To keep your house from falling into cluttered chaos:
- Never buy “souvenirs.”
- Somewhere, keep an entirely empty shelf or drawer.
- Strive to keep surfaces bare. Put away kitchen appliances you don’t use every day; don’t cram stuff onto every ledge.
- Get rid of newspapers and magazines as soon as possible. Never keep a newspaper overnight, and never keep a magazine for more than two months—unless you find a positive joy in keeping an orderly collection.
- Have an exact place for everything.
- Know where to give things away: books, clothes, kitchenware, toys. It’s much easier to get rid of things if you can imagine who will benefit. Figure this out before you start a major clutter-clearing effort.
- Fight the piles that accumulate in the hallway, in corners, on bedside tables, on the dining room table.
- Use dimmer switches.
- Don’t buy things on impulse, particularly from bargain stores.
- Storing a thing means you don’t need to use it. So before you squirrel something away, ask yourself, “Do I really need to keep this?”
- Never accept anything for free, unless you’re thrilled with it. A mug, a tote bag, a hand-me-down toy, the lamp from your mother-in-law—if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
- According to “broken windows theory,” signs of decay like broken windows or graffiti create an atmosphere that contributes to larger crime. Burnt-out light bulbs and empty toilet-paper holders are the broken windows of the home; don’t tolerate them.
- Have enough hangers in every closet.
- Make your bed every morning.
- Keep your keys in the same place each day.
- Every night before bed, do a tidy-up to put away everything that’s out of place.
- If you have stacks of unopened CDs, unread books, unwatched videos of PBS series, or unopened spice jars, don’t let yourself buy any more until you’ve made a dent in what you already have.
- Don’t let yourself run out of necessities like envelopes, tape, toothpaste, stamps, Band-aids, batteries, and the like. If you hate to shop, buy large quantities and stockpile them.
- Don’t hoard huge quantities of things that you could never use up: binder clips, rubber bands, clay pots, florist vases, plastic grocery bags. Give the rest away.
- Hang up your coat (this is probably the rule I personally violate most often).
- Buy a box-cutter. They really are handy.
- If you have lots of things that you’re reluctant to throw away because you’re not sure what they are (mystery cables, random remote-control devices, important looking screws that appeared mysteriously on the floor, obscure vacuum-cleaner attachment) put them all in one box. You’ll never use the stuff, but you’ll know it’s there.
- For extra credit, put a date on the box, and if you haven’t opened it in a year, throw it away.
- Never allow a drawer or a closet to get so full that it’s hard to open and shut.
- Get rid of things that don’t work. If you’re like me, you’ll be amazed at how many things you have around the house that are perfectly useless.
- Set aside a place where you put things to give away, and as soon as you realize you want to get rid of something, put it there. That way, you prevent clutter from accumulating.
- If you can’t find something, clean up.
In my new book, Outer Order, Inner Calm, I write about how to de-clutter and organize to make more room for happiness.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Roman Mager.