My On-Again, Off-Again Relationship with Decluttering and Tidying Up

A black metal filing cabinet with papers on top and folders learning against each side
My filing cabinet, surrounded by papers that have yet to be filed.

Yesterday, I spent some time tidying up my living room.  I hadn’t planned to spend my morning that way, but I came downstairs and saw the ever-growing pile of papers on the table that serves as a catch-all, and I just couldn’t bear to look at it anymore.  This is usually how cleaning goes for me.  I have no set schedule for it, no weekly cleaning routine; it happens in bursts when I feel the urge.

I’ll be the first to admit that my house is not the cleanest.  It’s also not the messiest.  It’s perfectly livable, but definitely lived-in.  Certain zones of my house are always neat and tidy.  Other zones always seem to collect miscellany, the things for which I haven’t yet found a permanent spot or that I just haven’t taken the time to put away.

I love the idea of minimalism, but I am definitely not a minimalist.  I’ve tried to pare down my belongings in recent years, but I’ve always had a hard time getting rid of things that are useful.  It just seems wasteful to me.  This was one of my biggest criticisms of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Donate or trash something just because it doesn’t immediately bring me joy?  That’s ridiculous – I might need it someday!  Or I might want it or be able to use it rather than spending my hard-earned money to buy something new in its place.  As a result of this attitude, I probably hold onto things longer than I should, which leads to the need for greater storage and organization.  This is one aspect of minimalism I totally get: having a lot of stuff can be a real burden, in terms of time and money.

I did borrow some of Kondo’s organizing advice, such as how to fold socks and clothes in a dresser drawer and how to store handbags.  I’ve maintained these changes since I read the book about a year and a half ago, and they’ve been beneficial.  Other suggestions, though, just don’t work that well for me.  I understand the concept of “a place for everything and everything in its place,” and I know that if I just put things in their place immediately and without fail, I won’t have to spend time cleaning up clutter later.  And yet, I don’t do it.  I have an old-school filing cabinet with alphabetized Pendaflex folders for storing bills, financial documents, medical records, and other important papers, but rather than putting the papers in the folders as soon as I finish opening the mail, I put them on a pile on the table and pledge to deal with them later.  It’s a bad habit I just can’t seem to break, despite reading plenty of self-help books like David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

With a kid on the way, and the knowledge that a lot more stuff will probably be making its way into my home soon, I feel like I should get serious about keeping my own belongings organized and in their proper places.  But while spending an occasional Saturday morning straightening up a room can be therapeutic, I don’t want to dedicate regular chunks of time to the task.  So I’ll ask you, friends:  What are your best tips for getting and staying organized?  If you aren’t a naturally neat and tidy person, what techniques have helped you to change your ways?  Comment below with your advice.

3 thoughts on “My On-Again, Off-Again Relationship with Decluttering and Tidying Up

  1. Full disclosure, I am typing this while looking at a stack of mail I need to open, ha. BUT. I try to spend 10 minutes at the end of the day quickly straightening my space. It doesn’t clean my house but the quick “once over” helps from letting things pile up too much so that they feel daunting to deal with.

  2. For mail, I try to analyze it at the mailbox before going inside, I sometimes even open it while standing at the mailbox (as long as it isn’t raining) and then I throw away the junk in the outside trash can before I enter the house. It cuts down on the junk mail pile. I also use the Marie Kondo method of folding clothes, I love it! Another thing that I did in the kitchen was pack up all but 3 of each dish. I only kept 3 plates, 3 bowls, 3 forks, 3 spoons, 3 knives, I packed up most of my cups (I kept more than 3 of those out because I ran out of space where I packed them up). I don’t have a dishwasher so the sink and counters were getting insanely full of dirty dishes before I ran out of plates and would finally break down and do the dishes (I know, gross, I am gross). Now I have to do the dishes pretty much every time I eat if I want to have clean dishes next time I eat. It doesn’t let me get lazy.

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