Any tired parent who has tripped over a scooter in the hallway or collapsed, exhausted, onto the sofa only to find the contents of an entire Lego set under their bottom, knows that family clutter is an issue that plagues family life. Home plus kids plus busy lives definitely equals lots of stuff everywhere!
When life is full, sorting out our possessions and keeping them in some kind of order can come very low down on our to-do lists. I’m here to make the case that getting on top of family clutter will save you time, money and sanity.
What’s so bad about family clutter?
How many times have you spent five minutes looking for the kids’ homework sheets in a large pile of papers and books stacked up on the kitchen worksurface? Or wasted valuable time trawling through your drawers to find a pair of matching socks?
Whilst each individual frantic search might take only a few moments, over time they add up to hours – which you could be spending on something far more fun or important. Being able to find what you’re looking for quickly will save you time.
When you can’t lay your hands on that cross-head screwdriver that you just know is in the shed somewhere, it can end up being quicker and easier to buy another one. Which is how you can end up with a house full of duplicates that take up twice as much space as you actually have. If you can lay your hands on what you need when you need it, you won’t need to buy more.
Not surprisingly, a number of recent studies have demonstrated that clutter can have a really negative effect on how we feel. It can make us feel stressed, slow down our mental processing, and even lead to us eating more.
All in all, it can have a devastating effect on our well-being. Keeping your possessions in order can help you to feel in control in other areas of your life, and free up mental and emotional space for work, rest and play.
How to tackle family clutter
Of course, it can feel overwhelming to take control of the mess, but it doesn’t have to be if you tackle it step by step. Getting on top of the stuff in your home is a three-stage process: first you sort, then you store, and finally you style. Every member of the family needs to get involved, because everyone should be making decisions about the items that are most important to them.
Begin by going through each room and deciding what you will keep, what you will sell or give away, and what rightfully belongs in the recycling bin or down at the tip. Be ruthless: if any item is no longer used, doesn’t fit, is broken, or you have more than one, it needs to go. And only keep books, artwork and ornaments that you really love, and which bring genuine pleasure into your life.
Once you’ve sorted all of your things (and I don’t underestimate the challenge of this first step!), you need to invest in enough storage to be able to put away almost everything you own. If the stuff you own won’t fit into the storage you have then it’s an impossible task to keep it tidy and ordered. The exceptions are items that are beautiful or interesting to look at – we’ll come to those next.
If steps one and two have gone to plan, you should be left with all the lovely things that you really do want to see, and which tell a story about your family and your lives. These items need styling to give your home its own unique personality. Have fun displaying them in frames, on shelves, and on mantelpieces.
A couple of quick and clever storage tips
In communal areas such as the hallway and kitchen, it’s useful to have name tags on storage such as trays (for paper, homework etc), baskets (for shoes) and hooks (for coats and bags). That way everyone has a place for their own stuff.
Square baskets and boxes (without lids) are a really great way to subdivide cupboards and drawers into smaller spaces that are easier to keep tidy. They also ensure that you can find the item you need more quickly. For example, have a basket in the kitchen cupboard for all the tea and coffee, and boxes in your drawers for socks, underwear and bras.
Peg rails are a versatile way of storing anything you need to hang. They can be mounted inside wardrobes to store belts, ties and necklaces. They can go on the back of kids’ bedroom doors so they can hang up dressing gowns, swimming bags and onesies. And they also make a great impromptu wardrobe area on the wall in spare rooms, so overnight guests have somewhere to hang their clothes.
Keeping on top of family clutter
Once you’ve finished this process you’ll probably be feeling great about what you’ve achieved, and hopefully inspired by how calm and clear your home feels. Keeping things in this wonderful state of order can be a challenge! If you follow a few basic principles, though, you’ll be able to keep on top of family clutter, and prevent it from taking up more mental and emotional energy than it should.
Make sure that every object in the house has a specific place to live – that way everyone knows where to find things, and where each object needs to go when it is put away.
Have an end of the day reset if you can, meaning that all toys, books, tools, clothes etc go back to where they belong at the end of every day. It’s a great sanity saver that will ensure that you end the day in a calm space, and begin each new one feeling on top of things.
Get everyone involved in the process of keeping tidy – it’s a family endeavour. At the beginning, it helps to explain why you’re doing this so that everyone understands its value. Eventually, the kids will experience the benefits for themselves. When you’re less stressed and distracted, they also reap the rewards.
These tips will not only help you to keep on top of family clutter, they’ll also establish really good family habits that your kids will eventually take with them when they fly the nest.