My approach to “keeping house”… Part 2: Battling Clutter

A place for everything,. and every thing it its place…..

My home can be spic-and-span clean with nary a crumb on the floor or a particle of dust to be found- but if there are piles of paper on the counter tops, toys scattered all over the floor, and coats and shoes left blocking the front door, then my house just doesn’t feel “clean”.  For me, the biggest part of having a “clean home” is staying on top of the clutter- the toys left out, the school papers, my own to do lists, bills that need to be paid, and on and on……

Referring back to the work habits that I developed when I was a career-girl…  there were several principals that I followed that helped me become very efficient in the office.  When dealing with office paperwork and emails I used the “touch it once” principal- read it and deal with it…  where dealing with it could mean a) respond immediately,  b) add a task to my to-do list and then file the paper, c) delegate the task to someone immediately, d) file the paper if it was something I needed to keep, or e) recycle it.  The idea here is to not allow paper to accumulate in piles….. and don’t read something and then just put it down again, which means you will need to re-read at least part of it again later to deal with it.

Another work habit I used was to clean my desk every day before I left so that my workspace felt clean and organized each day when I walked in through the door.  On my desk I kept a to-do list in one spot with everything on it (keeping a total running to-do list allows you to “write it down and then forget about it until you need to do it”). In my office I set up a great filing system to store any paperwork that I wasn’t currently using- so I could easily find it when I needed it, but when I didn’t need it, it was stored out of my way.

I have taken all of these principals that served me so well in the corporate world, and I have applied them to my home-life.  It is easy for a home to become completely flooded with paperwork clutter……  from the daily mail and it’s accompanying stack of junk mail….. to the school papers that come home with each of my elementary-schoolers.  With the daily mail, try the “touch it once and deal with it” method, don’t just open the mail and then leave it on a pile on the counter where you will still need to sort it again.  Sort through it- add the opened bills to your bill pile, add events to your calendar and file the invites where you can find them later when you need them,  and recycle won’t you don’t need- catalogs, envelopes, etc.

When the kids open their backpacks and unload their school folder with all of its paperwork- we use the same “touch it once” approach- completed school work gets reviewed with the child, if it is special it gets taped up on the fridge, if it is not “fridge-worthy” it just goes into our school papers basket (which gets recycled every few weeks, once I am sure that nothing in there will be needed or missed), invites or notices of school events immediately are written into my calendar, and the notice or invite are added to my future events file for reference the day of the event.  Homework that needs to be completed goes on the counter top until it is completed later that evening and then put back into backpacks for the return trip to school.

Each evening as part of the after-dinner kitchen clean up, I try to clear all counter tops of any stray paperwork that isn’t it’s proper home.  I also have a place for Steve’s communication (“his home inbox”)- so if there is a piece of mail, or his latest Netflix movie, so he knows where to look for it when he gets home.

Beyond paperwork, the majority of household clutter comes from kids belongings that haven’t been returned to their proper home.  To make this easier to deal with, I keep a few bins around as temporary holding places for items that need to be returned to where they belong.  I keep two bins near the kitchen- one is for kids toys that need to be returned to the playroom, and the other for items that need to be returned to places upstairs.  So if the kids have left for school and I am tripping over a toy- I put in the playroom bin, I certainly don’t walk to that room ten times a day putting things away for the kids!  As part of our evening after-dinner clean up, the kids are responsible for emptying those bins.

When it comes to household chores for my kids- most of them surround this aspect of keeping house- battling the clutter and returning things to their rightful home….  not the actual dirt-removal kind of chores that I prefer to do while they are at school.  As they get older- they will start to take on these tasks as well….  but I feel it is far more important for them to develop life long habits of organization first.

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