“Your home should be the antidote to stress, not the cause of it.” —Peter Walsh.
Does your home serve you—or do you serve your home?
That’s not a question most of us ask ourselves, but we should. After all, our homes are meant to serve a distinct purpose in our lives—to be both the place we come back to, and the place we go out from each day.
If your home is serving you well, it is a safe harbor from the storms of life—a place to relax, rest, and connect in meaningful ways with family members.
But it is also a launching pad—a secure port of departure from which you can make a positive difference out in the world with the one life you have to live.
A home serves you when it provides both of these benefits.
A home doesn’t serve you when it takes more than it gives.
When possessing your home (and maintaining the possessions within it) becomes your focus, you end up spending your limited and valuable resources (money, time, energy) taking care of it. That’s when you know you’re serving your home. You’re spending less time living the life you want, because you’re spending more time cleaning, maintaining, and repairing—and perhaps also paying a hefty mortgage for the privilege.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to live more by owning less.
Here are fifteen little changes all of us can make in our homes to make sure it serves us well.
1. Remove decorations that no longer inspire you.
Just because something made you happy in the past doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever. Your life has moved on—maybe it’s time for the decoration to do the same.
Remove the knickknacks and pictures that no longer inspire you. Or the decoration you bought that one time because it was on clearance. Keeping just the items that mean the most to you will help them to shine.
2. Donate clothes you don’t love.
After decluttering your closet, you’ll find more calm and peace each morning when you get ready, rather than facing stress and indecision. Laundry will also get easier. Not to mention, donating unused clothing to a local charity is a simple but meaningful way to help others.
3. Reject the convenience fallacy.
There are certain places in our homes we tend to leave items out for convenience—a stack of favorite DVDs in the corner, appliances in the kitchen, toiletries beside the bathroom sink. By leaving these things out, we think we’re saving time and simplifying our lives.
That’s the convenience fallacy. Sure, we might save a couple of seconds, but the other 99.9 percent of the time, those items just sit there creating a visual distraction. Create space for your home to serve you—keep them in a cabinet or drawer.
4. Take down signs that don’t inspire a noble life.
I know a woman with a sign in her laundry room that says, “It’s tough living in the fast lane when you’re married to a speed bump.” I get the humor, but I wonder how reading that sign every day might affect her approach to her marriage, even in small ways.
If you’re going to put words up on your walls, put up positive messages that inspire you and call you higher instead.
5. Free up closet space.
One of the biggest complaints people have about their homes is that the closets are too small. And it can bring down our mood every time we think about it.
If you’ve been thinking that you need bigger closets, maybe the better answer is just to own less. Remove some unused stuff—and your closet will feel bigger overnight.
6. Clear your dining room table.
Is your dining room table a depository for mail, backpacks, keys, and other things that are in the process of going from one place to another? If so, chances are that using it for a meal may seem like more work than it’s worth. Put the items away where they belong.
Make your tabletop a clean, open space that says, “I’m ready for your next meal. Gather the loved ones and let’s eat together!”
7. Clean out your entertainment center.
These large pieces of furniture often harbor lots of small items we no longer need. Take out old electronic components, cords you don’t need, and discs and games nobody uses. Get rid of them by recycling responsibly, arrange the devices you do use in an eye-pleasing display, and hide their cords as much as possible.
8. Distinguish between minimizing and tidying up.
Just because a room is tidy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s uncluttered or serves its purpose. Well-organized clutter is still clutter. Never organize what you can discard.
9. Pare down your beauty and grooming supplies.
I don’t know how big your bathroom is, but get rid of the clutter, and I guarantee it will seem more spacious. Empty out all the cabinets and drawers. Separate beauty tools (hair dryer, styling iron, savers, etc.) from beauty supplies (make-up, lotion, aftershave, etc.).
Eliminate duplicates, throw out anything that’s broken or old, and get rid of items you no longer use. Then wash your storage containers and organize what you’re going to keep. You’ll begin to enjoy greater calm and relaxation right in the bathroom you’ve already got.
10. Declutter duplicates.
I call this a minimizing accelerator because it’s one of the easiest things you can do to make quick progress. Start with your linen closet. How many extra pillows, sheets, and towels do you really need?
Other good candidates for eliminating duplicates include cleaning supplies, gardening tools, fashion accessories, home office supplies, toys, books, and kitchen items. Keep your favorite in each category and get rid of the rest.
11. Calm a space for reading.
Even if you aren’t up for decluttering an entire room, you can still “calm” a space. You calm a space when you minimize distractions. Choose a favorite chair and declutter everything around it. Remove anything from the floor that isn’t furniture. Clear the surface of side tables or a coffee table by removing or storing remotes, pet toys, kid toys, hobby items, old newspapers/magazines, mail, books, etc.
12. Clear space for your car in the garage.
A garage is not serving you well if it’s not serving its purpose (which is to house your car). That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with using a garage for storage, but it’s possible to go too far with it—and a lot of us do.
Get rid of all the obvious candidates for decluttering—odds and ends and leftovers, kids’ unused playthings and sporting equipment, duplicate tools, spare parts, etc.
13. Tackle a junk drawer.
Most of us have one. It’s the default resting place for small items that have no better place to be. Or for things we think might have some use but we can no longer remember what it is.
Chances are good you can toss most of what’s in there and never miss it.
14. Set physical boundaries for your kids.
Give your kids a certain amount of space and allow them to manage it how they want. In our garage, we have one shelving unit and one plastic bin. The kids store their outdoor toys on the shelves and keep balls in the bin. When things begin to overflow, we ask them to make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. The same principle applies to a bedroom or a toy basket.
15. Count the “clutter cost.”
It can be hard to get rid of things you spent a lot of money on. But keeping things you no longer wear, use, or love also has a cost—every object carries a burden as well as a benefit. The burden or clutter cost is the money, time, energy, and space an object demands of you.
If you’re having trouble letting go of a spendy item—or any item—remember to consider the benefit-to-burden ratio for before you decide to keep it.
You may not be able to do all fifteen right away, but there a few from this list you can accomplish even today.
A home that serves you well is a beautiful thing. It’s less distracting and more calming, which makes it both a joy to come back to and an inspiring place to go out from.
Don’t wait any longer to have a home that gives more than it takes.