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Do you have clutter everywhere? Learn how to use the ‘no clutter on flat surfaces’ rule to make your home more liveable (and less stressful) right now!
Our family is ultra-minimalist these days. We got rid of nearly everything we owned last year to travel full-time. And yet, the kitchen counter in my Air B’n’B looked like this earlier this week.
Why? Because I’ve been breaking one of my main rules for keeping a clutter-free home: the no clutter on flat surfaces rule.
If it’s a flat surface (kitchen table, bathroom counter, even the top of the fridge) it should be cleared of everything that’s not a permanent fixture.
So what can you put on all those flat surfaces in your home?
- Items that are there all the time because you find them beautiful or use them every day.
- Items that are out for your family to use temporarily (your cutting board and knife on the kitchen counter as you prep dinner, your glasses on the nightstand while you sleep, or your Sorry game board on the dining room table while you play with your kids).
Why is it so important to follow the no clutter on flat surfaces rule?
Clutter attracts clutter: when something is already messy, adding something else seems like no big deal, and before long, you’ve got a big ol’ mess on your hands. And the mess itself isn’t the biggest problem.
Clutter messes with your mind
The physical chaos of a cluttered house makes me a mental basket case. And I’m not alone. A 2009 study at UCLA found that women who felt their homes were cluttered had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s nice to know the scientific reason why I feel so unsettled–sometimes downright panicky–when our stuff is everywhere.
Clutter messes up your social life
Be honest. Have you ever avoided inviting someone over because your house was messy? I have.
Cluttered spaces can mess with our social lives. We’re embarrassed at the way our space looks, so we keep others out. One of the mamas in our Facebook group said her favorite trick for keeping her house clean and uncluttered, in fact, was to regularly invite people over.
Clutter makes your space unusable
Finally, having stuff on every surface prevents us from using our space. It’s super annoying to have to clear a spot whenever you want to eat dinner at the kitchen table, set your snack down on the coffee table, or unroll your yoga mat on the living room floor.
Have ever you abandoned something you want to do because clearing a space for it felt like too much work? Me too.
So this clutter on our flat surfaces looks ugly, stresses us out, hurts our social life, and makes our space unusable.
Ready to make a change?
How to Implement the “No Clutter on Flat Surfaces Rule” in Your Home
Step 1: Own Less
Part of the reason our homes look cluttered is that most of us have too much damn stuff. Studies show that the average U.S. home has over 300,000 items inside.
When drawers, shelves, and closets are overstuffed, it’s not surprising that the overflow starts to live on the counters, tables, and floors.
The mess starts to stress us out, and we think we have an organization problem. If we could just make our closets better organized or get that perfect plastic doohickey from the Container Store, we’d be all set, right?
If you’ve got stuff everywhere, you need to purge FIRST. Get clear on what things you plan to keep and then decide where you’ll store them.
Ready to get started? Click here to grab a list of 150 Things You Can Get Rid of Today!
Step 2: Get intentional about what you display
I believe that being intentional about the way we live makes everything better. Our homes are no exception.
Take a look at the things that you see displayed around you now. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it beautiful?
- Do I use it every day?
If you can’t answer yes to either of these questions, that thingy probably doesn’t need to be displayed in the middle of your coffee table.
This isn’t the kind of question that we just ask once and never address again, either. From time-to-time, you’ll want to re-evaluate the things that you keep on display. Habits and tastes change.
If you’ve stopped drinking coffee, the pot no longer needs to live in its regular space on the kitchen counter. Don’t be afraid to get ruthless about your decorative items, either.
You probably didn’t keep your N’Sync poster and lava lamp when you left college (no judgment if you did), and you don’t need to keep that decorative bowl on the dining room table that’s not serving you anymore, either. This is true even if it was expensive, if it leaves an empty space when you remove it, or if it was a gift from your mother-in-law.
As you look around, don’t forget to include your home’s largest flat surface—the floor. Open space on the floor makes rooms feel bigger. It gives you room to walk and your kids room to play.
Do not be afraid to remove furniture that you don’t love, and watch out for items that have always lived on the floor that should have a home somewhere else. Remember, if it’s not beautiful or in use EVERY DAY, get it out of there.
You’ll decide where to put it in Step 3.
Step 3: Make sure every item that you haven’t chosen to display has a home
This is the reason our Air B’n’B got so messy.
We’ve got hardly any stuff, but we haven’t decided yet where the few things we do have should live. Because our time here is limited, and we didn’t choose the home decor, we’ve found situation even more challenging. Do you hear me making excuses?
Everything must have a home, and it can’t just be the floor, nightstand, or dining room table. Otherwise, you’ll always struggle to keep things looking tidy.
Don’t Forget Typical Clutter Trouble Spots
When you’re finding a place for everything, don’t forget about items like:
- the clothes you plan to wear again that end up on top of the hamper or on the floor (try an open-top basket or bin in your closet)
- the mail that gets dumped in a progressively bigger and messier pile on the counter (throw out the obvious junk as soon as you bring it inside, and have a box or file to store any items that need to be processed later)
- your children’s backpacks, which sit by the front door from the time they get home from school until the time they leave again (have them empty out any trash or dirty things right when they arrive, and store the backpacks on a hook or in a locker or closet)
Get creative with your storage solutions. Pinterest is great for providing novel ideas. Everything doesn’t need to be put in a closet or drawer. You can utilize hooks, baskets, boxes or tote bags. If you aren’t careful, though, these can become over-cluttered, too.
My policy is to keep all such storage spaces small. I then either clean them out when they are full or as part of my weekly cleaning schedule.
Step 4: Get a system in place for putting things away
OK, you followed the previous steps. You own less, you got intentional about what you want to look at every day, and you have a home for everything.
Pat yourself on the back.
You still have to live in your house, though. If you’re not careful, in no time your home will look like those closets, drawers, and bins vomited everywhere.
You need a system for getting items back to their homes.
Ideally, whenever you finished a task or left a room, you’d clear off any surfaces and put things where they belong. Sure, ideally you’d sleep 8 hours a night, drink 8 glasses of water a day, and never yell at your kids, either.
Personally, I find it to be more practical to clean my flat surfaces off during my 10-minute pickups at the end of the day. What’s a 10-minute pick up? Just what it sounds like.
The 10-Minute Pickup
- Set a timer for ten minutes
- Recruit any family members older than 2 to pitch in
- Put away anything that doesn’t belong
My family does this at a minimum every evening before bed and sometimes several times a day. Regularly doing a focused tidying for a few minutes ensures that the clutter problem never gets out of control. Make this part of your daily routine.
And it wouldn’t hurt to try to instill this habit with your family: when you are finished using something, put it away. Right away.
Remember, these are new habits for a lifetime. Your clutter-taming project will never be done. Even those of us with good habits and little stuff still struggle with messy spaces. You are not alone, no matter how out-of-control things have gotten.
You can start today and make things better. Start with one surface in one room. Then, add another surface and another until that one room is comfortable. Work on it for a few minutes every day to keep it that way. Gradually, things will get better.
Get started clearing your flat surfaces right now:
- Look around your room to find the cluttered spot that bugs you the most (maybe it’s the kitchen counter covered with mail, the floor next to the front door that’s full of shoes/bags/jackets, or the dining room table no one’s eaten at in months.)
- Grab a container or some kind–a box, laundry basket, or shopping bag, for instance
- Set a timer for ten minutes. (bonus points for putting on some great music, too, while you do this)
- Move clutter into your box, basket, or bag and work quickly to put away everything that has a home
- If you find you don’t have a place to put things, leave them in the box, basket or bag for now, and brainstorm a new home for them. Do you need a small box for mail, a rack for shoes, or a series of hooks inside the door for coats and handbags? Do you need to clear out the toy cupboard because there is no place to put the toys away?
- Decide on the next action you need to do to solve the clutter problem for this spot (get a hook from the garage, buy a storage box on Amazon, or get rid of two sweaters so the sweater on the floor fits in the drawer.) If your next action will take less than 2 minutes, do it now. If it is more time-consuming, put it on your schedule to be taken care of ASAP.
- Rinse and repeat throughout your home.
This is how you tackle your house.
10 minutes at a time. It’s not just about cleaning up for today because your mother-in-law is coming over. It’s about putting new habits in place and creating lasting change. Change that makes us less stressed and more social. Can you believe it?
All that from a clean kitchen counter.
Want more decluttering tips? Check out How to Get Rid of Everything You Own or 9 Easy Tips You Need to Tame Toy Clutter Once and For All