# Home and Garden # How to Live Well

Clutter-Free Home Part II

Last week’s post Clutter-Free Home Part 1 received a great response. I got emails and comments from many of you who are dealing with issues of clutter. It seems many of us have the same issue. We have general control over the whole house but there are one or two areas that are our Achilles heel- the home office (mine), the dining room table or various cluttered drawers or storage spaces.

The good news is this is all manageable. I actually wrote last week’s post a few months ago and have since been trying out various techniques that Famille Chic employed in order to keep the clutter at bay. I am happy to report that slowly but surely these systems are working. Here are some of my thoughts:

What Constitutes Clutter?

Some of you brought up the concern that a home should not be stripped bare of character in the pursuit of banning clutter and I couldn’t agree more! I am not talking here about collectibles or treasured items. One definition of clutter is anything in your home that you don’t absolutely love.

Perhaps you received a housewarming gift from your well meaning neighbor, Gladys- a porcelain statue of a frog, let's just say. You don’t actually like the frog statue and it certainly doesn't go with your modern Zen decor, but you hesitate to get rid of it so as not to hurt dear Gladys's feelings. You decide to store it in your coat closet. Every time you open your coat closet you see the frog and feel feelings of guilt and irritation. That is clutter. (Honestly, this frog analogy is a bit bizarre, but hopefully you see my point).

Clutter is also an accumulation of miscellaneous things that do not belong where they currently are. Keys, cell phone and wallet in the middle of the dining room table are one example. Or a pile of unsorted mail on the piano is another example. Generally your gut can tell you what clutter is. You know deep down because to look at it aggravates you.

Go slowly
Once you decide where your pockets of clutter exist, it is time to tackle them. As with clearing out your wardrobe go slowly and do not take on more than you can handle in a given session. There is nothing worse than having lofty ambitions, pulling out the contents of an entire closet and realizing a half hour later you would like to be done for the day and go to lunch but have only sifted through 1/3 of your mess. Be realistic and realize that accomplishing one small task a day (be it one junk drawer, one pile of filing or one section of the closet) can boost morale and keep you enthusiastic about tackling the next day’s task.

Other People
Of course from a clutter stand point it would be a lot easier if we just lived alone and followed our own clutter management system. But then we might get lonely and life would be no fun. So we need to figure out a way to coexist harmoniously with our husbands or wives, children, pets or roommates without becoming a clutter-controlling tyrant.

As I have mentioned before I believe Famille Chic (and my Californian French friends) had the entire household on board with keeping the clutter at bay. It was not just the women concerned with the issue of keeping a tidy and orderly home- it was the men too. The men seemed particularly respectful of keeping their things in the proper place. So how does one ‘train’ members of the family without coming across as bossy, neurotic or a nag? Asking nicely, gentle reminders and subtle interventions are needed here. Saying things such as, Honey could you try to not be such a slob? don't work (trust me, I say this from experience). If asking nicely and gentle reminders do not work perhaps a sit down meeting is in order. If possible provide a cup of tea and a slice of cake at said meeting- anything to make the new system seem more enjoyable to the trainee.

I recently tackled our hall closet. Here are my notes:

Our hall closet was horribly stuffed. There were so many coats and jackets hanging in there, if a guest came over, there wasn’t room for their coat! So the guest’s coat and handbag would inevitably go on the back of a dining room chair- not a good look. Especially if they are over to dine and then you need to find a space for their coat once everyone goes to the table. The whole situation bothered me. I would dream about having someone over, asking if I could take their coat, and hanging it neatly in the hall closet. But in reality if I did that and opened the door, there was a very good chance that tennis rackets, umbrellas and other miscellaneous objects would fly out- embarrassing us all.

The hall closet should have only the coat you will wear that day. Since it’s just me and my husband (baby doesn’t hang her coats yet), there should only be two coats hanging and around 4 padded or wooden hangers for our guest’s coats.

Same with shoes. We were using our hall closet to store every shoe we’ve ever owned. There were so many shoes, they were piled on top of the vacuum cleaner (it is necessary for us to store our vacuum cleaner in the hall closet)- so every week when the housekeeper pulled out the vacuum, she would scream (and probably silently curse me) when a pile of excess shoes jumped out at her.

I ended up pulling everything out of the closet and as you can probably guess, a lot of it was headed for the trash can or charity bin. I found old travel pillows, receipts, 10 year old Ugg boots (!) and exercise equipment we’ve never used!

We can hold on to so much stuff- much of it we no longer want or will never use. And when you live in a condo like we do- space is precious. Here I was using valuable real estate in the hall closet to store old shoes that I didn’t even want, while necessary clutter that should have been hidden away in the closet (like handbags, keys, wallets, sunglasses, mail to be sorted etc.) was forming untidy piles on our dining room table.

Yes I call those things necessary clutter. Because they are necessary items we use everyday- they just need a home out of eye’s sight as they tend to be loose-leaf and unsightly (especially when stored in the incorrect location).

After going through the closet I hung an over the door storage unit to house our miscellaneous items… Now I just need to have that talk with my husband about actually using it! I better go get the tea and cake.

The statue above is located in the breathtaking shallow pool at the Getty Villa in Malibu. I imagine I would lounge like that knowing I lived in a clutter-free home...

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Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

We totally identify with the 'Gladys Gift' syndrome but, like it or not, it calls for ruthless action. You may call us heartless, but some thirty years ago we disposed of all unwanted wedding gifts in a garage sale!

No, there can be no clutter but, we totally agree with you, constant vigilance and rationalisation are needed to ensure that cupboards remain fit for purpose, and that the unloved is disposed of as quickly as possible before manifesting itself as junk.

LR said...

I hear you about the hall closet. Ours needs a massive cleanout as we still have winter things in there and there are no free hangers for guest's jackets.

Last night I went through my closet and filled 3 large plastic bags of old clothes, purses, etc that I don't use anymore. The bags immediately went into the car this morning to be dropped off at Community Living bins after work. Felt great to do a nice big purge and actually get it out of the house, instead of leaving it to be done "eventually".

My areas of concentration now are the dining room table, coffee table in the living room and my night table/floor on my side of the bed. I am notorious for collecting cups and books on my night table. Have to work on that one! :)

Pearl said...

I am moving from one apartment to another--in part becuase the 750 sq. ft. of the old one were driving me crazy, squeezing me too tightly. That said I am doing a double-catch of culling stuff while I move, checking on either end for clutter of papers, books, clothes, and general stuff. Interesting what you can live without as you move and how that changes your perspective!

Merveilleux said...

Gladys gifts drive me nuts. I always feel obligated to hold onto them "just in case" she asks me about it/wants to see it/wonders where it is.
If she says "Oh, where did you put that beautiful frog?"
Do you tell her an untruth and say it's upstairs and hope she doesn't ask to see?
Maybe I'm just paranoid. In all reality, people don't generally ask about the gifts they've given x amount of months ago.

I cleaned out our closet that goes under our staircase and found SO many boxes "just in case I need to mail something" it took me an hour to break them all down and take them to the recycle bin.
Lo and behold, the week after I had to mail something....

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Jane and Lance Hattatt- yes the Gladys gift syndrome does require ruthless action. I am not sure why I hesitated so much in the past with parting with these unfortunate presents. We recently received porcelain lotus flower candle holders as gifts and they do not go with our decor. I gave them to my sister- who loves them and now I feel much happier that they are in a home where they are wanted!

LR- yes! We (or I should say I) have to purge the glasses and cups from the nightstands on a daily basis. Growing up I always remember my mother complaining that my father left his coffee cup everywhere haha. My husband does the same! I found a mug on the fireplace the other night... a very odd place, indeed.

Pearl- Moving is a great excuse to de-clutter and reevaluate. For a while we thought we might be moving to England. I started packing up boxes but when I thought about actually paying to ship most of the things overseas I thought I'd rather do without! I hope you enjoy your new space :)

Merveilleux- I'm glad my Gladys gift analogy translated. I was beginning to think when I wrote it that I wasn't making sense. But we've all gotten those gifts right? That happens to me too after I get rid of something I inevitably need it later. I think that is why we hesitate to get rid of things. Now I just tell myself "Oh well, if I need it I'll go out and get it again!" Not very economical, but there you are...