How do I keep clutter from expanding and filling my new space!?

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Aren't living rooms full of space great? Now how do you make sure they remain full of space? Photo © by smoMashup_, used under Creative Commons license.
For the first year and a half of marriage we’ve been sharing a tiny efficiancy and are about to move into a two bedroom apartment with a den. While I am ecstatic about having a little more room — like actually having a living room — with so much more space than we currently have, I am worried about it easily becoming cluttered just to fill the space.

So my question to Offbeat Homies is this, do you have any recommendations for how to deal with an increase in square footage while ensuring it is used intentionally? -Debbs

What say you Homies? How do you keep your larger spaces clutter-free?

Comments on How do I keep clutter from expanding and filling my new space!?

  1. I’d recommend NOT trying to fill the whole space at first. Give yourself some time to live in the apartment and see how you use it, what furniture/storage challenges you have, etc. Many times your perception of what you think you’ll use changes once you actually establish routines and uses for each area.

    This method does mean that you’ll have some weird empty spaces at first, but it also increases the odds that when you buy something for your home, you’re really making the right decision. Your additions are more likely to meet your needs and get used. Bonus: it’s easier on your budget because you can acquire slowly and wait for the right deal.

    • Great suggestions! I would only add to be intentional about *everything* you bring into your home. From small impulse buys to informational papers or brochures people hand you at stores and events, everything makes a difference when it comes to clutter. Shifting my thinking that way, plus having a plan to deal with the unavoidable “stuff” that leaks into the house (kids’ papers, outgrown clothes, etc) has made a huge difference for me, and my space is much more intentional now.

      • I’ve seen homes and apartments where the recycling bin lives outside the front door. The junk mail never even makes it into the house. I’ve only lived one place where this was possible, and it was great!

  2. I actually find that larger open spaces are easier to keep uncluttered, since clutter stands out so much more there. It also just seems easier to pick up when it’s surrounded by more space; first, you don’t have to maneuver around a lot of furniture and stuff, and, second, you just feel so much more accomplished because of the big difference between having a piece of clutter in a space and having an actual open space!

    I don’t really have any suggestions on how to prevent clutter, except to maybe get the whole family in on the idea of the large open space being the place for entertaining guests, which means that it should generally stay clean and uncluttered. When you have the idea that This Space must always look Presentable, then I find it’s easier to remember to clean up after yourself instead of leaving stuff around for awhile. Good luck, and congrats on a bigger apartment!

    • I agree with that! I’m living in my parent’s house right now and have nearly my whole apartment in my current bedroom (minus kitchen stuff, couch, tv, and coffee table) and this bedroom is so much more disorganized and cluttered because I have very little storage space and get easily frustrated with cleaning because of my lack of storage. This means I have “junk” everywhere because I have no central spot to keep it so I can go through it on a regular basis to throw away what’s not needed anymore.

  3. Buy useful storage pieces that look great on the outside and have opaque drawers, doors, and cabinets to tuck clutter away inside. Carefully curate what you want visible (Coco Chanel-style – when you think you’re done, remove one thing) and give everything else a designated space either in one of the accessible storage pieces, or tucked away in an attic, basement, or garage if you’ll use it less frequently.

    And, if you’re like me, stop picking things up from the curb or cruising Craigslist just because OMG, FREE! Only get stuff if you need it.

    • Ugh, this is my biggest issue. “It’s cheap! It’s free! Hand-me-downs are awesome!” I’ve had too many of these moments and now my house is full of clutter and I just moved in less than a year ago!

      • Have a yard sale, and pawn off your old stuff onto someone else like me who will see it at your yard sale and buy it just because it’s cheap……..I too have a lot of stuff that was free/cheap.

    • I’ve loved a lot of things I’ve gotten for free, and had the chance to test out some things that I was ready to spend money on. The key is not to get attached to them. There will be more free stuff!

  4. Don’t buy new things right away. Wait to see how you use your apartment space. When you need something get exactly what you need, not something to tide you over, because then you won’t be tempted to keep both.

    In our apartment we do a sweep through the place every month or two and put things we never use, or haven’t used in a long time, in a box by the door. When the box is full we donate it to Goodwill or give it to people we know that need some item we don’t.

  5. This is an ongoing struggle for my boyfriend and I. We have different ideas of what constitutes as clutter and the value of material goods in general. All I have is some observations and conclusions we’ve made that helped us pare down the mess.

    1. Clutter is usually stuff that was given to us, or acquired, with good intentions. Like office supplies, greeting cards, and casual hobby-stuffs. So I try to approach it with questions like, “Can someone else use it? Are there other ways of preserving the memories?” Then once a month we clean-up.

    2. Clutter happens because we’re not mindful of our space. It’s embarrassing to say this, but we don’t appreciate our home or utilize it beyond a shelter for the night. We do the chores that are necessary for making it through work. All the clever storage in the world won’t help us right now. Maybe that’s not the case for everyone, but it’s a huge factor for us.

    3. I’ve found that adjusting how I look at each item that comes into my home reduces the stuff I acquire. A year ago I made a list of 100 items I could not do without (inspired from something I saw online*). I still refer to the list to remind myself of what ultimately matters to me. If I buy something I now try to save for items of heirloom quality that have a purpose and/or meaning to me.

    Hope my thoughts help you!


  6. Take your time. Get only the items you absolutely need to function (which is probably very little, since you are moving from another apartment) then go slowly. Don’t buy anything on impulse. I also have a policy that if one thing comes into my house, one thing leaves.
    Start with bigger items, like cabinets, a bed or desk for your second bedroom, then move to smaller pieces, chairs, side tables, lamps, etc. Then tchochkes come last. It’s so easy to not see the forest for the trees when you run across something cute at a store. Clutter is usually a lot of little things built up.
    Think of a room like an outfit. Your dress is going to make a bigger impression than your earrings, and Coco Chanel said, before you leave the house, take one thing off.
    Also think about proportions. I have a decent sized living room, but I have a large entertainment center, a couch and an armchair. So, our coffee table is actually a large end table and we used the tiniest little table next to the armchair, just enough room to sit a picture frame and a cup of tea. Balance it out.
    A fantastic tip I have seen on blogs is to assign a cabinet, closet, box under your bed, whatever, to extra decor (not necessarily seasonal, but things you can switch out) that way you’re not totally limiting yourself, but you don’t have your house completely taken over by stuff. It gives you options and the power to edit and change things up. Then if one thing has been sitting in your box/cabinet/closet for too long, you know you can regift/freecycle/sell it because it isn’t getting the love it deserves.
    Have fun and enjoy your new living space!!

      • This “one in, one out” rule has really worked for me. If anything new comes into my house, something -of equal mass- has to go into the recycle or giveaway bin. So if I find a cute sweater at the thrift store, I figure out which piece will leave my closet to give it room. If I file a bunch of financial papers, I shred old credit card bills.

        Not only does this keep my space less cluttered, but it makes sure any acquisitions are upgrades – not just more stuff.

    • I love the suggestion to avoid the little decor/tchochkes till the end. I know that’s not everyone’s style, but it has worked for me. You can spend a lot of money acquiring little things that don’t fill a real purpose; in the meantime you don’t have have a table or bookcase to set them on. Function first, form second, and it will come together in time.

  7. 1. Actually buy some larger storage type furniture items. So many times, people that have clutter say that they don’t have a place for things, but then they don’t have any furniture either. Once you know how you want to use your space, buy furniture that will allow you to store the items that you want to keep.
    2. Figure out how often you need to purge stuff. My family purges twice a year. Once in the summer and once right before the Winter holidays. This keeps everything clutter free and easy to manage. If you aren’t sure about an item, pack it up for a few months and see if you miss it. We’re in a 700 sf 2 bedroom home for 5.

  8. Like others have said already, being patient is key. I just moved last weekend so I’m trying to slowly funnel things into a not larger but better arranged space. There are a lot of empty spots right now!

    When I continue to say, “gee, x piece of furniture/basket would go great there,” then I start to think about what sizes/shapes/colors I’d like. Then I go out looking for what I’m after. I am trying to bring things into my home that I actually want, so I’m not overtaken by a bunch of stuff that happened to be on sale. Shelves and organizational things should fit my needs, otherwise I’ll feel compelled to fill them up with a bunch of crap I never needed.

  9. I recommend following Unf— Your Habitat. It’s a great tumblr with tips and tricks for getting your place in shape and keeping it there. My favorite and most used one is a daily 20/10 (20 minutes of cleaning with a 10 minute break). 20 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but it’s cut down on the clutter accumulation, as I used the time to make sure things are put away. It also changes your mindset a bit- where I used to just walk in the house and leave everything in a pile by the door, I realize it’s a lot less effort to just put stuff away, since I have to pass all the “put away” spots to get to the rest of the apartment!

  10. How to keep clutter from invading a room:
    brick up all the exits and entrances.

    I’ve always had a problem with this. I have a LOT of furniture. Like, I have a lot of furniture in my apartment, as well as a boatload of furniture in storage in various places. On top of that, I have STUFF. So much STUFF.
    For me, I have to assess exactly how something will be used, and how likely I am to use that item to pile STUFF on, instead.

  11. I create new rules for myself and my house all the time. We moved from a small basement apartment to a 1200s.f. house… big upgrade. And when we first moved in it was really really empty.

    So, I went through each room, decided the function of the room and then thought about exactly what we needed to make that room function (and look good). I have targets in terms of furniture and decor, so I know exactly what I want to buy..then it just comes down to saving for it.

    That way I don’t go out and go “oooohhh pretty…me want!” and then buy it.

    I also tend to be fastidious in that we go through our house every couple of months and donate or sell anything we don’t want or use. Which includes everything from clothes to furniture.

    I grew up in a family of packrats and borderline hoarders…so I kind of err sometimes on the extreme in terms of getting rid of “stuff”.

    Organizational tools are key, as is utilizing any and all storage space you have. My daughter’s room is generally the cleanest room because the storage in her room is the best designed and best utilized. So it is easy to see exactly what she has, what she uses and what she doesn’t.

  12. I take 10 or 15 minutes every night to go through our apartment and put things back in their place. Dirty dishes go next to the sink to get washed, pens go in the desk drawer, books that are being read get stacked neatly on the coffee table… you get the idea. Having a specific place for everything in our apartment means that clutter never really becomes unmanageable, because if I pick something up and don’t know where to put it, I either have to A) make a permanent space for it somewhere in the house or B) decide it’s not something I need to have a space for and so can either throw it out or donate it (this sometimes drives my partner crazy, like when I ask him ‘where should we keep your security pass for work? It needs a home because it’s driving me crazy when you leave it on the kitchen table.” But then he ends up appreciating it because he can always find his stuff!)

    I have a specific box where I stick things that I think I don’t want anymore, and every month or so I’ll go through it and decide what I’m actually going to donate and what I’ve changed my mind about and want to keep. Then I just do a run to Goodwill. I’m pretty anal about clutter though… comes from having a mom who was a pack rat and a dad who tends towards hoarding.

  13. I guess it depends on what you mean by clutter. I think good storage furniture is great to have, but I agree with the first comment that you should wait until you’ve moved in to figure out how exactly you’re using each room and what your needs are before adding furniture. What we have done in our new place with regards to not having “stuff” everywhere is this: make rooms that you adore and don’t want to get uglied up by junk (which would effectively change the norm in your head if left too long). Have a standard for each room and whenever something is out of place, deal with it then so that it doesn’t build up. What’s also nice is when you do have good storage and display furniture, don’t fill it up! This is also like mind training. Not filling up that whole cupboard, bookcase, or display cabinet establishes the norm of “no clutter” so that it’s easier to say no to stuff that would just be filler. (It’s also nice to have space to stash away temporary items when you need to.) Also, have enough storage that everything has it’s own place to reside–in or out of sight. For instance, “things used to write with and on (pens/pencils/sticky notes/etc.) go in this drawer, and nothing else.” It’s better for everything to have a designated space and there to be “wasted space” in a drawer than it to get filled with junk you can’t find and forget that you have. 😉 Good luck!

  14. We begrudgingly moved from a 1 room efficiency to a two bedroom house. Here’s some advice from two die-hard extreme minimalists:

    1) Floor plan: draw a few little diagrams of how you’d like the room to be organized, or how it HAS to be organized (sometimes it really comes down to outlets, doors, floor vents etc)
    2) Look at what your floor plan and purchase your furniture according to what you’ve already made space for in your plans(dining table, kitchen islands, couch, bookshelves)
    3) PURGE. If it’s a non-seasonal item that you haven’t used in 6 months get rid of it.
    4) Simply DO NOT fill all the storage areas. Leave on drawer, one small closet and/or one cupboard empty and never fill them up. Hide-away furniture is great in small places but you shouldn’t need that much storage in a bigger place.
    5) Take your time and have fun! Instead of running to every thrift store in town to buy stuff to make the house look lived in, just live your life normally and the perfect things will find you. Human beings are tchochke magnets.
    6) Don’t buy things you don’t think will help energize, beautify or simplify your life.

  15. I know it’s a total cliché, but “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” I would add that the place for each thing has to be *usable*.

    Also, I don’t remember who said it, but “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

    I’m also going to second the “six month rule” — if you haven’t used it in six months (so long as it’s not a seasonal item — those just until their season has passed), pass it on to someone else. We have a box of things we’re giving six months before passing on.

  16. Don’t buy anything you don’t absolutely LOVE. And be patient. Going out and filling your house with cardboard furniture from Target just means you have to get rid of it later.

    Also, don’t give in to the urge to “decorate” unless it’s with stuff you already have. If you really need something (like curtains on windows that have no coverings), buy something that coordinates with things you already have but still like.

    Be fierce with your willpower in thrift and antique stores and at garage sales. It helps to make a list of things you ACTUALLY need (like maybe you want a dedicated desk for your den, or you have room for a kitchen cart in your kitchen now) and keep an eye out for sales on those things or at your favorite reuse stores.

    DO find a place for everything. And if you can’t find a place for it and you haven’t used it in a while, ask yourself – do I really need these things? I just moved the rest of my stuff from home halfway across the country to my new home, 2 years after doing without. Some things I really missed (my fiction books!). Other things I could do without (cliched art prints from a trip to France). I hate to get rid of everything, but I’m likely to purge soon.

    One last thing – embrace the temporary. Your place doesn’t have to be perfect right away! Put up your favorite pictures with sticky tack while you wait for frames. Use a pretty old sheet instead of curtains. Do without throw pillows on your couch (bed pillows work wonderfully).

  17. I’m so scared that this is going to be me when my husband and I finally buy a house. We each had a lot of stuff, and then we moved in together and combined our piles of stuff…in storage. We’re hoping from house-sitting-spot-to-house-sitting spot so that we live virtually rent free while we house shop…but that means that almost ALL of our stuff is in storage (ie, my parents’ barn). Since all of that stuff is out of sight…we kind of don’t have a good idea of just how much we have. And everyone keeps giving us free stuff! Or I find sweet deals at yardsales! Unfortunately, we don’t always agree on which things to keep (hence the reason why we have a good kitchen table for free…and two ugly “rustic” trestle tables that HE brought to the relationship) and which things we just shouldn’t accept in the first place (like an ugly oval coffee table and a folding cot that disguises itself as an ugly ottoman from his parents). We are going to have an AMAZING yard sale when we finally move in someplace.

  18. You guys are awesome! Thanks for so many great ideas and tips! One thing we have done that seems to help is keep all our boxes in one of the spare rooms. We unpack one box at a time (often as we need things) and each item is determined if it is a stay or go item. Luckily we help out at a local Free Store so anything that is a “go” item quickly gets passed on to someone who needs it.

  19. I like to go through a cleaning/donate/toss spree before moving (or at least once a year). My husband and I have a rule when moving if we haven’t opened it/used it in a year it goes out. We got rid of a couple boxes worth of clothing, games etc this spring and I am happy to say we can now walk into our closet. By going through items regularly, we figure out what we are using and what we can live without. We also try to be careful what we bring in and buy for our space. No room for that awesome vintage table? We don’t buy it. Do we really need this movie on DVD? If it isn’t something we will watch often or if we can get it on Netflix we don’t get it. We are also gamers and love our books. However, most of out games are digital or are console games we can sell back or give away so they don’t waste space if we are no longer using them. Most of our new books are also digital. This is a huge space saver. For clothing I also try to buy items to replace overly worn items. (Bonus it jogs my creativity and makes me think of new ways to wear what I have instead of buying new all the time).

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