With a week left to finish my first monthly goal of the year, I’m just now officially getting around to the “analysis” phase of the month, though it’s been rolling around in my head ever since I kicked off this project.
So000, why exactly can’t I currently (circa December) host a dinner party on a whim? Here’s what I figured out about my first problem…
1. There’s stuff to put away.
Every time we want to have people over, we have to plan for a couple hours of decluttering, which includes handling unwashed dishes, clearing flat surfaces, relocating random piles of stuff from the floor, and putting away baby toys. Obviously, this problem is likely related to the fourth problem, there are habits to form, but I thought I’d take a look at the composition of some of this clutter. Is there a reason my childhood mantra of “put stuff away when you’re done with it” isn’t working for our mess? Maybe the clutter holds secrets into our psyche. Maybe it has legitimate excuses. Maybe it’s a problem I can solve just by thinking hard enough.
Anyway, here are three exhibits to study…
We’ve accepted the fact that, no matter how awesome we make the rest of our house, if we’re going to have people over when food is involved, people will stand around the bar. So, it’s gotta be clean…and look! It’s not!
- Boogie wipes (oft-used-baby-gear) – I think I put these here because I was using them very frequently, and I wanted to have them in an easily accessible place. There’s another place in the living room where they’re supposed to go, but the bar seemed like a more reachable location.
- Chapstick (something-that-goes-upstairs) – I’m not sure how this made it downstairs, but I didn’t put it in its natural location upstairs because I was watching the baby, and it didn’t seem worth it to lug the baby all the way upstairs to put away some Chapstick. Babies are heavy!
- Snack cup and Mommy’s cup (dishes-to-clean) – We ate food in the living room, and because I was watching the baby, I didn’t want to leave to put these dishes where they’re supposed to go.
- Wet diaper (trash) – Um…yes, I’m claiming that, at times, there’s not a better place to put a wet diaper than on the bar. Has it really come to this? Well, temporarily…there’s not a trashcan in the living room, and (all together now) I didn’t want to leave the baby to go to the trashcan.
Let’s see what exhibit 2 reveals…
The Console Table
This awkward, somewhat homeless piece of furniture has been serving as our living room Baby Station for the past year, but even so, I’d like it to look presentable.
- Clean wipes and diapers (oft-used-baby-gear) – This stuff technically belongs here because the changing table/pack-and-play lives right next to this thing, but this stuff just doesn’t LOOK clean. The diapers normally live in a somewhat attractive basket thing, but it’s so easy to want to use the basket thing for other purposes.
- Password board game (something-that-goes-upstairs) – Artifact of a pre-Christmas get-together that never seemed offensive enough to warrant an extra trip up the stairs.
- Used kleenexes (trash) – First, I didn’t specify what these were used for, so it’s maybe not as gross as it seems. However, I previously mentioned the fact that we don’t have a trashcan in the living room, and it’s beginning to seem that trash that appears while watching the baby is destined to decorate the living room for an indefinite period of time.
- Basket of baby hair doodads (things-I-think-I-want-on-hand) – We have a bald baby, and bald babies beg for froofy hair thingies to help them maintain balance (scientific fact). However, this pile of hair doodads looks somewhat unkempt, AND the daycare takes off the hair doodads anyway.
I see trends emerging! On to exhibit 3…
The Inexplicable Hall Table
This table resides in the hall between our foyer and the living room. I really don’t know why it exists, but it currently serves to keep Stuff off of other surfaces. Too bad it’s one of the first things you see when you walk into the foyer…
- More Boogie Wipes (oft-used-baby-gear) – Seriously, I need these things everywhere I go.
- Gift cards and to-do items (stuff-I-want-to-be-able-to-find) – So, all of this stuff is SUPPOSED to be in that clear organizer, but the clear organizer is full. It shouldn’t be full because it’s supposed to contain only to-do items and gift cards and checks, and there shouldn’t be so many to-do items that it’s full.
- Papers to do something with (to-do-items) – I guess we accepted the fact that we’re not doing stuff in our to-do organizer, so we’ve started creating piles of to-do items in other places. There are things like this on the bar as well, just not on the part I photographed.
- Shoes and camera bag (stuff-I-want-on-hand) – This is actually all Jonathan’s stuff. I don’t think there’ s anything more to say about it.
Now that I know what kinds of clutter are cluttering my house and mind, maybe I can propose solutions beyond “be strong enough not to put that in the first available location”…
I see trends in this clutter. First, I think we put a lot of stuff in the first available place because we can’t get to its rightful location right away (stuff-that-goes-upstairs and trash, for example). Other things accumulate because they don’t HAVE a rightful location (stuff-I-want-on-hand). And then there are other things that accumulate because there’s a back-up in some other should-exist-system (dishes-to-wash). If I can address these underlying issues, the clutter might proactively declutter itself. Let’s brainstorm…
- Respect my baby-care depot (the console table) and promise to always put things back there, even if I need to access them from across the house. OR…
- Create a baby-care apron to wear when I’m caring for the baby and to store somewhere out-of-sight when I’m not. This feels crazy to me, but it’s a common teacher-trick that has promise. Really, it’s akin to carrying a diaper bag around your own house.
- Create an out-of-sight holding place for this stuff and then commit to transferring the collection on a regular basis. One promising location is in pretty baskets on my living room bookshelf.
- As part of cleaning the dishes every night, collect dishes that have gathered in other parts of the house. I think this will work because dishes don’t necessarily accumulate throughout the house every day. Honestly, I do believe this stems most from not cleaning the dishes, which is a separate clutter problem.
- Get a trashcan for the living room. I even have a good place to put it.
- Regularly evaluate whether I really want them on-hand. Those baby hair doodads? No. They can live in Talia’s room, and I can pick one when I pick the rest of her clothes. Alternatively, I can get one for her later in the day, thereby accumulating extra steps for my Fitbit.
- I need to understand this category better. Really, I want to be able to find everything that I own at one time or another. I think that the trouble arises when I start to allow myself to keep ANYTHING that I want to find in a visible, obvious location. Also, the default location for this category should be somewhere other than “right in front of the front door”. I propose the pending new “office”, so a later project might solve this problem.
- Same answer as above; these need to be in an easy yet invisible location. Honestly, keeping them in plain sight isn’t helping us do them any more reliably, so we might as well put them somewhere more discrete and let a new process help us make sure they get done.
- Same as above. Put it somewhere easy to access yet invisible. Pending new guest room/office, you are our only hope.
Wow, I’m exhausted now. I’m honestly not sure I’m going to devote this much typing to all my other problems…I’d like to have my thoughts on record somewhere, but I need time to actually enact my solutions :) At any rate, though, I’m currently satisfied that this exercise has highlighted some mechanisms that remove the need for quite so much will power regarding clutter. That means I can save it for dessert…