Clear Out the Clutter First!

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Low-Maintenance Living

Before you pick up a hammer or draw up a single floor plan, there is one important thing you must remember: The first rule of house work is prevent it. Clutter is one of the greatest enemies of efficiency and stealers of time.

Junk makes every job harder and makes cleaning take forever. Any project will be slowed, dampened, and diluted if you constantly have to fight your way to it through a mountain of clutter. First— de-clutter.

About half of housework is caused by junk, litter, and clutter—having things around that we don’t need and never use. We’re a nation of junkers, we have mounds and rooms and drawers and bookcases and trunks and closets and attics and basements and sheds full of stuff we don’t use or need. But we keep it. and it ends up keeping us in perpetual motion, cleaning and rearranging it and working to pay for it and maintain it.

If you want to take a giant step toward reducing cleaning and maintenance and cutting down on arguments and utility bills, not to mention insurance costs ...then do a simple thing called de-cluttering. Clean out all the excess and unwanted, then chuck it.

When it’s gone, so is the need to clean and maintain it. Only then will you really know where to start building and changing things to create your maintenance-free house.

You can hardly overestimate the importance of decluttering. If you had a totally maintenance-free house and you loaded it with clutter, it wouldn’t be maintenance-free any more.

Too much decoration on the walls is clutter, too many ornaments sitting on the fireplace mantle is clutter. Clutter is having scads of gadgets and appliances (kitchens are very prone to this) that you must store and keep track of. Clutter is basically having too much of anything. Too much yard, too many clothes, too many toys, too many couches, chairs, or tables, too many windows, walls, light fixtures, sinks, etc. You can even have too many tools, many that just do one very specific thing; you could spend all your time hauling and taking care of your tools and never do anything with them.

Before you start building it in—toss some of it out!

Laura says her eyes were opened the summer she lived in a camp trailer with her two small children. To fit into the trailer and have room to function, she realized she’d have to eliminate a few “conveniences” the family was used to. So she went through the kitchen cupboards and faced the fact that in the five years she’d been married, she’d only made muffins once and although “everyone” has a set of muffin tins she really didn’t need to shuffle them around in that small space.

“I also took only a week’s worth of clothes for everyone -- you wash every week anyway! We didn’t miss the others at all,” Laura says. “I selected only the books we really used and what a difference! The bookshelf had fifteen books instead of a hundred. I had the kids pick their favorite toys and games—and at the end of the day we only picked ten up in stead of an entire room full and they were just as happy.” She also eliminated quite a few other things and discovered she was just as well off without them—with less junk to shuffle and thus more time.

Often eliminating, reducing, or removing something is the best, cheapest, and easiest way to go. Almost everyone has too many things, more furniture and junk (and sometimes even room) than they need. Because it’s there it has to be cleaned, whether they use it or not. How many times have you gone into a home, noticed a huge piano, and asked who plays the piano? There is silence ... then someone finally says “No one,” or “Sue used to and she’s hoping to get back to it someday,” or “We hope maybe one of the children will.” In the meantime it takes up prime space and costs time and money.

Don’t think that just because you don’t have junk the size of a grand piano you don’t have to declutter. What about all those newspapers and magazines you’re saving for the sake of one recipe or that guide to the best restaurants in Bangkok? Cut out the article you want and trash the rest. Or that collection of bottle caps you started when you were eleven? Pick your favorites, mount them in a display for the game room, and you’ll have the memories without the mess. You’re saving that battered old bathroom faucet because you might need the washers someday? Take out the washers and throw out the rest of it.

Yes, there should be a place in your house for everything you do need and use (or desperately want to keep, even if you don’t use it), because if there’s a place for everything, things stay neater, cleaning is easier, and you don’t spend a lot of time chasing lost things. It’s the rest of the stuff that you want to get rid of, rather than find or create a place for.

Declutter the Decorations, Too


It takes a lot of doing to clean a table cluttered with picture frames, books, vases, and knick-knacks. You have to pick up each little picture frame to dust it. You have many more places for dust to collect and cobwebs to form, and nothing is shown off to its best advantage. If every table in your house has a swarm of curios on it, It may take one morning a week just to dust them all.


With the small photos combined in one or two larger frames the lamp suspended, and the books on a suspended shelf you can dust the tabletop with a few quick swipes and be done with it You don’t have to worry about some thing getting knocked over every time you touch the table.


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