Eliminating clutter will add to your peace of mind


As I sit down to write this article, it is so unseasonably warm outside this February afternoon that I find it fitting to write about spring cleaning for the spring publication. I’m not talking about the kind of deep cleaning you’re probably thinking of. Although it is a good idea to move the sofa and vacuum underneath from time to time, I’m thinking more in terms of organization and clearing your household of the unnecessary clutter. The buzz word of the season – declutter! There is a movement of people waging a private battle against their own stuff. The idea of living a simplified, uncluttered life with less stuff will not only clear your space, but free your mind and enhance your prosperity as well. There are many benefits of owning fewer possessions: less to clean, less debt, less to organize, less stress, more freedom, more time, more clarity. It’s just a matter of getting there in this consumer-based world we live in. It’s a mindset.

I am fortunate to have a career that I love. Yet it comes with consequences. I consider myself a pretty busy mom. That’s not a bad thing and I’m not complaining. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It does mean that I am constantly rushing from one thing to another and have little time to keep my household in check. Being this busy means that something has to suffer. For me, it’s my house. There are some days when I leave in the morning after the usual “get to school on time chaos,” thinking that if someone were to walk into my kitchen they would think we had been robbed and kidnapped.

It’s hard to resist the decluttering fever, especially when we are rewarded with an orderly and meaningful state of mind. Sounds heavenly to this working mom. According to Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the top-ranked book on The New York Times list of self-help books, if you’re not living up to your potential, clutter is probably the culprit. She promises that once your house is orderly, you can “pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life.”

Think about it: How nice is it to come home to a clean house? It has to be up there as one of the best feelings ever. If I have less to deal with, put away, etc., I know my home is easier to manage. Not to mention that it drives me absolutely crazy! I’m convinced that the messier the house, the more stressed this working mother gets. Tidiness, cleanliness and organization all affect our mental state. Just as colors have been proven to evoke certain emotions, I’m convinced that a messy vs. clean house does the same.

Cabin at Bigfork Landing.

Cabin at Bigfork Landing.

Before you go on a full-blown decluttering bender, here are some easy rules to guide you:

Everything you own should have value. You must either find it functional, beautiful, or it just plain makes you happy. You know the question: What would you grab if your house were on fire? That’s your baseline for determining an object’s worth. Many people subscribe to the unwritten rule that you’re obligated to keep gifts or things you’ve inherited, even if you don’t like them. Things don’t have to become yours simply because they belonged to a relative, and it doesn’t mean you are ungrateful for giving inherited or gifted items away. If the acquired piece is worth money, you may feel bound to it financially. However, if you aren’t in love with it and it serves no purpose, donate it. Document what it’s worth, and take it off your taxes. Or give it to another family member who would really like it. Sell it on eBay. And if you like something enough to keep it, consider it a replacement, not an addition. Keep it, but donate the one you already have. Mementos from your own life are harder to part with because, when you see them, you relive the story. Same thing. Ask yourself those same questions.

Every item needs a home. Setting things down on the coffee table or kitchen counter creates piles and confusion. You never lose anything when you put it where it lives. Training the rest of the family to actually put things away where they belong is another story. My husband must waste countless minutes looking for his keys, wallet or phone he misplaced. The minutes add up to valuable time that could have been spent doing something productive. I’m constantly reminding him that if he puts his things in the same place every time, he’ll know exactly where they are.

Your kitchen is a food preparation area, not a storage space. I could write an entire article on this room alone, so for now, just the basics. The general idea here is to weed out what you’re not using, and put similar items together and in the best places. Appliances that are broken or are not being used are just taking up space. If your Crock-Pot has a missing lid that you’re going to replace someday, or you’re keeping the bread maker just because it was a gift, get rid of it. All your plastic storage items should have corresponding lids. If you don’t have one or the other, pitch it. And you know that plastic bag full of other plastic bags? Use the ones you have for trash can liners, or take them back to the grocery store for recycling. Keep canvas shopping bags in the car so you don’t accumulate more plastic bags. Cookbooks, my guilty pleasure, unless you’re a collector or you have a lot of room, edit them. How often do you use the cookbook? If you’ve had it for years but it’s never gotten a single stain or burn from use, donate it. I mostly find my new recipes online. Print your favorites and keep them together in one place. Or save them to your phone, tablet or computer. Even better.

The pile of mail is my biggest hurdle. I have vowed to go through my mail right away, but it seems as though when I get home I have more important things happening and never seem to get to it right away. Therefore, I recommend when you come in the door with a stack of mail, put it in a basket, box, or container. This will help eliminate the endless stacks of papers, magazines, etc. around the house. When you’re ready, and have some time, go through your mail basket. Do it all at once, or you’ll never get through it.

Bedroom in Bigfork Landing with only the essentials.

Bedroom in Bigfork Landing with only the essentials.

When considering bringing new things home, ask yourself if it’s going to serve a purpose or make you happy. Make sure you don’t already have the item, unless you’re planning on replacing it, and make sure you’re really going to enjoy it!

While shedding your belongings, it is important to realize that life isn’t going to slow down just because you’ve purged some possessions. We are still going to be overwhelmed by everyday life. The demands of parenting, unreturned emails, the incessant posts of other people’s lives on Facebook, and the notion that we’ll be checking our phones every 15 minutes isn’t going away  anytime in the near future. Also keep in mind that there was undoubtedly a lot of joy in acquiring the stuff that has turned into clutter. Getting rid of the stuff may not exude the same amount of joy, but hang in there, it will be worth it in the end.

The ultimate goal is to have your home or space feeling clean, organized and clutter free. There will be less stuff and what’s left will be in order in ways that work with your space. Being organized isn’t about getting rid of everything you own or trying to become a minimalist. It’s about living in a manageable, systematized and stress free space. It’s all about that space. No clutter.

Meredith Coopman of Meredith Coopman Design Studio lives and works in the Flathead Valley. She has a background in interior design and architecture. You can reach her at meredith@meredithcoopman.com