Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

March 19, 2015
Challenges with clutter? Consider these tips

I’m having challenges with clutter again, but I’m not sure it’s all my fault.

For the record, my parents were honest, kind, hard-working people who loved God and country. However, they were teenagers during the 1930s depression era, and experienced real poverty. So as young adults during World War II, with its shortages and rationing, they were used to hanging on to everything “just in case.”

Growing up, I recall our home with stacks of empty egg cartons, odd tools, used gift wrap, bags of buttons and leftover wallpaper rolls. This frugal childhood made me feel an odd combination of self-sufficient and safe, but also weird and wrong.

I noticed I felt better in well-ordered homes, and wished my mom “kept house” like they did. However, her asthma, allergies and emphysema prevented it. I didn’t understand it much then, but when I became a mom with a daughter with health challenges, I sure did.

Rod and I married, welcomed three daughters, and were frugal and grateful for hand-me-downs. Unfortunately, I gathered more “stuff” than we needed. Our mostly clean-but-cluttered home reflected our busy lives with obligations and opportunities. When we welcomed our fourth child, Heidi, and her Down syndrome, it took us to new levels of busy.

As a teenager, Heidi was dual-diagnosed autistic, and her complex special needs added more appointments, gadgets, toys, meetings, paperwork and obligations. Whew! The continuous clutter in our home triggered “visual overwhelm.” Heidi ranges from hyper-active screeching to withdrawal and an anxious rocking pattern. Rod and I knew we had to set stronger family rules to break our unproductive habits.

“Experts” state it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Well, I’d have to say for most it’s more like 21 weeks, 21 months (or 21 years for me!). Gradually, we reached our goals, benefiting everybody. Heidi, our little hidden treasure, truly helped everyone improve and become a stronger family. Today, I’m grateful we, and Heidi’s adult sisters, live in well-ordered homes.

If you have loved ones with special needs or disabilities, or chronically struggle with clutter or even borderline hoarding, consider our concepts.

Set new rules: Eat only in the kitchen area. No food in the living room, bedrooms or bathrooms helps confine spills, crumbs and stickiness. This reduces household cleaning, as well as spending money for products, and precious time and energy.

Think before buying: Most of us are drawn to sales and clearance gimmicks. Before your purchase think about where it’s going to go in your home. If it works, OK.

Get a file: This is a must for all of your paperwork. There are many kinds and price ranges. Additionally, some individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) require drawers or filing cabinets that lock for safety (and your sanity). A portable, lockable, metal cash box with various slots can keep things like matches, medications, and money secure. (Another mommy might need to lock up permanent colored markers, right?)

Toss it in: A small trash container in every room makes a big difference conquering clutter, plus makes rooms appear larger and more peaceful. Just watch any home make-over show.

Set a timer: We’ve all had that company’s-coming-everyone-clean-spree, haven’t we. In a word? Hectic! Do it regularly as a little game with a timer. Everyone has an empty grocery bag and goes into their bedroom (or designated area) for 15 minutes to collect 15 things they don’t need, use or love. Mom is the final judge deciding what goes to charity/trash/storage.

Save some money: Clutter gets expensive if you can’t find something and have to buy it again. If we don’t properly store fragile things around Heidi, they may get broken. I enjoyed covering shoeboxes of all sizes with leftover contact paper or patterned duct tape. I love seeing a shelf of labeled, matching boxes.

Keep it up: Laundry with Heidi was never ending. We were toilet-training her for 11 long years, so I really tried to stay with the washing. I bought and labeled six plastic baskets with handles (like stores have) to transport clean/folded laundry. Each girl was responsible to put away her own clothes that day. As a mom, it was too wearisome to find a pile of clean, folded clothes mashed in heap somewhere.

Think safety first: If families ignore small things lying around, like a tiny toy, button or coin, it’s not uncommon for someone with sensory issues to put it into his or her mouth. And think of pets, too. The “Reduce Clutter Rules” truly help avoid emergencies — just think about scissors, razors and matches in the wrong hands.

Have a place: Important things like keys, mail and medications need their specific place. Imagine if keys are dropped randomly, or bills are left with the newspapers. Not good. Consider labeling bins, shelves or drawers. Also, a small picture or “clip art” for your loved one with developmental delays will be helpful.

Put it away: This rule is tricky if years have slipped by in your family, but it’s important to “Retrain to Return” whenever you’re finished with anything. Forming this habit helps children be better roommates at college, employees at work, or spouses as adults.

Well, good luck. Let’s stay in touch! I’d love to hear your helpful tips, comments and ideas through my email below. Now excuse me as I take a big bag out to the trash, and another box to my car for charity — my folks would be proud.


Pearson is an award-winning freelance writer and motivational speaker. Her email is: or visit her blog at

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