—and train her children to do the same.
For Sarah Turner, wife and mother of six, the best way to tackle the job is one drawer at a time.
“The hardest part in getting started is taking that first little step and not being overwhelmed,” said Sarah, who shares some of her de-cluttering secrets on her popular blog, MemoriesOnCloverLane.com. “I break areas down into tiny little bits—whatever I can handle as babies and time allow; it doesn’t have to be a room, it can just be ‘bathroom drawers’. The motivation from that feeling of being clean and organized keeps me going.”
Sarah added that adhering to a loose schedule also helps. “I say, ‘This week I will tackle the bathroom’ and then break it down into even smaller steps from there. I work fast and don’t second-guess myself. I always keep a garbage bag for garbage and another for Goodwill—I then take the bags right out to my garage or car.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by clutter and don’t know where to start, know that you are not alone. You can do it! The key is to keep it simple and then “Just Do It!”
Eight simple steps to de-clutter your home
1. The first step is…take a step. Decide where you will start. A bathroom drawer? A kitchen cabinet? Start small, so you can get a feel for how to purge, and experience the thrill of getting stuff you no longer need out of your home. From there, take it one room at a time. Remember that you can’t de-clutter your entire home overnight. Be patient with yourself and remember that this will be a gradual process.
2. As you begin the process—one drawer at a time—think about your home and make peace with your environment. Assess what you have. Be honest about the items in your closets, drawers, cubbies, and corners—look at your things and decide what you use and what is just taking up valuable space. Also consider just how de-cluttered you want to be. “You have to have a vision of what you’re trying to accomplish,” said Ann Marie. She wanted someone to be able to walk into her home at anytime, so she started to de-clutter to that degree.
3. In the meantime, over the course of a week, really examine your home. What areas gather the most “stuff”? Does that stuff have an official place to go, or is it just hanging out wherever it lands? Consider the popular saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Keep in mind that if you don’t have a place for something, there’s nowhere for it to go! However, avoid the temptation to buy more containers. “It might sound counterintuitive,” said Kelly Dolin, mother of four, “but when we redid our bathroom, I got rid of a wall-mounted storage unit and bought a vanity a third of the size of the original one. If you provide a spot, the stuff will come.”
4. Be realistic about your life. Clearing out too much (so that your home looks like a vacation rental) isn’t realistic—not if you have children and an actual life. Right now, it’s about embracing what you need and what you use. But be encouraged—it’s possible to clear out a lot more than you might realize.
5. In order to do that, however, you have to be honest with yourself about clothes and toys. Those five T-shirts in the very back of your drawer might come in handy during that one week of the summer, but do you need them all? “Because of the escalating materialism of our society,” said Ann Marie, “a key skill a mother has to have is knowing how to sort.” If picking through the piles is a daily issue, you probably have too much stuff.
6. Designate areas in your home for breathing space. A junk drawer is a beautiful thing. It’s good to have a few spots off the beaten path that give you a place to put things when you just don’t have time to get them where they need to go. This helps keep countertops clear. Use those areas for quick storage, but clean them out every few months. And don’t get too dependent on these areas—out of sight, out of mind: All that minutiae adds up fast.
7. Really examine what you need and what you want. A dishtowel drawer is a great example. Ask yourself: how many dishtowels do I really need? How many of these do I actually enjoy using? How many can fit in this drawer in an orderly fashion? Get in the habit of looking at your space and considering what you have, what you need, and then calculating the difference.
8. Don’t forget to pray! Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom. Ask for a spirit of detachment from worldly things. Of course we need stuff in our life, but to what degree? Are there things you hold onto that you shouldn’t? What freedom does Jesus want to give you in this area of your life?
If you still can’t find the motivation to get started, consider this: The less stuff you have, the easier it is to keep your home clean and the easier it is to train your children, which in turn makes life a lot more peaceful.
“When there is order,” said Ann Marie, “there is a calm, a peacefulness that is so needed in our world.”
Clearing out clutter, adds Sarah, also maintains a spirit of peace and gratitude. “When I feel like the walls are closing in, or I that I ‘need’ something new, or I am super discontented with my stuff, what I really need is to spend some time bonding with my house again and cleaning it up.”
Bills, paperwork: Have a three-tier system for filing. Once you have gone through the day’s mail, and immediately tossed the junk, file paperwork into a) immediate attention; b) general household papers; and c) papers you keep, but don’t necessarily need to see.
Children’s artwork, schoolwork: Display the good stuff, but don’t get overly attached to every single item your child brings home. If you can’t bear to ditch it, put it in a basket to throw away later when more time has passed.
Laundry: Start by examining the drawers where the clothes go. Once they are streamlined—really considering how much you need and what will neatly fit in the space you have—putting laundry away becomes easy. When you can easily put clothes away, it prevents clean laundry from piling up. Make it simple: wash, dry, fold, and have your kids put it in their drawers.
- Sidetracked Home Executives, by Pam Young and Peggy Jones, presents funny anecdotes with a simple approach to de-cluttering.
- Organized Simplicity, by Tsh Oxenreider and Jacqueline Musser, examines the importance of living simply, with tips on how to live with less stuff and get your home in order.
- FlyLady.net does a good job of getting to the heart of the issue. Get dressed first! (She’ll tell you why you should.) Always start with the kitchen sink—you’ll get that uncluttered sense of satisfaction, and you’ll want more of it.
- OrganizedHome.com has daily tasks to get your home organized. Also has great advice for tackling the paper trail.
- IHeartOrganizing.blogspot.com provides lots of great ideas, including printables for organizing. This is a site that’s better for those who have gotten the basics down.