This column first appeared in the Albany Times Union on Sunday, November 3, 2019. To see the original column please click here.
My husband and I purchased our home about twelve years ago. When we moved in, we didn't have very much, and the space felt great. We now have three kids (and a dog), and sometimes I think that I am living in a storage unit and not a home. Despite my best efforts, this house is perpetually disorganized and packed full of stuff. Do you have any tips to help me reclaim my space?
-Boxed In in Latham
Dear Boxed In,
You are not alone. We live in a world full of stuff, and our homes now have more than ever before. It's common these days for houses to more closely resemble storage units than homes. The good news is that reexamining your space and following a few simple decluttering steps will help you reclaim your home.
Live within your storage space.
Let's start by reviewing the storage space in your home - the drawers, cabinets, shelves, and hanging space in closets. Every house has a defined amount of storage space, and this is your personal parameter for how much stuff you can have in your home at any given time.
Think about storage space as a guideline in life, just like time and money. If you don't have time for something, you shouldn't commit to it. If you don't have money for something, you shouldn't purchase it. If you don't have space in your home for something new, you shouldn't bring it into the house.
Your home feels like a storage unit because you have more stuff than comfortably fits into your space. You are using floors, counters, and furniture as storage space. Your goal is to declutter and reduce what you own until what remains fits comfortably inside of your drawers, cabinets, and closets.
It's important to note that home organization is only successful if you are living within your defined amount of storage space. Let's look at it mathematically: if you have x storage space, and you are trying to organize 3x into that space, it is an equation that will never work.
Home organization needs to be easy to be successful, therefore the focus should be on decluttering before organizing.
Increase the flow out, decrease the flow in.
After examining your storage space, you may conclude that it is impossible to declutter enough to live comfortably in the space that you have. Let me assure you that no matter how unattainable this goal feels, it is achievable.
One reason our homes have a lot of stuff in them is that we have more coming into the house than going out of the house. Imagine this: you arrive home, and you have three Amazon boxes on your doorstep. Those boxes represent the volume of stuff flowing into your home. That same volume must also be leaving your house if you want to maintain a decluttered home. When you are decluttering, you need to reverse this flow. It's time to increase the number of items leaving your home while decreasing the number of items entering your house.
One effective strategy to slow the amount of stuff coming into the house is to commit to a temporary buying freeze. Don't go shopping for a month or longer while you declutter (one exception is grocery shopping, although this is an excellent time to start eating down your pantry too).
When you stop the flow of stuff coming into your home, you give yourself the time and space to understand how and why so much ends up in your house. Having a better understanding of your family's acquiring habits will help you maintain a decluttered and organized home in the future.
Increase the flow of stuff out of your house during this temporary buying freeze. Spend twenty minutes each day going through your drawers, cabinets, closets, and rooms and removing anything that does not reflect or support your life today. Figure out the best local charities that make donating easy and start frequenting them with your boxes of stuff.
Your home should reflect your life today.
Only keep things that reflect and support your life today. Anything that your children have fully outgrown (toys, clothing, hobbies, and interests) is not reflective or supportive of your life at this moment in time - it can go. Paperwork and paraphernalia from your long-ago jobs are not reflective of your life today - they can go. Clothing that hasn't fit for the better part of a decade? If it isn't relevant to your life right now, you can let it go.
Decluttering your home can take time; after all, it's taken twelve years to accumulate all this stuff. Once you understand how much your house can comfortably store, you have a much better idea of how much you need to pass along. Commit to living within your space and maintaining better flow after you declutter. Your house will start to feel like a home once again.