Australians spend a staggering 800,000 hours a day, collectively, looking for keys, sunnies, TV remotes and other “lost things”, according to research conducted last year. And an international survey by furniture giant Ikea last year found that for a lot of people, having too much “stuff” can be the single biggest source of stress in a home.
If you’ve got more stuff than space, or more clutter than clarity, this might all be sounding very familiar. The good news is that creating more space and order doesn’t have to be hard (scroll down for our top tips) and the benefits can be huge. As well as cutting your stress and the time you spend looking for things, decluttering can also help you focus; put money in your bank account; it might even improve your sleep.
Of course everyone’s definition of clutter is different – and as this New York Times article points out, mess can also be a sign of creativity.
But if you’d like to create some physical or mental space – and spend less time looking for lost stuff – here are Nabo’s top tips:
The one-minute rule
If you’ve got a lot to do and don’t know where to start, or you feel you just don’t have time to make a difference, try setting a tiny time goal.
Happiness and human nature guru Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says that “for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm … in the context of a happy life, a crowded coat closet or a messy desk shouldn't much matter. Nevertheless, I've found that getting control of clutter gives me a disproportionate boost in happiness, and other people seem to feel the same way.” One of her tricks for beating clutter is having a “one-minute rule”: if a task only takes a minute – throwing away junk mail, filing paperwork, hanging up clothing – you do right then, rather than putting it off until later. It takes focus, but, she says, “keeping all those small, nagging tasks under control makes me more serene, less overwhelmed”.
The ten-minute tidy
Another trick if you’re right on time, or you just can’t face the thought of tidying up, is to set a time limit. You can get a lot done in five or ten minutes (or 8, which is the compromise I use!). While some people like to whip through the house, others find it more productive and satisfying to focus on one room at a time. Even just five minutes in one room can really have an impact - and once you’re in the groove, sometimes you’ll find yourself continuing on to do a more thorough clean.
Sell, donate or gift
Getting rid of things you no longer need can free up a surprising amount of space in your home. You could sell it or give it away on Nabo; donate it to a local opportunity shop; or if you’ve got lots to get rid of, have a garage sale (the Nabo blog article How to Have a Successful Garage Sale will set you up for success) or set up a stall at a car boot sale.
You can apply the same block of time approach used in the ten-minute tidy to sorting out what you want to get rid of. The thought of everything you want to sort can be overwhelming. Tackling it in short time blocks, or focussing on one room or cupboard at a time, makes it more manageable.
If you don’t want to part with your “stuff” – perhaps it’s ski gear you only use in winter, or toys and clothing one child has grown out of but another isn’t ready for yet – moving it into storage is an increasingly popular solution. The same Ikea research that found too much stuff can cause stress also points out that the use of self-storage containers is on the rise around the world. One reason? Our things are part of our identity, Ikea says. Putting things in storage gives us a chance to see if we can live without them.
And finding storage nearby – possibly even just down the street - is a lot easier than it used to be.
Just as Uber has revolutionised transport and Airbnb has changed the way we stay, there’s a company that’s changing how people find storage space. Spacer, launched in 2015, connects people who have spare space with people nearby who need it. So that ski gear – or like one Spacer client, a fire engine! - could be stored in a garage, attic or garage only minutes away from where you live, saving you travel time when you need to get your gear.
“Typically people need to store household items such as furniture, nursery items between having children, or a car that they might only drive on the weekend,” Spacer co-founder and CEO Mike Rosenbaum says. “We have had requests to store a dragon boat – that's some 12 metres in length! – as well as a vintage Japanese fire engine.’’
“Self-storage warehouse facilities are commonly located in semi-industrial areas, so the benefit of renting a lock-up garage or storage from a friendly local in your neighbourhood is that you can easily access your things when you need them, say on the weekend when you want to get the kids’ bikes out, or take the golf clubs out for a swing.” Storage hosts are vetted by Spacer, and there’s also insurance coverage for goods in storage.
Create some space
Clever storage solutions can also help you create more space. Some possibilities include over-the-bonnet storage, where a storage locker is set up above the front of your car in a garage or car storage cage; racks and baskets to help you organise and create space in cupboards and pantries; ceiling racks in garages or other spaces; and space-saving furniture, such as sofa beds, under-bed storage, and storage inside ottomans or window seats.
It’s not just physical clutter than causes stress – files and emails can too. Simple ways to cut the digital static include Lifehacker’s tip to remove all files from your desktop each day; unsubscribing from mailing lists you don’t care about any more; and finding some apps to make life easier (for example, ASIC’s free TrackMySpend app, for keeping track of where your money is going; or the Australian Tax Office’s myDeductions app).
If your biggest problem is an overflowing inbox, Hubspot has a list of 12 tools for organising your email that could help; and if you want to get smarter with your smart phone, there are some good tips for that in this list of 17 ways to get your virtual life in order.
A helping hand
If your cleaning or decluttering job is a big one, getting some help might be the answer. There are businesses that specialise in helping people organise their homes, their lives or just their wardrobes. On the cleaning front, most cleaning companies will happily tackle both one-off jobs and regular cleaning.
Salina Bal, the owner of Cleaning Your Way, a Nabo-listed business based in Sydney, says there are a lot of reasons why people need cleaning: "Most are pressed for time due to work and family commitments. Others may have medical conditions that minimise their mobility. "No job is too large or small when needing a clean done. I personally have needed a cleaner and housekeeper to clean my own home for various reasons. I came to realise that there were a lot of people like me that needed someone to organise their home." A helping hand with clearing out clutter can be part of the service. "End-of-lease cleans or spring cleaning often require de-cluttering. Customers accumulate so much stuff around the house over the years that they need someone else to help them clear it or sort it," Bal says.
You can find businesses that work in your area by looking in Nabo’s local business directory (click on Local directory at the top of your suburb hub, and select Businesses). Cleaning services will usually be listed under the Home & garden section, but it’s worth a look in the Domestic services section too. You might find another kind helping hand that will free up your time or help you create more space. Another option is contacting OneFlare, a Nabo partner business that connects people who need help with tradespeople, domestic help and other experts.
Whatever your reason for decluttering, or the situation you’re starting with, the first step doesn’t have to be hard - but it can bring big rewards. Start with the thing that sounds easiest, or is most urgent, and go from there. And remember you can always use Nabo to find some help, or find a home for things you don’t want anymore.