cluttered room in home

How To Make Your Remarkably Cluttered Home Look Lovelier

Have you noticed how clutter tends to regenerate as if the “black arts” were involved?
No, you aren’t hexed, but nothing will change without specific actions on your part. Once you do take targeted action however, your cluttered home really can become much less so…all the way to organized and lovely. Read on: Easy and Tidy is about to become your new norm.

Over 140 tons of hoarded treasures were removed from the Collyer brother's residence
Over 140 tons of hoarded treasures were removed from the Collyer brother’s residence. They were such rabid “collectors” that the term “Hoarder” was first coined to describe them .

that our homes can become “remarkably Cluttered” is a recurrent fact of life…

could there actually be a cosmic reason?

First law: the energy of the universe is constant.
second law: the entropy of the universe always increases*

-James Gleick* is an American author and historian of science whose work has chronicles the cultural impact of modern technology. He has been called “one of the great science writers of all time.” – Wikipedia

In other words, TIDY will devolve to CLUTTER because ENTROPY is Law in the Universe. WHO KNEW?

where do you start To clear a remarkably cluttered home?

“A place for everything and everything in its place” is an honorable slogan for clutter free living.

Actually, this ideal state rarely happens naturally. You have to do something, repeatedly.

Don’t worry. There are logical, practical no-fail steps you can take to begin the process. Once you do, that OVERWHELMED FEELING will begin to abate. TRUST.

How do you declutter a home, actually?

Decluttering and organizing are two different actions. It helps a lot with overwhelm to understand that a “first-things-first” approach will point you in the right direction to get the job done.

It’s the same logic you use when getting dressed.
FIRST the pants, THEN the shoes.

The bigger picture regarding A cluttered home

If your rooms feel crowded, it’s because they are.

To be fair, small rooms and tiny homes have a built-in-crowded problem. This makes seeking declutter solutions a necessity, not an option, if you want some semblance of “quality of life”.

Even if you have been blessed by the Housing Gods with big rooms and ample storage space, you would still benefit by a serious heart-to-heart with yourself about what you really need to live happily and comfortably.

white entry & empty shelves
Marie Kondo isn’t a fan of using storage space to reduce clutter, even if you have it.

When self-help and decluttering your home are synonymous

Surely, you have heard of Marie Kondo and her methods of decluttering all your rooms permanently.

What Is the KonMari Method?

A very brief description: get rid of items that no longer have a purpose (or no longer “spark joy”) and keep only items that are useful and meaningful.

“Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved.” – Marie Kondo

*from “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo

Tough tidy love

Her concept and her best selling book have proven to be hugely helpful to thousands of people, to get them off “stuck” in dealing with all their accumulated “stuff”. Her methods aren’t for everyone, though anyone can benefit from a thoughtful assessment of everything you own. 

For example, she probably isn’t suggesting that you get all starry-eyed-joyful over common household items like toilet brushes. BUT her stringent methods WILL BE a bridge too far, for some.

However, there is a practical point to be made here. Weeding out as much as you can of all those things that are no longer loved/needed/useful will make it soooo much easier to organize what’s left later.

jumble of boxes & old things in a cluttered home
It gets easier AFTER you get started

Don’t start your home declutter project without a plan

For example, you may want to approach this room by room. This process is much easier said than done AND it’s not just because of the obvious time and effort involved. When you really start digging deep into what to keep or not, you’ll most likely find that the work is also mentally and emotionally taxing.

This makes sense. If it were easy to just toss things out with ease and abandon, you probably would have much less of a clutter problem to begin with.

Decluttering and reorganizing your stuff is a lot like moving elsewhere…except you’re unpacking your life instead of boxing it up.

Allow yourself plenty of time, with as few distractions as possible. You might well need several days. Take them.

In either case, you’ll probably be clearing out a lot of “old baggage”, of one sort or another.

minimal storage/wall design in a decluttered home
Storage and wall design all in one

Edit ruthlessly

It’s not just ordinary “everyday clutter” that should be weeded out and banished. No item is too large or too small to be considered.

This means the extra, unloved and ancient/broken/non-relevant furniture too. It might not be practical to get rid of some of your larger furniture now, but do make a replacement plan.

You might find these articles helpful for re-arranging newly empty space or if it’s time to buy something new altogether.

Once you have created some legitimate breathing space around the Keep-Ables, you’ll be able to effectively plan an organization strategy with wall units, bookcases, shelves, cabinets and containers. This de-cluttering and tossing “way past sell date” items is a sizable chore, but do press on to completion.

It will do wonders for improving your general frame of mind.

Einstein’s desk: A cluttered desk is said to be a sign of genius.
(AP Photo/Jacob Harris)

Quick fix: Start with the largest cluttered surfaces

“Three Rules of Work:
Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” 

*Albert Einstein

Did his cluttered desk inspire genius to greatness?
If only this were the norm.

In the larger scheme of life, making time to make-over your living space takes deliberate thought and a plan. Clearing your surfaces, will at least give you the illusion of a more orderly, clutter-free-ish home, in the meantime.

Let’s say your desk looks a lot like Mr. Einstein’s did.

  • Throw out everything that is clearly disposable.
  • Stack the papers into piles. You’ll return later to assess each pile as Keep Handy, Store Somewhere or Toss It.
  • Layout whatever is left, according to what room the item belongs in. Then, gather each collection and return to their Designated Home Rooms.
empty cardboard box
Empty boxes are essential in modern life

The truth about the cluttered home problem

Clutter accumulates less often because you are inherently messy and more often because no space has been designated for the things you want and need.

In other words, you have to have as much storage for stuff, as you have stuff.

how to Set up storage for maximum efficiency in every room

  • Certain rooms, like offices, kitchens and bathrooms, are at risk for clutter because of all the associated tasks assigned to those rooms. Plan for it.
  • No matter how small the space, or the extent you multi-task in each area, give some thought to ALL the things that you do in each area.
  • Have designated places for everything you need, down to the smallest necessary item.

Having SEVERAL junk drawers is cheating.

glass containers in refrigerator
A well organized refrigerator will do wonders for meal making

what about storage containers?

Establishments like The Container Store can be thrilling destinations. There, you will find storage containers of all shapes and sizes that will accommodate everything you want to (finally) put away, out of sight and out of mind till later.

By the way, you’ll be driven out of YOUR mind if you don’t label those opaque containers.

No, you won’t remember what’s in them.

Think inside the box. All manner of containers make interesting storage. Antique suitcases could be stacked under side tables for clothes currently out of season.  Big wicker baskets with lids could accommodate sheets, towels and/or ironing piles. Be creative, but also plan to leave a few potential storage options empty for future acquisitions, or for emergency hiding places.

What about all those random little things?

A lot of what we call clutter, are all those little things that have a use, but not a home, when you don’t need them.

Gather these assorted little items and give them lodgings

  1. In a beautiful bowl or even an ashtray if you are big on re-purposing. You need one of these Catch-Alls for your dresser or bedside table and another one near the front door too.  Train yourself to empty your pockets or bags when you first walk in the door. Deposit keys, wallet, lip balm, coins etc. You’ll save yourself a lot of time searching for said items when you want to leave again.
    Bonus: you will no longer need to have five sets of keys dispersed to the doorman, friends, family and neighbors “just in case”.
  2. Tray Chic: Once you master the art of capturing small game like your house keys, etc., you are ready to mark the rest of your territory with trays.  The trick is to make little compositions out of the disorder by corralling the things you need and other Keep-Ables neatly onto one of these.  Instant Tidy.
  3. Boxing Day: In the same way trays are genius for creating order out of randomness, little boxes are great for concealing the left-overs of life. They hide all kinds of office and personal detritus. Bonus: when you can’t find something, you only have to open a few boxes to find the missing item.

I always keep a couple of pretty boxes, pretty empty, on my desk for fast emergency clean-ups.

display of items on surface
Here is a good example of well organized item placement

pro designer tip

Put the taller items behind the shorter, smaller ones. This is how to arrange not only a tray, but any surface vignette you would like to set up. Keep like with like and form groupings of odd numbers (three, five, etc.) of one type of item. To re-enforce the Planned Look, add a framed picture and/or fresh flowers where appropriate and voila, you have a lovely display.

why do bowls, trays and boxes help the cluttered home problem?

Just by placing all the Assorted Essentials (those things previously left wild and free) on a tray, along with a couple of baskets elsewhere as back-up receptacles, the new Tableau will look like there is some sort of method to the former madness.

Note that there is a marked shift in attitude between “throwing stuff” in a drawer and “placing things” on a tray.

This attitude adjustment is the magic key to “ordered chaos.”

your newly tidy, decluttered home still won’t stay that way, naturally

Buzz-kill: you still have to hang up your clothes. 

Most of us don’t have personal Minders to follow and tidy up after us, AND you know in your heart, that clutter will black magically reappear. The NEW RULE, going forward, is to not ignore it. Instead, notice little messes beginning to sprout again and DO SOMETHING. Have you heard of the “two minute rule”? If IT takes less than two minutes to address, DO IT NOW.

In truth, it takes considerable conscious effort over time to create the habit of being your own “minder”.

two main points to remember every day

  • Put things away as soon as possible after use.
  • Reset the area you were in before you leave. This is how the “two minute rule” can be used to keep Clutter at bay in advance of Mess.
  • Dispose of all the things no longer needed/used/loved in a more timely fashion than before.

More timely than once every 5 years is good…

You’ve got this…

Over To You

I’d love to know what you think...

Was there a tip that was especially helpful? Hopefully, you found a little inspiration and maybe even resolved a long standing quandary brilliantly!

are there other topics you might be interested in?

Setting out to create the best version of beautiful home design, tailored especially for you, has a lot of potential questions built in. Please let me know. I’m here to help.

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Have you noticed how clutter tends to regenerate as if the "black arts" were involved? No, you aren't hexed, but nothing will change without specific actions on your part. Once you do take targeted action however, your cluttered home really can become much less so...all the way to organized and lovely. Read on: Easy, Tidy is about to become your new norm.

about the author

Cindy Bergersen is a professional design consultant turned full time writer about home design: what is it, how it works and how to make it work for anyone. Decades of experience as a design consultant to private clients, retail clients for well known, high end furniture retailers has proved to be invaluable training. She is both passionate and committed to sharing her experience and knowledge to help anyone, to help themselves to a beautiful, comfortable home, without feeling confusion or overwhelm about where to start and how to proceed. She lives in New York with Olivia, the cat. When not writing for the Library, she can be found cycling though city parks, watching a lot of film, or curled up on the sofa with a good book.