It happens without warning. One day you notice your home has turned into a collage of papers, junk, and stuff - everywhere. You're not alone. Today more than ever it seems that the flotsam and jetsam of living, like the waves of an ocean, continually beat at our doors, flooding our houses with all manner of stuff until our homes are bulging at the seams. A typical home is now cluttered and dirty to the point of exhaustion -- yours.
All this accumulation also makes going home, or being at home, fill us with a sense of dread because we're overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things surrounding us. Once islands in the stream, many homes are often now just as jumbled, crowded, dirty, and chaotic as the public places we try to escape from. Housekeeping and cleaning house is not the greatest of fun, but it is vital to our well-being.
Recently a study by the UCLA Center for Everyday Lives of Families found that families are overscheduled, child-dominated, and cluttered. The study touched on something that's become a common problem in most households today: too much stuff. And all that stuff, makes us feel out of control.
Could your home be out of control?
If you have a perfectly ordered home or just don't care about the state of your surroundings, then having an out of control home isn't a problem. But, if the thought of your home raises your blood pressure to an unhealthy level or spending time there would make you rather have your teeth drilled, then you do have a problem - and you may have a home that's out of control.
An out of control home is a source of frustration, embarrassment, and tension. So where do you start if this describes your home? The first step in learning how to cope with an out of control home is to recognize the signs. Only then can you address the problem.
The 8 Signs You Have an Out of Control Home (OOCH)
1. It's messy.
Anything that can be straightened up in five minutes or less does not qualify as messy. A truly messy house has been hit by more than its fair share of bombs: toy bombs, clothes bombs, paper bombs (magazines, mail, and other piles of paper), dirt bombs (general dirt and debris), pet bombs (hair, smell, food), collectible or hobby bombs, etc. And, the mess is everywhere: the kitchen, the bathroom, the living room, the bedroom.
2. It's disorganized.
No one can find anything, from the car keys to last year's tax returns. A disorganized home is one where too much time is spent looking for things, and where you have doubles or triples of everything because when you couldn't find what you were looking for, you went out and bought another to replace the one you couldn't find.
3. It stinks.
The smell can come from the puppy training on the new carpet, the moldy smell from the roof leak, the cat box that's never changed, or the trash that everyone forgets to take out.
4. It's dirty.
This is that garden-variety filth that makes you hope no one will ever come to visit. It's the ring in the toilet, the dust bunnies the size of Dallas, and the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling that wave gently in the breeze. The dirt is pervasive and ground in.
5. It doesn't work.
This is a home where the furniture is broken, the bed sags in the middle, things don't work like they should, and repairs that need to be made drag on for months or years. It's not truly functional and lots of things have "work-arounds," such as pliers to turn on the washing machine because the knob fell off.
6. It's anxiety-producing.
Does the thought of going home make you feel anxious? If you're happier at work or in places other than home, then chances are it's because your home is out of control. It makes you uptight because it's dirty, disorganized, or messy - or all three. And, when you're there, you can't relax and you often find excuses to go somewhere else to unwind, such as at the movies or driving in the country.
7. You avoid having visitors.
If you feel panicked when the doorbell rings then you're living in an out of control home. Guests should be a welcome sight in the house and you should feel confident enough to invite visitors in.
8. It's cluttered.
If every square inch of your home is covered with something, then you've got too much stuff. There's got to be some open space somewhere in your home because open space give us a "visual rest." Look at interior design magazines and you'll notice the homes pictured in them because there isn't stuff everywhere to distract you.
Most houses have out of control areas
Of course not all homes are out of control, but many homes suffer from one or more Out-Of-Control-Home (OOCH) symptoms, or they have an Out of Control Area (OOCA). These are areas such as the laundry room or garage that tends to get out of control, and most every home has one. But, regardless of whether your home is truly OOCH or OOCA, it doesn't have to stay that way. You can take steps to bring your house back to order and get it under control.
The 8 Steps to Get Your Home Back in Control
1. Declutter and straighten first.
Take a trash bag with you to each room, throwing away anything you no longer want or that doesn't work. Take another box with you from room to room for items you want to donate.
If you have paper bombs, clothes bombs, and toy bombs that have gone off in your house, get these under control. Handle the paper by throwing it away, recycling it, or filing it. Get the clothes picked up and put in the wash, folded or hung up. Next, corral the toys, throwing away what's broken. And practice saying "When in doubt, throw it out."
Next, don't forget to contain yourself. It's easy to work in the living room, pick a toy for your child and wander into that room and then start working there. This is important: Stay focused on the task and the room at hand or you won't get anything done.
2. Clean second.
Now that the mess is handled and everything is picked up, it's time to get down to serious cleaning. Thoroughly clean each room, including the kitchen and laundry room, and don't forget to sweep porches and walkways outside. Get kids to clean the baseboards, windowsills, and clear the cobwebs from the corners of ceilings. Go from one room to the next and don't leave until each room is completely cleaned.
Lastly, schedule some hired help and have your carpets and upholstery steam cleaned. Steam cleaning does not use soap, which can make carpets get dirtier faster and actually attract more dirt. This will also make your home smell better, too. Schedule this at least once every year. If your house still smells musty, air it out or consider having your heating and air conditioning vents cleaned.
3. Repair what's broken.
The house is decluttered, clean, and now it needs to work. Fix broken panes of glass, leaking faucets, or repaint water stains on the ceiling. Put your husband on the job while you're cleaning or decluttering.
4. Edit your stuff.
Collections and knick knacks everywhere is what's classified as clutter. Clutter is a problem because of the emotions associated with it. For instance, many people feel guilty about getting rid of things because certain items were gifts or were inherited.
But the first rule of clutter-busting is that you have to absolutely drop-dead love something in order to keep it. If you just can't part with something, then don't. Put all the items you can in a box and then put it into storage. Then once you've forgotten about all those guilty feelings, you can put the items in a garage sale, donate them, or just throw them away.
In short, if your house is overrun with family pictures on every inch of wall space, an explosion of sports memorabilia, or a porcelain pig collection that won't end, for example, pare them down and then find one central spot to display these items rather than spreading them all over the house where they can make you feel overrun.
5. Create visual space.
Clear as many items as possible off the floor, off the tops of dressers, countertops and nightstands so your home will have plenty of clear space. You know how a hotel room makes you immediately want to go flop on the bed? That's because it's clean and clear. Clearing away excess stuff will give your eyes -- and your mind -- a rest.
6. Get pets under control.
If possible, evaluate your pet's impact on your home. Do what you can to create a living situation where both you and your pets are happy, but not where one of you is at the expense of the other. Many homes are controlled by pets to the point that woodwork is scratched, the home is damaged, every surface is covered with hair, and there is an unpleasant odor in the home.
7. Organize your home.
Create areas for coming and going where keys, backpacks, purses, wallets, mail, and other needed items can be placed. This area should have a trashcan where you can sort mail, and a small hanging basket where bills that need immediate attention can be placed.
Then, work on organizing bill-paying, files, warranty booklets, and all the little areas of your home that get cluttered, such as medicine cabinets, home offices, desk areas, pantries, laundry rooms, garages, spice cabinets, and so on.
8. Keep at it and involve everyone.
This is probably the most important step for getting - and keeping - a home under control. A home that's under control is not something that happens once and then it's done, like taxes. Keeping your home in order is more like exercise or taking vitamins. You have to keep at it. Keeping a home in control is a process, not an event. I have to tell myself all the time don't put it down, put it away.
It also takes commitment on everyone's part. My pantry is an OOCA in my home mostly because an orderly pantry is important only to me. But, a family meeting was called so that everyone does their part at keeping the pantry orderly. It will also keep us from having five boxes of raisin bran or three bags of marshmallows.
Bringing your home into control is a wonderful way of bringing a sense of accomplishment and order back into your life. It will also save you money because you won't purchase multiple items because you can find what you're looking for. It will also help you create a home that is your refuge and where you enjoy spending your time. Lastly, it will make you proud to live there and have guests over. Now, let's get to work!