Living With a Clutterbug

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My Story: Clutter Stole Her Life

Costly Clutter

Clutterbug Catastrophe

Help! As a child, I lived with a hoarder, my mother. I remember always trying to clean up behind her and feeling embarrassed to have visitors over. We had to spread bedsheets over the mounds of clutter. I am now a wife and mother of two and my husband has no sense of organization. When I try and mention to him my frustration about our beautiful yet very cluttered home, he becomes very upset. I must say that I have not taught my children to help out around the house. Therefore, I spend a lot of time trying in vain to keep up the facade and keep my old demons from overtaking me. Please help me find an approach that would get my family helping out on a consistent basis and keep the peace between my husband and me.

Visit The FlyLady

This poor woman! I feel her pain. My mother still does this to me sometimes. For example, she recently found a sale on beach towels and I asked her to buy me one. She bought six for me. She's loving but misguided. I have no space for six beach towels in my (very small) linen closet.

Tell this woman to check out It's a free service that helps people release their clutter a little each day and keep their homes "company ready." I have worked steadily for months and am finally feeling like I'm in control. I have it easy as I am single, but the system works whether you're single or have 12 kids. (I receive daily testimonials that prove it!)

I can hear the desperation in her voice. Please remind her that the clutter didn't appear in a day and it won't leave in a day, but she can start the process now. FlyLady's system is loving, considerate and completely free.

Start a "Slob Box"

My mom had a "slob box," which was a box in her closet where she put items we left where they didn't belong. When looking for something we left laying around, we would ask her if she knew where it was and she would many times reply "in the slob box." To get our item back, we had to do a chore. When I was a kid, it was by far one of the lamest things ever. However, over 20 years later, I can't wait for my kids to get old enough so I can have my own slob box. This may not work on your husband, but it's worth a try!

Stop Being the Family Maid and Nag!

Here are several strategies that can help with clutterbugs so that you are no longer the family maid or nag!

  • Teach the children to clean up. Don't punish them for a mess, but reward them when they pick up on time or when requested.
  • Provide bins for each member of the family. If you have pick up, put the items in that member's bin and let them put their things away.
  • If hubby works at home, agree to allow his workspace to be as ordered or disordered as he chooses, as long as the door is closed. If there is no door, then buy a screen to hide that area when not in use.
  • Do you have too many belongings? If so, do like one mother I know did. If the kids don't pick up, pick up their things and offer them to a charity.
  • While you are at it, go through your and your husband's belongings as well, culling items you seldom use. Sell them, donate them, or offer them on

Enlist your husband's support with these measures. His reward is that you won't be nagging any more. Everyone will win!
Barbara of Wallingford, CT

Sneaky Methods that Work

When your family is not home, pack a box with the least used stuff and quietly place it somewhere for a week. If at the end of that week you think it is necessary, dispose of the box. If they ask for an item, you have the right to look vague and quietly answer that they might be able to find it if they were tidier. Notice you did not say that you know where it is. When they go to work/school/social activities, you can pull it out of the box. If you do this every week, it won't be long before they get the message, the house gets tidier and you get less stressed.

Another solution is to have one huge box in a very visible place in the house, like in the lounge (if you can stand it). Everything that is left out goes into the box. Homework? In the box. Clothes? In the box. Books? In the box. Leftover pizza boxes from the party? In the box. Just toss it in and don't worry if it gets wrecked. They will only have to fish around in the box once for something they want and it won't happen again. By the way, if you make it a big box, it's harder to get the stuff out. Be prepared for family rebellion with this one, but it will definitely open up discussion. It helps if your stuff isn't part of the problem, so take a look at your own habits. The messy husband I thought I had turned out to be a messy me instead.

Go on Strike

This may be a little unorthodox, but don't do anything. Everyone will wonder why they don't have any clothes to wear. Where are the meals? Make yourself something to eat and let them know where they can find the food. Why isn't there any silverware, plates or cups? Why is the garbage overflowing? Do set an example. Do your laundry, wash your dishes, pick up your dry-cleaning, get yourself to your appointments, and watch your TV shows. Go shopping for groceries, though. Make sure there is food available that they can all make themselves. You might make them upset, but maybe they'll learn to appreciate all that you do. Then incorporate a chore chart and include your husband. A family meeting may be in order.

Or go drill sergeant on them and make new rules. Of course, reward the good work. Reward with family bowling or pizza and a movie if everything went as planned that week. If not, offer no treats. And, when it comes to picking things up, if they aren't picked up, they go in the garbage.

Decorate and Declutter All at Once

I would suggest decorative baskets, bins or other containers for the common areas of the home, designated for each person. If you find something out of place, put it in the person's container. Then, have a designated time of the day or week when everyone takes their bin(s), basket(s) or other containers to their space, empties them out, and returns them. This is a great way to hide clutter and decorate at the same time. Ikea, Target and other chains have a lot of options at relatively low prices.

Find the Motive Behind the Clutter

First, I would look for the motive behind keeping the home cluttered. With my own parents, it was because they had grown up during the Depression and were worried about not having enough. So, dad kept broken toasters and coffeepots in the hope that he could take parts from one and repair another. However, that was never done, and it became part of the enormous clutter taking up space in their home along with old magazines and clothes.

For myself, I worry that I am wasting money by giving something away. But I have come to realize that I am allowing the item "to own me," rather than me owning the item. I give myself permission to donate the item or give it away to someone who can actually use it. I'm giving a cousin my son's gently-worn clothes for her own little boy. It helps her out (she's a single parent), and it makes me feel good that I am helping someone else.

Reassure your family that they have enough already. My sister-in-law taught me these guidelines to control the clutter in her own life. If she hasn't worn an article of clothing in a year, she donates it. If she hasn't used an item within the last three years, she donates it. That way, she feels she is not wasting the item or the money she spent on it.

Another girlfriend told me that she gives things away saying, "I have had this long enough, and I have enjoyed it (whether it's a vase, picture, etc.). Now I can give it to someone else to enjoy."

Realize this is a process. Your family may not change overnight, but with these tips in mind, they can start to let go of things, and you will all feel so much better as your home is cleared out of unused items.

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