Managing Clutter in the Home

Out of sight, out of mind, or so the adage goes. But you can go on dumping the excess of daily life into drawers, piling it in the basement or tossing it in a box for only so long.  

Sooner or later, the drawers will get stuck, the basement walkway will disappear, the box will overflow. And the already space crunched surfaces in your home will be teeming with stuff. What’s the solution? Begin by clearing out what you can, finding a place for what’s left, and creating a system for organizing the new that come through your doors.

The 19th-century English designer William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” It is still sound advice, although it may seem hard-hearted: Who really wants to pitch the kids’ favorite old toys or toss outdated but still comfortable clothes?

Although there’s no need to throw out everything that fails to fic into Morris’s two categories, you should still be selective. To decide what to keep and what to discard, ask yourself these questions:


If you’ve answered “no” to all of these questions, congratulate yourself. You’ve identified something you can eliminate in order to rid your home of clutter.


Where should you begin? Wherever the results will have the most visible impact. If you normally enter your home through the living room, tackle that room first. if you come in through the garage, kitchen, or dining room, begin your job there.

Start by bringing five boxes or plastic lawn-and-leaf bags into the first room or entrance area. Fill one container with items that belong in other rooms, a second with items you can give away, a third with items to be stored, the fourth with the items you plan to toss out or recycle, and the fifth with all those things you want ro include in your next garage sale.

Don’t plan to make your first clutter busting session a marathon. Instead, break down the job into small, manageable tasks. You’re more likely to tackle a smaller job than you are to allot an entire Saturdayto decluttering the whole house.

Go around the room or target area, starting from the highest point and working your way to the floor. Give each item you encounter—furniture, pictures on the wall, and items tucked in cabinets and drawers—careful consideration as to its usefulness or sentimental value to you and your family. If you can bear to live without the item, put it in che proper box or bag. Make a list of any large furnishings to be removed or relocated.

 When your boxes or bags are brimming or you’ve given the area a thorough once-over, return displaced items to their proper rooms. Make an appointment with your favorite charity to cart off the giveaways, or take the initiative and haul them away yourself. (Be sure to get a receipt for tax purposes.) Recycle or toss broken or unusable items. If you’re going the garagesale route, check your calendar for a good Saturday or Sunday in the weeks ahead and pencil in a specific date.

Transfer the items you’ll be storing into sturdy filing boxes from an office-supply store or thick cardboard cartons from a moving company. Or take advantage of trunks or large suitcases that are sitting empty in your garage or attic. Make sure each container closes tightly keep out dust, insects, and moisture, and label the containers so you won’t have to open them later to know what’s inside. For easier stacking, consider boxes of a similar size. Put the ones containing items you probably won’t need this year or next in the least accessible spots, and stow those boxes with items you may need in the months ahead in the most reachable places.

You can store some items temporarily in a rented storage unit near your home. After you complete the declutering process, you’ll be surprised at how much room you may have for them.

As your walls and floors begin to reappear, take a good look around the room and consider how to organize the keepers. Items should take up residence where [hey are most convenient for you instead of where they are traditionally kept. Store batteries in the family room or the bedrooms where the kids’ toys are, instead of in a kitchen drawer. Stash items that are normally used together—such as holiday decorations—in the same place rather than scattered in closets throughout your home. And why keep summer shorts and winter ski wear in the same box? You’ll probably never use both at the same time.

Place things you use often in the most convenient spot. Put your frequently used pasta pots and saucepans in the front of the kitchen cupboard so you don’t have to rifle through the pie plates or sauté pans to get to them. Store the videocassettes together on a waist-high living room shelf where they’re easy to reach, instead of in an overhead cabinet or under the TV.

Obvious, yes, but as you discover more logical storage solutions, you may realize that you’ve been doing things the hard way until now. (For a summary of organizational steps, see the list on page 131


For those treasures that are meant to be seen, there are ways to display them attractively and compactly. For those you don’t want on view, a clever hiding place is best.

Collections of small, decorative objects require a bit of togetherness to give them a bigger impact in the room—and to free up more precious space. Group items with a similar color, texture, shape, or theme together on tabletops or shelves rather than scattered about the room. Control tabletop turmoil by corralling the smallest items in interesting containers, baskets, or boxes, where they’ll make a stronger statement.

Make the most of your shelves—they’re the ultimate weapons for combating clutter. If you don’t have enough shelves, you can easily add a few more above dressers and consoles. They’re terrific for organizing books, baskets, and bric-a-brac—those things you use occasionally or just can’t bear to part with. Weigh the benefits of extra-high shelf space against the realization that you’ll probably need a stepladder whenever you want co retrieve those items —and when you need to dust.

Are many of your possessions worth keeping but not worth looking at every day? If you’re planning to add furnishings to your newly streamlined home, consider pieces that offer storage space. Next time you go shopping for living room furniture, look for coffee tables with drawers or cabinets underneath. Some chairs also have storage space. A bed with headboard storage or drawers beneath the mattress can save space in your bedroom.

If buying new furniture isn’t an option, try to work with what you have. Skirt tables with fabric that falls to the floor to hide bulky items underneath. Or place these items in lidded baskets under your coffee table. Keep sweaters and blankets in plastic containers under your bed.


If you’re too busy to organize your home yourself—or if you prefer to have someone else do it for you—hire a professional organizer. Parr administrative assistant, part psychologist, part efficiency expert, and part mother, these professionals will listen to your clutter woes and design a system to alleviate them.

A good organizer will evaluate your home life, then create and install a system to help maximize your home’s available space. He or she can supply a wealth of ideas and solutions—both “off the shelf” and customized—to help keep clutter from building up in the first place.