Decluttering 101

Mess has long been my nemesis. Look closely, it’s even in the word – ne-MESS-is. I fight a losing battle with mess, and I’ve come up with a theory. Why can’t I conquer the mess? I have too much stuff. There are too many toys and not enough places to put them. Too much dirty laundry and not enough room in the washing basket. Too many clothes and not enough wardrobe space. Too much clutter, too much stuff, too much mess. I’ve even come up with a scientific equation for it – Too Much Stuff x Not Enough Space = Lots of Mess (TMSxNES=M3)

It’s not as though I’m lazy or that I don’t mind mess. In fact, mess and clutter really get me down. When the house is messy I feel agitated and out of control. I find it hard to think clearly when my environment is screaming at me. I’ve tried decluttering, purging the excess and spring cleaning more times than I can count, but none of my efforts lasted beyond a week (there are humans living in my house). Within a few short days we’d be back to clutter and disheartening mess. Enter professional organiser Natalie Jane from Be Organised, who has never come across a space she couldn’t organise better. “I have always had a passion for organising. Even as a child I would clean and organise my room on a weekly basis – my parents told me I was born organised,” says Natalie.

Her number one rule for a clutter-free home is having “a place for everything and everything in its place”. “Whether people want to simplify, organise or downsize, my job is to help you gain control of your environment and find joy in simplicity.” There are three zones in the family home that often get hammered by everyday life with children – the laundry, linen cupboard and pantry – we asked Natalie to give us her tips for creating order out of the chaos. It’s certainly worked for me!

The laundry

A family laundry can very easily turn into a dumping ground. Dirty sports gear and muddy boots can compete with boxes of washing powder, bottles of cleaning product and half-opened packets of toilet paper. Here are Natalie’s tips for turning a ‘nightmare’ zone into a ‘nice and tidy’ one.

1. Declutter

Get rid of everything that doesn’t belong there. It sounds obvious, but this is the first and most important stage. Throw out what is broken, recycle or donate items you don’t want, but which might be useful to others, re-home items like paint tins and sports gear in the garage where they belong.

2. Increase shelf space in storage cupboards

Create extra shelving/storage space using cube shelves turned on their side. This gives a whole extra long ‘top shelf’ and helps keep items organised in the cubby holes.

3. Repurpose

Reuse storage from elsewhere; no need to outlay loads of cash on specialised storage. Re-purpose items you already have and put them to better use.

4. Storage

Storage is the key. Spend a little to get some specially purposed items that will help eliminate clutter, e.g. a rectangular bucket for cleaning products. Keeping the cleaning products all together in a bucket is practical in lots of ways – you can just grab the whole thing and take it where you need it and it also makes your laundry look tidier. Invest in an enamel tin for your washing powder (no more washing powder towers cluttering up the place).

Find containers for things like batteries, torches, light bulbs etc. Once all those little bits and pieces have a home it will not only look tidier, but it will stay tidier and be easier to find things (reducing time spent hunting for things and associated stress). Once everything has a place, you can easily see what you are running low on, making shopping easier and eliminate double-ups.

Family members will be less likely to dump stuff in a well-ordered space – there’s no room for dumping because everything has its own home. “Another great storage idea in the pantry are crates,” says Natalie. “Citta do really cool ones with handles in different sizes that look great in a laundry or pantry.” “Labelling is very useful in the laundry (on the outside of the storage). Keep it in mind for the linen cupboard too. It means everyone in the family knows where everything goes. Tags are also good for labelling.”

The pantry

Here’s a three-step guide to what can often be the most cluttered part of the house.

1. Take it all out

For your pantry to work effectively you need to see what you have and what you need. You can only do this properly by taking everything out shelf by shelf, and stacking it all on the bench or dining table. Once the pantry’s contents are laid out in all their glory, you can go through it all and figure out what stays and what goes. Wipe everything down and check expiry dates on food items. Discard expired food.

2. Reduce, reuse, recycle

When you get to this part here’s what you do – sort through everything and make four piles in four boxes.

  • One of stuff to give away to charity (e.g. un-needed containers, double-ups, things you no longer need)
  • One of rubbish – recycle where you can (eg. cardboard packaging, plastic and tin)
  • One of things to keep and which need better storage (e.g. baking ingredients, sauces, spices)
  • One of things which need to be re-homed (e.g. things which don’t need to live in the pantry)

Figure out what storage containers and trays you already have, perhaps being used elsewhere. Re-use what you already have wherever you can. Once you’ve re-used or upcycled what you can, make a list of any storage containers you will need to purchase.

3. Rethink, repurpose and reorganise

Rethink what lives where. Repurpose items from other places to help organise your space (e.g. trays, boxes and containers to keep sauces/meal ingredients/cake decorating stuff tidy). Reorganise the space. Ask yourself –

  • What is used most frequently and needs to be easily accessed (e.g. breakfast cereals in reach for the kids to get their own breakfast)?
  • What is used least frequently and can live at the back, at the top or at the bottom of the pantry? Is there a better place for things than where I’ve always put them?
  • Is there anything that doesn’t need to live in this pantry at all?

Use labels. If you are lucky enough to own a label maker, label away! Label everything. Give the other members of your household no excuse to not be able to find things! If no label maker is on hand, you can look online for free printable labels and stick them onto your jars and containers with a glue stick. The labels make such a big difference to the usability and ongoing tidiness of your pantry.

Create more space by being clever, e.g. invest in a spice rack and attach it to the inside of your pantry door (so much easier to find the spices, and it also creates more space).

More quick tips from Natalie

Spring clean every season (not just in spring!)

The beginning of the season is a great time to have a good sort out and declutter and to clean out those areas that often get neglected, e.g. the garage, laundry, linen cupboard. It gives you a fresh start for the new season and enables you to keep on top of your home on a regular basis. It’s also a great time to review your wardrobe. Don’t let it build up. Keep on top of your clutter regularly!

Put systems in place that work for you and your family

If your home is not functioning in a way that makes sense to you and the people you share your home with, what could you do differently to make it work better?

To-do lists

Make your list last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Anything uncompleted from the previous day can be carried over. Whether it be on paper, in a notebook or on your smartphone, use what works for you. Write things down as soon as you think of them and tick them off when you’ve accomplished them.