Simple Habits for a Clutter Free Home

I’ve moved! You can now follow along with my adventures at my new blog, Ennaree

www.ennaree.com


It’s no secret: I’m a messy person. Actually, I spent the first twenty-something years of my life ignoring that fact. But now that I share my space with someone else full time, I’ve realized that it is, in fact, me.

The most ironic part of it is that I am the first person to be bothered by a messy home. I’ve scoured the internet for tips on how to keep things tidy (for untidy people like me), and I’ve been slowly piecing together some good habits to help keep me sane.

My best practices for a clutter-free home

Obviously, the first and foremost tip I can give is to keep a simple home. If you’re reading this on my blog, you probably could have guessed that. But let’s talk about less conventional rules and habits that I’ve developed to help keep our tiny apartment clean!

 Treat the countertop as sacred space

This one is new-to-me, and actually works so well for me that it prompted me to write this post with other tips. Make it a rule that no dirty dish ever graces your countertop.

We’ve all been there (maybe): all of the dirty dishes piling up on one side of the sink, and then slowly taking over other available counter space. This new rule makes it so that every single dirty dish you bring to the kitchen goes straight into the sink. Is the sink too full? Then it’s time to either wash the dishes or load them into the dishwasher. Or, you can get in the habit of clearing it first thing in the morning or right before bed.

It works especially well for me since it makes the dishes more manageable if I handle them in smaller batches.

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 Make the bed

This one provides an instant boost. I’ve always known that my day seems a little brighter when I make my bed, but it’s not always top-of-mind.

It’s not just me, either: making your bed really can have a huge impact on your day.

Open the blinds

We try to keep as much light out at night, but during the day it’s essential for me to have my curtains pulled open. Natural light is just so pleasant.

Plus, by opening the curtains and blinds, I can more easily see dust. It sounds gross, but it’s way more motivating to clean when I can see the problem areas easily.

Everything gets a home

Yes, everything. If it’s beautiful and you use it often, set it out so that it can add to your decor. If it’s terribly ugly and you never use it…wait why do you have it?

Designate space in your cupboards for things like cleaning supplies or ugly (but useful) cookware. You might even go so far as to giving different groups of spices different homes on the spice rack – just start developing the habit of putting them right back where they belong when you are done.

I even give library books space on my nightstand or bookshelf so that they don’t just float around the apartment haphazardly. It also makes me feel super cool to have interesting books on my shelves – without having to pay for them.

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Make it a pleasurable experience

Find ways to make your cleaning habits more enjoyable. Have dusting rags in your favorite color, pick a wonderful scent for your cleaning product, splurge on durable and reliable tools to help you clean.

Right now, our dustpan is held together by masking tape and it makes me cringe every time I have to use it. So in the near future, I’ll be getting a dust pan that won’t snap immediately when I use it. We also splurged on a Swiffer WetJet and we ended up using it way more often than the shoddy mop we had initially purchased.

Basically, don’t skimp on tools if the better version will make cleaning more pleasurable (or at least more tolerable).

And now, for something completely different

This one is going to come as a bit of a surprise. While it’s not a regular habit, I do think there’s something to it for those of us who find our homes regularly cluttered: redecorate.

 

Don’t be afraid to switch things up, add things or remove things to make your space feel more intentional. It’s okay to style a bookshelf with pretty things that bring you joy if that means you keep other random (and unhappy) clutter from gathering there.

If you’re not intentional with your space, your things (no matter how few you have) will start to take control. I’ve been working on being more purposeful in my design and layout of the apartment, and that’s been a huge help in managing the flow of “stuff” through our home.

Are you messy like me? What are your favorite cleaning or decluttering habits?

 

The Dusting Rule for a Simple Home

Dusting. It’s something we all do at least once a year or so when we finally see how gross the top of our bookshelves are.

Or, if you’re like me and live in a particularly dust-prone apartment, you just try to put it off until company comes.

Having to dust frequently is the other reason why I choose to keep surfaces to a minimum, second to my habit of filling them up as soon as they are clutter-free. Any surface I don’t use on a regular basis gets covered in a nice little film of bunny fluff and whatever else it is that is constantly floating around our apartment.

But we are settling in to our apartment for the long haul, and I feel like it’s time to slowly and intentionally put some good thought into styling our space. The internet is filled with cute bar carts and bookshelves that are just as filled with cute trinkets and decor, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to take from that to inspire our own home.

Bar carts

So cute, but so dusty.

But when is it all enough?

The dusting rule

Enter my new rule for any home decor item that comes through my door: will I want to dust this? Will I do this gladly?

The first question is, almost universally, probably a no. But it basically is a way to ask yourself if you are willing to commit time, space and energy to this new addition to your home.

The second question is where it gets interesting. Will you gladly take care of this item? Will you grow resentful of that dusty, cluttered bar cart in the corner, or will you be happy to share your space with it?

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I love my little sparkle jars, and am happy to dust them. Plus, it’s just a fun way to store my little holiday garlands when I’m not using them.

If dusting cute bottles and fake flowers means that you get a huge smile on your face whenever you see it, then it passes the dusting rule. But if it doesn’t….you know the drill.

Skip it.

It’s a super simple rule, but I thought I’d share with you because it’s been helping me a lot lately. I’ve been able to decide what I’m looking forward to adding, replacing or removing in the future and any rules are good rules for me.

This goes for teapots, chairs, tapestries, curtains, you name it. If it will gather dust and you don’t love it, ditch it.

So there’s a super-quick tip for simplifying and avoiding regretful purchases. What is your best rule of thumb for simple home decor and housewares?

Six Doors to a Simpler Life

Who doesn’t love a good origin story? It helps you see where someone’s values are and what motivates them.

You can read my simple-living origin story here, but here’s a quick recap for new readers:

After I graduated college, I was drowning in 22 years worth of clutter. I was chronically stressed and depressed. I moved four times that year, and the final move nearly broke me. I remember carrying 50-gallon trashbags full of clothes that I never wore downstairs to the moving truck and holding back tears under the literal and figurative weight of it all.

So when I began my life in a new city, I started to get rid of anything I didn’t need (which was no small feat). It started with clothes and slowly expanded into my other possessions and other areas of my life. So basically, my origin story is based on stuff, and lots of it.

But that’s not the only entry point into minimalism, so if you’ve been struggling with the “stuff” part of it all, there might be another way to start simplifying. What’s most important is that you do what feels right!

Other fascinating origin stories

There are others who have shared their origin stories. Some are similar to mine and some are very, very different.

Courtney Carver started with her diet after a medical diagnosis, then proceeded to simplify the rest of her belongings and her lifestyle. Joshua Becker started with his stuff after spending more time than he wanted to cleaning out his garage. Joshua Fields Millburn wasn’t a minimalist until life-changing events sparked him to approach the emotional weight of the stuff around him. Ryan Nicodemus, alongside Joshua Fields Millburn, decided to switch his pursuit of the American Dream to the pursuit of an intentional, good life.

The six doors to a simpler life.

Photo credit: Andrew Beeston

The Six Doors to Simplifying

I’ll go into each in more depth below, but here are the six entry points into simplifying and minimalism that I’ve observed throughout the years:

  1. Clutter
  2. Money
  3. Diet
  4. Schedule
  5. Relationships
  6. Digital distractions

Let’s dive in!

Clutter

This one is the most evident, and is the most obvious place to start. You can identify this as a problem when you start running out of places to put stuff, find yourself cleaning too often, or spend an inordinate amount of time on finding the perfect storage solution.

Starting with clutter is a great way to get the ball rolling and you will soon see the effects of simplifying your stuff in your life. A clear space is a clear mind.

However, it’s not always a comfortable place for everyone to start based on emotional ties to stuff or time or health constraints.

Money

I think we’re all trying to simplify this with varying degrees of success. This category is hard. Unexpected things pop up that make this area of our lives difficult to control completely.

However, starting here will give you more time for other areas of your life (because time is money and money is time). It can be as drastic as you want – you can aim for early retirement like Mr. Money Mustache or you can just cut out most extraneous expenses and get debt-free a little sooner.

Diet

There’s a pattern here – most of these entry points deal heavily with emotion, and this one is no exception. Your food choices are highly personal and the are the most directly connected to your actual human life.

Food determines our energy levels, our immunity and our overall health. This is one area that you can actually add to instead of taking away from – start by adding in an extra serving of veggies or an apple snack to remind your body what these nutrients can do for you. This is the change that you can make right now, while the other changes will take a little more time.

Schedule

Even though this one seems so impossible, trust me: there’s always room. Simplifying anything in your life means that you have to learn to say “no” to things, and what better way to get practice in?

We’re bombarded by invitations, requests and meaningless to-do’s, so start small. What is one thing that you can say no to today? Saying no to things that don’t add value to your life means that you can say yes to more things like spending time with loved ones, going on walks and taking care of yourself.

Relationships

This one is difficult – are there relationships in your life that do not bring joy or value? Are you surrounding yourself with people who motivate you or are you surrounded by people who bring you down?

Breaking off romantic relationships and friendships is complicated, but sometimes both need to be done.But by saying “no” to certain relationships, your truly meaningful relationships will have the space they deserve to flourish.

Digital distractions

If you have an internet connection, you probably have this problem. Notifications, requests and updates are constantly pinging on our desktops and our phones. Even though it takes up little physical space, these distractions take up a massive amount of emotional and mental space.

This category includes social media, files like word documents and photographs, email, and our cloud-based calendars. Start by removing push notifications from your phone as much as possible, then explore each space individually after that.

How to find which one is right for you

Take a moment to think about where most of your stress lies.

If you’re stressed about being busy, then look into your schedule. If there’s too much buzz in your mind and on your phone, start with digital distractions. Always frustrated about the clutter on your desk? Start with stuff.

If you can’t think of it right away, observe yourself for a couple of days. When and where do your stress levels spike, and when are they the lowest?

They’re all connected

If you’re worried that you just have to choose one, fear not. Once you start simplifying and streamlining one part of your life, you’ll start to see how it can be applied to other areas.

I felt like it was no stretch to change my eating habits after my closet was manageable. I began to value my time more after those two changes, so I then switched my focus to my digital life – particularly cutting down on Facebook.

Whatever you choose, know that your path to simplifying is entirely your own. Read others’ stories and take what you feel is relevant to yourself from them. If you try to copy someone exactly, you’ll end up in an unsustainable, frustrating and ultimately, complicated lifestyle.

Where did you start simplifying, or where do you think you’ll focus next?

Real Real Simple

I’ve always been fascinated by magazines. Something about the editorials alongside brilliantly colorful ads and the smell of the perfume samples really gets to me.

But of course, the temptation to buy is there, and it’s strong. And a few years I realized the ultimate irony: Real Simple is filled with tempting products that claim to offer a more simple life. But there’s so rarely a case for more when it comes to our quest for less.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the magazine, but take a moment to flip through the pages or webpages and you’ll see ads and product recommendations – quite the opposite of what it takes to really live a simplified life.

So I’ve been brainstorming what that might actually look like.

Real Real Simple: Tips for living a truly simplified life

My tips for a real, real simple life

  • Work. If you love it, stay. If you don’t, get out of there. I’ve seen too many Millennials (and older) hang on to jobs with excuses about money and the job search is hard…if you really want to make a change, then change. If you’re miserable and unwilling to try to make a change, then that lies on you. Complaining will get you nowhere, but some research and effort might take you further than you’d ever think.
  • Food. Forget learning how to read labels. Learn how to shop for (and cook!) meals made from things without packaging: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. A diet like that isn’t terribly expensive or time consuming – in fact, the extra love you put in now will save you health care costs in the future. The closer you get to the natural state of the food, the better. (Also, I don’t really subscribe to one particular diet, but I’ve found that veggie-heavy and very few animal products works well for me).
  • Relationships. Put your people into three buckets based on the energy they bring to your life: positive, neutral, and negative. Start spending more time with the positives and spend less with the negative and neutral people. Being aware of how they impact your life is a strong first step in curating your relationships – and more meaningful relationships will benefit everyone, not just you.
  • Stuff. Declutter before organizing every time. If you’re overwhelmed with your stuff, getting new storage bins is just a temporary solution to a larger, more permanent problem. You don’t have to get rid of it all at once, but edit when you can. Keep your stuff only if it’s useful or beautiful to you.
  • Exercise. You don’t need a plan – just get outside and take a walk. Switch out coffee dates for walking dates. Bike to work. Do pushups or situps while you’re watching Netflix. I think, for me especially, it’s easy to get in our heads about doing something good for our bodies. We can’t expect to run a marathon on our first day, and we can’t even expect to feel like working out everyday. But what is most important is making the time to do one thing for your body every day. I love this advice: make it a goal to get your shoes on and get out the door. What comes next is up to you, but at least you’ve accomplished that first step.
  • Finances. Track your spending, then make a budget. Awareness is the first step! This ties in with almost every other point I’ve mentioned. Stick with whole, healthy bulk foods, find free ways to get fit and socialize, and don’t buy it if you don’t need it. If you really love something and want to get it – give it some time, research it, and think about where it fits in to your life. I usually give myself at least a month to really know that it’s something important to me before taking the plunge.

My golden rule of simplicity

The most simple, real thing I believe we can do that has a lasting impact is this: be kind to yourself.

I know this sounds a little cliche and/or silly, but I really believe that finding the right balance of motivation and self-care has profound effects on our lives and the lives of those around us. Are you any good when you’ve neglected your most basic needs (like a good night’s sleep or a healthy meal)?

In the real simple world of managing time, clutter, relationships and more, that’s the big factor that we’re missing. If we’re not meeting our basic needs, everything else gets a lot more complicated.

What’s your golden rule for simplicity?

Simple Dorm Living (What I Wish I Knew)

This week marks seven years since I moved out of my parents home and into a lovely little dorm room in Bloomington, Indiana.

We packed a giant SUV to the brim with all my “necessities” and before I knew it, they were driving away without all the stuff and without me. Dorm life had officially begun.

I was so excited. But I was way, way overprepared.

To the point that I didn’t even know what to do with half the stuff I bought because Target told me it was a dorm essential! I ended up carrying a lot of that junk around with me, unused, for the next 5 years.

Since a lot of students are moving in this next week, I thought I’d share what I would do differently if I had the chance.

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Pare down before and after

Packing up a childhood bedroom to move away for college is a perfect time to ditch some of the stuff you don’t need.

Here’s what mine looked like when packing up:

Room Before Dorm Move Out

Actually, this is what my bedroom looked like most of the time anyways.

Keep a trash and donate bag handy when you’re sorting through everything. Don’t just put things back into storage because it’s your parents house and you think you don’t have to deal with it. Trust me, you’ll have to deal with it eventually.

Then, when you’re unpacking at your new space, don’t be afraid to toss things into a donate or trash pile. Especially when you start to realize that you’ve just brought way too much.

Don’t shop beforehand

I know this sounds crazy. But when I got to my dorm room, I realized it had more than I anticipated – it came furnished with a chair already, so why did I need the butterfly chair?

Dorm Desk in Read

I ended up with “dorm essentials” that really didn’t even fit with my dorm room.

So do only the bare minimum of shopping beforehand – I’m talking notebooks and pens at most. If you can swing it, shop a few days or a week after you move in so that you can make more conscious decisions about what you really need.

Don’t have a car? Dorms should accept packages for you, so online shopping is a great option (and you get to avoid all of the tempting ads for “dorm essentials” at your local Target).

This is especially important for storage. Don’t shop early for the “just in case” items. Instead, get a good feeling for what you’ll need storage for and where it will fit.

Finally, this gives you a chance to find out more about the building you live in – do you need a full set of dishes and a mini fridge, or do you have access to good dining halls?

Basically, don’t just buy stuff because a store says you’ll need it.

Dorm decor

I was kind of a mess when it came to decorating my dorm room. I just brought a bunch of stuff and taped it to the wall like a maniac.

It stressed me out and it didn’t look very good. Did I ever tell you guys that I wanted to study Fashion Design? Yea, that was a weird time.

So, I encourage anyone moving into a dorm room to keep it simple.

Start small. Bring only decorations that you find beautiful or meaningful. Let yourself get a feel for your dorm room before you just throw stuff on the walls for the sake of having stuff on the walls.

Avoid the campus bookstore

As a former campus bookstore employee, I can tell you this: it’s all overpriced. Look online for used versions of your book and don’t be afraid to ask your professor if you can use a slightly older version. You will literally save hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

If you’re not sure about whether or not you’ll stay in the class, wait on buying the book until after the first week.

Do not buy school supplies at the bookstore unless you’re really in a bind. They’re marked up way past what’s even remotely reasonable.

And finally – I know I’m going to sound like such a Debbie Downer – avoid school-branded swag. Shirts, tumblers, bags…slap a school logo on it and it’s 3x more expensive.

I accumulated so much IU stuff through clubs and free giveaways anyway that I still looked like I had school spirit.

Hoo – hoo – hoo – HOOSIERS!

If you’re moving: how are you handling it? If you’ve done it before: what do you wish you would have done differently?

Junk in the Trunk (and the Drawers and Bins)

Junk drawers. They’re like Lay’s potato chips – you can’t have just one!

They’re under our beds, in our kitchens, our offices, bathrooms, you name it – there’s probably a junk drawer there.

The number and type of junk drawer that we have says a lot about us – mine make me look like a just-in-case fanatic.

Last year, I counted at least three bins that I considered “junk drawers” in my apartment, mostly filled with half-blank pieces of paper for later use. I’d been carrying all this crap around for years without knowing it.

Drawers and storage solutions are perfect for intentional storage. But they can be dangerous too – we leave things hidden for so long that we start to forget what we own and why we own it.

A peek inside my junk drawers

When we moved seven months ago, I avoided storage specifically because I don’t want to go back to having multiple junk drawers. But junk drawers always find a way, don’t they?

We have a little built-in vanity and dresser area near our bathroom and we quickly made use of two tiny drawers to fill with everything that didn’t have a home.

IKEA happened, and we got more little booklets and pseudo-tools to add in. Soon, I could hardly open the drawers anymore because they were stuffed with God knows what.

Here’s a look at our junk:

Junk Drawers

I separated our drawers into one for my husband and one for me – before it was anyone’s guess as to whether or not there was any kind of organization.

How to tackle junk drawers without going crazy

As you can see, my junk drawers are very small. However, they really were the start of something much bigger and I wanted to bring them back to a manageable size before they got out of hand.

Start by identifying the offending storage pieces around your house. I would define a junk drawer as any drawer that has three or more different types of things – say tools, pens and playing cards or toys, rubber bands and electrical tape.

Before you get started cleaning them out, there are two things you should know:

  1. Know that you can’t get rid of them completely. Honestly, I think having one dedicated drawer to miscellaneous items is useful. Especially when trying to keep surfaces clear of clutter around the house.
  2. Know that all drawers should not be junk drawers. Don’t let this mentality creep beyond one drawer in your household. Be intentional with your junk and give it a nice home.

Once you’ve identified the drawers, take everything out of them and sort them into piles:

  • Trash
  • Not in use (think of The Minimalists 20/20 rule)
  • Like with like (all tape stays together!)
  • Redistribution pile (junk that needs to go to another part of the house)

What’s most important is to keep all like items together. If you have a designated place for paperwork elsewhere, then why is your utility bill in the junk drawer?

Return things to their rightful homes. When you’re done, take a look at what’s left.

Are there duplicates? If you have more pens than you could use in a lifetime, get rid of them. Toss anything that is broken, about to break, or that you just don’t use.

When you go to put everything back in, you should have significantly less. Put things in as orderly as you can so you can see everything easily and the drawer closes without putting up a fight.

Why bother with junk drawers?

First, the obvious – you don’t need to be carrying around literal useless junk whenever you move.

But there’s more to it than that. I’m guessing that you visit your junk drawers just often enough to get frustrated with them. I know when I opened my drawers to find something, it would stress me out. Not a lot, but enough to warrant a good cleaning.

If there’s a drawer that stresses you out even a little bit when you open it, it’s time to rethink it. There’s no reason for these little things to add stress to our lives.

What’s in your junk drawers?

Pretty Little Things: Cutting Down on Cosmetics

Makeup is something that I’ve written about before, but I think it’s worth revisiting because this stuff accumulates like snow in the Midwest. I end up with more of it all the time and often don’t know where it comes from.

And then I realized: I impulse buy cosmeticsEspecially if they’re on sale, or if it’s a new color that I think is kind of fun. I got red lipstick last year and guess how many times I’ve worn it? Half a dozen. How many times have I worn it out of the house? Zero.

Let’s take a look at what I found in my makeup case:

My makeup collection before downsizing

My makeup collection before downsizing

I’ve trimmed it down in the last few years, and I’ve started buying less expensive products (seriously, I love E.L.F. from Target and I won’t deny it).

I think, too, that my face needs much less covering up when I’m eating and drinking and sleeping right. Not to say that’s the only fix for healthier skin, but it helps.

It’s the little things that get to us

My “collection” didn’t take up much space before I started cutting down, but I realized that’s not what this is about.

When I get ready in the morning, I have to fumble through less-used products to get to the one I always use. If you don’t have makeup, the same might go for your paperwork. It could be extra pens or a cluttered kitchen drawer.

Wouldn’t it be better to just get rid of the unnecessary things that get in our way? Instead of letting yourself run into a dozen mini-obstacles every day, get rid of what causes the trouble.

How I cut down on my makeup supply

So I took the same tried-and-true approach to cutting down on cosmetics. Is it useful? Is it beautiful? Does it bring me joy?

I also employed these cosmetic-specific rules when deciding what to get rid of:

  • Is it old? Like, embarrassingly old? I just read about how long to keep makeup and I’m way out of range on some of my powder and lip products. Yikes.
  • Do I use it or do I enjoy using it? Does it still have a place in my daily routine? If I use it regularly (or look forward to using it for a special occasion), I keep it. If not, toss it. If it’s a product I just don’t like using (for me it’s lash curlers, for others it’s eyeliner or foundation) I’ve decided to ditch it too.
  • Does it fit my complexion or my overall style? Like I said with the red lipstick, some items just don’t work with my face. I just finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and she explains that these items have already served their purpose: their purpose was to let you know that they’re not the right choice for you. No regrets in throwing these away.

Now if I need to travel anywhere, my makeup case is already packed and ready to go. It all fits in a small box, including any brushes I need and my three shades of nail polish. I feel lighter and more ready for last-minute adventures this way.

Here’s what my makeup collection looks like now:

What remains of my makeup "collection"

What remains of my makeup “collection”

How I’ll buy makeup in the future

If I decide that it’s time to add a new high-quality cosmetic to the rotation, I have some advice from my best friend. She’s more patient with makeup (and much, much better at it) than me! Here’s what she recommends:

  1. Research. Makeup can be expensive. Since it’s good to use for months at a time, know what you’re getting into before you buy. Read reviews and watch videos on application so that you don’t just buy random products in your quest for the perfect look. You can even look for videos or reviews for drugstore alternatives to more expensive brands.
  2. Get Samples. Samples let you know that you like a product before committing to it. They’re free, they’re small and they’re a good way to curb impulse buys. My friend recommends Sephora, where the products are high-quality but the prices can be intimidating. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and give the product some thought before tossing it in to your shopping cart.
  3. Check return policies. If you’re skipping the drugstore brands and going for more specialized brand names like Sephora, check the returns policy. Don’t keep something just because, well, maybe you’ll get used to it. A fifty dollar bottle of foundation isn’t something you just want to “get used to.”

I hope this gives you a good start in going through your own makeup and creating the rules that work best for you.

Remember, there’s no magic number to minimalism. It isn’t about extremes either. It’s about living with only what you need and what sparks joy.

It’s about making more space in your life for what really matters to you.