Beyond Kondo: 10 Ways To Keep Order Post-Decluttering
Just tidied up? Good job. Design editor Melinda Williams tells you how to keep your newly organised home sparking joy forever
So you binge-watched Tidying Up With Marie Kondo during the holiday break, fell in love with the eternal cheer of the Tidying Fairy Marie, and KonMari’ed the hell out of your wardrobe, living spaces and garage. You’re feeling lighter, cleaner, calmer and deeply virtuous.
Unfortunately, (to misquote Alanis Morisette) mess has a funny way of creepin’ up on you when you think everything’s okay. Right now your home may be a pristine retreat with drawers full of lovingly folded and thanked clothes and a smattering of objets d’art that spark joy, but if you don’t have a system for keeping it that way, it won’t be long before piles of clothes, books, magazines, sports gear associated with abandoned New Year resolutions and collections of random items return to clutter your bedroom, coffee table, cupboards and kitchen drawers.
Here, I can help. I didn’t buy Marie Kondo’s book when it came out, because it’s a book I could have (and given its sales figures, clearly should have) written myself. I’ve been joyfully folding clothes and ruthlessly donating komono (miscellaneous items) for decades. And I know 10 ways to keep a home in a state of near-perpetual organisation without spending all your spare time tidying.
1. STOP BUYING SO MUCH STUFF
Buying stuff you don’t need is how you got into the mess you’ve just sorted. So stop it. You don’t need to go full minimalist but you do need to give much more consideration to your purchases. Instead of impulse-shopping clothes on sale online, go through your wardrobe every six months and decide in advance what you need. Instead of buying books, join the library. Meal-plan and shop to a list. Pause before you buy something and ask yourself if there’s another way to solve the problem you’re trying to fix. Consider whether a potential purchase is recyclable or reusable once you’ve run out of enthusiasm for it and, if not, don’t buy it, or choose something that is.
When shopping, keep in mind that every item you buy is probably going to need to move with you next time you shift house. There’s nothing like wrapping, packing and lugging boxes full of barely-touched kitchen equipment and clothes you can’t remember wearing from one house to another to clarify the truth of the saying “You don’t own your possessions, they own you”.
2. CREATE LIMITS FOR YOUR POSSESSIONS
The other day, when hanging up clothing I received for Christmas, I remarked to my partner that I’d run out of coat-hangers. “I can give you some more,” he said, helpfully. “NO THANKS,” I said, possibly too forcefully. “This is a sign
I need to purge my wardrobe.”
For large categories of items, such as clothes, books or toys, set a one-in, one-out policy, or a spatial limit, like a certain number of coat-hangers, shelves, or drawers allocated to those items. Otherwise these categories continue to slowly accumulate items until they become overwhelming. There’s a reason that my partner’s wardrobe is five times the size of mine.
3. TELL PEOPLE YOU DON’T WANT MORE STUFF
Some of the hardest stuff to avoid is the stuff you don’t buy yourself. Starting a conversation with friends and family about how you don’t want any more crappy plastic gifts can be tricky, but describing your new relationship with Marie Kondo is a good place to start. Tell them you’ve spent your holidays KonMari’ing your home, and don’t want to have to endure it again. Suggest that in future, they could give you experiences rather than items, or that you start a one-gift-per-person Secret Santa system at Christmas.
In school circles, "fiver" birthday parties are starting to catch on. That’s where instead of bringing a gift for the birthday boy or girl, each guest brings $5, which goes towards one big present that the child’s parent chooses. It’s an easy way of avoiding piles of cheap plastic or polyester toys, saves parents stress, and helps kids understand that birthdays are about having fun with their friends, not getting a stack of gifts.
4. INVEST IN GOOD STORAGE
Storage is everything when it comes to keeping your home tidy. If you’ve already KonMari’ed, you know that if an item doesn’t have a “home” where it’s stored, it will float from flat surface to flat surface until someone shoves it in a cupboard or drawer to be forgotten until it’s desperately needed and can’t be easily located. Having enough storage, and the right kind — not just cupboards, but cabinets, containers, baskets, hooks, trays, boxes, shelves, and so on — to create a home for every item is central to making this work.
Good built-in storage is not just a gift to yourself, it’s a selling-point when the time comes to move. Real estate agents often say you can never have too much storage, which is true. But the point of plentiful storage is not having space to hide masses of stuff, it’s having space to hide stuff in an easily accessible way. If you have to unpack half a cupboard to reach items at the back, those items are going to stop being used, and slowly turn into candidates for your next KonMari session. You should be able to retrieve any item from where it’s stored without having to move anything out of the way to get it.
Watch for clutter that regularly accumulates — like piles of keys and sunglasses. Regular puddles of clutter are the Universe telling you that you need one of two solutions: more storage or a better routine or habit. Dining table covered in schoolbags and coats? You need a peg rack at child-height or an after-school routine where the kids unpack and hang their schoolbags up as soon as they walk in the door. Clothes piling up on a chair in your bedroom? You need a laundry hamper for the room, or a more regular wash schedule. Husband leaving bike parts strewn across the living room floor? You need a divorce.
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Awesome storage inspiration from @penta_room! Those large storage spaces, called Oshiire, are traditionally installed in Japanese-style rooms to store futon and linen in Japan. But with a little ingenuity these spaces can be transformed into a perfect storage space for anything &everything - like this photo here! Photo by @penta_room.
5. GET EVERYONE IN THE HOUSEHOLD ON BOARD
One thing I have to constantly remind myself is that just because something seems obvious to me, it will not necessarily be obvious to everyone else in the world. For example, I know the home for facecloths is the bottom left drawer in our bathroom vanity, but unless I make this clear to my partner and childrens, facecloths are going to end up “put away” all over the place or I’m going to be the only person who puts facecloths away. Share the knowledge, share the chore.
A label-maker is worth its weight in gold when it comes to helping everyone understand what goes where. Label the top edge of kitchen and clothing drawers (so that the label is hidden when the drawer is closed) with a category for what goes inside. For kids, category labels can be applied to boxes of toys, shelves inside cupboards, and under hooks for bags, hats and coats.
Sometimes a little incentive is required to get kids on board with tidying up. In our house, this incentive is known as the Did Not Tidy box. This comes out just before dinnertime, and everything that hasn’t been tidied up by the kids goes into it and doesn’t come out again until the end of the week. Normally just the mention of the Did Not Tidy box is enough to get children racing to pack away the Lego.
6. EVERY TIME YOU LEAVE A ROOM, TAKE SOMETHING WITH YOU
This is the key to maintaining a continuous state of reasonable tidiness. As you’re about to exit a room, cast your eye around for something that belongs in another room that you’re going to or past, take it with you and return it to its rightful home. Although it can take a while to establish the habit, once it becomes automatic for you (and everyone else, as above) your house will always be passably tidy.
7. STORE THINGS WHERE YOU USE THEM, NOT WHERE THEY ‘SHOULD’ GO
If you usually paint your toenails in the living room while watching TV but end up leaving your pedicure kit on the coffee table, keep it in a box in your TV console or coffee table drawer, not in your bathroom cabinet. Even though the bathroom feels like the “right” place to keep grooming products, it’s a lot easier to put something away when you don’t have to ferry it to another room. (It’s also a lot easier to get out, so your toenails will probably thank you for this change too.) This can be usefully applied to the clutter puddles mentioned above — they may be forming just because the items need an easier ‘home’ to live in.
8. USE SMALL OPPORTUNITIES TO TIDY AND CLEAN
Boiling the kettle? Unload the dishwasher or run the recycling out before you have your cuppa. Waiting for the shower to warm up? That’s enough time to give the bathroom sink a quick wipe and tidy (keep a bottle of cleaning spray and a cloth in your bathroom so you don’t have to leave the room to get them). Gaming your own mind by using a “beat-the-clock” strategy means you’ll work faster to get the job done than you might otherwise.
Multi-tasking deservedly gets a bad rap when it comes to work, but as tidying and cleaning are pretty mindless, you can shoehorn small tasks in while you’re doing something else. Clean while you cook. Put your grooming products away while you brush your teeth. Fold washing while you watch TV.
9. ALLOCATE DAYS AND/OR TIMES TO JOBS
Most online cleaning experts offer printable daily or weekly cleaning and tidying schedules, but I’ve found that by lowering my standards just a bit, I can get away with a thorough household cleaning every Saturday morning, and Washday Wednesday (with the alliteration serving as a reminder to do a couple of loads of washing midweek so the kids have clean uniforms and we don’t have to put through 10 loads over the weekend).
Setting a daily time for everyone in the household to do a 10-minute run-around tidy-up (just before dinner often works) also gets a lot done in a short time with a “team spirit” mentality. Children in particular are more easily motivated to tidy up when everyone is doing it too.
The important bit is not what jobs you allocate to what day or time, or how many days you do them on, but that you establish a regular routine that keeps your house in a manageable state while not making you feel like your life is an endless round of chores.
10. BOOK YOUR DEEP CLEANS AND HOUSE MAINTENANCE DATES INTO YOUR DIARY NOW
The time to figure out when to do your spring clean is not September 1, it’s now. By the time spring rolls around, your calendar will be full of social occasions, kids’ sports games, work events and other commitments that mean the spring clean (which nobody wants to do) will get put off until you have time, better known as “never”. So book it in (along with an autumn clean, and dates for house maintenance) and then book other commitments around them.