Home Decluttering Made Easy

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new-suburban-stockade-introLast week, we looked at reducing our mental clutter with the help of lists, a year-at-a-glance calendar, and other devices. This week, we’ll focus on organizing the material world.

“The one who dies with the most toys wins.” What’s easy to forget is the down side. Physical clutter has to be managed. It occupies brain space, and thus distract you from getting things done.

Very few of us have spacious, basements, accessible attics, and multiple outbuildings, including a barn. You can store far more stuff if you have plenty of space, but if you can’t find the item when you need it, then you might as well not have it.

As preppers, we want to store things that will be useful and hard to replace. How often do I use that OST planting bar and the bulb auger? Not very often, but when I do need them—like once a year or less—I want to know where to find them.

The road to reducing physical clutter starts by putting things away when you’re done with them. A place for everything and everything in its place. Dumb and basic, right? Ask yourself: How many scissors do you have? Do you know where they are? I’ve known people who have multiple pairs but can never find one because they never put them back in the designated drawer. You wouldn’t have your files in your office tossed into giant Rubbermaid storage bins, all mixed up, so why is your home paperwork of bills and receipts done this way? Your tools at work are organized, unlike the cardboard boxfuls at home.

So choose a place for things like bills, official paperwork, office and school supplies, then put things away when you’re done. If it helps, designate a paper tray to hold paperwork, and a shelf for the office supplies, and make sure nothing else gets mixed in.

Next, put a small trash can in every room and use it. Stand by it when you look through the mail. If you don’t need that catalog, toss it. Do not hesitate as they breed in corners. They also encourage you to spend money, another worthwhile reason to toss them at once.

As for everything else, the basic rule is to sort and store like with like. At Fortress Peschel, gardening tools go in two places in our house. The big stuff is all out in our small tool shed. It’s lined up along the walls, and yes, that space needs to have plenty of hooks and bins installed to make it easier to reach in and grab something. By the back door, I keep a bucket with the hand tools, trowel, pruners, forks, etc. so I can grab it easily for the nearby raised beds.

Tools that are not gardening-related are all in the workshop. They hang on hooks or are sorted, like with like, in clear plastic boxes and bins with labels. This is vital for small stuff like nails and screws.

Do this with everything. Car parts? In the garage. Paint, varnish, and primer? On a low shelf under the workbench. Dog food, canned and dry, dog treats, cat food, kitty litter? All together on dedicated shelves with a barrier to keep the cats away from it. School and office supplies? Shelves in the unfinished basement inside labeled clear plastic boxes. Pots and pans are kept together. My dishes are stacked neatly. My bedding for each bed is arranged on the top shelves of the closet.

Once you start sorting the piles, like with like, you’ll find out how much you have. Next, you make it easy to put things away. Basic, yeah? If you have to re-arrange your collection of margarine tubs and give-away plastic drinking glasses every time you finish the dishes, those dishes will never get put away.

To make it easy to put things away, get rid of the stuff you never use. I’ve seen plenty of kitchens with large collections, numbering in the dozens, of give—away plastic tumblers. They’re never used. They take up space, collect dust, and get in the way of the glasses that people use. They are not souvenirs; they’re junk. Get rid of them.

Sort food in the pantry by type. Canned soup with canned soup, baking supplies together, cooking oils, pasta, cereal. Like with like, so I can see what I have, use what I have. I label the food with the use by dates in Sharpie on the front of each box or can and use the oldest stuff first. If something is getting along in years, it gets eaten.

Same with health and beauty products and cleaning supplies. Cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink, bathroom stuff in the bathroom, overflow in the downstairs pantry. Periodic purges get rid of the really ancient stuff: if it’s usable we use it up at once. If it isn’t, out it goes.

I also don’t allow family members to dictate my choice of toothpaste and hair care products. We all use the same tube of toothpaste, and we have limited hair care products in the shower stall: Bill and Younger Son use the two in one stuff, daughter and I use the same shampoo and conditioner. A dear friend has 23 separate containers in her shower stall alone. I counted. Don’t do this. How should you address all these containers? Empty them out, over time, and don’t buy anymore until you’ve gone through what you have! I am not above pouring all the hand lotion odds and ends into one container, rinsing the bottles to get every last drop out. Then I use it up.