One thing I find in common among my clients is that the flat surfaces in their homes function like magnets for clutter. Often, a potential client picks up the phone to call me because this everyday surface clutter has become overwhelming!
I also find that much of clutter is to-do items: papers to be filed, mail to be sent, contact info for phone calls to make, books to read. And this kind of stuff will never go away, even for a professional organizer – there is always something in life that needs to be dealt with. Ah, the joys of adulthood…
When I work with a client, I take the important step of helping them to create a system so that daily clutter doesn’t build up again. The eventual solution will look different for everyone, but I attack the clutter issue from the same two perspectives.
1) Create a designated place for to-do items
This to-do zone can look different for every person, but it should not be very large, and it should be highly visible. Why? The idea is to create a place that incentivizes you to handle your to-do items. If this place is too big or out of sight, this will allow you to go longer between bouts of addressing your items and make it more overwhelming for you to do so.
My husband and I share what we call The Inbox: this 3-tiered unit he got from Ikea a million years ago. The top level is his, and the bottom two are mine (full disclosure: he's been traveling a lot for work!). Let’s be honest: I’m the one who usually works at the desk so my clutter sometimes spreads out a little! But both of us know that everything goes there to be dealt with, so whenever we find things around the house we return them to The Inbox. And because it has limited capacity, both of us end up going through our respective levels about once a week, which works well for staying on top of life’s to-dos.
2) Keep surfaces busy so that they don’t attract clutter.
Even if you have a designated zone for action items, it’s still easy to put something down on the nearest available flat surface, get distracted, and move on without addressing that object. Over time, this behavior pattern leads to piles of unrelated clutter that can be time consuming and overwhelming to sort through. One way to prevent the dreaded piles is to decorate your flat surfaces so that you don’t have any room for absentminded piling.
This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and buy knickknacks for every surface in your home. Look at the places that accumulate piles today, and decorate those using mementos and objects you already have but likely don’t see the light of day. In our house, there are several surfaces I’ve decorated in order to prevent piling. Our living room coffee table has given me a wonderful place to display family photos, beautiful objects inherited or acquired on trips, and a quirky gift or two. I also keep a jewelry box I love (filled only with costume stuff for safety!), my husband's watch case, a box for cufflinks, and a couple of framed photos on the top of my bureau. The coffee table in our den has just enough room for the latest magazines we subscribe to and the entertainment device remotes. Our dining room doesn't usually attract too much clutter, but another great idea I've seen is to keep yours set as if for a party – placemats, dishes, glassware, silver, the works! The look adds life to your room, and uses up space so that you’ll unconsciously look elsewhere to pile your stuff.
Try my two-pronged system for dealing with everyday surface clutter, and let me know if it works for you!