A popular explanation for the clutter of one's house is the owner's lack of organizational skills. "I'd keep it cleaner, but I'm just not organized." It is perfectly fine to not enjoy organizing. To those of you out there that could take or leave labels and categories, I have good news for you: You don't have to be organized to be clean. And unfortunately, the inverse is true as well: people who are organized don't necessarily keep clean houses. In fact, people who obsess about organizing (like me) often have a harder time with minimizing and staying clean!
Change your habits for accumulation.
Monthly photos on your phone.
Every month, I go through all of the photos on my phone and delete anything I don't want to save. Once I'm down to the bare minimum I need to upload, I log onto Google Photos (where my phone albums are backed up) and download them onto my archiving hard drive. I try to be good about doing this once a month so I keep storage open on my phone and review my photos often.
A quick easy disposal regimen for mail.
As far as mail goes, I have a "deal with it now" policy that I enforce if taking action will take less than 5 minutes. Mail that I need to deal with goes on my desk keyboard so I'm forced to interact with it. Junk mail goes right in recycling. This way, there's no mail buildup from day to day in our living room or kitchen. Avoiding "for now" piles is a great way for less organized people to get through tasks without needing to categorize.
If you finish a book and don't think you'll read it again, donate it to a used bookstore or give it to a friend who may like it. If you're anything less than 100% sure you won't read it again, I urge you to donate it. Worst case, if you are overcome with a burning urge to reread this book, you can buy it again or get it for cheaper on kindle. ( I DARE YOU MIKHAIL )
When everything has a comfy place, the sensation of clutter fades.
My favorite example for this is shoes! Shoes, when in excess and without the right "organization" to seperate them, can be a huge source of stress. They're an object in which the force of habit can be very strong, and so we hide away shoes we never wear but might need at some point, and at least if you're me, wear the same 3 pairs of shoes every day. If we feel motivated to bring more shoes in the open in order to encourage wearing them more, the result can be a cluttered space full of guilt fighting habit.
Shoes are a great item to narrow down to your absolute favorite pairs for each occaision. Push comes to shove, when that party comes around, I'm going to wear that one pair of heels that don't hurt like crazy. I'm going to wear my converse, sneakers, or docs to work. I keep all of our shoes under the bed just at the edge, so they're out of reach of being tripped on but are easy to grab. These days, I can reach under the bed at a certain location and know the pair I want will be there. The distress and guilt I felt about owning a giant shoe-bag full of shoes I never wore has faded away, and I feel a comforting sense of familiarity with the 6 or so pairs of shoes that are still in my life.
Organized clutter is still clutter.
Too many books that you organize by color, genre, and type, are still too many books. You can check out my tidy trilogy post for more info on this. In addition, less stuff means less of a need for labels, file systems, folders, and containers. If you decide to discard your collection of NatGeo mags, that means you don't have to figure out a place and a system for keeping them organized.
Open spaces are easier to clean.
A giant rack full of DVDs or books is a challenge to clean or dust, since you must take out all of the books, wipe them down, wipe their surface down, and put them all back.
In Fumio Sasaki's book Goodbye Things, he talked about minimalism making cleaning three times faster.
To clean a table with a bunch of knick knacks on it, you need to:
To clean a table that has nothing on it, you need to:
This principle can be applied in many different places in the house at varying degrees. When thinking about how you want to structure your space, you will always benefit from thinking of the upkeep it will require. And less stuff will always equal less upkeep.
There are overlaps between this post and an earlier post of mine, which covered the difference between Minimizing, Organizing, and Tidying. What spurred me to write this post was thinking about the tidy material I've seen that talks about organizing like an immovable pillar of the perfect lifestyle. I think that outlook is a bit unfair to people who may not be suited for organizing, but still want to live a tidier life. The prospect of reducing the need for organization is honestly a huge relief for myself, as I used organizing as a band-aid for excess for many years. Minimalism, in my mind, is the critical thinking key to creating a space for yourself that you enjoy.
I hope y'all find these thoughts helpful! Until next time!
I'm not a procrastinator. I'm not saying it as a brag (though it was beneficial for school), I'm just stating the nature of my disposition. Putting things off makes me squirm. I love to multitask. I love to finish things early and move onto what's next. I love the satisfaction of getting all my chores out of the way so I can enjoy the rest of the day.
My proactive nature, however, is also a product of my anxiety disorder. I worry, I fret, I seek certainty, and there is a finality that is comforting in getting things done. I pester my boyfriend about throwing away empty amazon boxes. I seek to finish work all at once instead of taking what might be a healthy break to rest. I struggle to relax. If I go through a day without making, cleaning, or organizing something, I feel "lazy." I have to work hard to relax. It's something I'm trying to improve on, so that my daily happiness isn't tied so closely to how much I accomplish.
That being said, just as I'm working to integrate relaxation into my anxious disposition, I know many people seek to bring proactive habits into their own daily life. The opposite of procrastination, in my mind, is anticipation. By looking just a step further into the next moment, I believe you can better enjoy the present.
Put things back when you're done with them.
How often? All the time.
Prime candidates: shoes, coats, kitchen gear
Put them back where? If you're asking yourself this, hop on over to my Resting Space post to learn a little more about picking smart home bases for your belongings. Once you get used to putting things back when you're finished with them, you'll barely realize you're doing it. It'll become a natural part of using any object.
I very recently got rid of our shoe rack in the living room and stored all of our shoes in the ample border space under our bed. In this spot, they're just out of view but easy to grab. When I enter the house, I take off my shoes and tuck them in their space under the bed. I avoid leaving shoes out unless I'm putting them on or taking them off.
We now use the same technique for any kitchen gadgets that we don't use daily, but often. Our rice cooker has a spot in a cabinet where it is easy to reach and take down. When we're done with it, it gets washed and put away so we have room on the counters.
Reset your household.
How often? Every night for quick surfaces, weekends for vacuum/heavy cleaning
Prime candidates: fluff up pillow or blankets, clear documents/cups off desk
At the end of the day, I usually reset our living room area so it's fresh to be used tomorrow. This includes putting pillows back on the couch, smoothing out the blankets, throwing away any napkins or to-go bags, and returning glass cups to the kitchen/washing machine. This could also be done in the morning, so be sure to hone in on what time and spaces make the most sense for you. More involved surfaces like kitchen counters usually get wiped down once the dishes are put away and we're done preparing food.
The secret to making cleaning/tidying more manageable avoiding the need for day-long purges. Letting your mess build up to the point where you need a weekend and a hazmat suit will eventually build a negative association that cleaning = time consuming. This doesn't have to be the case. A quick vacuum every weekend, a wipe down at the end of the day, a weekly laundry routine — these things are so much more manageable when they're peppered into your daily life in small, easy amounts.
Prep to go before you go.
How often? Anytime you're going out.
Prime candidates: wallet, glasses, keys, food prep, clothes for the next day
Especially if your morning routine is involved or requires a degree of promptness, preparing your belongings for the next task at hand will lighten the load on your mind when that task rolls around. It's the same reason people avoid packing for a giant trip the morning of.
On Monday mornings, I put my planner and pencil case in my backpack, along with my lunchbox, sunglasses and key fob. With my belongings settled, I can sit down at my laptop and work until it's time to leave, and then I can get up and go.
Use a planner or to do list.
How often? Depends on the person. I recommend beginning and end of the day.
Like freeform analog? Blank dot grid journal.
Like structured analog? Daily/monthly planner.
Like freeform digital? Google docs, keep, or notion.
Like structured digital? Any.do and Google calendar.
You don't need to be an avid writer or journalist to benefit from a planner. Also, feel free to use what medium works for you. I legitimately use all of the above platforms for different purposes and for different reasons. None of these ways are the right way, as long as they allow you to ask these important questions:
Morning: What do you need to do today? What's coming up this week?
Evening: What did I do today? What will I need to do tomorrow? Did my plans change at all?
Live mindfully the rest of the day.
How often: As much as you can!
If you're actively trying to improve on the other things in this list, it will take an amount of conscious effort to change your habits. However, as you build these habits, I believe that you will begin to take more appreciation for your surroundings and your daily life. Putting things back, cleaning regularly, preparing your belongings for outings, and keeping a planner — these are all things you can do while living in the moment. They will reduce second-guessing, forgetfulness, and letting clutter pile up around you.
And once you've spent your time accomplishing these tasks, you can live in the present without worrying about what you need to accomplish. Focus on the tasks you've made, and if new ones come up, you can add them to your planner or list. Then, at the end of the day you can reset and figure out what comes next.
Minimizing, Organizing, and Cleaning are my triforce of Tidying.
By identifying the uniqueness of each activity,
we can better understand how to strengthen our tidying skills.
The Importance of Distinction
What matters is not thinking you're doing one when you're doing the other.
Some actions can be both!
Both Organizing and Minimizing - Going through your closet and donating old stuff.
Both Minimizing and Cleaning - Taking out the trash.
Both Organizing and Cleaning - Drying off and putting the dishes away.
How I "Tidied" For Years with No Net Change
I tidied my own room as a hobby since childhood, but my criteria for minimizing was too weak and didn't have a goal beyond "remove junk." I organized the same amount of stuff without discarding much, and I bought enough to replenish the things I threw away.
Think about the AWESOME people that commit on no-waste living. They are breaking the cycle of throwing away as much as they consume. A minimal lifestyle is a similar idea.
Minimizing works best with:
The Minimalist Step
Similar to my Spring Cleaning post, imagine you're going to tackle a room or area.
Without some consideration for minimizing, you won't increase the simplicity of your space.
Without these minimizing steps there is no net change in the simplicity of your life.
Organizing is NOT Minimizing.
Throwing things in drawers is not tidying, and it's not cleaning either.
It's hiding the problem. Putting something back to its home base (or any random obscured space) is not reducing its presence in your life. For the things you're happy to own, this is less of a problem. For things that feel heavy in your life, it can be a huge issue.
Organized junk is still junk.
Going through your pens, throwing out 2 broken ones to feel good about yourself, but keeping 40 more pens than you need is not minimizing. One person's criteria of junk may be different from the other, but be careful not to assign worth to something just because it has labels, categories, or a "dedicated collection shelf."
Minimizing is Critical Thinking
A resting space is the the natural location where a belonging is kept, either out of subconscious habit or intention. Chances are, many things you own already have their own resting space or "home base." Do you always leave your purse by the door? Your wallet at your nightstand? In this post I'm going to consider some tactics for building more tidy resting spaces for our belongings.
Perks of Tidier Resting Spaces
How to Choose a Tidy Home Base
In Use vs. Resting
Some items will have two homes: one for when they are out and in use, and one for when they're resting. This resting or storage spot doesn't have to be obscured (in a drawer, cupboard etc) but it can be. Many people use a key rack to keep their home and car keys, a great example of a resting place. Their "in use" place for keys is wherever their owner takes them.
Example: My Desk
A Tactic to Reduce Phone Usage
For the duration of this post, I will be referring to negative space interchangeably with "breathing room," as the latter term feels more positive (!) and applicable.
Focal Points in Design
Negative space is an essential concept in many different art forms, including graphic design, interior decorating, photography, film, and illustration. People are drawn to visuals that give them a clear sense of where to look. Visuals that demand attention over their surroundings are called focal points, and they are the center of activity and attention.
Terminology I Use
Some of my favorite focal points:
Inverse from negative space + focal points is "chatter" - information that has too many facets to be digested concisely.
Some of my least favorite forms of chatter:
"Breathing Room" Applied
The concepts of negative space, focal points, and chatter can come in handy to determine what we find most important when arranging our lives.
Try to think of your own examples for each as you read along!
note: When it comes to the home, the right combination of focal points and negative space can make you feel comfortable in each room. Breathing room can also be helpful when considering your closet. It is visually soothing to leave room for all of your belongings so they can rest without pressure.
Note: Especially for fashion, one person's focal point may be another person's chatter. Also, having comfortable clothing is a great way to minimize your sensory experience and focus on the "statement" of your outfit. Building up a wardrobe of clothes you feel both comfy and good in is the best way to minimize your time spent worrying about what you wear.
Note: Meditation is an obvious example of breathing space for your mind. However, giving yourself moments to daydream, regroup, or let your mind go blank can be a helpful form of mindful negative space. Journals and lists can help unload your mind onto paper and remove the burden of remembering everything.
Note: This one is very...abstract, but I feel like it works just as well as the other themes.
We tend to function better when we have only a few strong and clear focuses in our lives and we give them the space to breathe.
Let's use focal points to tidy up a room!
Go into a room and observe the path your idle eye makes. What does it stop on first? Where does it linger? Is there something that is a focal point that you'd rather not be? Or something that has faded into the background that you wish you could appreciate more?
Picking a focal point for a room or a wall can help you simplify your vision.
EX: My Office
Before and After!
Office Tidy 2: Electric Boogaloo
I'm not making this blog because I think I have it all figured out. Heck, my office was still a long way off from my ideal layout when I moved in about a year ago! It was still far off only a few weeks ago! Only recently have my tastes changed to prefer minimalism, so anyone reading this is along for the journey. Negative space is nothing new, but it was fun to figure out how to apply it to more abstract parts of my life.
Buy a sample on Kindle.
Samples are usually free, and even the first chapter will give you a good idea of whether or not the book is for you. Read the sample first. If you read through the whole thing and enjoy it, buy the book on Kindle.
Fun Fact: You don't need a kindle to read electronically! If you're happy with reading on your phone or laptop, you can access kindle books through the app or cloud reader.
Books on the To-Read List
If you don't already own it, keep it in a digital wish list.
DON'T BUY IT unless you're starting it today. If it's been in your wish list for over a year, it's time to move on.
If you own it, how long has it been waiting to be read?
If it's been waiting longer than 6 months, discard it. If you change your mind later on, buy a sample on kindle and you won't lose money.
Books You Read Once
Will you read it again?
If the answer is anything but "hell yes", donate it.
If you change your mind, once again, you can get it on Kindle.
Books You Re-Read
It's possible to consider books you return to as no-brainers to hold onto.
For a minimalist hard mode, try taking it one step further:
Regardless of what you decide, show that book some gratitude as you hold it. These are the most precious books.
Books For Appearance
Something in Goodbye Things stood out to me. Fumio Sasaki talked about how many books he kept to maintain a persona — that persona being someone who is very learned, always seeking new knowledge. You may look at yourself and think "That's not me!" That's what I thought too, at first glance. The more I looked back on the way I accumulated books in high school, the more I realized how much I kept them for my own self-importance, more than as a tool to use to grow more.
Books are incredibly difficult to discard because they are beautiful packets of information. My next challenge is figuring out to reduce further, since I know I want to, and what to do with possible negative space in my bookshelf. Good luck, everyone!