If you’ve been following along through my Decluttering 101 posts, you’ve hopefully let go of a lot of ‘stuff’ in your home at this point. I hope you spent some time going through the various rooms and areas throughout your living areas and letting go of the items that aren’t contributing to your life or adding value and joy. If you haven’t yet, read my previous post in this series, Letting Go of Emotionally Based Possessions. Once you’ve gone through the first major round of decluttering, you’ll probably find, like I did, that it becomes difficult to hold on to the simplicity due to what people term as ‘clutter creep’. It’s sneaky and likes to show up everywhere, but most especially on inviting, clear, flat surfaces like kitchen tables and bathroom counters, desks, end tables and side tables. You name it, if it’s flat and clear, it invites you to put items on top.
I am a visual person, having a lot of items out in open view tends to distract me and cause a lot of inner emotions and thinking, some positive and some negative. I think everyone experiences this to some degree, whether they are aware of it or not. When you see a pile of papers on your desk, even if you are only glancing in that direction, your mind registers the pile and the pressure of the task that needs to be done. If you have dirty dishes on the counter, or even clean dishes, your brain knows there is unfinished cleanup waiting for you. Remote controls on the end table next to the couch send your brain the message that they are to be picked up and used. Likewise, leaving your purse and keys on the counter signals you to think about your next errand, or they can just be in the way as you are trying to make dinner. Having items out and about many times causes unnecessary ‘brain clutter’. I find this especially true when those items are on the flat surfaces within my home.
Based on my own experience and personal ideas, let’s look at the why’s and how’s of keeping your flat surfaces clear.
First, the why’s-
-Clear areas produce calm. At this point in our decluttering, I hope this is easy for you to see, that when you have more space in your home, it allows you to feel calmer, more in control and reduces the amount of stress in your life. Not only do clear, flat surfaces provide more space, they also create an atmosphere of quiet and stillness.
-Clear, flat surfaces invite creativity. I don’t know about you, but when my kitchen is clean and the counters are clear, it almost begs me to cook or bake something fantastic! The same can be said for my desk. When surfaces are cleared off, I actually feel excited to go sit down and do something, write or finish a project or even go through some files!
-Clear surfaces give focus to one idea. Most flat surfaces in our home can be 95% clear, but to be functional, they will still have a couple of items on them. Having only one or two items on any flat surfaces gives immediate order and focus to what the purpose is of that area of the home. For instance, a kitchen counter with just a set of knives on top invites you to chop and cook. A living room side table with one interesting book on top invites you to read, whereas if it was piled with 5 books, remote controls and coasters, your brain might be overwhelmed with amount of items and ‘choices’. Likewise, a bedside table with just a journal and pen on it places the focus on writing your thoughts before you go to sleep, instead of containing your phone, Kindle, work papers and a plethora of other items. Consider what the purpose of your flat surface is and what you would like the focus to be when using that surface in your home.
Clearing a Flat Surface
-The first step to clearing a flat surface, is to clear it! Grab a box or bin and take EVERY SINGLE ITEM off of the surface. Even if you think it will end up back on it anyway, remove it all for now.
-Now that your surface is clear, stand back from it, maybe across the room, and take a good look. Notice how inviting the empty surface is and calming.
-Determine what the area around the surface should be used for. Is this area in your home a place that should be relaxing and restful? Or is it a place that should invite movement and creativity? Maybe you want to use the area for something new altogether, like studying or sewing? Once you’ve determined what the focus is for the surrounding area, you can start thinking about what should, or shouldn’t go back on the surface.
-As a general rule, I like to have only one to two items on top of any surface. I find that anything more than two starts to distract my mind and take away from the calm effect I’m striving for. Always declutter first and get rid of those things that aren’t serving any real purpose in your home or life. Only you can decide what will then go back on your surfaces. I’ve included some photos of some of the flat surfaces in my own home so you can get an idea of what I like to do, and maybe it will help you as well.
Once you’ve cleared your surfaces, and replaced them only with those one or two intentional items that compliment the area and are used on a regular basis, how do you keep it clear? Surfaces are natural places we like to throw things, especially as we walk in the door. Purses, keys, mail, backpacks, hats, sunglasses and more all tend to end up on the nearest flat surface that is available when you walk through the door. Below are some things that work for me and my family to help us keep our home looking neat and surfaces clear.
-Put your items on the floor when you get home. Yes, you read that right! When we come in the door, we have gotten into the habit of putting those things we are carrying on the floor in the entryway, even my purse and keys! Sure, instinctively I would put them on my nice, cleared off desk that is only a few feet away, however, then they will sit there for hours and possibly days because I won’t feel the need to get them off the floor and out of the way. This may seem a bit extreme, but trust me, once you get used to the idea and try it, you will see that you end up putting your things away within a few minutes of getting home, and you won’t clutter up your surfaces just to have to clear them off later.
-Cultivate the ‘leave no trace’ habit. I know, I talk about this A LOT. But, it really is the key to my success in keeping flat surfaces clear and inviting. Getting into the habit of putting every single thing you use away as soon as you are done using it can take some time, but is more than well worth it. I can’t say enough about how valuable this is for yourself, and to teach your children.
-Don’t accumulate more stuff. When I first went through our home and cleared our surfaces, a lot of what I cleared were little ornaments and décor that really had no meaning to me, but were just purchased at local chain stores because I thought they were pretty, or fun to look at or display at the time. Once I cleared all those items out, I realized I felt much better internally with more space and less visual clutter, then I ever did with a bunch of little knick knacks around the house. Once in a while I am still tempted to bring home a new vase or some little whimsical looking decoration, but I resist and I know my life is better for it. Be very intentional with what you bring into your home, and you’ll find your surfaces stay clear as you don’t accumulate nearly as many items.
If you’re ready, move on to the next post in this series Decluttering 101: Staying Motivated to Declutter
When we clear the physical clutter from our lives, we literally make way for inspiration and ‘good, orderly direction’ to enter. -Julia Cameron