I am not a hyper-organized person but I must admit I do get complimented for having a home where there are no visible stacks of paperwork or piles of random things. There is no "landing strip" of mail and keys and catalogs. No, I don't have a personal assistant or live-in maid. I just created a decluttering system that actually works with — rather than against — my lazy tendencies and organizational idiosyncrasies…
First I had to reconcile several competing personality traits:
1) I abhor clutter and piles. I like my countertops to be bare and my desktops clean (Image #1).
2) I am messy beneath the surface. I am not a naturally meticulous person and lack attention to detail when it comes to filing and organizing. While my home is superficially very tidy, when you peek into the drawers and cabinets you will find my Martha Stewart facade is only skin deep. This is not to say my closets and filing cabinets are overflowing and chaotic. Things are in the right place but they don't look pretty (very little folding and no color coding).
3) I am a little lazy. I am a slacker when it comes to putting things in their correct spot at the very moment I find them. Sure, I am busy but I am also just sort of lazy. We live in a townhouse and I am unlikely to climb 2 flights of stairs to file a mortgage statement the very day it arrives in the mail.
Instead of trying to change any of these tendencies, I decided to build a system around my weaknesses.
1) I store clutter behind closed doors. Knowing I will always be a bit of a slob on the details of storage, I have a lot of cabinets with doors that close. Our files are in a closet because I know I will never keep the file boxes tidy enough to be on display. Our "landing strip" is inside a kitchen cabinet (with a door that closes) on a high shelf, where my husband diligently dumps his 800 coins, metro card and wallet.
2) "The pile drawer". I have a series of transitional "halfway houses" for the piles of things that accumulate throughout the day. I do have a pile of papers but it is inside a kitchen drawer. Instead of leaving things out on the counter I put them in the "pile drawer" (Image #2). When I get an invitation I RSVP by email on my phone and record the date in my phone's calendar. Then the invitation goes in the drawer or trash. Other mail is opened, looked over and put in the drawer for later filing. The pile drawer is also the repository for my kids' artwork and school materials. When the drawer starts to fill up or when I get in one of those manic organizing moods I get a grocery bag and lug it all upstairs for proper filing.
My logic is this: The reason people keep piles of papers on their countertops is that they fear that if they put them out of sight they will forget about them. But unless your pile is only 2 pages deep you are likely to forget about the stuff at the bottom of your stack, right? Visual reminders are no longer potent if they are lost in a crowd of clutter. You may as well put the whole stack in a drawer and call it a day.
3) Baskets. Most bills are paid online but those that must be paid by hand are paid immediately or placed in the Ballard Designs step baskets we have at the base of each staircase (Image #3). These baskets are also a point of collection for all those random things that somehow migrate downstairs throughout the day. Clothes, for example. My young kids change their outfits at least seven times per day. The unsoiled ones are placed in the basket to go upstairs and the dirty ones are put in the mini laundry basket (Image #4) on the stairs to the basement. This laundry basket is actually an old wine bucket. But because I am lazy I often don't feel like traipsing downstairs to the laundry every time a kid spills her juice. This mini laundry way station is the perfect solution for me. And because it is so tiny I am never tempted to let too much accumulate. The stairs to the basement have been equipped with some cheap shelving that holds 5 Pottery Barn baskets (Image #5), one of which is a halfway house for random toys that need to be returned to the basement playroom.
I know this isn't rocket science, but it works for me. And the best part is that I get to have a really tidy house without having to change my habits.
What is your process for harnessing clutter? Is it an endless battle or do you have a system that works with your personality quirks?
Images: Catrin Morris