3 Simple Strategies To Keep Your Home Organization Efforts From Spiraling Out Of Control

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Minimalism and organization are having a moment right now. You might be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo or the phrase “Does it spark joy?” Organization TikTok is booming and there are countless minimalism podcasts, books, blogs, and social media accounts. As a consumer society, many of us have way more things than we really need. Whether they are deliberately purchased, gifted to us, or held on to for sentimental reasons, these items add up and slowly begin to take over our living spaces, leading to disorganization and clutter. If you have kids, this phenomenon is likely even more intense. Seriously, where do all these toys come from?

My own journey with home organization was propelled by the pandemic. I started to feel uncomfortable in my living space as the months at home wore on. The clutter felt like it was seeping into my mind. I couldn’t escape it. Eventually, I took charge and made a conscious effort to greatly reduce the amount of stuff in our home. Slowly, after every large purge I’ve done in the past, things start to get out of hand again. This time, I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. Below are a few of the strategies that have helped maintain the new status quo. 

The One-In-One-Out Principle

The one-in-one-out principle can be used in any area of your home, but I generally apply it to clothing, beauty products and toys. Very simply, when I buy a new piece of clothing, another one must come out of my closet and be added to the donation box. This is especially crucial with kids' clothing because they grow so fast and it’s easy to end up with an overflowing closet if you aren’t actively removing clothes they’ve outgrown as you add new ones. If I buy a new eyeliner, I have to toss an old one first. It’s really that simple. 

I’ve begun to teach my kids this concept as it pertains to their toys. Before each birthday or holiday when they receive gifts and periodically throughout the year, we preemptively sort through toys together and identify which ones to donate or to pass along to younger friends. The kids and I don’t always see eye to eye about what should stay or go, but I know that I’m sowing important seeds for them with this exercise. 

The Beauty of Borrowing

If you’ve ever read a financial budgeting book or blog, you probably know about the concept of differentiating between wants and needs. I’ve started to apply a similar idea in my home that both reflects the financial component (i.e., Am I spending money that I don’t really need to be spending right now?) and protects the amount of space in my home. You might call it Want? Need? Borrow?

For example, a few weeks ago I found myself in unexpected need of a bolt cutter. My first impulse was to look one up on Amazon. I could get one for about $30 and almost ordered it but then I stopped myself. Do I want this? Ha, not really. Do I need this? Yes, but just for one cut. Do I need to buy it or can I borrow it? Yes, I might be able to borrow it! I texted a few friends and neighbors to see if anyone had one and sure enough, within about 15 minutes, a friend confirmed she had one. Later that day, I picked it up from her porch, made the cut, and returned it to her. It cost me nothing but a little more time and didn’t result in yet another possession that I had to find space for in my home. 

When we ask ourselves this series of questions before making a purchase, we can help slow the accumulation of stuff in our homes. Some items might just be wants that we recognize will only result in fleeting benefits and we can avoid buying them in the first place. Borrowing takes a bit more energy than a few clicks in the Amazon app. However, once you embrace borrowing as an alternative to buying, you begin to see more and more opportunities to do so. 

Identity Clutter Areas and Have a Plan

There are certain high-touch areas in our homes that act as magnets for clutter and junk. It could be your kitchen table, an entryway table, the stairs, or a coffee table. For me, it was always the kitchen counter right by the back door. This is where we’d breeze into the house and drop the items entering our home every day. Papers and art projects from school, mail, keys, a shopping bag or Amazon box, sunglasses, the books I just borrowed from the library. It was this type of clutter that made me feel most stressed in my own home during the pandemic. Eventually we came up with a solution. 

First of all, we designated clear spaces for the most common items that come in and out of our home every day. In a chest of drawers on our main living floor, there is a spot for keys, wallets, sunglasses, the dog leash, mail, and documents that need to be dealt with, headphones, chargers, pens, etc. Secondly, throughout the day, whenever we see one of these items with a designated spot laying on the counter or elsewhere, we make a point to get it back where it is meant to go. It’s much easier to do this when those items have a distinct place to go. Finally, we established “closing procedures.” If you’ve ever worked in the service industry or retail, you know about closing. Closing gets a space back to its starting point for the next day. Before we go to bed, we make sure not only that the kitchen is clean but also that all items that are left on the kitchen counter or in the living room are put away. 

The more you practice one-in-one-out, the more natural it becomes, and it’s a very effective technique to slow the accumulation of stuff. With the convenience of Amazon, it’s so easy to just order things that we think we need or want in the moment. That ease, however, leads to us not only spending money that perhaps we shouldn’t, but it also leaves us with more things in our homes. Borrowing can be a fantastic alternative to buying new things. Your local library is a great place to start, especially as your kids start to read. Finally, identifying the areas of your home most prone to clutter and developing routines and solutions to keep them organized can be extremely effective in simplifying your space. 

Tags: Organization

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Written By

Kerstin Shamberg

Kerstin is a writer, editor and digital content/social media strategist working primarily with women-run small businesses. See Full Bio

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