Baby steps lead from clutter to calm | Advice

Recently, I read about a couple who live in Oklahoma City. They don’t have a lot of clutter in their house, but they do find it impossible to part with their children’s things. The guest cottage behind their house is nearly filled with old toys, outgrown clothes, years of kids’ artwork, school papers, trophies, sports paraphernalia, baby beds, bassinets and a rocking horse. It seems they can’t bring themselves to clean it out or part with all of these things for fear their now-grown children will think they don’t love them.

I know the feeling, and I don’t think it’s that unusual. But most of us don’t have a guest house to stash and hide all the clutter. Thankfully, it is possible to deal with clutter in realistic and reasoned ways so it doesn’t turn into chaos.

Marla Cilley, known to many as the FlyLady and author of the fabulous book, “Sink Reflections,” said CHAOS is an acronym for”Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

The good news is clutter does not have to control our homes and our lives. It requires only a modicum of determination to take that first baby step toward conquering stuff, then another and another all the way to peace and serenity.


It’s natural to walk into the house and start dumping small things such as keys, glasses and mail on the first flat surface you see.

“When things get strewn all over, it’s because they don’t have a clear or intuitive place to go,” said professional organizer Shira Gill.

Here’s a quick and easy way to turn entry chaos into calm: Invest in a storage bench, attractive wall hooks and a catchall tray. Now, everything from shoes to keys and phone has a place.


It’s a big fail just waiting to happen when we attempt to declutter an entire room or the whole house in a single weekend. Instead, think small. Focus on a single location such as the medicine cabinet, closet or drawer. Remove everything from that space — every single thing. Clean the space thoroughly. Now, evaluate and edit. Once you have culled the things you don’t use or don’t love, return only the items that belong in this space — things you use regularly or that bring beauty to your life. Drawer dividers or shallow bins are so helpful to keep things organized.


It’s not at all unusual for the areas we do laundry to turn into disaster zones. It’s just the laundry room, right? Imagine walking into that area and feeling at peace because it is so attractive and inviting. Decanters are one solution. Store powdered detergents in clear jars with scoops to make it easy to use and to see when you’re running low. Pour stain removers and liquid soap into olive oil jars with spouts for spill-proof pouring. Add simple labels. See how pretty that looks? Useful, too.


All of those things you can’t part with because they hold such meaning and memory? Take a picture of each one. Take several. Zoom in, pan out. Do a panorama view if you want. Now, the memories are preserved in a way you really can enjoy them, and you can part with the actual items, guilt-free.


I have a feeling our Oklahoma City friends are sitting on a pile of money. That rocking horse alone could bring a few bucks at a garage sale or advertised on CraigsList. Who knows what other treasures are rotting away out there — things that could be turned into money that would fit nicely in a savings account.

Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”