Before It Gets In

Keeping Stuff Out. keep it from getting into our space in the first place.

Clutter is a lot like a bad habit: once you have it, it is hard to get rid of. One of the best weapons we have in the battle against clutter is to keep it from getting into our space in the first place. Here are a couple of ideas for stopping the clutter before it gets in.


Erect a Mail Barrier

Paperwork is a common clutter culprit, as it arrives each day in the mailbox. Remember to always sort the mail pile as close to your door as possible, trashing/shredding whatever you don’t need. Common items to pitch include outer envelopes, advertising inserts, and catalogs. Immediately triage the rest into action folders (e.g. “to pay,” “to file,” “to read,” “to respond.”) The key here is to avoid dumping a large pile onto the kitchen counter to deal with “later.”

Keep Sports Gear Out

If you or your children enjoy sports, chances are you’ve got gear. Try to avoid letting this into the house by keeping the bulk of it either in the garage, in the trunk/back of the car, or right inside the entry. Hang sports bags on hooks and remove the clothes that need to be washed, carrying them right to your laundry room. Equipment can also be hung or stashed in a rack.

“Spot” Before You Shop

Often we buy items on the spur of the moment, without having thought through where we will keep them when we get home. From a clutter perspective, this is dangerous. Instead, don’t let yourself purchase anything unless you can identify ahead of time the spot you will put it in when you enter your space.

Beware the “Freebies”

Whether it is a free gift at the makeup counter, free samples from an event, party favors, or a Happy Meal toy, “free” often costs us space. Just because you paid nothing for it doesn’t mean you should keep it. When you get home, look at anything new you’ve walked in with. Unless you love it, let it go.

Don’t Bring It Back

Many of the events and meetings we attend involve paperwork: an agenda, a speaker list, a brochure, etc. Often, we mindlessly pick up the paper at the end and bring it back to our home or office. Instead, before you leave the room, seriously consider if you want/need this piece of paper. If not, toss it into the nearest receptacle before you leave the room.

Limit Gifts

Even if we don’t buy anything, we may collect items as a result of well-intended gift giving (birthday party presents, grandparent surprises, hostess gifts, etc.) When people bring gifts, they are being generous and thoughtful, so we don’t want to rebuff them. Instead, communicate in advance about your preferences for gifts. Consider stating a “no gifts please” policy on invitations, and speak to family members when a holiday/celebration approaches about alternative ways they can show their affection (e.g. tickets, memberships, “dates out”, etc.)

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Once items are in your space, it takes energy to shed them. Be mindful about letting anything in. What are your best tips for keeping clutter out?

22 thoughts on “Before It Gets In”

  1. I am with you on the mail sorting close to the door, as I went paperless billing a few years back I don’t have too much of that anymore. The handouts at functions, I hadn’t thought of, good point, I am guilty of mindlessly stuffing them in my bag and tossing them in a drawer to deal with later. Must get on that today…………….. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. I’ve gotten to the point where I try and bring almost nothing back into my home. I used to bring it all and then sort it at home, but now I just pitch it in before I leave!
      Seana recently posted…Before It Gets InMy Profile

    1. Congratulations on your upcoming move, Jessica! I imagine space in the UK will certainly be at a premium, so I affirm your efforts to minimize the “stuff!” Random free stuff definitely doesn’t warrant the transportation costs!
      Seana recently posted…Before It Gets InMy Profile

    1. And you may need have sports gear, but you surely have “more” because kids just bring delightful complexity. It’s all about one item at a time, making a home for each new thing, and just saying “no” to the auxiliary trash. I wonder what Cassidy would say if he walked in one day and found a sorted, organized mail pile — might warrant some cookies from that awesome bakery.
      Seana recently posted…Before It Gets InMy Profile

  2. I love that you said the freebies cost us space! That is so true! While I don’t have a big problem with it my six year old does! All of the free toys and knick knacks get his spaces so cluttered. Usually the toys are so cheap they break and then you just have more clutter! Best advice ever: Keep it from you space in the first place! This post goes right along with my DIY Organizer Series.
    Autumn Leopold recently posted…The “Swiss Army Knife” Of Essential Oils: Lavender OilMy Profile

    1. I was thinking about your DIY series, Autumn — it is a good fit. We are on the same track of mind. Yes, those little toys seem so fun at the moment, but the joy isn’t worth the space when they start breaking…
      Seana recently posted…Before It Gets InMy Profile

  3. Freebies can be so tempting … especially hotel toiletries. I remember seeing lots of them when I did hands-on work with clients. Though it’s hard to say no to something that’s free, if you’re not going to use it, then it’s just clutter. Great idea to regularly look for and let go of freebies that make their way into your home or office.
    Deb Lee recently posted…Lessons Learned: Corporate System Security BreachesMy Profile

    1. Yes, hotel toiletries!! They are so tempting to pick up because they are just sitting there waiting to be taken – it seems like such a deal. And they can be, if you use them. But if not, it is just as you said… a bit nasty pile in the back of a drawer. I tend to get a lot of these from my husband who flies a lot… from the “toiletries kits” they hand out on long flights. I corral them in a bin and then donate them to the local men’s shelter.

    1. I love the tip about measuring! I was just giving a presentation today and we were talking about a woman who bought a refrigerator without measuring. When it arrived, it was too small. The woman lived with it for 6 months before finally deciding she really hated it. She ended up selling it to a friend and bought a new one — which she measured properly for! Excellent thought Sabrina:)

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Hazel. I imagine most organizers have embraced this idea at some level, and it can be such a helpful rule of thumb for keeping the clutter under control:)
      Seana recently posted…Before It Gets InMy Profile

  4. I think this is a great example of “good fences make good neighbors”. I never really thought of it that way, but if I visualize a literal fence between my mailbox and my inbox, I would probably be a little more choosy about what makes it over the fence and what doesn’t. In fact, I really need to employ that technique on my inbox – 425 unread messages as of this afternoon – I definitely need to get better about that!

    1. Oh, the inbox. That’s a tough one! Sometimes filters can help, and unsubscribing, but it is still a daily chore. I love that phrase about good fences, and I think it is true. A boundary can be a wonderful thing!
      Seana recently posted…I Can’t Like ThatMy Profile

  5. One of the benefits of living in an apartment building is that there’s a garbage can in the mailroom, so we can get rid of unwanted flyers before we even go upstairs. We still have to bring up addressed junk mail so we can shred it, but it eliminates a lot. My husband then puts the mail on his desk to open in the morning, when he can immediately shred the envelopes (and the contents in some cases) and place the mail in the right spot.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…A Triple Celebration… and a gift for youMy Profile

    1. That is a real benefit of apartment living, Janet! When I pick up a week’s worth of mail after a vacation, I stand in the post office and do the same thing. Why carry it in if I know I don’t want it, right? Sounds like you and your husband have a good system going:)

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