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How to contain stealth clutter

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Your home is clean. Everything is in its place. Then… the mail arrives. And you bring home stuff you bought and decide to keep the packaging until you’re sure you won’t return it.

You clean off a surface and never quite get around to putting everything back.  And then suddenly one day, your home is just teetering mounds of junk piled on other teetering mounds of junk.

This is stealth clutter. It sneaks up on you, but there are ways to stop it before it takes over.

Messy room with lots of clutter

Containing Stealth Clutter

Getting it under control

Don’t panic. Yes, stealth clutter has infiltrated your home and taken over. It’s a sneaky, insidious enemy.

And for now, you’re just going to have to give it a hardcore decluttering session. But this could be the very last time it ever happens.

All you need is a system, a plan that helps you identify clutter and then block it. And, um, for the rest of the household to cooperate.

The System

Give the rest of the household fair warning

If everyone in the household has contributed to the clutter, they should help clean it. If they refuse, then tell them they have one week to clean up their stuff, or else you’re going to throw out what you see fit. Follow through if necessary.

Make a trash pile

Identify items that need to be gotten rid of, particularly the obvious trash such as the envelopes from junk mail or packaging from items bought months ago. Put it all in a pile.

Use the Six-Month Clutter Rule to determine what you’re keeping. The less stuff you keep, the less stuff you’ll have to put away.

Later, you can sort out the trash from the recycling and anything that could be given away. 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.

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.

Try our 5 Step Decluttering System. It keeps you focused on one job at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed by how big the whole job is.

You may also want to work on one room at a time. Again, it’s all about breaking this enormous job into chunks that feel less exhausting.

As you’re putting things away, focus on a small pile at a time, putting each item away, and then move 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. And now that you can actually see surfaces, it’s a nice chance to clean and dust them.

Containing the Stealth Clutter

Now it gets exciting. It’s time to block future stealth clutter so you never have to do this again.

Reduce clutter by bringing less stuff in

Sounds obvious, right? But it takes some dedication and changes.

For over a decade, I’ve reduced clutter by not bringing it home in the first place. I stopped buying so many impulse items, which was good for the budget, too. 

Over time, I eliminated most of my junk mail. And I scanned a huge amount of papers and photographs I didn’t need to keep physical copies of.

I did try to love ebooks, but I just don’t. So now I try the library before buying books, and I only buy books I really want to own.

Get rid of stuff regularly

Even if you try to reduce how much clutter you’re bringing home, you will still end up with items you don’t need. Be ruthless about getting rid of them periodically. This is where the 6 Month Rule can be helpful.

Packaging and Mail

No matter how good you are about reducing clutter, you’ll still get mail and packaging you need to deal with. Mail should be filed away in a home filing system as soon as you’ve dealt with it.

This can be a challenge when you’re dealing with ongoing issues, though. You may need a place to put papers relating to unfinished business so you know where they are and can file them as soon as the issues get resolved.

You also might want to go paperless with as many companies as you can to reduce incoming mail. It’s much easier to store, sort, and find emails than paper mail.

When you buy stuff, it comes in packaging. And you sometimes need to keep the packaging until you’re sure you won’t be returning the item.

So you may want to set up a place in your home for the packaging. Go through it once a month and get rid of packaging for items that you’ve had longer than the return window.

Stay in Control

Once clutter starts, it tends to grow quickly and get out of control. Stay on top of it with these tips.

And observe your own home. Notice how and why junk starts getting strewn around the house instead of being put in its place, and think of any additional steps you need to stay in control of the mess.

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