Five habits of clutter-free people

Here are five things that clutter-free people make a habit of:

1. They acquire mindfully; only buying something if they know they need it and have identified a specific use for it. They happily pay full price because they know it’s of value to them (unless they find it’s conveniently on sale when they go to buy it) and avoid sales and being enticed by discounts. They only acquire something if they know where they’re going to put it, and that it fits there easily.

2. They have hobbies that either don’t require a lot of stuff, they set boundaries around how much of the hobby stuff they can have, or they limit their hobbies to a small number (like one or two). Or all of the above! They are satisfied without trying to do everything all at once.

3. They are okay with letting things go. They put themselves first and don’t keep things out of guilt or obligation. They don’t take everyone else’s problems on as their own. They have their emotional needs met by a small selection of sentimental possessions only, rather than keeping them all.

4. They don’t have a fear of missing out. They know that they’re always missing out on something, so why fight it? They are comfortable in the knowledge that they can’t have and do everything, and that if they tried, it wouldn’t result in happiness.

5. They base their self-worth around things other than their belongings. They know that even without all their stuff, they’ll still be okay.  Their happiness does not depend on having things. They trust that if culling something means one day forgetting something, that they’ll still be okay. They trust that even if they one day regret culling something, they’ll still be okay.

Perhaps you can see ways you might be able to create some clutter-free habits, too?

Children and chores – no rewards, no punishment

My husband and I have two children, aged 11 and 12. We have always, from a young age, encouraged independence in their day-to-day lives. We try to be firm and set boundaries, but without being dictators about it.  When it comes to chores, we have faced a similar issue to other parents - how do we encourage them to contribute to the household (picking up after themselves as well as extra stuff) without having to resort to bribes, rewards or punishments? Or worse, shouting, tears and slamming of doors?

We don’t want to bribe them because I want them to want to do it (yes, I know, I don’t want to do it so why should they? But at the least I want them to want to help us). We don’t want to reward them because I don’t get $2 or a chocolate for making my own bed, and we want them to be generous and grateful for what they have and not be always expecting some sort of payment for everything they do. And we don’t want to punish them because we don’t believe in a punishment-based discipline system.

So somewhere in all that muddle of trying reward charts (yes, went down that path, failed), checklists to be completed before pocket-money would be dished out (also failed), asking nicely 3759 times (for the most part that worked eventually but who has time for that?) and barking orders randomly (got stuff done but built resentment and we felt mean), we sort of fell into a system that is working well for us, so I thought I’d share it.

It’s based around expectations.

We expect that a certain minimum standard of contribution be met. That minimum is a tidy (not spotless) room, with a made bed and (almost) everything in its home (we are somewhat relaxed because they often like to carry games and activities on for a few days so that is happily left strewn all around until it’s finished), and nothing that belongs to them hanging around the living areas and not in its home.

That minimum needs to be done before we consider allowing privileges. Privileges are things like playing on screens and devices, watching TV, going to play with friends, heading to the park, going for a swim, having a friend over. Basically anything fun ;) . So the minimum standard becomes a pre-requisite for having those privileges.

In addition, there are sometimes jobs that also need to be complete before the privileges kick in. If the dishwasher needs emptying, if they have clean clothes to put away, if the table needs setting or clearing, if their bathroom is grotty, or even sometimes even if they need a shower (yeah, they’re still in that “But I showered YEESTERRRDAAAY” phase), then that also needs to be done before the privileges kick in.

I was explaining this to my clients recently, with their 12 year-old present. Of course, she wasn’t overly excited. She didn’t like the idea of tidying her room daily (although she craved order and wanted to be helpful). Her dad explained it well. He said “You know how you can’t go to school until you change out of your PJs? Well, what we’re going to all do is the same - it’s just a pre-requisite, not a punishment”. Another analogy you can use with your kids is “going up a level”. It’s like a game – you can’t get to the next level until you complete the first.

Since doing things this way, I have noticed quite a few positive outcomes.

Firstly, my kids are complaining less and less as time goes by. This is because they expect it. They don’t always want to do it (hey, who wants to clean a bathroom?!), but they know they have to if they want to move to the next (fun) activity so it’s no surprise. I have a real pet hate about complaining – to me it just is evidence of ingratitude and that frustrates me because I want my kids to know just how privileged they are. I recently told my son we are amongst the 4% of the wealthiest people in the world and he was shocked (because we’re not at all wealthy by our neighbourhood standards!) and said “Wow, there are a LOT of poor people”. Yep – that’s why I want you to be grateful. Anyway, I digress…

Secondly, I have less work to do around the house. Most of the detritus that clutters up our living area is kids’ stuff (what’s with all the SHOES?), and when they clear it, Mick and I have little tidying of our own to do.

Thirdly, they have less work to do each time. The more frequently they tidy their rooms (it’s at least daily), the quicker it takes. This is teaching them a valuable life lesson – small steps make for large benefits.

Bathrooms don't clean themselves!

Bathrooms don’t clean themselves!

Finally, I have to think about it less. I have to remind them less about their room and their ”stuff” hanging around. It’s less mental work for Mick and I because it’s not in our heads. There are no charts to remember to fill out, no adding up, no negotiating. It just happens.

My hope is that they will develop a habit of getting the minimum stuff done every day so they don’t have to remind themselves, they don’t have to think about it, and they don’t have to worry about it building up. I once told my daughter (when asked “Why?” during a complaint session) that it’s my job to raise kind, generous, and balanced adults. And this is part of it. I also hope to improve our son’s short-term memory. He would forget his head if it wasn’t attached to him (a genetic gift from yours truly) - hopefully by putting basic tasks into his reptilian brain (where our habits are) he’ll be more focused on “the now” and a little less forgetful.

Before you ask, we still haven’t worked out pocket money so they don’t really get any unless they do some bigger jobs like a load of washing on their own, or some admin, or mow the lawns. We’re thinking that soon enough, they’ll be consistent at this habit and we’ll just automatically transfer some money in for them each week as a thank-you for not making us shout at them ;)



What if you just have a disorganised personality?

I often talk in my presentations about personalities that are more prone to clutter than others.

Those personalities are ones that are creative, intelligent, and love information. They are often easily distracted and don’t finish things well. They’re great at ideas, but kind of go off on a tangent and don’t always follow through. I’m one of those myself.

Someone once stood up and asked “So if I have that personality, how do I keep my house under control? I don’t think I can completely change who I am”.

She was right, we can’t completely change the way we are. She will always be like that. I will always be me. I can put in place systems or organisation, but I’ll still default to those behaviours a lot of the time. I’ll still be a bit messy and forgetful and lack focus.

But being like that is not a bad thing, because those personalities are also pretty bloody awesome. We’re warm, empathetic, intelligent, creative and fun.

So my answer is this:

Have less stuff, and do less things. The simpler your life is, the less impact your unhelpful habits can have.


It’s all about how it makes you feel

It’s not how your space looks that matters, it’s how it makes you feel.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and think “I’ve got this. I can handle this” then you don’t really need to change much.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and your heart rate goes up, you feel stressed, you feel the urge to escape or you don’t know where to start; then change is needed.

It doesn’t have to look good. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be under control.

Don’t worry about how it should look, or how you think others think it should look. Don’t worry about what your neighbour’s looks like, or your sister’s, or the other school parents. Don’t compare your home to the ones you see on TV or in magazines.

As long as you feel like you’ve got control of it, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It’s how you feel in your home that matters.

Too many interests makes for all work and no fun

A common theme among my clients with high levels of clutter, particularly those who are “information collectors” or “crafters”, is a very high number of interests.

The more interests you are actively pursuing, the more stuff you accumulate.

The more stuff you accumulate, the more time it takes you away from your interests.

Take stock. How many interests do you have? And how much do you even get to enjoy them? Ironically, the more supplies people have, the less they actually do.

IMG_6339I know you need your hobbies and pursuits for your mental health, but do you need all of them at the same time? Our lives are long enough to pick a few favourites at a time.

Consider dropping some altogether, or putting a lot of them on hold.

As Oprah says -

“You CAN have it all, just not all at once”.


Declutter first, organise second.

I always laugh when I see “decluttering” blogs or posts saying “Declutter tip: put your stuff in plastic tubs to organise it better” or “Get rid of your clutter by using these lovely baskets”. Ah…nope.

That’s just making it neater. That’s not decluttering at all – at best it’s organising, at worst it’s “churning”, where you sort and re-sort continually in an effort to take control, purchasing more things to put stuff in, spending more money and taking up more space.

Decluttering means to remove it from your home altogether.

If it’s not there, you don’t have to expend the effort on sorting and more sorting, and you don’t have spend money on storing it!


What I’m all about

I have been mulling over a passing comment someone said to me recently. It made me feel as though I (as a Professional Organiser) was generally regarded as judgmental and a promoter of perfection.

I want it clear that Clear Space is NOT about making everyone a perfectionist.

I don’t promote an unhealthy obsession with cleaning or minimalism. I don’t think that a clean house is a sign of a better parent. Nor do I think that a messy house is a sign of a dysfunctional family or poor parenting.

I don’t think that anyone “should” be anything – organised, not organised, messy, clean etc. They should be doing what makes them, and their families, happy.

I am here for people who are in a mess/muddle/overwhelm/block and they want to change. I will then help them change.

I NEVER judge someone by how much stuff they have, don’t have, or how clean it is. I certainly couldn’t live like some of my clients do, but they don’t want to live like that, either, so we roll up our sleeves and try to meet their needs.

I have friends who live in chaos, and friends who live in show homes (and clients in both categories, too!). I love them all the same! I’m somewhere in the middle myself, and I’m happy there.

I’m here to get you into a place that you’re happy in, too :)

How to organise your cords and cables

One of the things that I see most frequently cluttering up people’s lives are cords and cables. They are very easy to lose, very easy to duplicate and seem to breed when you’re not looking.

Here’s a simple way to organise the ones that aren’t being used much (some live permanently on desks – I know my iPhone one does!). You’ll need a box, some ziplock bags, a label maker (or white paper and some sticky tape will work too) and a permanent marker.

1. Collect them all together
2. One at a time, establish their purpose, what device they belong to and whether you even need it anymore
2. Label the cord with a meaningful description and put it in a ziplock bag, making sure you also label the bag (you can store duplicate cables in the same bag)
4. You may need to have a bag of “Unidentified” cables if you don’t have the courage to part with them.
5. Stand all the bags up in the box. They’ll be labelled for easy identification and won’t get tangled.

Store chargers separately, if they aren’t plugged in at a charging station, but you can still use the same storage method for them.

We need to be more grateful!

Okay, soapbox warning.  I’m up there and I’m standing VERY TALL.

I read an article recently (you can read it here if you like) that basically listed the 50 most annoying things we (a British study, but I know it applies to all of Western society really) have to put up with. It made my blood boil and so I’ve written this in response -

50 things to be grateful for in this world.

1. Pressure selling – people continuously trying to sell you something you don’t want? Great – you have choice!

2. Spam emails – oh, you have email and are connected to the world! Great!

3. Pushy sales people – At least there are sales people that aren’t ripping you off blind and will tell you all you want to know about a product

4. Foreign call centres – you get to speak to someone from a different country, cool! You get to hear another accent, cool!

5. Being put on hold – you can clean your nails, reflect on life, slow down a bit

6. Dog mess on the pavement – you don’t have to drink water from the same area the dog has pooed

7. Pot holes in the road – you have suspension. And a car or a bike.

8. Spam text messages – you have a mobile phone

9. Drivers who take up two spaces – There is loads of space a few metres away and you’re not having to walk 5kms just to get there.

10. Getting stuck behind really slow drivers – they’re driving carefully, not like idiots. At least if they hit something they won’t do much damage

11. Queuing – waiting is good for the soul.

12. Really slow people in front of you at the till – again, waiting is good for the soul. You get to have a chat to the person behind you and meet someone new.

13. Rude customers or clients at work – you get a chance to lighten up someone’s bad day. See it as a challenge.

14. Getting stuck in traffic – thankfully you aren’t likely to get hijacked as you sit there.

15. Having to stand on the train when you’ve paid loads for a ticket. Really? You’re not walking home; isn’t that a great thing!

16. Having to pay to use public lavatories – that are clean and safe.

17. You unload the washing to find a tissue has covered everything. Oh, my god. You have a washing machine and don’t have to cart a bucket of dirty water from the river.

18. Credit card offers through the post – you get stuff  in the mail and it’s not intercepted by corrupt mail workers

19. Bird mess on the car – you have a car. There are birds close to you.

20. Middle lane drivers – you have lots of other lanes to use should you want to. Why stress about something you can’t control?

21. You put on a couple of kilos in weight when you think you’ve been good. It’s clear you have enough food. More than enough, really. Many wish they had this problem.

22. Cars not stopping for you at a zebra crossing – there are zebra crossings.

23. Your delivery gets lost in the post – you have enough money to replace whatever it was

24. You hang the washing out only for it to rain – you have enough clothes to survive in the meantime.

25. Spelling errors in books. You have books. You can spell. You’re educated.

26. Company ‘reply to all’ emails that aren’t relevant to you – at least you have a job!

27. Having to shave – you have a normally functioning hormonal system and arms to shave with.

28. Having to find spare change for the supermarket trolley  - you have access to a supermarket, and don’t have to carry your stuff on your head.

29. Banks phoning you to offer you a credit card / loan / overdraft – You have access to credit if you need it

30. Being sold something different from what you paid for – you have the ACCC to back you up.

31. You close the computer or the computer crashes and you’ve forgotten to save your work. You have a job. You have a computer.

32. Predictive text – you have a phone, iPad or computer. Most likely all three.

33. Being duped by a sales person – you have authorities that will try to help you out that you can trust. You have enough money to survive a loss.

34. Self-serve tills – you get to play with a toy all by yourself.

35. Your partner leaving crumbs / mess on the kitchen side. You have someone to share your life with that loves you.

36. Delayed trains – You have a train to catch that will take you home.

37. Getting a paper cut – it’s not going to get infected, and if it does, you are very unlikely to die from septicemia because we have a health care system.

38. Calling companies complaints lines – there are complaint lines with people there to listen to you.

39. You miss the train by a couple of minutes – there will be another train shortly and you won’t have to walk miles home in the dark on your own.

40. Realising you’ve left your phone at home – you have a phone, and a home, that you can go back to. In the meantime you get to enjoy the peace.

41. Banks phoning you to check your personal details. Your money is safe.

42. Losing the remote control.  Now you can get some exercise!

43. You forget to put the bins out on rubbish collection day. Your rubbish isn’t piled up at your door. It will be collected next time. You don’t have to sleep in it.

44. Your shopping bag breaks and you lose your goods all over the floor.  You have enough money to buy a bag of groceries.

45. The milk has gone off. You and your family have plenty of food and drink to be healthy.

46. Breaking a nail. This doesn’t even warrant a response.

47. Dishes being stacked on the draining board. You have fresh running water to wash your dishes with. And a draining board.

48. Automatic direct debits. You don’t have to line up to pay your bills.

49. Keypad tones. You have a mobile phone.

50. Someone rings you and they lose reception straight away. Again, you have a mobile phone.

And I’m adding another:

51. Articles that show how pathetically privileged we all are without knowing it. I can be grateful that I have a computer to read it on…as much as it angered me!


Will it stay or will it go?

When you’re trying to reduce your belongings, it can be hard making the decision to keep or discard an item.

Here’s what I ask my clients:

1. Do you NEED it? This one is relatively easy to answer once you get the hang of it. If it’s a bike bell and you don’t have a bike, you probably don’t NEED it. Notice I didn’t say “want”. Be careful you don’t confuse the two – western society has a pretty warped sense of need these days.

2. Do you USE it? If you don’t need it you still might use it. I don’t NEED a white coat and a brown one, but I do use both of them regularly throughout winter.

3. Do you LOVE it? Is it neither a necessity nor used? Is it a teacup that belonged to your grandma’s special set? Not needed, not used, but certainly treasured.

If it fails all these tests, then it has no place in your life. Period.


Be careful: it’s at this point that the “other” criteria pop up in your head because fear kicks in….

“I might need it one day”

“I really should finish that project; I’m a failure if I just discard it now”

“What if Cath notices the frame that she gave me isn’t on display anymore”, or

“But I spent good money on it and now I’m wasting that money by giving this item away”.

None of these are good enough reasons to keep something. Don’t let the fear take over.

If you don’t need, use or love it, it’s making life that little bit harder for you. That little bit more cramped, that little bit more complex. Let go of the fear and experience the freedom!


Embrace the idea of less stuff so you can have more of life.


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