Growing up, I always wondered how my mother managed to accumulate so much ‘stuff.’ Our house seemed to be filled with the toys my sisters and I no longer played with, our closets with the clothes we no longer wore. Then I became a mother myself and finally, I understood.
It starts with books about ‘what to expect’ and is quickly followed by a cascade of typical baby gear: blankets, baby swings, bouncy seats and more. As children grow, you find yourself with closets full of outgrown clothes and shoes. Art projects and crayon drawings and milk carton piggy banks find their way home from school. Year after year, birthdays yield new gifts that leave toy chests overflowing and bedroom floors almost indiscernible.
According to a 2012 study conducted by UCLA’s Center for Everyday Lives of Families, families are overwhelmed by our possessions. This clutter creates stress for parents and children, and is a common source of tension among family members.
By eliminating the possessions that no longer serve a purpose in your family’s life and developing a long-term strategy for managing the possessions that do, it is possible to create a clutter-free living space - even when you live with kids.
Here’s how to get started:
De-clutter first. De-cluttering is the first step to creating a more peaceful and harmonious home. Identify the possessions you are ready to get rid of by arming yourself with a few large trash bags and tackling one room in your home at a time. Collect old or broken toys, outgrown clothes and anything else that is no longer serving a purpose in your family’s daily life.
Not sure if you are ready to get rid of some items permanently? Create a holding spot where you store them for three to six months. Then, go through your items again. Anything you have been able to successfully live without is ready to leave your home.
Develop an exit strategy. To de-clutter successfully, you must develop a strategy for getting rid of unwanted possessions. Make extra cash by hosting a garage sale or listing items on a site like craigslist or eBay. Sell outgrown kids’ clothes and shoes at a resale or consignment shop.
Donating is another great way to get rid of your stuff while also teaching your children about the importance of helping those less fortunate. Children’s hospitals, church nurseries, homeless and women’s shelters, and local charitable organizations all appreciate donations. Keep your home clear of excess clutter by making it a habit to routinely donate items you no longer use.
Don’t get (overly) emotional. There is nothing wrong with holding on to a few sentimental possessions, but clutter often collects when we get overly attached to our belongings. Keep in mind that letting go of items with sentimental value doesn’t have to mean getting rid of the memories too.
Have old baby clothes turned into a quilt to keep your family warm. Scan all of your kids’ artwork into the computer and use a website like plumprint.com to transform the pictures into an elegant coffee table book. And remember that sometimes it is necessary to let go of items from your past to make room for your family to grow in the future.
Find a place for everything. ‘Clutter’ refers to more than just items you no longer need; it can also result when you fail to designate clear storage and display spaces for the possessions your family uses every day. Keep clutter in check by maintaining a well-organized home with designated spaces for all of your belongings.
“The key to good organization,” says professional organizer Jodi Granok, “is that everything needs a ‘home,’ a specific place for specific items.” Granok recommends investing in a variety of bins, boxes, drawers and shelves to organize your home, especially for your children’s rooms and play spaces. “Make sure your child can reach frequently-used items in order to maintain organization without your assistance,”
Keep up with the laundry. According to Granok, keeping up with the laundry is one of the best ways to keep your home organized and clutter-free. “In my opinion,” says Granok, “clothes and laundry piles are the gateway drug to other forms of clutter. When you allow family members to drop clothes and laundry throughout the house, there is an increased chance of other types of piles being acceptable such as coats, shoes, backpacks and paperwork.”
Just do it. If you want to maintain a home that is clutter-free, resist the temptation to put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Spend a few minutes putting items away after you use them. Insist that your kids hang up coats and backpacks after school. File papers immediately instead of allowing them to pile up on the kitchen counter. Motivate yourself by focusing on the end result: a clutter-free home your whole family
The art of keeping clutter out of your home in the first place
The best way to keep your home peaceful and free from clutter is to prevent the things you don’t need from coming into your house in the first place.
If you are ready to accumulate less ‘stuff,’ try employing one or several of the following techniques:
Follow the ‘one in, one out’ rule. Before bringing something new into your house, get rid of something old first. Do not buy new clothes until you have donated or sold some that you no longer wear. Help your children choose which toys they no longer want before buying or opening new ones.
Choose experiences, not things. Season tickets, museum passes and weekend getaways are all good investments that can create special family memories while keeping your home clutter-free.
Live in a smaller home. A smaller home forces you to consider your possessions more carefully since storage space is at a premium. And as an added bonus, there are fewer bathrooms to clean!
Alyssa is a freelance parenting journalist, and mother of two elementary-aged children. Like most parents, she wages a daily battle against the clutter that inevitably collects in her home.
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