The Piles of Clutter: how to deal

Sometimes my coaching clients ask for help with minimalism. This is a road I know well and I could talk about it all day.

One hot topic is PILES OF CLUTTER.


We might think that decluttering will eliminate all the clutter from our lives. But when we remove the excess we are still left with stuff we use, often. Life is still lived in our home. Decluttering won’t solve our problem of having piles of clutter but it will greatly reduce the amount of clutter we have to manage.



I still have piles of stuff in my home and we have been decluttering for about five years. When life with three kids kicks into a routine there seems to be this constant inflow/outflow of papers and toys and clothes and half-eaten apples. When you come to my house there will be various stages of ‘flow’ with these piles of clutter as I manage my way through them on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. 



We might also think that more storage will eliminate the piles of clutter. Our initial reaction to a pile of clutter is often: I shouldn’t have clutter, I should have clear and clean counters and corners of the room shouldn’t be used for storing crap, I need more storage. In my experience, needing more storage should be our last resort in how we manage our stuff. [RELATED: 5 common home organization mistakes you might be making]


I will share with you some ways I approach piles of stuff (and a shameless viewing of my piles of clutter, in real-time, for the sake of transparency):


1. Find the hotspots.

Where is your clutter? Most of us have a routine of what we do with the stuff. We might find we are consistent about what junk we put where.

I find that I put the same items in the same places: on the fridge, on the shelf by the door, on the fireplace mantle, on the counter, etc.

Also, when I look in my living area I see that I am creating piles of like items: papers, toys, other people’s dishes, other people’s kid’s socks, sunscreen bottles, library books etc.

If you look around, identify your hot spots. If you are having trouble seeing these spots, then take a photo of your place in the morning then look at the photo end of the night to see what is visual clutter. Often we become desensitized to the mess in our space and we need some fresh eyes.

2. Bring it all together.

Every few weeks I take ALL THE STUFF from the various parts of the living area and put it on the table.  This clears out the counters, top of the fridge, shelves, etc.

Then I grab some extra bins and sort things into whatever piles I need: recycle, garbage, put in the bedroom, put in office, put in the playroom, etc.

This lets me get everything addressed all at once. I usually blast some music and I can get it done in like 20 minutes max.

3. Give things a home that makes sense 

The piles of clutter can exist for many reasons. Looking at the stuff in front of you is a time to examine why it became a pile of clutter in the first place. This is a chance to really evaluate your need for more storage.

Perhaps you should declutter it and not own it anymore

(if you don’t own it, you don’t have to worry about managing it anymore) Can you throw this away/recycle/thrift? Would you buy it again if you didn’t own it?

Perhaps it needs to live in another place in your home that would be more appropriate.

If it isn’t working to keep the scissors downstairs in the office because you always use them in the kitchen, then make a new home for them in the kitchen! Put things where they are handy.

Perhaps you need a system for getting it back to its home.

This is the cause of most of my clutter – I just don’t put it away where it goes. It has a spot to live but it ends up on my counter instead.

So I can ask, what kind of system would make this easier for me to manage. I read a post about handling your clutter with a ‘one-touch’ rule, once you touch it, put it back to the place it needs to go. I like this, I try to do it. But it doesn’t always happen. If I don’t deal with it that moment, then I need to have another system to HANDLE IT (if you just channelled Olivia Pope right there, welcome to my level!) read on…

4. Make a system to deal with the piles of clutter

We already have a system for how we handle our ‘stuff’: we make a big pile of it and let it grow until it’s a pain in the butt. So let’s make a better system, on purpose.

This will take some trial and error. But here are some systems that work for me:

PAPER – I sort through the stack of papers and keep things that need filing and attention in the bin on the counter (it looks pretty and kinda like I have my life together). Then when I have time I bring out that bin and HANDLE IT (with a big bowl of popcorn and maybe if I’m feeling like I want to stand in the sun, a glass of red #oliviapope)

SOCKS – I make any kids who are visiting go through the pile of random socks and claim theirs, then I keep the rest at the front door lost and found for parents to look through later (yes, I have a lost and found at my home)

BOOKS – I try to keep library books on a separate shelf so I can return them sooner (because I’m funding a portion of local librarian employment in overdue fees)

TOYS – I keep kids toys in a big bin in the living room and then they go through it when it’s full and put everything away where it belongs. (I will also throw out anything I come across that is broken or missing pieces, etc.)

MONTHLY DECLUTTER – I will do a big declutter about once a month of the living space where piles happen to accumulate

PUT LIKE WITH LIKE – I realize now that putting like-items into a pile is one way to better manage it. Rather than a laundry basket full of random items stored in the corner (which I used to do) now I try to at least sort the piles of clutter in the first place.

5. Filter it before it comes in

One way of preventing piles of clutter is to stop it from even entering your home.

Throw flyers in the recycling at the post office. Switch to paper bills/notices. Ask visiting children to put their socks in their shoes when they come in (because WHY does every kid hate socks?). Make sure you wash your friend’s salad bowl and give it back to here at the end of the potluck. 

6. Don’t worry so much

Piles of clutter tell are calling for your attention. In fact, they are tolerations for many people (little stressors).

I think we would all love to look at our living space and see the counters empty and shelves nicely styled – but that isn’t real life (especially with kids!). So if you have piles of clutter, try to go through it at a pace that works for you. Try out different systems of managing it. Know that you can take control of this, but if you can’t get to it, then don’t feel guilty or lazy.

In some cases, we can swoop in and supermom our home with a clean sweep and new organizing systems. BUT in some cases, we just can’t get on top of everything in one day and have a clutter-free home. BUT We can shift our thinking from ‘it shouldn’t be like this’ to ‘it is like this, it is ok, I can manage this over time’. 

Then spend your time paying attention to WHAT IS HAPPENING. As you notice more of what TYPES of things become clutter for you, and how your HABITS might make clutter more often, and how you are using your SPACE to store your things – then you can problem solve and try new solutions to deal with them. 



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