One of the best tactics to eliminate clutter is to give every object you own a “home,” that is, a spot where it belongs all the time and to which it always returns if used elsewhere. Item homes reduce the impulse to just drop things anywhere; once you know where a thing belongs, you will be more likely to put it there. Figuring out where all items should ‘live’ reduces stress, time wasted hunting for things, and the risk that an item will be lost or damaged.

Item homes also simplify life when multiple people share a living or work space. Labeling both the item and the spot where it belongs increases the odds that things will be put back when people are finished using them. Pictures of items that belong in a given spot may be the most effective labels, particularly for new, very young, non-English-speaking, cognitively impaired, or distractible household members. Labels are also helpful when re-arranging items in a shared space – putting a label where the item was that says where it has been moved to, and another on its new home reduces confusion and upsets. Item homes also help prepare for or cope with the consequences of a disaster by letting everyone in the space know where to quickly find urgently needed items.

A step-by-step process works for identifying item homes for any item:
1.    decide what room items belong in and take things there
2.    choose the best of related items and discard those that are not as good
3.    acquire any essential containers for holding items that are staying
4.    organize items within the container or space
The following general principles will help create good item homes and storage:
-       Items that are frequently used, essential to functioning, or that create problems if misplaced should be the highest priority for getting item homes. After you figure out these out, other belongings will be easier to settle.

-       Item homes work best when nothing else is ever put in the spot where a particular item belongs: if the TV remote goes in a specific spot, nothing else should go there. The home for your cell phone needs to be off limits for other items. Removing items that do not belong in or near the home of a different object reduces visual clutter and makes it easier to see how items that belong there should be arranged.

-       Putting items as close as possible to where they will be used will make finding them easier. So keys, wallet, hats, coats and umbrellas all logically (but not necessarily possibly) belong near the entry, but your keys and wallet are probably used more often than umbrellas or coats so the keys and wallet need to go in the most easily accessed section of that area.

-       When you live in limited space such as an apartment, the best storage decisions nearly always require going vertical. If you have many books and a small apartment, you need lots of tall bookcases. Tall dressers store more clothes and conserve more floor space than shorter ones.
       Switching furniture may be a difficult decision if your furniture has sentimental value or a lot of cash value, but acquiring more practical furniture may be a big help in living clutter-free.

-       Not having enough storage space in closets, dressers, or other natural storage areas may mean that choices must be made about what to keep and what to discard. Keeping only the best of similar items is good decision-making practice and reinforces the important idea that you deserve the best.

-       Items in piles often lack the right containers to best store them. Not only does everything you own need a spot, many need appropriate storage containers. Even things that are used often need the right kind of container for when they are not in use, such as files for papers, dressers for clothes, and trays for current financial documents. Do not beat yourself up because your books are sitting on the floor – go buy enough tall bookcases to easily put all those you need to keep on shelves. (And make plans to secure the bookcases to the wall because we still live in earthquake country.)

-       Bins are usually the worst form of item homes or storage. They are best for storing single-category items, such as off-season clothes, crafts materials, or archive files. Divided plastic boxes or drawer cabinets are usually better for storing items that might be needed quickly, are frequently used, or for small or mixed items.

-       Empty space is lovely when all belongings have homes, but under-filled space represents missed opportunities when items cannot be put away. Over-filled space means that there are too many belongings, insufficient storage, and/or better organization is needed.
     The most common example of under-filled space is blank walls when shelves or cabinets are needed to get things under control. Apartment dwellers probably have to choose between blank walls or being organized. Or have many fewer belongings.
     Another essential for apartment dwellers is to identify unused nooks and crannies that can be turned into item homes or storage areas. An example is using the space under the bed (especially good for linens and flat items – flat containers with handles can make this area most useful).

-       Items that have been in a pile for a long time are probably not needed at all, especially those on the bottom.

For many people, creating item homes challenges their decision-making skills. As unwelcome as decision-making struggles may be, the struggle can be a valuable tool to learn to make many kinds of good decisions more easily. Like other skill-building activities, item homes decision-making practice should start small: what room does an item belong in? Even if things cannot be put away, move items there anyway because you will see how many duplicates you have and how many you actually need. Since item home decision-making can be taxing, it is best to do just one small area or set of items per day.

Dealing with items that have no possible home because the natural home for them is already too full is an essential part of organizing. The most common example of such belongings is having more clothes than will fit in the closet or dresser. This may be a clear message about the number of clothes you have, or may mean that your closet storage methods need improvement, such as:
-       increase the number of closet bars, and/or
-       use hangers that allow hanging pants or skirts with shirts or blouses to take up less space, or a cascading hanger (holds multiple hangers on a single descending bar – these are harder to use than one would expect)
-       store clothes not needed for the current season somewhere other than your closet.

None of these ideas are the last word on organizing closets but are examples of possible actions. Many other solutions are possible.

Using the principle of storing-items-near-where-they-will-be-used, sheets and blankets should be stored in the bedroom, towels in the bathroom, and dishes in the kitchen. Sometimes space prevents being able to store things where they logically go. My last apartment in San Francisco had a postage-stamp kitchen with no room to put away much of anything; my solution was to install tall bookcases just outside the kitchen and to store dishes and cooking gear there; cabinets would have been better but could not fit in the space available.

Many tiny bathrooms have no or insufficient room for towels, medications, or personal care items. A behind-the-door flat cabinet for jars and bottles and a decorative or nearly invisible cabinet outside the bathroom for towels might help. Other solutions might be a tall cabinet, dresser, armoire, cedar chest, or a under-bed-storage flat container.

No matter how good your item homes decisions, you still must exert the discipline to actually put things where they go to be organized. Some actions that will help to develop this discipline:
-       plan time after each project or task to put away the things used for that task
-       regard every pile as an urgent message about the need to establish item homes
-       spend time at the end of each day clearing surfaces and putting items where they belong
-       refuse to accept putting things in piles as even a temporary solution
-       congratulate yourself for each item homes decision you make – they are struggles won.

One way to get ideas for how to solve storage decision-making problems is to look at catalogs or prowl stores that specialize in storage solutions. These are dangerous activities, especially visiting stores, so be very skeptical of all storage products.

Solutions exist for all clutter issues. Thinking of your difficulties as easily solvable puzzles may help you find answers – you just need to not give up, get upset, or stop looking for solutions.


This form may help you figure out where the item homes for your belongings need to be.


Daily planner _______________________________________________________

First aid supplies ____________________________________________________


Glasses ____________________________________________________________

Hat(s) _____________________________________________________________


Laundry ___________________________________________________________

Mail ______________________________________________________________

Medicines __________________________________________________________

New financial documents _____________________________________________

Postage ___________________________________________________________

Reading ___________________________________________________________

Sewing kit _________________________________________________________

TV remote _________________________________________________________



Vitamins ___________________________________________________________

Wallet _____________________________________________________________

Other _____________________________________________________________

Other _____________________________________________________________

Other _____________________________________________________________

Other _____________________________________________________________

Other _____________________________________________________________


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