There are very few things that give you such a sense of control over your life as having a clutter-free home. I hate clutter. If you know me at all, or if you read my blog, you know that I am violently anti-clutter.
I don't just mean the sort of crazy, over-the-top, piles-on-piles of heaped-up-everything clutter you see on those television shows. I mean clutter of any sort. Visual clutter. Stuff.
Our home is very carefully clutter-free - a few favourite family photos on one shelf, a plant and a black-and-white art print on another; an interesting piece of pottery on one, a trio of art glass pieces on another. And great expanses of clean, clear, blissfully clutter-free space in between. Nothing soothes me more than looking at a carefully styled, clutter-free shelf. Visual nirvana.
I have been into so many homes where you can't even see the room for the stuff filling its corners. Dozens and dozens of teeny-tiny photos in teeny-tiny frames filling every available surface. Dried flowers in vases on coffee tables, shelving units, fireplace mantels. Heaps of books and magazines piled high. Candles - what's with the candles? - and little gifts and souvenirs and collectibles. Can you even see and enjoy your stuff when there's so much of it? And, my God, how do these people dust?
I get twitchy sitting in homes like that.
I don't know how anyone lives like that.
And it's not that we don't have stuff - we have kids. We have a lot of stuff, and we use it all regularly. But the kids' toys and games and puzzles are either in their playroom, their bedrooms, or out of sight in plain sight in the main living rooms thanks to one clever storage solution or another from Ikea or Home Sense. When we're playing it looks like a toy store exploded in our home - but when we're done it takes mere moments to tidy it all away. Nor, when it comes to the adult stuff, does it mean that we don't enjoy our stuff. We just edit very carefully which of our stuff is important to us, and if it doesn't make the cut, it's gone. Or, if it must be kept, packed away in our very handy crawlspace in the basement. The stuff that is out on display is the stuff that gives us pleasure every day.
Look around your house. Do you have too much stuff? Visual clutter?
Try this: pull everything off every surface. Group all like things together - family photos in one pile, those porcelain figurines in another, candles in another. Then cull from each pile. Be ruthless. Do you love them? Do you love all eleven of them? Do you need to see them all every day?
Maybe just one piece of art glass standing alone on the fireplace mantel will have more of an impact than eight or nine of them crammed into the china cabinet. A cluster of your absolute best-of-the-best favourite photos of the kids, the ones that make you smile every time you see them, will catch your eye more often than dozens of snapshops in random frames all over every tabletop in your home - the rest can go in an album where you can flip through them as often as you like.
Think about what you're displaying on your shelves and coffee tables. Why is it there? Is it because you love it and want to see it every day, or is it because it was a gift from someone, or part of a collection, or that's just where it landed when you brought it home? If it's there for any reason other than that you love it and want it to be something your eyes rest on every single day, it doesn't need to be there.
Once you've pared down, put things back in place one group of items at a time. Like items should stay together - group them in threes (you shouldn't have more than three left of anything) or a single item alone; don't scatter them across three different shelves or tabletops. Leave lots of space between items or goupings to keep the eye from being distracted.
And sit back and enjoy the soothing restfulness of a clutter-free home.
I have been doing a house-wide purge over the last few weeks. Although our house is about as clutter-free as any house can be, after a few years here I started to realize that we were ready for a thorough going-over. There are toys the boys have outgrown. There are clothes to be donated or tossed. There are baby items to be handed down. There are things I've shoved in cupboards moments before guests were expected that were never pulled back out. There are odds and ends that I never intended to keep that have accidentally been kept.
And after weeks of meticulously going through every cupboard and drawer and filing cabinet I'm happy to report that I now have a completely clutter-free home. Visually, there is virtually no difference. But I feel so much better as a result. Calmer. More organized. More in control - both of my home, and of my life.
How does this home de-clutter help to de-clutter my finances?
There are the obvious finds in a family home - a toy bought on clearance and not gifted years ago that will save one purchase this Christmas season, those kitchen gadgets given to us that we didn't need at the time but were about to go out and buy now, a stack of picture frames that will fit exactly the couple of photos I've been meaning to frame, those items packed away when the kids were younger and more destructive that they can handle having out now.
But there were even finds as I organized my once impeccable filing cabinet - a little bit of money available to transfer into my retirement fund by filling out a simple form I don't remember receiving, receipts I thought I'd lost and been meaning to go in to get copies of, even just the mental peace of knowing that my past tax files, which I was sure were a disaster of disorganization after being shoved in a folder after filing, are actually perfectly in order.
And after sorting through all of our financial paperwork - work, home, car, banking, insurance - I was able to sit down and set out a new plan and a new budget for myself, for my husband and I, and for our family. There aren't any major changes from the plan that existed a month ago - but this one is for sure, based on the papers and numbers I have filed away, without any niggling doubt that I've missed or forgotten something.
If you're feeling at all overwhelmed, set aside a little bit of time over the next few weeks to de-clutter your home - you'll be amazed at how big a difference it will make. You will feel organized. You will feel in control. You will feel relaxed. And your head will feel just as de-cluttered as the space around you.
Originally published as "De-clutter Your House, Your Life, Your Finances" on my weekly column at gailvazoxlade.com