8 Ways to Stop Clutter Before It Starts

posted: 04/27/15
by: Blythe Copeland
clean closet
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An organized closet is a thing of beauty.

Few things feel as great as decluttering a space that's collected a ton of unused, unwanted stuff--whether that's your closet, entryway table, or desk drawer. But what if, instead of spending your entire Saturday weeding through your home's trouble spots, you could stop all that clutter before it collects? Here are eight ways to make it happen:

1. Stop shopping

That may sound extreme--and you don't need to stop shopping forever--but putting yourself on a spending freeze of a few weeks or as long as month can be an eye-opening way of assessing your buying habits. Stay away from those stores where you always mean to buy one item and instead walk out with an armful of bags and $150 less in your pocket; the reason those items weren't on your list in the first place is because you don't need them. Save your money for more carefully considered needs (and wants!).

2. Create an app obstacle

Shopping apps can be such a lifesaver, whether you're snapping up that half price Halloween costume during a flash sale or reordering diapers before getting stuck with an empty box--but they also make it a little too easy to order any random thing that comes to mind. Limit your impulse buys by deleting the apps from your phone or tablet, or by changing your settings so that your password isn't saved. Even just the simple extra step of entering your login info will give you enough time to think twice about whether you really need all 20 seasons of Law & Order on DVD

3. Get off the list

If you're tired of weeding through piles of ads and catalogs every time you open your mailbox, you can put your name on a much more helpful register: The National Do Not Mail List (it's free). Catalog Choice also lets you create a free account to opt out of catalogs and local phone books. And if it's credit card offers that are overwhelming your junk mail pile, you can take yourself off the list forever or for just five years using Opt Out Prescreen. Bonus: Limiting the amount of unwanted mail coming into your home is good for the environment, too.

4. Wish better

Another key way of stopping clutter before it starts is by carefully managing holiday and birthday wish lists for yourself and your kids. For younger kids (who can't appreciate more than a few items at a time anyway), request museum memberships, toys they can grow into throughout the year, tickets to the zoo, or other experiential gifts. Smaller occasions for adults (like Father's Day or a retirement party) can be marked with a bottle of wine, a thoughtful card, or a quiet meal at your favorite restaurant--anything consumable, sentimental, or memorable is less likely to end up in the clutter pile than yet another "World's Greatest Dad" mug.

5. Manage your electronic clutter

Electronic clutter may not be as in-your-face as the piles spread out around your house, but it can be just as much of a challenge--you want to be able to find that critical work document on your laptop, your confirmation from Groupon in your email, or that must-read article you bookmarked on your tablet. Get comfortable using folders or tags in your email, and delete anything that you've read and responded to. Take some time to figure out a document organizing system that works for you--this will be a little different for everyone, and may even vary for you between your home and work files. And make a sweep of your phone or tablet to delete the apps you aren't using anymore; seeing all those old games and recipe apps and fitness trackers will only add to the visual chaos.

6. Organize your smallest spaces

Most people use drawer dividers to organize and manage the clutter they already have. But they work the opposite way, too: When you separate your kitchen, desk, or junk drawers into sections for specific items, you're less likely to let other random items accumulate. In your cooking utensils drawer, for example, use a small acrylic container for each tool (measuring cups in one, spatulas in another, the can opener in a third, the vegetable peeler in a fourth). Next time you open the drawer to toss in something that doesn't belong--like the leftover napkins from a takeout meal--you'll be reminded to find another spot.

7. Conquer your closet

Keeping closet clutter to a minimum starts with a thorough look at your wardrobe: Do you really wear everything you have now? If not, be ruthless about giving away anything that doesn't fit or isn't your style, and then be just as firm with yourself when you're buying something new. If you don't love it, it doesn't earn a spot in your closet. Assess your wardrobe every season and come up with a list of items you need before you hit the shops--splurges are okay, of course, but having a plan and sticking to it means you're more likely to end up with a closet full of wearable, coordinating, joy-inspiring clothes (instead of piles of inexpensive impulse buys that you won't wear next season).

8. Define clutter

Before you spend hours trying to rid your house of every last spare item, take some time to think about what really constitutes "clutter" to you (and your family). Maybe you feel attached to letters and birthday cards but have no problem getting rid of baby clothes. Maybe your husband's comic book collection is nonnegotiable, but he's willing to pare down his tool set. Maybe you won't get rid of kids' books but can be less sentimental about their toys. Once you've figured out which items are truly important to you, it's easier to make room for them and keep them organized--and it makes it easier to get rid of everything that's not on the list, too.