While we often approach decluttering and organizing as one-time tasks, the truth is that that upfront investment is really only half the battle (albeit a very important half!). Once it’s done, you still have to spend a fair amount of time keeping it that way!
There’s really no way around this (other than moving out of your house, sealing the doors and windows and just looking in on it from the outside like a museum piece!), but there is a simple rule that makes it much easier to maintain. We call it the touch-it-once rule.
Most clutter forms when we set something down because we don’t know what to do with it or don’t feel like dealing with it at that moment. When you do that, though, you end up spending twice as much time dealing with it because you still have to go back to it later.
In our home, this is often abandoned hair accessories, arts & crafts that our girls make for us, the stuff we bring inside from the car, dirty dishes in the sink and even trash after opening a package (yes, I did just look around my house to make that list).
Instead of falling into the trap of setting things down to deal with “later”, commit to taking each item to its home right away. Here are a few examples:
- Put laundry in the laundry basket rather than on the floor.
- Rinse dishes and put them in the dishwasher right away.
- Put away shoes, coats and bags as soon as we walk in the door.
- Sort the mail as soon as you bring it into the house.
My husband and I have both been trying to do this very consciously for the last couple of weeks, and it’s amazing how often we set something down out of habit even though it would have only taken a second to deal with it.
When you get the urge to set something down and deal with it later, think through what obstacles are in the way of putting it away right away.
- Does it have a home, or do you need to create a home for it? If it doesn’t have a home, what do you need to do to create a home? Does it involve decluttering a drawer or cabinet? Are you just not sure where to put it? How long would it take to do what you need to do to put it away?
- Is it something you need to access later, so you need a temporary spot for it? When you’re working on a project, it’s no fun to have to put the things you’re using away every time you use them if you know you’ll need them again in the near future. Use a bucket or basket to corral these tools while you’re using them and then put them away when the project is done.
- Are you setting it down to remind yourself of something later? We have a perpetual pile on our kitchen counter that we use as a reminder to do various things — call the cable company, get something at the grocery store, add an appointment to the calendar. I’d really like to get better at writing these reminders down on our glass board in the laundry room rather than using a pile to remind us! Create temporary zones for bills to be paid, notices and reminders, etc.
- Is it hard to put away? We got back from vacation 3 days ago, and the lunch cooler is still sitting on the counter because I need to get a stool in order to put it away. I want to buy a step stool for the laundry room to eliminate this problem because I’m always creating piles because getting a stool is so inconvenient. For items you use more frequently, what could you do to make their home more convenient so that they’re easier to put away each time?
There are limits to this, of course. For example, we create stair piles fairly frequently because it just doesn’t make sense to run upstairs every time I find a little toy that needs to be put away with the rest of a set, but then I carry as much as I can each time I go up and down the steps so that I don’t have to make special trips. (I’m not sure if that makes me efficient or lazy, but it is what it is.)
The “rule” itself is not nearly as important as creating good habits, which takes practice. To get started, take some time to look at the piles and clutter around your home and think about whether they could be avoided with the touch-it-once rule!
Do you follow the touch-it-once rule in your home? What exceptions to this rule would you add?