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Got Clutter? Two Tried and True Strategies for Staying on Top of Putting Things Away

The truth is, I used to be pretty bad about putting things away. When I talk to my clients about “leaving a wake” as they move about their activities of daily living, I know what I am talking about because I used to do it too! I would work on a task and move on to the next without tidying up, or would be heading out the door and return later to piles of randomness. 

Over the years, I have attempted a variety of strategies for staying on top of putting things away. I have learned that staying organized does not have to be about returning items to symmetrical, lidded containers on a shelf on the second floor. For me, it is about the ease of retrieving items when I need them and having the energy to do what it takes to put them away.

Here are two tried and true strategies that have worked the best for me: 

Strategy #1: Store Things Close to Where They are Used. 

Look around at the items causing your clutter. Why are they there? The kitchen, for example, tends to become a landing zone for all types of paper clutter. Over time, I have evolved my kitchen command center to include a calendar, basic office supplies, a few file folders in a tickler file, whatever books I am reading (or planning to read), and a landing tray for mail.

I gave up placing a mail tray and heavy use action files in the home office around the corner and keep them in the kitchen where I process/use them. I learned I was not inclined to take the extra time to walk down the hall and around the corner to store and retrieve them from the home office. Believe me I tried. Repeatedly. They kept landing back in the kitchen. The printer, however, lives in the office because I don’t use it as often. 

Would my kitchen command center make the cover of Real Simple magazine? Nope. But I have a manageable system for my paperwork. And I don’t live in a magazine anyway.

Other random items I keep close at hand that you might also consider keeping on the main floor for easy access and painless put away are: 

  • Have an airmoire? Remove dvd’s and old electronics. Store gift wrap, ribbons, tissue, gift bags (hopefully saved after opening the gift!), and craft supplies inside. 
  • How about a buffet? Remove random extra clutter and use exclusively for serving trays and entertaining items so they are clean and dust-free when you need them.
  • Under-the-sink tote? Store make-up and/or hair ties in the powder room for last minute touch-ups.
  • Hang a jewelry or scarf organizer in the coat closet! (After re-homing random household items that you rarely use anyway.) 

Be realistic about your lifestyle too. If I had a job where I worked 9-5, I might set things up differently. As it stands, I leave the house for a variety of reasons at various times all week long. I prefer not to run up and down the stairs to put things away if I don’t have to – because I have learned that I won’t. 

Strategy #2: Purchase Less / Reduce the Quantity

Sometimes we overlook the obvious. The fact is, it is easier to put belongings away if there are less of them. Period. If the number of items gets really low (three pots and three pans), you don’t even have to use tips and tricks to organize them – because they fit as is. 

Owning less as a strategy for staying on top of putting things away is true for clothes, toys, paperwork, pots and pans, shoes, reading material, games, tools, kitchen gadgets, jewelry, personal care items, coffee mugs (don’t get me started on coffee mugs), the list goes on…

If you feel overwhelmed about organizing your stuff and are less inclined to take time to put things away, start by purchasing less! Change your acquiring habits and save yourself the aggravation of watching things pile up because you are too overwhelmed to put it all away. 

I don’t store my shoes on a shelf in the bedroom closet inside separate clear lidded bins because I can fit them (by season) on two open shelves in the coat closet. It works for me. I’m also not going to make the cover of Real Simple for that one, but they are where I need them and the quantity is manageable. For me. 

Purchase less going forward and make time to go through your belongings to cull your collections. Owning less means taking care of less, which leads to smaller piles, and the ability to STAY organized!

What contributes to your clutter?

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