Lynn Little: Spring is time for cleaning

April 02, 2010

For many people, clutter is a fact of life. But if you find yourself spending a lot of time looking for things you need but can't put your hands on, you know it's a problem that needs some attention. Another clue is the feeling that a lack of organization is causing you stress. If this sounds familiar, it's time to tackle the problem.

Removing clutter was listed as one of the top three reasons for spring cleaning in The Soap and Detergent's 2010 Spring Cleaning Survey (

In an earlier survey 18 percent of respondents that they generally keep things clean, but find that they always have a lot of clutter around the house. At the same time, nearly all respondents (98 percent) said they feel good about themselves when their home is clean. It helps to know you are not alone when it comes to clutter.

Some general decluttering principles that can help you tackle your clutter include:


o Start small. Many experts suggest starting with one room (the kitchen?), one location (the dining room table?) or even one continually occurring item (piled-up mail?).

Usually, items get piled up on any available surface because there is either no better place for them, or the place designated for them is inconveniently located or stuffed full. Using a critical eye, you need to determine the problem and design a solution that works for you.

oMake decisions. Almost always, clutter piles up because you (or someone else in your household) haven't yet made a decision on what to do with it. Nearly every family goes through this on a daily basis: Should we keep this catalog? Has everyone read today's (or yesterday's or last Sunday's) newspaper? Will I wear this sweater next winter? Will we ever use Mom's old fondue set?

According to Georgene Lockwood, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Living," you can expect that "Stuff tends to stay where it lands" and "Stuff expands to fit the space available."

Sometimes, it's only when the unexpected guest drops in, or the available space becomes filled to the brim, do we look around and realize that our "stuff" has become clutter. The secret is to continually make decisions on what to do with items.

o Design organizing systems to work for you. Kathy Waddill, the author of "The Organizing Sourcebook," says one of the strategies of "reasonably organized people" is that they adopt systems to fit their lives. Consider: Even if you have "a place for everything," if somehow it's too difficult to put everything in its place, it's not going to get to that place any time soon. So make sure you have workable storage spaces and a system that's easy for you and your family to adopt.

It's never easy to adopt new habits. But conquering clutter can have payoffs beside a nicer-looking home. You'll be able to find things more quickly, clean surfaces more easily, and you may even save money by not buying stuff today that can easily become clutter tomorrow.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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