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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Blog, Decluttering | 23 comments

Minimizing Clutter: Share Your Brilliance

Minimizing Clutter: Share Your Brilliance

Oh, stuff…it can be both awesome and totally overwhelming. Either way, we think you will love the chapter we have written about not becoming overrun by stuff; it’s replete with concepts big and small and lots of ideas to help you minimize emotional and physical clutter.

However, we also suspect that you have some fantastic ideas to share. So today, we want to ask three questions; feel free to answer one, some, or all of them! And as we mentioned earlier, we’re excited to include nuggets of wisdom not already covered by us. And if we quote you, we will of course credit you so comment here as you would want to be credited (e.g., just first name, first + last, with a website if you have one, etc.).

So, without further ado – here are the questions. Share your brilliance!

Question 1: What are your best tips for decluttering with your kids? Specifically, how do you involve them in the process? Or do you?

Question 2. What decluttering projects can you tackle and feel good about when you only have five minutes to spare?

Question 3: What are your best minimalist housekeeping/cleaning strategies?

Image credit: David Castillo Dominici /


  1. We have a small house, with a corner in our living room designated for toys. We have a bookshelf and a some bucket shelving in that area. If the toys don’t fit in there, then we know it’s time to get rid of some!
    When I only have a few minutes to spare, I focus on the mail or paperwork that inevitably ends up in piles around the house. I can go through it fairly quickly, recycling some, and moving the rest into piles to be filed or addressed quickly. I deal with the ones that need to be addressed (bills, etc.) that night.
    In terms of best housekeeping strategies: I have just gotten used to the idea that the dishwasher will be run and emptied every day, I will need to sweep after every meal, and the downstairs will be tidied every night. My daughters (ages almost 2 and 3.5) put their toys away every night while I sweep. Because we have a small house, it feels pretty manageable!

  2. Holy Guacamole, my life as a professional organizer here in Portland revolves around those questions. Here are some tips along with some links to blog posts I have written on the topic. I would love to help you write that chapter in any way!

    Questions 1: If you are planning on having a garage sale, take the kids to a toy store or look through a toy catalog. Have them pick out one toy. Tell them the price and tell them that if they want to buy that toy, they need to sell that much $ worth of their old toys and games at the garage sale. This has worked well for some clients because instead of the kids feeling like they are being punished by having to go through their old toys, they feel motivated, because they have this tangible goal to work toward.
    Also, check this out for 10 more tips:

    Question 2: When you only have 5 minutes, you can sort through the mail on the counter. You can help your child clean out her backpack. You can make sure all of your hangers are facing the same way in the closet. You can help your child go through her bookcase and pull out all the old board books she has outgrown. You can pull all the winter coats out of the hall closet to leave room for summer jackets. Here’s some more ideas:

    Question 3: Do a major sort of your things at least once a year. If you can’t decide whether to keep something or not, ask yourself if you would pay money to replace it if it were lost in a fire. Also, make sure you are not the only one in your house doing housework. All family members over the age of 3 should be chipping in at least weekly to help out. You will never be able to stay on top of the housework if you are the only one cleaning up while 2, 3 or more family members are busy making messes. It’s like shoveling snow in a snowstorm.

    Hope that helps!

    • MaryJo! Lovely seeing a fellow Portlander here. Thanks so much for your great tips. We’ll be checking out your blog as well! “Would you replace it if lost in a fire?” Brilliant. Sort of like my clarifying question: “Would I take this to my retirement studio in SoHo?”

    • Your tip about “would I replace this if it were lost in a fire?” is a great one. I sort my and my daughter’s clothes, and her toys and my books, fairly often. While I’ve never used that exact method, I always try to think of how long it’s been since an item was used; if it’s more than a few months and not a special-occasion piece of clothing, for example, then it’s clear to me that I don’t need it.

  3. I definitely involve my four-year-old daughter in the process of decluttering her room and artwork. When she brings in a new toy or collection (she loves bringing home random leaves, rocks and pine cones), we look through her room and she decides what she would like to donate or give to a friend. This helps make room for the new items. I feel everything should have a home in your house. Sometimes it’s me who struggles on letting go because my daughter wants to get rid of something that I don’t want her to get rid of (like a book signed and given to her from a relative). I guess I have to model minimal attachment to “things.” If she is ready to let go, I should be too.

  4. Carla: Love your comments, especially about the beauty of a small house. So many people think that more space and storage is the answer, but in my experience that just leads to more stuff. A PH reader once told a fascinating story about friends who live on a houseboat and the tiny amount of space they had to work with. She was inspired by their lack of stuff, and the creativity with which they used what they had.

    • In my (admittedly limited) experience, a house larger than your needs just leads to a state of serious disorganization. When my husband and I moved into our moderate-sized house, we almost doubled our square footage and did double the number of bedrooms. There was no need to worry about organization, because there was space for everything. As we acquired new stuff, we just put it where it would fit. Five years and 3 kids later, I regret that lack of organization every. single. day. Especially since my time is so limited for fixing the problem.

      My sister has a large, unfinished basement (maybe 1500 sq ft). She was telling me how difficult it is to keep her storage down there organized because the temptation to just “put it” is so great – especially for her kids.

      I really think when it comes to house size, less is more. Less space leads very naturally to more organization.

      • Oh Rachel, I have heard this from so many people. Size definitely does matter! Hopefully the strategies we’ve laid out in our “stuff” chapters will help you get a handle on things!

  5. I guess these speak most to Question 3, but I’ve found that having a plan for dealing with kids’ papers and art is essential for minimizing clutter. So not exactly “decluttering” but I’d still say essential to the process! The thing with both is that you have to have a “flexible home” that not only will house typical papers but also items that are weird sized/shaped. It also needs to be a place that’s easily accessed and something that will require you to purge regularly since most of these things only need to be displayed or kept for a short time. I know for me at least, if a space accommodates too much, I’ll just keep filling it until it’s overwhelming to deal with and then the clutter will just start creeping out and spreading again. Anyway, I’ve found two systems that really work for me.

    1. I have a clipboard for each of my three children (2 school-age, 1 preschool) that hangs in our kitchen. Homework assignments, notes from school, birthday party invitations, sports practice schedules, etc all go on the clipboard. I try to keep things I want to see on top, and frequently remove outdated items and send them to recycling. If ever I’m questioning whether to keep something or not, I just put it on the clipboard rather than lay it on a table or other flat surface where it quickly amasses other clutter. It’s easy and I always know where the information for a given child can be found. The clipboards can hold a fair amount of paper, but are still limiting, forcing me to do the regular purging, which helps too. Oh, and it’s a great place for displaying a spelling test with 100% and that sort of thing too!

    2. I created a designated spot for all art displayed and kept, and made it easy to both display and take down art that’s ready to be stored or recycled. For most art, I bought a ton of those wall-safe sticky tabs and we just have a rotating art gallery in the hall. Those are nice because they hold all sizes and shapes of things since my elementary schoolers often come home with oddly-shaped or large artistic creations! I keep very few projects once their time on the wall is up. For the extra large pieces that I do want to keep, I have a large art folder that I keep behind the couch, and the rest go in the baby books (again, after displaying for awhile, I find it easy to not keep very much!). For ceramics and 3-D projects, I have a designated shelf that is just progressively getting more crowded. Fortunately, they only do a few such projects each year at school! I’ve found this to be fairly self-purging as well. Sometimes art gets ripped and I just remove and put in recycling. Sometimes new art needs a home and I just tell the child who did the art to take down something of theirs they are ready to recycle to make room for the new.

    The key for both was finding something that was easy for me, my husband, and my kids to do, and that made a home for every scrap of paper that comes through our door in those little backpacks!

    • Great tips! I also have problems with wanting to keep every piece of artwork (since I love artworks!) and so my mom suggested taking photos of them. That way, we can make a picture book when they’re through school, and show it off later. This is especially helpful for those 3-D pieces (like the sandcastle made of TP tubes and the lion mask that measured 24×24″). A picture of the child holding it, or of it sitting on the table, is easier to store than the object! We also send flat artwork to Nana & Grampa in the mail sometimes, or take it to them on family trips.

  6. 1. Sort mail immediately. Pay bills online, toss junk into recycling. Magazines/catalogs go in a basket in the bathroom, and are recycled every month or two.
    2. Have zones in the hall closet. My coats are on the left, kids’ in the middle, husband’s on the right. Put 3 bins at the top, marked “mittens/gloves”, “hats”, and “scarves”. Freak out if anyone puts stuff in the wrong place. 😉 This makes it so much easier to keep it neat, and we can always find what we need!
    3. Periodically reduce bathroom clutter. Use up all shampoo before a new one is put in the shower (even if the new one smells REALLY GOOD. You’ll never use up the old one if you do.) Go through and store/toss things that aren’t being used. Put things that are used rarely in the cabinet or closet, not the shower. Have a bunch of little plastic baskets/trays in the linen closet to corral stored items. Periodically go through those and toss the ones that won’t get used again once you realize you haven’t missed them, and you won’t have any regrets.
    4. Change out toys periodically–if they haven’t seen them for a few months, they are much more interesting. I move things from the kids’ rooms to the main floor, and down to the basement. They can always be brought back.
    5. Make a game of moving shoes. I ask the kids to be the “shoe fairy”, who picks up stray shoes and puts them on the stairs to go up to the bedrooms. (This doesn’t work all the time, but it’s nice when it does.)
    6. Put kitchen stuff used rarely in storage, ie: Christmas serving stuff, big stock pot, summer cold drink dispenser, etc. Bring it up when you need it, but it doesn’t need a permanent spot in the cabinet in the kitchen.
    7. Make a “Clean Up!” playlist on Spotify, and put it on to do a quick-clean with the whole family (and any friends who are there, too!) We have “I like to move it, move it”, “Firework”, “Beautiful Day”, “It’s a New Day”, and a few others on ours. Usually takes 2 songs max to get my living room back to neat and clean if all the kids are helping, and everyone is dancing and having fun.
    8. Go through your house with a buyer’s eye–work to get it to “showing clean”. It’s so nice like that, why not have it that way for you?
    9. If you’re not using it, consider donating/giving/bequeathing it to someone who can. Just because it has value, doesn’t mean it’s valuable to you. If you never use it, get rid of it. Showcase things you LOVE. If it was a gift that someone else loved, and you don’t, why hold on to it? Give it to someone else who would love it as it deserves.
    10. Try to get counters in the bath mostly cleaned off. No one wants to look at your toothbrush and toothpaste, and germs get on them when the toilet is flushed. Yuck. Minimize, and put the rest in the cabinet. Also makes it easier when cleaning the bathroom!

    11. Make small goals. Pat yourself on the back when you achieve even the smallest thing. Clean counters! Empty dishwasher! No spare shampoo bottles! Have a party!!!

    (Please don’t come over and look at my garage. Or my basement. I have plans for them, really…)

    • WOW! The sheer number of great tips! Thank you!

    • A clean-up playlist? I love that idea!
      Preschool etc already use little clean-up ditties, but a specific clean-up playlist for home that we can all dance around to and put us in a good mood while cleaning up together? Genius!
      I am definitely going to try this out.

  7. I love the table in this photo…where does it come from? Keep up the great work BTW !

    • We’ll dig around and see if we can find out, Amy. It’s cute — I agree!

    • Hi Amy, the photo source link is at the bottom of the post —

  8. Usually, I involve my kids in the purging process but occasionally, when things accumulate too much, I have to do the purging on their behalf. For my 7 year old daughter, a natural pack rat, this is never easy. The compromise has become that I clean out everything that I think isn’t useful to her anymore, but then she’s allowed to look through what I’m getting rid of and save up to 3 items from the pile. This weekend when I cleaned out her room, she cried and protested at first, but when it came time to save her three items from the purge pile — she only chose two and thanked me for making her room more fun to play in again.

    • Okay, I am doing this. My daughter, too, is a pack rat, and I have NEVER been able to resolve my need to declutter with her need to save (probably because I’m a reformed saver of everything myself). Thank you for sharing!

  9. My husband and I developed a lot of shortcuts :)
    We keep cleaning supplies near where they will be used- a whole basket of stuff in the bathroom closet, pledge wipes in the front room, a basket under the kitchen sink, multisurface cleanser spray bottles w paper towels stashed in every room of the house, laundry hampers in our room, nursery, changing station and bathroom to gather all the dirty clothes where they get removed.
    Makes it much easier to do mini cleanings when you have a few minutes to spare :)

    We also have a “to do” basket for mail and docs that sits on top of the filing cabinet with a generic alphabetical filing system with a big handful of blank folders to make new ones as necessary.

    Save the big sturdy boxes of diapers w the size on them and use them to collect clothes your baby has outgrown then they will be sorted by size for the next one :)
    That one was a tip from my MIL

    • That’s a great tip for storing clothes! :) And all the blogs I read say to keep cleaning supplies where you’ll be using them, and duplicate supplies as needed for duplicate rooms. That just makes a lot of sense to me – why run all the way to the back of the house for dust rags if you can just reach into the entertainment center and grab a wipe? Maybe not as “green” but you could adjust it to be that way; and then you’re saving time & energy too. :)

  10. Question 1: What are your best tips for decluttering with your kids? Specifically, how do you involve them in the process? Or do you?

    – My children are still quite young (4 and 2) so I have bins in the living room that are not offensive to my personal sense of design for an “adult” space and then I made photo labels for each one. The kids know that they can play with any of their toys, but they also know that they need to put things back where they belong. Because of the pictures it is easy for them to organize and tidy up, which they secretly enjoy being able to help with. I did the same thing for their “play food” in their play kitchen. We made a “pantry” together with IKEA boxes so they can sort their own stuff.

    – I also have the trusty kitchen timer, and I will tell them “you have x minutes to tidy up, and then we are going to do y. Anything not put away where it belongs when the timer rings is going to go away” (or to “clutter jail”). I follow through though, which I think is the key. So sometimes they dawdle and then when the timer goes off I take whatever is lying around and I do, in fact, take it away. They can earn it back, but you get the drift. I saw this post and it sort-of inspired me, though I don’t like to make everyday chores the way to earn things, as I already expect them to do those things.

    Question 2. What decluttering projects can you tackle and feel good about when you only have five minutes to spare?
    – The mail in the front hall. I have a basket in the front hall for paper recycling – so junk mail and whatnot never makes it INTO the house, because one it comes in it never seems to go back out!
    – tackling one drawer of kid clothes. Anything too small goes into the “outgrown” box.
    – cleaning out the stroller! We live in NYC so the stroller is like my car, and you know how dirty and cluttered the backseat of your car gets with kids! Stroller is the same way for city dwellers.

    Question 3: What are your best minimalist housekeeping/cleaning strategies?

    – it seems so simple, but taking off shoes at the front door! Shoes track in all kinds of nasty stuff – including dirt! – and having everyone remove them upon entering makes it much easier to keep things clean.

    – Use eco-friendly multi-purpose cleansers. I don’t need 25 different cleaners under my sink for each area of the bathroom – one all purpose one that is eco-friendly works just fine. I also use white vinegar and baking soda for tons of things, so that cuts down on the number of bottles and jars as well.

  11. Question 1: What are your best tips for decluttering with your kids? Specifically, how do you involve them in the process? Or do you?

    My daughter is only 21 months old, so there are definite limits to how she can help. The biggest contribution she makes is enjoying “cleanup time” (thank goodness for that song!) and helping with chores. I find it’s easiest for her to semi-independently tidy when there are open-top containers that are plenty big enough for her to place her toys back into.

    We use the Simplicity Parenting strategy of a “toy library” for certain categories, though that transition has to happen when she’s out of the room/house, as kids have a magic way of turning whatever is being taken away into their very favorite toy!

    Question 2. What decluttering projects can you tackle and feel good about when you only have five minutes to spare?

    Assuming she’s distracted by something else (see above), in five minutes I can definitely find toys and books that my daughter has outgrown, place them in a bag, and put that bag in the car for drop-off at the charity shop!

    With her help, we can usually get all her toys back into their bins in five minutes.

    Question 3: What are your best minimalist housekeeping/cleaning strategies?

    Keeping my house free of new purchases is the best way to keep it free from clutter. This is made easier by not getting catalogs, sending email advertisements into a “shopping folder” on my computer (in case I *do* want to buy something, I can access the folder and sale code), and plain old not shopping! I place items onto our Amazon wishlist, and check it for relevance before birthdays and holidays. It’s amazing how something that was a must-have turns into a why-bother with the passage of a little time!

  12. Question 1: What are your best tips for decluttering with your kids? Specifically, how do you involve them in the process? Or do you?

    We limit how much is bought for them, mainly becasue our house is small. We also don’t buy a lot of new toys, I shop at kids resale’s at various churches. The standards for what they can sell is high, yet the prices are good. After he no longer plays with a toy much, I either Goodwill or I save for next baby.

    Question 2. What decluttering projects can you tackle and feel good about when you only have five minutes to spare?

    Little things like a purse, wallet, sock drawer, underwear drawer, make-up bag, mail, etc.

    Question 3: What are your best minimalist housekeeping/cleaning strategies?

    I declutter anywhere from 3-4 times a year, and I stay as organized as time allows. We currently have not been buying much, and instead use free services like the library, parks, etc.


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