by Susan McCarthy
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Everyday practice: After dinner, take 10 minutes to walk through your home, picking up items in the wrong place and putting them away.
Read almost any article on organizing and you’ll be told to give everything you have a ‘home.” At some point, you may have even had someone chime at you, “a place for everything and everything in its place.” You may find yourself a bit vague about what this means and how to apply the idea of giving your stuff a home.
Why Your Stuff Needs a Home
If you’ve ever lost your keys or your wallet … while in your house, you know the benefit to putting items in their place. Not only do you save time day-to-day, but if something happened to you, you wouldn’t leave family and friends floundering through papers, clothing, and other pieces of your life.
If that thought is too morbid for you, let’s go back to thinking about the hours you would save each week not looking for your checkbook, favorite pair of earrings, or that $100 gift card you were going to use this weekend.
Clutter is anything that is unnecessary and is in the wrong place. Although this may seem a harsh definition, think about it. If your dining table or kitchen counter is hidden by stuff, as you sort through it, what do you do with everything? You either toss it or move it someplace else.
The place you moved the item to? That was its home. If you have a lot of clutter, then you may not have considered where things belong in your home.
Where Should You Store Stuff?
Think about the function of a room or a piece of furniture in a room. Bookshelves are for storing books (and maybe a few knickknacks). Your kitchen is for preparing, cooking, and (maybe) eating meals. Your bedroom is for sleeping and for time with your partner. Your closet is for storing clothing.
This seems straightforward until you stop to realize that you store paper files in your closet, you pile books on the floor beside your bed, and you store pots and pans in your laundry room. Does this stuff belong where you’ve put it?
See? Deciding where things will go in your house isn’t confusing; although, if you have a lot of clutter, you’ll have a lot of items to bring to their proper place. Please note – you decide where you want stuff to go. If you don’t like that your husband throws his coat over the back of a kitchen chair when he comes home, you may need to explain to him where his coat should go. (But, first, make certain his coat will fit in that closet.)
Step One – Decide on Each Room (and Closet’s) Purpose – Grab a notebook and walk around your house listing the rooms and closets. (Give each its own page.) List what you do in each room and what you store in each room and closet. If you have a partner or children, ask for their participation. Do the kids wish they could watch movies in that room in the basement while your husband wants to turn it into a man cave where his buddies can come over and watch sports or shoot some pool? You won’t know where to put stuff until you know what happens in a room.
Don’t worry, not every room should be in contention. You know what goes on in your kitchen, the master bedroom, and the bathrooms. If there are toys in the kitchen or master bedroom, decide where the toys should be found. This doesn’t mean your child can’t play with the Etch-a-Sketch while you’re making dinner; but, when they’re done playing, they return the toy to their room.
Step Two – Decide on the Purpose of the Furniture and Built-in Storage – A chair is for sitting, not for storing a pile of magazines. Your pantry cabinet is for food … so, why do you have canned goods in your basement? Your dining table is for eating dinner and not storing papers, gift wrap materials, and craft supplies. Do you want current issues of magazines displayed on your coffee table or should it be empty but for a vase of dried flowers?
By deciding what you want to do in each room, you also define what gets stored (or displayed) where. When you know what belongs, it is easier to notice what’s out of place … and to know where to take that item.
Know it’s okay to be quirky with where you store stuff if you and everyone in your family knows where it is. I don’t have a linen closet, so I use a cabinet in my kitchen to store sheets and towels. (I live in a bungalow where both the bathroom and master bedroom are off the kitchen.)
Let everyone know where to find and return things. Institute the rule, ‘if you move it; return it.’
Yes, all this decision-making and talking to your family about what they’d like to do in each room takes time. But this planning time is so worth it because everyone will know where things belong.
If you’ve tried to declutter in the past and got overwhelmed because you didn’t know what to do with stuff, taking these steps to decide where things should go will save you those stressful questions. You find more tips in my eBook, Why Can't You Stay Organized?
Get the family involved. Put on some music, set a timer, and have everyone look for items that don’t belong in a room and then bring the items to the place it belongs. Yes, there will be fine-tuning. You want the kids to keep their toys in their rooms, but it isn’t clear where to fit these items in that room. That’s where decluttering comes in, so you only have the items you use and enjoy.
Sign up for emails from A Less Cluttered Life and learn how simple, everyday practices can eliminate the scattered feeling of trying to do too much. You'll join the free program, A Year of Decluttering, and declutter your home 15 minutes a day.