My Grandma Taught Me This Simple Decluttering Rule and It Changed My Life Deeply

published Dec 1, 2022
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Up until age 88, you could find my Greece-born grandmother always carrying something if she was walking around. A cup from another room. A bit of trash she was taking out from a small trash can in the bathroom. A pencil that ended up on a kitchen counter. 

She had one rule that serves me well today, as a mom of four wild kids under age 7 — decluttering doesn’t happen all at once, it happens every time you switch rooms

In a minute, I’ll head to the kitchen for some water. I’ll bring with me a dog toy that’s been stuck in my office to drop in the toy bin along the way and an old mug that shouldn’t be on my desk anymore. When I head back from the kitchen, I’ll throw the dirty dish towel in the laundry room and a kid’s misplaced Pokémon card in the playroom. Never leaving a room empty-handed is a tiny way I carry my grandmother’s spirit with me around my home.

My kids have picked up on this habit, a bit scared to be seen moving from one room to the next without something in their hands. “Take that football jersey up with you,” I’ll tell them, as they dart around the house. I hope that instilling this will prevent clutter now and in the future for them and create a subconscious habit that they just do naturally (I’m hoping their future spouses and kids will appreciate it too).

To keep my home relatively organized, I simply grab the nearest object in any room that doesn’t belong before moving somewhere else. When I’m in the laundry room, I grab an extra roll of toilet paper for the bathroom. In the bathroom, I grab a dirty towel that needs to make its way to the laundry room. Sometimes, I use baskets at the openings of various rooms to make it easier to quickly put them where they are headed (a variation of the rule that I’m sure has my grandmother tsk-tsking from above because then I have to put the basket away). 

The results are slow but transformative to crowded spaces. By the end of the work day, the island is clear, not filled with stuff that should be in other places. By the time I leave my desk, it’s ready for the next day of work. The system has helped my laundry routine immensely. Instead of letting huge dirty clothes baskets pile up, I grab a few dirty clothes each morning and have my kids do the same, to throw right in the washer. 

The bigger lesson my kids and I are learning along the way is that decluttering and maintaining a home isn’t this massive undertaking. It’s not Kondo-ing a whole room, taking a whole Saturday to reset, or spending hours on household tasks. Instead, it’s 10 seconds here, and 30 seconds there, that add up to peace of mind and a sanctuary to come home to, despite the number of people living and working here. And for that tiny but meaningful tip, I have my grandmother to thank.