How to live a clutter-free life
A new book has some excellent tips on how to work around the mental block that keeps you from tidying your space
SHELVES piled with stuff you never use. Drawers you’re scared to open because they’re so full you might never get them closed again. Stacks of old papers lying on top of the fridge. You’ve tried to sort it all out but somewhere along the line you always give up because the job is just too big and daunting.
American lifestyle guru Gretchen Rubin has an interesting theory for why many people fail in their tidying efforts: it may be down to personality type. In an inspiring new book, Outer Order, Inner Calm, she shares some practical tips to help you get rid of your junk once and for all – and then keep your home clutter-free.
Before you get started take some time for a bit of self-reflection. How do you manage expectations? For instance, if your boss has set a deadline or a friend has asked you to help with something, do you plunge right in and sort it out or do you tend to procrastinate? Or if you set yourself a goal of getting fit or sticking to some New Year’s resolution do you generally tend to follow through?
The first is an example of an outer expectation and the second is an inner expectation. Rubin has devised a framework which distinguishes people based on how they respond to these two types of expectations. Check which category you fall into and see which techniques you can use to inspire yourself so you finish your decluttering job.
Respond readily to outer and inner expectations.
Best approach Upholders gravitate toward to-do lists, schedules and planning. So if you want to tackle a messy room, first slot that task into your calendar a few weeks in advance, setting reminders. When the day rolls around you’ll be raring to go.
These people question all expectations. They’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense – essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations.
Best approach Questioners often raise questions like, “Why tidy a room if
we’ll just mess it up again?” Remind yourself repeatedly of the time, space, and serenity you’ll gain by clearing clutter.
Meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
Best approach To meet inner expectations obligers need outer accountability, so to clear clutter, create accountability. Invite a friend to keep you company; promise someone you’ll deliver your hand-me-downs; invite someone to stay for the weekend.
Resist all expectations, outer and inner.
Best approach Rebels do what they want to do. Remind yourself that clearing clutter isn’t something you should do, or that you must do, or what others expect from you – it’s what you want.
These people also tend to like a challenge. “My partner thinks I can’t clear these storage shelves in one afternoon. Watch me.”
GETTING STARTED Be a tourist in your own home
Visit every room. See what’s inside every cabinet, drawer, closet and crawl space. Don’t feel pressure to deal with it, just look.
Use a photograph to evaluate
Taking a photo helps to see a space with fresh eyes and gives a measure of detachment that can help you decide what items should stay and what need to go. Then, once you’ve cleared the space refer back to this before image. It’s a big morale booster to see visual proof of what you’ve accomplished.
What are your biggest peeves?
Clutter comes in many forms. Clothes, toys, paper, kitchen etc. Make the biggest effort to deal with the kind of clutter that bothers you most.
Top tips for instant results
Often people put off tidying because the idea of doing their whole house in one go is too overwhelming. But you don’t have to do it all in one go. Even just making a few small changes can produce noticeable results.
Go shelf by shelf
Whenever you have a few minutes to spare clear a small area. Admit it, there’s no reason to keep that hairbrush with the broken handle. That cellphone charger belongs in its drawer.
In active areas keep surfaces bare
Put away kitchen appliances you don’t use every day; don’t cram stuff onto every inch of your desk – rather put it away in drawers.
Everything looks better on a tray
Even when things are in the right place, they may look messy and scattered until they’re contained in some way. A tray (or a basket, bowl or plate) pulls individual items such as perfume bottles, spice bottles or coffee-making materials into a pleasing collection.
HOW TO KEEP IT NEAT Follow the “one-minute rule”
Do any task that can be finished in less than one minute, without delay. Hang up a coat, read a letter and toss it, put a document in a file, throw away a pen that doesn’t work.
Don’t put things down, put things away
If you hear yourself saying, “I’ll put this here and deal with it later,” beware!
Take one item with you
Whenever you walk from one room to another, take one thing with you. Little by little, things will begin to move into place.
Clean as you go
Clean as you cook, hang up your clothes right after you put on your pyjamas, put files back in the filing cabinet as soon as you’ve retrieved what you need. If you clean up after yourself along the way, clutter stays far more manageable.
Consider creating holding bins for all the random stuff your kids leave lying around. Keep these bins somewhere inconspicuous yet convenient and when you want to create more order, put their out- of-place items in their bins. It’s a lot quicker and easier than putting things away in their proper places – especially if you don’t know where those things belong.
Create a waiting room for stuff
We all have items that are waiting to go someplace else: packages to be mailed, books to be returned to the library, shoes that need fixing. Often, we just leave such things out on some table or counter with the intention of attending to them but this can go on for months. To address this mess, create a “waiting room” – a shelf in a cupboard, a corner of the garage – where such things can be properly stored as you prepare to deal with them.
@ GRETCHEN RUBIN 2019 THIS IS AN EDITED EXTRACT FROM OUTER ORDER, INNER CALM BY GRETCHEN RUBIN, FIRST PUBLISHED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY TWO ROADS IN 2019.