“How do I get my kids to clean up their toys?”
“How do I get my family to stop leaving things all over the counters?”
“My kids have too much stuff!”
“How can I declutter when my spouse won’t get rid of anything?”
I hear these laments all the time. Have you ever said them yourself? I’m sure I have! Are you ready to hear my magic words for solving this problem?
STAY IN YOUR LANE!
Or, if you prefer, “Eat off your own plate!” or “Take the plank out of your own eye!” In other words, before you point the finger at others in your household, deal with your own clutter.
When we are frustrated by a disorganized home, it’s easy to look around and see everyone else’s stuff. It’s pretty tough to admit that our own stuff and our own habits might contribute to the mess.
I have no doubt that your family members are part of -- perhaps even the biggest contributors to -- the problem of disorganization in your home. You, however, have full control over only one person: you.
The beauty of this is that changing yourself really can make a huge difference in your home and can even lead to change in others. Forge the way into an organized existence and your family members will notice the positive effect and want some of that goodness for themselves.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Don’t nag! No one was ever motivated to make a positive change by being nagged and harassed.
Nagging makes you angry and makes others feel attacked. As difficult as it may be, having a good attitude might just be the thing that eventually gets others on board. Focus on the positive effects of your own decluttering: your new feeling of lightness as you break free of excessive attachment to things, the ease of finding what you need when you need it, the ability to move more smoothly through the day.
Don’t throw out their stuff! When other people’s stuff is in your way, it’s so tempting to gather it up and chuck it. But this is a huge violation of trust and respect. Also, it often backfires and makes the person want to hold onto their stuff even more. Unless they give you express permission, don’t assume you can make decisions about their stuff.
And, yes, this goes for kids’ stuff too. Ideally, your goal is to help your children learn how to make the right decision about what to keep and how to keep it. Throwing stuff out when they’re not looking is a missed opportunity to help them develop these skills.
WHAT TO DO
Put on blinders: Force yourself to stop looking around and seeing all of their clutter and train your eyes to focus only on your own stuff. Diligently and frequently go through areas and categories of your own possessions (desk drawer, sweaters, books, sports gear, etc.), culling the excess. Seeing clearer spaces will have a snowball effect that will motivate you to keep going.
Set clutter boundaries: Just because you’re not allowed to throw out family members’ stuff doesn’t mean you have to keep tripping over it. Agree on where their mess is allowed to live so it doesn’t invade your space or common areas. Give them a physical boundary such as a room, a closet, a tray, or a bin. When they overflow the boundary, remember not to nag, but instead just put/shove/cram their stuff back into the designated area.
When my older daughter hit the messy teen years, she wisely made a deal with me that she’d keep the floor of her room (relatively) clean but I wasn’t allowed to look in her closet. “Mom, it would only upset you,” she said. Her closet was her clutter boundary.
Be helpful not boastful. Once you’ve been working hard at tackling your clutter, our family will see how much better the place looks since you pared down. They’ll notice how easily you can function in your space now that you established organizational systems and gave things designated homes.
Be sure not to brag about how much you’ve accomplished! Bragging is almost as unappealing as nagging.
When they start to turn a critical eye to their own things and say, “I think I have too much of X and I want to get rid of some of it,” you’ll be a hero when you say simply, “I know how you feel. I’d be happy to help you with that.”