I Discovered a Secret Source of Clutter in My Home — Here’s How I Fixed It

published May 7, 2023
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

My family and I moved almost a year ago, and while there are still several unpacked boxes in the attic (help!), our main living areas are pretty much set up. But that doesn’t mean they’re done. It takes a long time of living in a space and experiencing how you’ll use it to determine the actual best place and way for something to be stored. Recently, I’ve noticed something in how we’ve stored things that are not only making our daily life more complicated, but also contributing to clutter. 

Perhaps the most well-known motto for maintaining an organized home is “a place for everything and everything in its place.” This, however, is easier said than done. Some items like pots and pans, for instance, are easy to find a place for; it makes the most sense to store them near the stove so you don’t have to carry those heavy items across the kitchen. Other items, though, aren’t so easy to place. And it turns out that the “place for everything and everything in its place” advice only works when there’s only one specific place for something.

What’s been happening in our house is that several categories of items have more than one place. We don’t know where to put these things because there’s more than one option. Decision stress often kicks in and these items get left out, contributing to the clutter in several areas of the home. 

For example, we have three doors that are regularly used to go in and out of the house: our front door, our garage, and the door to the backyard. Since we don’t wear shoes in the house, shoes get taken off at either of these three spots, with the result that we never know where to find the pair we’re looking for. Sometimes I have to dig through the basket by the porch door as well as the shoe rack by the back door and the front door to find my daughter’s shoes. This does not contribute to peaceful mornings, that’s for sure. On top of this, because shoes get taken off in three different places, even though I have storage spots in all of them, shoes get left out in all three areas. There is shoe clutter everywhere. 

Even in smaller spaces that have a single entrance, the same circumstance may be at play. It could also occur in any kitchen, big or small. For ours, it’s going on with the drawers that contain our small cooking tools. Items like the strawberry huller and chip clips could reasonably be in one of three different drawers. The person looking for an item is regularly frustrated, and the person putting items away often leaves these items out because they’re unsure where to put them. 

Our way forward with this issue is clearly defining what goes where. We either refine the subcategory of items and separate their “place” that way, or we decide on one definitive location for a particular type of item. So slip-on shoes can go in the shoe basket by the back door, and less frequently used shoes (like dressier sandals, for instance) can go in the front hall shoe cabinets. The back door shoe cabinet is reserved for the most frequently worn shoes. 

Similarly, our kitchen tool drawer categories can also be specified. One drawer, the one that’s farther away from our food prep counter, can hold things we use less frequently, like the ice cream scoop and pizza cutter, while the one that’s right near our food prep area can hold the tools that are used more often, such as the lemon squeezer and the garlic press. 

Having a place for everything works, but only when the place is very clearly defined so that there’s only one place for everything. This way, not only can you find what you need when you need it (which is one of the key reasons to organize in the first place!), but you also prevent items from being left out because you don’t know where to put them. Focusing on this small detail has surprisingly large rewards: a house with far less clutter that runs more smoothly.