7 Things That Really Clutter Your Home, According to a Pro Organizer
When I’m not writing, I’m organizing. I work as an organizing assistant for The Modern Minimalist in Portland, Oregon, to bring calm into people’s lives through holistic organizing systems. It’s a privilege to work one-on-one with people as they sort through their lives by sorting through their things. I’m always struck by how organizing is really not about aesthetically pleasing, picture-perfect homes — it’s about cultivating ease in your day-to-day life when possible (because most things are out of your control). Throughout my time with clients, I’ve learned a thing or two about what some people don’t declutter, even when the items themselves are unneeded.
Here are seven items that appear like clockwork, whether I’m organizing a closet, a pantry, or an entire home.
Backup Food Items Interspersed with Everyday Pantry Goods
I’m a big believer in shopping in bulk and creating zones in the pantry so that those extra food items aren’t cluttering the area I need to access my go-to items. I’ll use a personal example: I drink a lot of oat milk. In coffee, smoothies, and cereal, oat milk is my friend. That’s why I buy a six-pack of shelf-stable oat milk from Costco. I don’t, however, keep my backup boxes on the same shelf as my pasta and canned goods. Instead, I have a dedicated shelf for my backup items: flour, oat milk, and condiments. I think of this shelf as my version of a “cellar” where I store items until I need them. This distinction keeps my everyday shelves organized.
A Surplus Number of Plastic and Paper Goods
In most kitchens I’ve encountered, people have too many paper and plastic goods. It’s as if they are about to host a huge party at all times. I understand that it would be wasteful to throw away these items just because they are taking up too much space. Instead, my suggestion is to simply buy less. If there’s an event for which you need paper or plastic plates and utensils, buy the amount needed for the event. Otherwise, these items languish in your pantry or cabinets, occupying much-needed space.
Batteries are kept in a strange array of areas: the utility drawers, pantry, garage, and/or closet. When I encounter a stockpile of batteries, I ask my clients if the batteries are, in fact, usable or if they are dead. Most do not know. Here are my rules for batteries: first, keep them in one spot in your home (I use a shelf in my garage, but depending on your home, you could use a drawer or cabinet shelf). Not only is this helpful in terms of organizing, but also consider how frustrating it is when that smoke alarm chirps in the middle of the night, requesting a battery change, and you can’t remember where to find them. And second, separate new and dead batteries. When your dead battery container is full, take it to your nearest battery recycler. If you want to simplify your battery situation, consider investing in rechargeable batteries like these from Amazon.
Toys Kids Have Grown Out Of (or Never Liked in the First Place)
When I first became a parent, I was the type that wrote, “No gifts, please,” at the bottom of birthday invitations. But as I learned to let things go, our toy collection inevitably grew. Grandparents, friends, hand-me-downs, and the good old bribery toy — there’s no one singular culprit. I know the toys my kids love (and will return to), the ones they will use once a year, as well as the ones they are tired of, too big for, or simply have no interest in. When organizing homes, I often spot these neglected toys taking up valuable space. One trick that’s worked for my household is frequent editing of toys. Every season, I sit down with my kids and pull out all their toys. We go through each, and they decide: Do I still play with this? For toys that are high-quality, we pass them along to younger friends or make thoughtful donations. Another bonus is this gives me a chance to connect with my kids about what is currently sparking their interest (goodbye, dolls; hello, microscope).
I cannot imagine my life without books. They are, for me, the hardest items to declutter because I love returning to books I’ve read, and I value having a text-rich home for my kids. I also know, however, that some books are taking up too much space on our shelves. These are the books I’ll never read again, no longer need, or haven’t touched even years later. I’m not alone. Most clients I work with have books in multiple areas throughout the home. Fad-diet cookbooks, kids’ books, self-help books, manuals. My number one suggestion is to stop buying books. I know! This is radical. But embracing the library has changed my book-buying habits for the better. Whether you go to the brick-and-mortar library (which is a thrill in itself) or use free mobile apps like Libby to read on an e-reader, borrowing books means the books that you own are the ones you need close by at all times. If I read a book through the library and love it so much, I buy it. That way, I can lend it to friends, share it with my family, or re-read it at leisure.
Many homes, including mine, have furniture pieces that seem to exist simply to occupy space. The corner plant stands without a plant, the errant shelf, and the overstuffed chair in the spare bedroom. When I ask clients how a piece of furniture makes them feel, they often say it was given to them, they got it for a deal, or they just wanted to fill the space. Removing useless furniture doesn’t make a home sparse — it simply gives a home room to breathe.
Too Much Tupperware
Lurking in drawers, shoved into cabinets, and toppling over shelves, food storage containers overtake our kitchens. Many of these are past their prime, with missing lids, stained surfaces, and questionable smells. This year, I gave myself a gift: a brand-new set of glass Pyrex containers. They all have lids, and they fit into one drawer. Having fewer containers means I have to address my leftover situation more frequently, which in turn means less spoiled food.
Embracing less doesn’t mean you have to get rid of everything. It doesn’t mean your home has to look like a showroom. It means you eliminate the items that aren’t serving a function or providing joy so you can make room for more light and ease.