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Decluttering Tips: Prevent Clutter from Returning

organized bookshelf

Today I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Swap. You’ll find me posting over at Live Renewed about Natural Ways to Repel Bugs, Ants, and Insects this Summer, and I’m excited to welcome Kelsey from Mrs. Dexter to I Dream of Clean:

According to organizing guru Peter Walsh

“The moment a flat surface in your home gets covered in clutter, you’ve lost the battle!”

If that’s the case, the main floor of my house is a war zone and I am on the losing team.

When my husband and I moved into our condo a year and a half ago, we were thrilled with all the storage our new home offered. We have a multitude of closets and almost triple the square footage of the apartment where we lived when we were first married. Unfortunately, almost none of the storage space is on the main floor. When we come in the door after work, our junk comes with us, hits a flat surface, and stays there, attracting more junk.

As a person with an intense dislike of clutter and no good habits to support that preference, I knew I’d have to be strategic about clearing the clutter for good. Picking up the mess one more time was not going to be effective in the long run. Below, I’ll share the steps I took to declutter our main living area and to prevent the clutter from coming back. But first, get acquainted with my four worst clutter hot spots.

The Piano

Messy Piano

The Bookshelf

messy bookshelf

The Kitchen Table

messy kitchen table

The Bar

messy bar

See? If I can declutter that mess, you can declutter yours! Here’s my advice on how to clear clutter for good.

Take Stock of the Mess

As I began to sift through the piles all over my flat surfaces, I realized that the majority of the junk lying around fell into four categories:

  1. junk mail
  2. books we’re reading
  3. things that aren’t stored on the main floor
  4. computers and related accessories.

Rearrange the Furniture

Originally, the piano was in the main hallway on our first floor. It invaded walking space and made the room seem crowded. It was also right where we wanted to set our mail, books, and other belongings when we came in the door. Since no part of the piano’s purpose is storage, we got rid of a chair in our living room and moved the piano to a nook by the fire place.

clean piano

The bookshelf was originally next to the kitchen table, which made the eating area crowded. We moved the bookshelf, which is not as deep as the piano, to the main hallway.

Identify Each Area’s Purpose

Just as I realized that the piano’s purpose was not storage, I realized that I did not want my kitchen table to double as office space (which it has been doing for two months because of an ongoing organization project upstairs) or the bar between my kitchen and dining area to function as a place to put (and leave) junk while we’re eating at the table. We assigned the bookshelf the double purpose of storage and being pretty.

Plan to Prevent Clutter

I have always thought that having a paper shredder downstairs to handle junk mail immediately was a great idea, but I never knew where to put mine. There aren’t a lot of practically placed outlets on my main floor, so I strapped my shredder to a bar stool and my husband cut a cardboard box to fit underneath. It’s not pretty, and I don’t really want company to have to look at it, but it will be so much easier to hide in the closet than the piles of junk mail will be to process before company arrives.

keep mail organized by shredding junk

My husband also built me a box for incoming and outgoing mail. I’m going to spray paint it a fun color. I’m thinking teal.

organized mail

I repurposed a basket to hold library books or books we’re currently reading. I decided to store my nice dishes in a closet upstairs. This cleared out space for my cookbooks, which meant that we could move the shelves that were holding them (not pictured) upstairs.

organized bookshelf

To take care of things that really belong upstairs, I’ll set a basket at the bottom of the stairs, throw things in it that I’m too lazy to walk up the stairs at that moment, and take the basket up whenever I’m heading upstairs for another reason.

Turn Clutter Hot Spots into Home Decor Hot Spots

To reduce the temptation to pile books and papers on the kitchen table, I set each place at the table with my nice stoneware and put a few of my favorite decorative items in the middle of the table. We probably won’t eat off these dishes since I imagine they’ll collect a lot of dust, but clearing them off the table will be much quicker and cleaner than clearing away haphazard junk each evening.

table in kitchen

To keep the bar between the kitchen and eating area clear, I moved my fruit bowl from the kitchen counter to the bar. I set the silver tray in the middle of the bar, which holds a pitcher and a mortar and pestle, which are pretty, although seldom used. Since I seem to dig trivets, my adorable owl salt and pepper shakers, and silverware out of cabinets and drawers every night at dinner, I decided to store them out in the open in a pretty way. The silverware is in repurposed pasta sauce jars.

kitchen bar

Communicate with Your Spouse or Roommates

A few weeks ago, I got rid of some clutter in my kitchen and moved the toaster from the bottom cabinet up to a cabinet above the sink. This resulted in my husband and our basement-dwelling housemate sending frantic texts asking if I knew where the toaster had gone. It’s important to communicate with the people you live with about what they need and want out of a space and about the new protocol for keeping the area junk-free. If you’re lucky like me, when you communicate with your husband about dealing with junk mail, he’ll not only comply, but help you find the tools you need to implement your new plan.

What area of your home needs the most organization?


Kelsey is a wife and high school ESL teacher. She enjoys baking, reading, snuggling with sleepy puppies, and photography, which she posts on rocketsteady photoblog. She blogs about her pursuit of debt freedom, crossing items off her 30 Before 30 list, and ethical, healthy eating at Mrs. Dexter.

Visit Life…Your Way to see all of the Ultimate Blog Swap participants! And, if you’d like to guest post in I Dream of Clean, view the guidelines here.

  • Sarah @ Loved Like the Church May 24, 2011, 8:55 am

    I think the first thing my husband said when we moved into our new house was “don’t put anything on the dressers”. He hates having nik-naks on the dressers in our bedroom because it feels too cluttered for him. We have a few things {wedding picture and NEW YORK sign} but I try to keep it clear, so that our bedroom stays a place of retreat and calm.

  • Patty May 24, 2011, 7:35 pm

    I love the feeling on no clutter, but my husband hates open spaces and prefers STUFF around him. When I clean things off and declutter, it just makes him anxious. I think I am fighting a losing battle heh. I like the idea of setting the table, but with the table in the kitchen and limited counter space, I tend to use the table as a prep space. I do have pretty placemats and a stacked collection of my colorful glass dishes and bowls as a centerpiece. I think I need to switch out placemats weekly though because everyone else who lives here seems to get used to them being there and just start putting stuff on the table after a few days.

  • Olivia May 24, 2011, 8:25 pm

    Great post! My clutter spots are all in cabinets, closets, and drawers! Everything looks fine, but don’t dare open anything when there’s company! I REALLY need to de-clutter all my hiding spots!

  • ashley April 9, 2012, 8:15 pm

    To make the box for the shredder look better you could find a cute wrapping paper or wall paper and just cover it. I also read a good post on bowlfulloflemons about a mail Center for all your paper cutter :) I really like the setting the table idea btw! Once I get organized I plan to purchase new items that ill value and want to keep cleanly and displayed and throw out or donate my old stuff. Start fresh, ya know.