Discover more from Your House Machine
Where I tell you it's ok to keep clutter (sometimes)
Just make sure you build a little system around it.
You know how sometimes there’s a certain sort of persistent clutter in your house that just doesn’t seem to ever go away?
The random papers your kids bring home from school. The stack of mail that needs to be processed. The clothes on the floor that are too dirty for the closet but too clean for the laundry hamper. The scraps of material you swear you’re going to use for scrapbooking…but never seem to get to.
This clutter has no home, no place it’s supposed to be…because it isn’t supposed to exist, or so you tell yourself. So it just sits out on top of the dining room table or any available surface, stressing you out.
You will it to disppear. You deal with it once, then it just reappears.
I have a solution for you, if you’re ready for it….
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Solution: Give this clutter a container and legitimize it. Yes, that’s right. Accept that this clutter is part of your life and build a system to contain its boundaries. This legitimizes its existence and relieves you of the guilt/mental load of trying to will it out of existence.
I wrote a draft post months ago about how I once solved a clothes-on-the-floor issue, but it didn’t feel meaty enough to publish. Then yesterday I was listening to an episode of KC Davis’ fantastic podcast Struggle Care, in which she interviews professional organizer Alison Lush. They talked about this “containerize and legitimize” strategy, and I realized that was exactly what was interesting about my solution.
Here was my quagmire:
May years ago a boyfriend I lived with would get undressed to go to bed and leave his clothes on the floor. He was otherwise very tidy, so this seemed odd to me. I didn't like having to step over dirty clothes in our tiny bedroom, and I didn’t understand why he couldn’t just put them in the laundry hamper a few feet away. Turns out the issue was he considered them “semi-dirty:” too clean to put in the laundry (he planned to wear them again) but too dirty to put back in his closet (where they’d taint his perfectly clean clothes).
It took a while to solve but eventually I figured it out: a second laundry hamper for these in-between clothes. It was wide and shallow so he could easily see what was inside, and placed right where he usually undressed so it was effortless to toss things in.
Most people don’t have a second non-dirty-clothes hamper, but who cares? The reality of our life was we needed somewhere to put in-between clothes, so we made a system and solved it. Thanks to my iPhone photo cleaning spree, I actually found a candid of this second hamper from almost a decade ago:
The real heart of this containerize and legitimize approach is accepting your life as it is. Once you accept the state of things, you can focus on making it work smoothly, rather than fight against what IS.
Another example: We don’t keep a diaper pail in our baby’s room because it quickly smells up the room and is gross to empty.
Our ideal solution: Carry each dirty diaper out to the main trash bin in the back yard.
The reality we have to accept: We aren’t going to leave the house and go into the yard every time we change a diaper. We also don’t want dirty diapers to stay inside the house.
Our realistic solution: Put a paper grocery bag just outside the back door and toss diapers in there. Once it’s full, put the grocery bag into the trash bin. Is it disgusting to have an open bag of stinking diapers right outside out kitchen? Yes. Is it the best we are able to do right now in our life? Also yes. Consider it solved and move on!
I think this can extend to larger aspects of how you use your space. Do you end up sleeping on the couch in the TV room often, rather than with your spouse? Maybe you need your own bedroom. Does your family never ever eat at the dining room table? Maybe that room should be a playroom or an office or something else that better supports your lifestyle. Here’s your permission to legitimize how you actually live, and set up your home to support that.
Here are some past House Machine posts that I’m now realizing are strategies to legitimize different types of clutter:
Can you relate?
I’d love to gather more examples! Have you legitimized persistent clutter in your home? Did you have a lightbulb moment like I did with “containerize & legitimize?” Do you have an unusual way to use a room of your house?