Transient Clutter: A Practical Approach

Ah yes, clutter. The bane of the modern person. If you aren’t living a Spartan existence, perched on your Eames chair (that you managed to find at a yard sale for $10), under the light of your industrial chic bespoke Etsy chandelier you spent at least $300 on, you simply are not living.

While the current trend is certainly that less is truly more – whether you find personal enrichment by having less stuff, take issue with the over saturation of consumerism in American culture, or simply want to find your desk again – there are legitimate reasons to want to declutter.

The easiest way to tackle clutter is to identify what kind of clutter it is. Very few of us live in stagnant houses where nothing changes. If we did, chores would not be a thing. So right off the bat, we have two kinds of clutter: transient and everything else.

Transient Clutter

This is the stuff that is truly temporary; disposable or consumable items that comprise so much of our “stuff.” Trash, toiletries, cleaning supplies, paper goods, food, mail, work papers, coupons, etc. It almost always exists somewhere in some form at all times, but is perpetually shifting and going in and out of the house.

Everything Else

There are a million systems and guides out there for everything else. How to organize your kitchen, your office, whatever. There are entire subreddits dedicated to desks. There is no right way, except the way that works for you. I’ll probably cover some basics in a future post, but this one is focused purely on transient clutter.

Simple Systems Work (Complicated Systems Don’t)

The single best strategy for beating transient clutter is creating simple systems. Mail will never go away if you need more than one step to get rid of it. Your refrigerator will never be clean if you need to make time to clear it out. The second half of “simple systems work,” is “don’t try to do all the things.” No house is perfectly clean for longer than an hour, if it’s ever perfectly clean at all. By virtue of homes being living spaces, they are in perpetual fluctuation. My house exists in a constant state of quantum superposition, where it is both clean and not clean at all times.

Find your “fuck it, that’s good enough,” place.

Everyone’s standards are different. What’s most important to you won’t rank for someone else. Priorities will inevitably shift over time, as well. Your “fuck it, that’s good enough,” place is one that’s comfortable and relatively straightforward to maintain. It meets your standards, but it doesn’t require CONSTANT VIGILANCE to achieve it – or keep it for more than an hour. Your “fuck it, that’s good enough,” place is one where you are at peace with the quantum superposition of housework, not at war with it. You’ve accepted and even embraced the critical balance between tidiness and untidiness that will always perpetually exist. It’s a place of comfort and relaxation, an escape from the outside world.

It’s home.

Creating Simple Systems

Going back to what works, it’s important to start with something very simple, (one step), which usually just means “corralling all of the things that meet a specific criteria in one consistent location.” Junk mail, for instance, which can expand to include “anything I no longer need but don’t want to just throw away because it has my personal information on it, and or credit card offers.”

Aggregating all the stuff in a particular category into a pile is one step. If you can designate where that pile should live (or be neatly hidden away), you can complete this single step over and over again for a very long time before you ever need to do a second step. At which point, performing this particular task becomes an ingrained habit. It’s second nature and it’s easy. That’s the whole point.

Designate a spot for transient clutter

In the example of junk mail, we have a designated box that lives on a shelf in our living room. To the untrained eye, it looks like part of the decor. NO ONE KNOWS OUR SHAMEFUL JUNK MAIL SECRET. Except you. Now you know. All of our junk / papers / stuff we want to shred goes into this box and lives there until the box is full. There’s no set timeline, no schedule to follow. It’s a simple binary situation: the box is either full, or it isn’t. If the box is full or getting full, plan to take it out of the house to the giant, industrial shredder, and set phasers to destroy.

And yes, while there’s a certain amount of discipline involved in this, the day-to-day maintenance is straightforward and simple, and it’s flexible. If the trash doesn’t get taken out immediately and the recycling overflows into a cardboard box, we’ll just remember to grab it the next time we go out. The world isn’t going to come to an end. The point is that there is a system, and we know how it works, and we don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

For us, that’s the difference between doing it (eventually) and not doing it at all.

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What’s all this about?

Have you ever stressed about how to get - and keep - your bathroom clean without spending hours scrubbing each week? Does the phrase "meal planning" make you fall into the fetal position while clutching a takeout menu? Do you think Pinterest is made up of insane sadistic people who have too much time and craft glue? Do you want to learn how to cook, but don't know where to start? Are you trying to lose weight, but find "guilt free brownies" a disgusting and sad waste of perfectly good chocolate?

I've spent years of my life, years figuring this shit out, and in an effort to earn fame and fabulous fortune, I'm giving you lots of tips and ideas and funny commentary out of the kindness and goodness of my heart. So y'all fucking come back now, hear?

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