by Susan McCarthy
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Everyday practice: When you finish using something, put it away. This takes less time that you think.
Although we tend to define clutter as too much stuff in an area or stuff that we don’t want, another, looser (or is it stricter?) definition of clutter is that it is anything that is out of place.
If you go to a spot in your home that you consider cluttered, you’ll see items that belong someplace else. Maybe "someplace else" is the trash or recycling barrel. Maybe "someplace else" is the box you’re filling with stuff to donate to the local charity. Sometimes, "someplace else" may be someone else’s home (either because you want them to take their stuff or because you want them to have something).
However, you may also see items that belong in another room – papers that need to be filed in your home office; the snack bowl that belongs in the dishwasher; the book that needs to be shelved – that can contribute to the cluttered feel of a location.
You may also find yourself facing items that you know don’t belong where you find them, but you aren’t exactly certain where they belong. Giving items a home is key to being organized.
You may not feel that the following suggestion is really decluttering since it is about moving an item where it belongs. However, when you consider that clutter is stuff that’s out of place, then, over time, this is a habit that can help you get organized.
I first read this tip in Gretchen Rubin’s book on habits, Better than Before. It was advice someone gave her; advice she didn’t think would make much of a difference to the clutter around her house and yet she was surprised by the results.
Return Misplaced Items to Their Home
This is a simple bit of advice – each time you move from one room to another in your home, take something with you so you can return it to its home.
For example, a couple months ago, I had a cold that included a lingering cough. To not annoy my husband who has his desk near mine in the basement, I kept a handful of cough drops on my desk. The cough is gone, the cough drops are not. So, on my next trip upstairs to the bathroom, I’ll grab those cough drops. And, done. (and it only took me two months!)
Although this doesn’t make a big difference to the physical space, the energy is a bit lighter if only because a task that I didn’t realize was a task has been taken care of.
Now, carrying one item with you isn’t going to make a big difference overnight. This advice isn’t meant as a substitute for sorting and discarding items, it is what it is – returning something to where it belongs. It’s a micro-habit.
This isn’t something that you need to schedule – when you get up to go into another room, take something with you. Maybe this means that you are returning an item to where it belongs. Maybe it’s taking it a step closer to where it belongs. (If you’ve ever put something on a stair so you remember to take it with you when you head upstairs, you’ve already engaged in this micro-habit.)
If you have kids or a spouse who aren’t looking forward to decluttering (or, just don’t want to do it), introduce them to the idea of carrying an item with them when they go into another room. The item could be something they were using or that belongs to them (bringing their glass to the kitchen, their sneakers to their bedroom).
Although micro-habits don’t create a big, immediate change to your home, they do help you to declutter, and, perhaps more important, lay the groundwork for staying organized.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.