This is the third post in a series about living the virtuous life like Benjamin Franklin. We’re taking his life and applying it to marriage and relationships.
Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.
Let’s face it, we live in a fairly scattered world. Businesses and politicians change course and direction like the wind. Everywhere you look, people are often reacting to something around them: a child trowing a tantrum, a boss expecting the impossible, traffic, noise.
When you live in a reactionary world, there’s definite benefit to having order in parts of your life.
To me, order is synonymous with simple.
Ben placed order on his list of virtues because he wanted to ensure he had time to spend on his studies and projects. He understood that if you want to get important things done in life you must make sure the little things don’t get in the way.
Stated another way – don’t allow the immediate to get in the way of the important.
To apply this virtue to life today, there are countless way to explore. To me, the best place to start this is at home – specifically, simplifying and ordering your home.
Benefits of an Ordered Home
There are many benefits of a ordered home but here are the top three.
- Less stressful. Clutter is a form of visual distraction, and everything in our vision pulls at our attention at least a little. The less clutter, the less visual stress we have. A simple home is calming.
- More appealing. Think about photos of homes that are cluttered, and photos of simple homes. The ones with almost nothing in them except some beautiful furniture, some nice artwork, and a very few pretty decorations are the ones that appeal to most of us. You can make your home more appealing by making it more simple.
- Easier to clean. It’s hard to clean a whole bunch of objects, or to sweep or vacuum around a bunch of furniture. The more stuff you have, the more you have to keep clean, and the more complicated it is to clean around the stuff. Think about how easy it is to clean an empty room compared to one with 50 objects in it.
- An easy way to improve your marriage. This may not seem logical at first but try it. I’ll be willing to bet that once you have decluttered you home and your bedroom, you’ll feel better about your marriage. This may even provide a bit of spice to the relationship!
How to Create an Ordered Home
There are actually no set steps to making a simple home, except to change your philosophy and shoot for your ideals. But here are some tips:
- One room at a time. Unless you’re just moving into a place, it’s hard to simplify an entire house at once. Focus on one room, and let that be your center of calm. Use it to inspire you to simplify the next room, and the next. Then do the same outside!
- Start with furniture. The biggest things in any room are the furniture, so you should always begin simplifying a room by looking at the furniture. The fewer pieces of furniture, the better (within reason, of course). Think of which furniture can be eliminated without sacrificing comfort and livability. Go for a few pieces of plain, simple furniture with solid, subdued colors.
- Only the essentials. Whether looking at your furniture or anything else in the room, ask yourself if the item is truly essential. If you can live without it, get it out. Try to strip the room down to its essentials – you can always add a few choice items beyond the essentials later.
- Clear floors. Except for the furniture, your floors should be completely clear. Nothing should clutter the floor, nothing should be stacked, nothing should be stored on the floor. Once you’ve gotten your furniture down to the bare essentials, clear everything else on the floor – either donate it, trash it, or find a place for it out of sight.
- Clear surfaces. Same thing with all flat surfaces. Don’t have anything on them, except one or two simple decorations (See Tip 9 below). Donate, trash or find an out-of-sight storage spot for everything else. It will make everything much, much more simple-looking.
- Clear walls. Some people hang all kinds of stuff on their walls. No can do in a simple home. Clear your walls except for one or two simple pieces of nice artwork (see Tip 8 below).
- Store stuff out of sight. This has been mentioned in the above tips, but you should store everything you need out of sight, in drawers and cabinets. Bookshelves can be used to store books or DVDs or CDs, but shouldn’t have much else except a few simple decorations (not whole collections of things).
- Declutter. If you are clearing flat surfaces and the floor, and storing stuff in cabinets and drawers, you’ll probably want to declutter your storage areas too. You can do this in a later stage if you want. Leo at ZenHabits has some tips here: How to Declutter.
- Simple artwork. To keep a room from being boring, you can put a simple painting, drawing or photo, framed with a subdued, solid color, on each wall if you want. You may even leave some walls bare if possible.
- Simple decorations. As mentioned in the above tips, one or two simple decorations can serve as accents for a simple room. A vase of flowers or a small potted plant are two classic examples. If the rest of your room has subdued colors, your accents could use a bright color (such as red, or yellow) to draw the eye and give a plain room a splash of energy.
- Plain window treatments. Bare windows, or simple, solid colored curtains, or simple, wooden blinds are good. Too much ornate stuff around the windows is clutter.
- Plain patterns. Solid colors are best for floor coverings (if you have any), furniture, etc. Complex patterns, such as flowers or checkers, are visual clutter.
- Subdued colors. As mentioned in Tip 9 above, you can have a splash of bright color in the room, but most of the room should be more subtle colors – white is classic simple, but really any solid colors that don’t stress the eyes is good (earth colors come to mind, such as blues, browns, tans, greens).
- Edit and eliminate. When you’ve simplified a room, you can probably do more. Give it a couple of days, then look at everything with a fresh eye. What can be eliminated? Stored out of sight? What’s not essential? You can come back to each room every few months, and sometimes you’ll discover things you can simplify even more.
- Place for everything. It’s important that you find a place for everything, and remember where those places are. Where does you blender go? Give it a spot, and stick with it. Aim for logical spots that are close to where the thing is used, to make things more efficient, but the key is to designate a spot.
- Sit back, relax, and enjoy. Once you’ve simplified a room, take a moment to look around and enjoy it. It’s so peaceful and satisfying. This is the reward for your hard work. Ahhhh. So nice!
But what do you do when you have kids constantly messing things up?
While it’s true that trying to clean the house with little ones around is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos, here’s some tips to help (some of this is a repeat from above, only directed towards your children and their stuff).
- Identify the important. The first step in decluttering is identifying which toys and other possessions are truly important to the kids. What do they play with, what do they love? Then get rid of as much of the rest as possible, keeping only those they use and love.
- Massively purge. In the beginning, if you have a lot of kid clutter, you’ll want to go through a massive purge. The way to do this is to block off a day to go through their rooms. Do one area at a time: a drawer, a section of the closet, a shelf. Take everything out of that area, put it in a pile. From that pile, take only the really important stuff (See Tip 1). Get rid of the rest. Donate it to charity if it’s still good. Get some boxes and put all the stuff to donate in there, and when they’re full, load them up in your car to donate on your next trip. Then put back the important stuff, and tackle the next area. If you do this quickly, you can do a room in a couple of hours.
- Leave space. When you put the important stuff back, don’t try to fill up each drawer, shelf or closet area. Allow there to be some space around the objects. It’s much nicer looking, and it leaves room for a couple of extra items later if necessary.
- Contain. The key for us has been to contain the kid clutter. We only let them keep their stuff in their rooms. The living room, kitchen and dining room are for household stuff only. We do have a play area for the two toddlers, and their stuff gets spread throughout the house, but still, we try to contain the kid stuff to certain areas only. This leaves our living area very simple and minimal.
- Bins. These are the best type of containers for kids stuff, in general. Bins or baskets. The key is to make it easy for the kids (or you) to toss their stuff into the bins, making cleanup simple. Label each bin, if possible, with the type of stuff that goes there (blocks, stuffed animals, Legos, instruments of destruction). If your child can’t read, use picture labels.
- Cubbies. We have a small plastic 3-drawer organizer (we call them “cubbies”) for each child. They don’t take up much room in the closets, and it allows them to have a place to put their little odds and ends that would otherwise be all over the place.
- A home for everything. We haven’t actually completely succeeded at this, but we try to teach the kids that everything they own has a “home”. This means that if they’re going to put away a toy, they should know where its home is, and put it there. If they don’t know where the home is, they need to find a home for it, and put it there from now on. Actually, this is a useful concept for adults, too, and it’s one that I’ve mastered and found very useful. Our kids understand this idea (at least, the four older ones do), but sometimes they forget. Still, it helps keep things organized.
- Organize like with like. Try to keep similar things organized together. So, one bin for stuffed animals, another for sports stuff. This makes it easier to remember. Same thing with clothes: underwear and socks together, shirts, shorts, pants, etc. All video game stuff in one place.
- One place for school papers. Similarly, you should have one place to keep all incoming school papers. We have an inbox for all incoming papers in our house, but we also keep a folder to store school papers, so we never have to search for them. Also, when we get a school calendar or a notification of some school event, we enter it in our Google Calendar, so we never forget when stuff is.
- Teach them to clean. Our 1-year-old daughter, Noelle, doesn’t know how to clean up after herself. But all of the other 5 kids do, including our 3-year-old. So, instead of us continually stressing out about the messes, we just ask them to clean up now and then. Sure, things will get messy again soon. But at least the kids are doing the work cleaning up, not us.
- Allow them to mess. Kids are not perfect. They will inevitably make a mess. You have to allow them to do this. Then, when they’re done, ask them to clean it up. No harm, no foul.
- Purge at Christmas, birthdays. On these two occasions, new stuff comes into their lives en masse. If you just add this new stuff to their old stuff, you will have a huge mess. Instead, we ask them to put all their gifts in one place. Then, a day or two after Christmas or their birthday, we go through their closets and bins and ask them what they want to get rid of so they can make room for the new stuff.
- Do regular decluttering. Every month or two, you’ll need to declutter their stuff. See Tip 1. Do it at least quarterly. You could put a reminder in your calendar, or just look at their rooms every now and then, and if it looks way too cluttered, schedule some time to do some purging.
- Less is more. Teach the kids that they don’t need to have huge piles of stuff to be happy. They can’t possibly play with everything anyway – there aren’t enough hours in the day. With less stuff, they can find things more easily, they can see what there is to play with, and they can own better quality stuff (see next tip).
- Go for quality. Instead of getting them a huge pile of cheap junk, go for quality toys or possessions that will last long. Wood is better than plastic, for example. The classic toys are often the best. It’s best to spend your money on a couple of great things than a whole bunch of cheap things that will break and be relegated to the junk pile in no time.
- Learn to accept. You’ll never have a minimal life with kids. You have to accept that. It can be difficult for a minimalist like me, but you can learn that being a harpie parent isn’t as fun as being one that just enjoys their child’s company.
- Buy less. Drastically reduce the amount of stuff you buy for your kids. It’s difficult to resist them when they really want something at a store, I know, but you aren’t doing them any favors by caving in. Don’t deprive them completely, but also don’t spoil them with stuff. On Christmas, for example, just get them a few great things rather than a whole bunch of stuff.
- Clean as you go. I’ve learned to clean up messes as I go (or ask the kids to clean up their mess), so that the house is never a wreck.
- Clean before bed. I also do a quick clean-up right before I go to bed, getting any little things the little ones forgot to put away. It makes my mornings much more pleasant.
- 30-minute cleanups. On Saturdays, do a “30-minute cleanup”. This means that every child (over 5 years old probably) has a chore, and the whole family (including parents) pitch in to clean up the house. Set a timer, and see if you can do it all in 30 minutes. That’s much easier for our family to accomplish, as we have six people (including two adults and a teenager) pitching in to finish quickly. This gives us a clean house and the rest of the day to have fun.
- Prep time. This isn’t so much to do with clutter as with general simplifying your life with kids. It helps to have prep time each evening and morning to prepare the kids’ lunches, clothes, or whatever is needed for whatever we’re doing that day. This means we get the soccer gear and drinks and snacks ready on soccer days, or whatever gear is necessary for the activities of the day. It saves a rush when you are trying to get out the door, and saves you from forgetting stuff later.