Friday, November 7, 2008

Elizabeth’s Anti-Clutter Techniques for Larger Families

We have had a few rainy days, leading me to spring into my fall de-cluttering. I immediately hit my worst hot spot, the home office, where I have many piles of paper to sort through. I packed up forty-three books in genres I no longer read, and which I have no desire to pass along to my children.

While there, I picked up a few books from the library on de-cluttering. I skimmed through these during commercial breaks, while watching the evening news with my husband. I really learned nothing new. But I did discover that I could skip whole sections because many of the zones in my house are clutter-free! I decided to pat myself on the back for that and proceed with what needed to be done.

The most painful books to give away were a set of four “Story of the World” books by Susan Wise Bauer. These had been a rare brand-new purchase I had made, with the intention of incorporating them into my homeschooling curriculum. Even after I had enrolled the children into school, I always thought I would supplement their education by reading these books to them. A few years later, I had still only gotten halfway through the first book. A good homeschooling friend of mine who is using this series was a happy recipient of these. While painful, it was also the most fulfilling book giveaway I had made.

While sorting through school papers in the kitchen this morning, I discovered that I actually have several systems in place that I have incorporated over the years. I found none of these tips in books or magazines, and several are unique for larger families.

1. Have a ready-to-go center at your front door.
In the coat closet by the front door, I keep a baby bag stocked and ready to go at a moment’s notice. My keys and pocketbook are kept on a coat rack, which is installed on the wall. There is a small table with one drawer, in which I keep all my coupons and one-day-store passes. I remove expired coupons on a regular basis.

2. Keep a clutter basket in your kitchen.
Junk drawers are useless, but kitchen clutter does happen, especially with a family of six. Everyone knows they can feel free to toss in miscellaneous small objects in the basket. Once it gets half full, I can carry the basket around the house and put things where they belong.

3. Keep multiple tools together.
I think large families should be exempt from the “keep one each” rule most expert organizers tout. If you cook and bake with your daughters, for instance, you will need several of the same kitchen tools. If father and son like to build together, they will need more than one hammer and screwdriver. Just keep the same types of tools together.

4. Support your local library!
Once a season I fill a diaper box with books I know I will never have use for again. I bring it to my library and receive a donation slip.
I also have made friends with the children’s program director, who happily takes off my hands empty baby jars for use in storing paint and other craft supplies.

5. Jesus told his disciples to keep only one coat, and give away the second.
This policy prevents clothing clutter from every happening. If I buy a pair of jeans, I donate one pair. One pair of black shoes in, one pair out. When I store clothing to pass on to the next child, I make sure to keep only half, and donate the rest.

6. Use a pad rather than scraps of paper.
I keep all of my lists and idea on little yellow pads so I can always find them. Once I use my ideas to write out a post, I tear out the page and throw it out. When cleaning out my pocketbook, I know all the folded-up yellow pages are shopping lists that I can throw away.

7. Keep a school and art work collection box.
With multiple children, it is absolutely impossible for me to sort through all the pages that come in a daily basis. I have the children empty out their folders into a box. On a weekly basis, I can go through the box and sort the papers I want to keep into appropriate folders.

8. Get everyone to put their own laundry away.
I fold laundry in one of two places, depending on where my toddler is at the moment.
If I fold on the dining room table, where the children do their homework together, the children are told to put away their own piles before doing homework.
If I fold on my bed, they have to put away their piles before going to bed. I must put away my own pile before climbing into bed.

9. Pin-up visual reference clutter behind kitchen cabinet doors.
For easy reference, I know which cabinet to open and find any of the following:
Doctor and business cards
Calendar of birthdays and anniversaries
Sports schedules
First-aid poster
A Mapquest of our area (in case someone needs directions to our house or gets lost on their way)
Often-referenced recipes
Important church numbers, cut out from the church bulletin
Postcards from a loved-one who travels often
Health articles for inspiration
Inspirational quotes
School and class numbers

10. Create “way-stations” for things to be put away.
By the garage door I might put a pile of things to put away in the garage. When I fill up the dog food bowl, I take the pile in with me.
At the bottom of the stairs is a pile of things to be brought up, and vice-versa. Everyone is trained to “not waste a trip”; they must bring the things up or down, and then deposit them in the rooms of their owners.

This last tip is similar to one I found in the book , LIGHTEN UP! Free Yourself From Clutter (HarperCollins), by Michelle Passoff. Rather than being stuck on everything going straight to its home, she suggests everything be put on its right path to its final destination. You can find out about her books and sign up for her tips at

1 comment:

Loren Christie said...

good advice, thank you.