Your home is clean. Everything is in its place. Then… the mail arrives. People bring home stuff they’ve bought and want to keep the packaging until they’re sure they won’t return it. People leave stuff out where they won’t forget to take it with them. Then the stuff that’s left out attracts other stuff that doesn’t seem to belong anywhere, or would have to be walked all the way over there on the other side of the room to be put away, and you find your home filled with teetering mounds of junk piled on other teetering mounds of junk. And something smells, and you don’t even know where to start looking for it.
That’s when you realize: you’ve been infiltrated by stealth clutter! *Cue the scream music*
Stealth clutter: plan of attack
Don’t panic. What you need is a system, a plan that helps you identify clutter and then do something about it.
- Give the rest of the household fair warning. Ideally, if everyone in the household has contributed to the clutter, they should all help you on all of the following steps. But if no one else is willing to help, and it’s left to you, then give them fair warning. Let them know you’ve tried to work with them, but they refuse to help, so they have one week to put things where they belong, or else you’re going through all the clutter and throwing out what you see fit. Chances are, they’ll ignore you and then moan when you throw out something they wanted to keep, but you know what? Tough! That’s what they get for being lazy instead of doing their part.
- Make a trash pile. Identify items that need to be gotten rid of, particularly bits of obvious trash such as the envelopes from pieces of mail someone seems to want to keep. Put it all in a pile. Later, you can sort out the trash from the recycling from the stuff that could be given away or donated to charity. For now, you just want to get the definite no-keep items in an out-of-the-way pile so you can get to work on the keepers. (You can set this aside and give your household members a couple of days to “rescue” anything they want to keep.)
- Put stuff in its place. Now it’s time to start putting stuff away. This is a huge step that needs to be broken down into smaller steps, and there are several ways you could do that. You could focus on a small pile at a time, putting each item away, and then moving onto the next pile. Or you might sort the piles into categories such as who it belongs to or what room it goes in. Some of the stuff may not have an established home, so you’ll have to decide what to do with it.
- Clean! Now that you can actually see surfaces, it’s a nice chance to clean and dust them.
Those are the basic steps, but I have a couple of additional tips and thoughts:
- Work on one room at a time. I find it easier to focus on one room at a time, since chances are the clutter in a bedroom all belongs in the bedroom (well, except for the stuff that should be gotten rid of), and it’s just a matter of putting it away.
- Reduce clutter by bringing less stuff in. Ten years ago, I had a ton of clutter I had never sorted through. A few years ago, I got rid of loads of stuff and made a commitment to stop bringing so much stuff home. I stopped buying items when the only reason I wanted them was it’s such a good sale, I couldn’t pass it up. I eliminated all of my junk mail (I actually need to work on this again, as a few vendors have caught up with me somehow). I digitized a huge amount of paper and photographs. I still love books (which aren’t exactly clutter, but do take up more room than I have), but I’m getting used to ebooks and starting to buy them more often when they’re available for a title I want.
- Get rid of stuff regularly. Even if you try to reduce how much clutter you’re bringing home, you will still find you end up with items you don’t need. Be ruthless about getting rid of them periodically. I follow the six-month rule, and it really helps me to pick and choose which items I can do without.