If your household mess knows no bounds, check out Real Simple readers’ clever clutter-busters.
I throw parties. I’m not always motivated to put away my own stuff, but I get moving once I think about my friends coming over and seeing my mess.
I charge my children when they leave things lying around the house. Twenty-five cents for each item left by an elementary-school–age child; 50 cents for items left by the middle-schooler; 75 cents for items left by the high-schoolers. On Friday a friend and I have coffee—and a treat if it has been a particularly messy week.
I’m lucky: My husband picks up after me. When I return from work each evening and drop my bags in the entryway or on the couch, he quietly moves them into our bedroom closet. Usually I don’t even notice until later. I’m grateful for his small—and necessary!—acts of cleanliness.
I was notorious for tearing out magazine articles to save—but I never got around to reading or filing them, so they wound up all over the house. Now if I come across a tidbit I want to remember, I don’t rip out the entire article. Instead, I type it into my MemoPad on my BlackBerry. And if I want to check out a Web page or make note of something to research later online, I e-mail myself that information.
Lake Elsinore, California
Sawyer, my young Cavalier King Charles spaniel, helps me stay neat. Sawyer will pick up anything he can get his mouth on and attempt to swallow it: car keys, the newspaper, my iPod, the screwdriver I was using 10 minutes ago. He gives me great motivation not to leave things sitting around.
When the kitchen or the living room is messy, the whole family pitches in and we all sing the "cleanup song," which my 2-year-old invented. It makes straightening the house surprisingly fun.
I have a simple policy: I need to be able to tidy up the entire main floor of the house in less than 10 minutes. If I can’t, I pare down my belongings.
When I was 25 years old, I made up a game called "25 pickup," in which I would have to pick up 25 items before I went to bed. Every year that I get older, I do a bit more work! For example, now, at age 33, I play "33 pickup." It’s a fun little challenge for me, and I’ve learned that I rest much more easily with a clutter-free home.
I listen to podcasts while I tidy up. And I won’t let myself listen to them any other time, so it keeps me coming back for more.
Make furniture perform double duty. I have a big, red trunk my dad packed for me when I went off to college that now serves as a window seat and also stores my daughter’s toys. The old suitcases we found in my great aunt’s attic are stacked on top of each other to create a unique end table that stores throws for chilly nights. Best of all, our coffee table came with a basket underneath that I use to store diaper-changing essentials, which means fewer trips upstairs during my busy day.
I have a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, so every square inch of my living and dining room is covered with jumpers, baby dolls, balls, and puzzles. I’ll figure out how to be clutter-free when the kids move out and go to college. For now I say, "Bring it on!"
I clean up during commercial breaks while watching TV. I handle my mail once (sort, pay, shred, file). And whenever I leave the family room, I bring one item to put away in its proper place. If all else fails, I make my husband leave the house, since he causes 90 percent of the mess.