How to Stop Surface Clutter

One of the biggest frustrations I hear from folks with cluttered homes is the neverending piles of stuff. Papers, bags, magazines, junk mail, even dishes, and toys. And these piles are usually found covering every surface of their homes, floors included. I get it, even I have to sleep with one eye open when it comes to this type of clutter. Surface clutter has a mind of its own and if we are not careful it can migrate from countertops to kitchen tables covering dressers along the way.

A messy family room of clutter

In our home, an empty surface is like a magnet calling for random things to take up residence. Whenever I walk into a room if my arms are full of things I need to set down I find myself looking for anything that is open. My goal is just to empty my arms and there is nothing wrong with that thought process. The issue is when we leave things where they drop rather than putting them all the way away… where they belong.

Most of our clutter is a result of good intentions that never got completely followed through with.

See if any of these pile hot spots are in your own home.

  • A pile of cleaned clothes on the couch waiting to be folded.
  • Dirty dishes stacked near the sink waiting to go into the dishwasher.
  • Mail piled up on the kitchen counter needing to be sorted.
  • Bag of trash near the door waiting to go out.
  • Shoes in the family room waiting to be put in their cubby.
  • Blankets covering a chair waiting to be put into the basket.
  • Groceries on the kitchen table waiting to be put into the pantry.
  • Dirty clothes on the bedroom floor waiting to go to the laundry room.

I could go on and on. We all do it. Look for “almost” and call it close enough. But, here’s the thing. Most of our problems is usually resulting from one main bad habit.

Not putting things all the way away.

If we would just work on that one habit alone, our homes would be in much better shape than they are now.

What if that is where you actually get stuck the most? What if you can’t put everything all the way away because you simply do not have a home for all of your things?

Let’s work on that part first.

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How to Keep Surface Clutter from Taking Over Your Home

A place for everything and everything in its place. It is a saying my grandmother said often. Little did I know it was the reason why her home was always neat and tidy.

The main purpose of our homes is to live a happy life. And the items we have in our homes are basically tools we use to do just that. Clothes we like to wear, the food we enjoy eating, movies we love to watch, blankets that are super cozy and soft.

The problem lies in having more tools than we actually need. 

  • More clothes than we can ever possibly hope to wear in a year.
  • Food we purchased on a whim that has been sitting in our pantry for long past the expiration date.
  • Movies that we loved once but no longer care to watch.
  • A collection of 10+ blankets that have migrated to every single room in our home rather than just a few.

When you look at the things in your home as tools that help you complete a task or activity, it takes away some of that guilt and emotion allowing you to let more items go that you know you really do not need.

That is the decluttering part of downsizing. Removing the extra things so you can make room for what you are actually keeping. And it’s the room you free up that allows you to set up a permanent home for what you are actually going to keep and use.Magazines in basket on table in living room, close up

Let’s see it in action. 

If you pare down on your wardrobe, you will be able to fit all of your clothes into your closet and dresser without having to keep things in boxes and bags on your bedroom floor.

If you toss the stale and outdated food, you can then create a pantry that is organized making it so much easier to cook a meal.

If you donate movies you no longer watch you can set up a DVD binder of your favorites and enjoy those movies more often.

If you give a few of your blankets to the humane society you can keep just those cozy ones in a nice basket in the corner of your family room.

Pare down, make room, put your things all the way away, and create a home that is organized and free of clutter.

Yes, it really is that simple.

But wait, is that really it? No, not really.

What if piles of random items are still showing up in your home?

You can set up “shortcuts” to help keep those piles from taking over your home. Shortcuts in the form of bins and baskets.

I love bins and baskets. They are the main tools I use throughout my entire house. They are super simple to use, take up little space, are incredibly affordable, and they actually work like magic.

A few ways to use baskets to help with surface clutter are:

  • A basket to toss mail and newspapers in that you can go through later in the day.
  • A big basket for toys that end up in the family room.
  • A shallow basket to hold daily medications and supplements.
  • A large basket to hold dirty laundry.
  • A deep bin to hold throw blankets and extra pillows in the family room.

Basket with blankets and pillows near sofa indoors

If you have a source of surface clutter, you can help to control it with a basket.

D/M PRO TIP: Be sure to not ignore these baskets. As you see one getting full, take some time to remove items putting them all the way away. The more you do this, the less you will need these baskets and after time you can remove or downsize the ones you are using in a hotspot space.

Remember, don’t make it harder than it has to be. 

If your home is still surface clutter messy, take a look at what is lying around. Do you see clothes, dishes, or trash? These items should never be something that trips you up. Why? Because each of these items already has a specific home and you can quite easily get those things put all the way away without wasting too much time or energy.

The trick is to try and do things in real-time. It takes less time to set up a dirty clothes basket in each room now than wait until laundry day and being faced with a scavenger hunt.

It takes just a few seconds to put a dish in the dishwasher as you dirty it then it does to wait until your sink is overflowing and now being faced with a huge chore or caked-on cement-like food.

Even a toddler can learn to put toys in a large toy box at the end of playtime making it easier for you to get in and out of a space without risking permanent foot injuries with misplaced legos.

Make this the next habit you instill and watch your surface clutter issue slowly disappear. Because after all, you can clean it up and put it all away but if you don’t change your habits you will be right back where you started in no time.

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Dealing with Paper Clutter

Paper clutter can be a bit tricky to tame. When you are constantly getting hit with more and more paper every single day how on earth are you supposed to keep up with it?

The answer is pretty simple. As soon as a single piece of paper comes into your home you have 3 decisions to make.

  1. Toss it in the trash
  2. Deal with it immediately
  3. Put it in a pile to deal with later

When you have a paper you need to deal with but not at this very moment, what do you do? You probably put it on the nearest table or counter, right? Sure you do, that is exactly what I used to do. The problem is before you know it that important paper gets shuffled or covered or lost completely by all the other things lying about. What if instead, you had a designated area for papers to go into? Papers that need your attention but not this very second?

Don’t worry, we have a basket for that! 

This tip was given to me by one of my readers and it is by far my favorite decluttering tip EVER. It’s a weekly planning basket and it’s going to be a game-changer for how you deal with paper going forward.

A weekly planning basket is a sturdy, relatively large basket where you can put any items that need your attention before the week is through.

basket of papers next to 4 colored binders

How it works.

Each day as papers come into my home I will put papers that need my attention in this basket. In our home, Sunday is my planning day. My chance to make a schedule for the week ahead. This is when I go through each item found in my weekly planning basket and deal with them accordingly.

Since I began using a weekly planning basket, I have removed 90% of my paper clutter and cleared off just about every surface in my home.

Give it a try, it really does work.

READ: How to Use a Weekly Planning Basket

Surface Clutter Recap

Tip #1. Have a home for your things and take the time to put them away when you are done using them. 
Tip #2. Use surface clutter baskets in each room to hold things that you can put away later.
Tip #3.  Always take care of clothes, dishes, toys, and trash right away.
Tip #4. Use a Weekly Planning Basket to eliminate all paper clutter and never misplace an important paper again.

Change how you see your things and help remove the overwhelm of clutter. Items in your home are simply tools that are there to help you perform a skill. When you see things in this way you will be more willing to return items to their place. A clutter-free habit that will eliminate most, if not all, surface clutter for good.

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