How To Get Your Clutter Under Control Once And For All


I haven’t talked about cleaning and decluttering here on the blog very much – and there’s a reason for that. 

Ready? Here it is: my house is a dirty, cluttered mess. 

Was. Was a dirty, cluttered mess. See, I don’t like cleaning, it’s just not my thing.

Image shows an interior room with a light blue chair next to a dresser and book case. Text overlay reads "How to Get Clutter Under Control Once and For All."

Another reason? It seems like every time I start to get it under control, we move or have a baby, and I get thrown for a loop again. 

But over the last few months, I’ve found a way to not just get my house cleaned up but to keep my house cleaned up, and I think you’ll like it because it’s not complicated, and it’s not something that just works for me. 

It’s very simple. It’s a big push that leads to a daily habit. Not like a whirlwind going through the house and cleaning ALL THE THINGS, and then getting tired and burned out and giving up what I used to do. 

Nope. This is sustainable, and it will help you get your clutter under control once and for all. 

I won’t pretend this was all my idea. In fact, much of it was instigated by reading Ruth Soukup’s new book Unstuffed – which I highly recommend, by the way.

Ready for it? Here it is:

Wait. First tip:

Image shows a cartoon of a woman winking, pointing to a sign that says "The secret to a clean house? Don't let your children in it."

Yeah, that about sums it up. 😉

Okay, here’s the real tip:

Get rid of the extra stuff!

Truthfully, getting rid of stuff you don’t need is one of the best things you can do. It’s also one of the hardest, but the big thing is to get stuff out of your main living space because the more things you have out, the more things get out of place, and the more things you have to pick up and clean around. 

Image shows the interior of a living room with a light blue chair with a animal print pillow next to a book case and a low dresser.

We had a lot of extra blankets out this winter because our bedrooms tend to get pretty cold at night. But picking up and folding those blankets every morning was a lot of work, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but it made keeping the kids’ room cleaned up nearly impossible. 

When I put them away a few weeks ago this spring, you can bet I was met with much protest from the kids who “needed all the blankets to build forts and be cozy”. I hesitated, but seriously, I was tired of dumping legos out of blankets three times a day, so in a storage tub they went, and oh my goodness, what a difference! 

Their room is almost empty now, just the beds, the rocking chair, and a few baskets of toys. And they play up there for extended periods of time – whereas when they had their beloved blankets, five minutes was about as much as you could ask. 

That’s just one example of getting rid of things in one room, but the principle extends to every room in your house. 

  • In the kitchen: Be vigilant about saying “no” to more household appliances than you need. It’s easy to collect nifty nicknacks, but all they do is take up extra room and create clutter. When you’re thinking about getting a new gadget, ask yourself: Is it multi-purpose? Do I have room for it? Will I use it often enough to justify giving it space in my kitchen? D
  • In the living room: Look around and ask yourself, what is making it hard to keep things clean? Too many books on the end tables? Too many books on your shelves? Too many throw pillows? I have exactly two pillows on my couch, and yet, I seem to always be picking them up off the floor. I hate them because of that, and I refuse to have more than just those two. 
  • In the bathroom: Do you have too many extra beauty products creating clutter on or in your cabinets? Throw out the ones you don’t use often enough! 
  • In the bedrooms: Do you need to cull the clothes you don’t wear out of your closets? What about shoes? C’mon ladies, let’s admit that most of us have more shoes than we’ll ever wear. Time for some of them to go! 
Image shows the inside of a farmhouse kitchen, with a brick wall and black stove, and wooden cabinets. A table with a bowl of fruit on it sits in the middle of the room.

Getting rid of everything you don’t need can be hard, but there are a few tricks that make it easier. In her book Unstuffed, Ruth Soukup recommends boxing things you’re not sure about but haven’t used in a while and putting them in the garage or attic (or whatever storage space you have) for a while. The odds are you won’t miss them, and after a while, you’ll be more than happy to free up your storage space by donating them to your local charity shop.

At first, I felt like getting rid of things was wrong – like somehow, I was betraying my frugal lifestyle by throwing or giving away perfectly good items, but in truth, it’s exactly the opposite. When I have fewer things and am able to keep them organized, I waste a lot less time trying to find things and buying replacements for things I’ve lost. 

Clean and organize one room at a time and keep it that way.

Don’t try to clean the entire house in one day. Shoot for something more sustainable, like one room a week. Get that room under control, and establish a daily habit of keeping it clean before moving on to the next room.

For instance, I cleaned my kids’ room and storage room one day and got really aggressive about getting the kids used to cleaning up their toys and keeping them clean. I’m not very good at delegating, so this was a big process for me, but we’re finally at a point where I can tell them to go pick up their toys, and they do it. So now I’ve moved on to the living room, the bathrooms, and the kitchen.  

Buy storage tubs and shelves if you need them to get you started 

I’ve mentioned before that at one point in our marriage, we were completely dirt poor, with absolutely no extra money. Because of that, I didn’t buy things, and to this day, it hurts me a little to spend good money on a box to store things I’m not using. But. It’s. Worth it. 

Image shows several glass jars on a shelf full of various grains, including rice and corn.

Follow the one-touch rule

When you pick something up, don’t just move it out of the way – put it away! I do make a small exception for things that need to be put upstairs. If I followed the “one-touch” rule there, I’d be going up and down the stairs all day with one LEGO, or teddy bear at a time. So I set them on the bottom of the stairs – and then snag one of the kids to take them up when it’s convenient. 

Putting things away right away can be a hard habit to get into, and it can even seem like more work at first, but the trick is to train your mind to be vigilant about keeping things in their places – to pick up that toy on the way through the living room, or put that coffee mug on the sink as you walk through the kitchen (I don’t drink coffee, but *somebody* in this house has a penchant for leaving mugs in random placed throughout the house). 

Have an evening “clean up party”

If you have kids, then cleaning up before bedtime is a must! They will play so much better the next day if they start with their toys put away so they can make a fresh mess (it’s true!). So get your kids involved, and get all the toys, and books cleaned up, get the dishes done, and the main living areas cleaned up, so you can start the day in a calm, peaceful environment. 

Get The Family On Board

It’s tough when you’re the only one following the one-touch rule or having solo clean-up parties. When your kids are little, sometimes it can’t be helped – at least to an extent – but even little ones can follow simple directions. So start directing them to put things away early on. For a long time, It will feel like you have to tell them every little move, but they will learn to follow through on your directions and save you a LOT of steps in the long run! 

Image shows a mother and daughter standing at a kitchen sink cleaning up together.

Getting your husband on board with clean-up parties and the one-touch rule can be a huge help, But I have to offer a big caution here: What we feel as enthusiasm for a new idea or routine can quickly start to feel like nagging to him. So definitely talk to him about it, but then leave it alone

The truth is, getting – and keeping – your house cleaned up isn’t rocket science. It’s just getting a system in place and sticking to it – dedication and hard work. But you know what? It is so, so worth it, and these principles will work for anyone!

I wish I could say that my house was clean. Cleaned up, yes, but clean? There’s a layer of dust on the piano. 

The honest truth is, I don’t have time to do everything, so I put the emphasis on keeping things cleaned up – as in, clutter-free – and keeping the things that matter, like sinks and toilets, clean. The piano gets my attention when I have a few extra minutes. 

But even my decluttered-ness isn’t perfect, and I’m sure it never will be. Right now, I’m sitting here, looking at a basket of LEGO that got left on the floor. But you know what? It’s just one basket of legos that the kids are playing with. That’s having kids, and it’ll get cleaned up before bedtime. 

And it’s the only thing on the floor, so that’s progress!

I’m sure I’ll get “thrown for a loop” again eventually, and it will take a while to get back on track, but now, when it happens, I know the core principles to follow to get back to where I need to be. 

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  1. These are awesome ideas! By the way, your house looks gorgeous; I’m sure it looks wonderful even when the kiddos run wild. 🙂

    I have OCD, so it’s been a struggle to keep the cleaning to a sustainable level where I don’t get burned out. We don’t have kids yet and we donate pretty regularly to Goodwill, so for now our house doesn’t have much clutter (I’m 100% sure that will change once we have kiddos, though).

    I’ve come across a few cleaning-schedule boards on Pinterest that have been super helpful, too. Instead of doing ALL of your deep cleaning at once, schedule to do just one deep clean of something per month. So this month it was our baseboards, and I won’t do any other deep cleaning.

    I’ve also started making my own cleaning products, too, which cuts down on the actual cost of cleaning. I also use towels or rags to clean instead of pricey paper towels, which can only be used once. It’s the little things!

  2. I have heard of the “one-touch” principle before and love the idea..I’m just not good at maintaining it. We are in the process of expanding our house so I’m holding off on setting any systems into place until after all of the new rooms are added (a master bedroom, living room and bigger kitchen/dinner room). Once it’s done I’ll be implementing this with everyone and will try not to nag. Thanks for such a real and relatable post..I’m not a cleaner or organizer by nature either but am working on it to improve my home ministry.

  3. I have read a lot of decluttering and downsizing advice. I NEED to use these tools at my home. I feel so overwhelmed because as a single mom with no support from the deadbeat ex I work. A LOT. Your blog was the first time I ever felt like “This is something I can handle!” Thank You for your advice and the simple way you worded it. It makes sense now! And I know I can do this!

  4. We don’t have kids, so no toys here, but Oh. My. Paper. Every surface (desk, table, counter, sofa tables, bedside tables, you name it) covered in paper, books, magazines, etc. Both my husband & I Love reading. Paper has been my downfall since I was a kid, I love it so much. Other teens had bedrooms cluttered in clothing, mine was cluttered in paper; I even slept with books on my bed! And that too many shoe thing? I don’t know what you’re talking about (honestly, not me). But my biggest problem is “out of sight, out of mind” – when I can’t see mail, lists, notes, etc, I forget about things I need to do. Hence I keep everything visible. But “mess is stress” so I continue to attempt to declutter, and I do love organizing (cleaning’s another whole story) so I continue to look for ways to organize and, I agree with you, getting rid of things is very beneficial to a decluttered,reduced-stress home.

  5. At the end of your article, you mentioned that a basket of legos was left on the floor. My immediate thought was “you mean the legos were IN the basket and not scattered all over the floor??!!!” You’ve made more progress than you thought if you got the kids to put the legos IN the basket!

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