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‘Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them.”

I slumped into my La-Z-Boy as I finished reading this quotation from Benjamin Disraeli. Library books lay strewn across the living room. Overflowing baskets of toys towered in the corner. Laundry sat abandoned in the bathroom, and papers were everywhere. I felt I was failing my children when it came to instilling in them habits to keep a clean home.

I grew up in a home of mixed parent modeling. Mom was clean but messy; bathrooms and kitchen were always immaculate, but piles of reading material and knickknacks were scattered everywhere. Dad, on the other hand, kept his stuff tidy; undies were folded and stacked in his dresser, his workshop had not one tool out of place. The outcome for the kids — half are tidy, half live a bit more, shall I say, free-spirited. I am the latter. But last week I set out to change that, and I turned to my information go-to girls.

“A place for everything and everything in its place,” is my mother-in-law’s motto.

“Two bags come in, two bags go out,” stated Cathy, who is a fan of rummage sales. “That way you don’t end up with overflowing drawers of clothes.”

“When in doubt, throw it out,” chimed Margaret, “assuming the thing doesn’t have sentimental significance, of course.” I was beginning to get into the one-liners. Maybe the Kelly household should post them around the house for inspiration.

“Kids’ clothes are always a trial, changing seasons and sizes,” Marg continued. “You can assign yourself a drawer a week to go through. And clear storage bins are a must. I store out-of-season clothes in the office closet. I don’t like to spend money on storage items, so I buy them from Big Lots or Wal-Mart.

“Certain things are out of reach for my kids, such as pens. I have a drawer that I put pens in periodically, but the real source of them is somewhere else. Because they will just rape a drawer full of pens in less than a week. They won’t ever hold on to the ones that they take out. Having the surplus there makes them inconsiderate and not thoughtful about it.”

Meg shared her clutter-combat motto, “If you haven’t used it in a year, toss it. I can get quite wild with throwing stuff away. Just get rid of it!”

Paper items are Bernice’s clutter problem. “I’ve become rather mercenary with note cards that people send. I enjoy them and then get rid of them immediately, unless it’s someone who is going to die soon,” she added. “For bills, I have a box under my desk where bills get saved until the end of the year. Then the kids and I have a bonfire at the beach with them. The kids enjoy throwing the bills into the fire pit.”

She added one other solution for stuff. “I have made specific locations for items so that when kids help me clean, they are not moving things from one surface to another. Employing kids to put things back where they belong is what really helps with clutter.”

Sarah echoed the “place for everything” motto and added a tip for CDs and DVDs. “I just took all of them out of their cases and put them into albums and, wow, did that make a difference. Now that whole mess is contained in two books.

“I also try to once a day clean off the tops of bookshelves and other places that seem to be a catch-all for clutter. If you do a little each day, it doesn’t end up being so overwhelming.”

Overwhelmed used to be Shawn’s word for her closets. “But now, every time I go to my closet, I put away five things. That has made a huge difference in the mess.”

“Ruthless is the word I would use,” Erica explained about her decluttering techniques with the kids’ rooms. “About three times a year, I go into their rooms with two bags — one for trash, one for give-away items. For toys such as stuffed animals, I’ll lay them all out on the floor and have each child pick their two favorite ones.

“But my real downfall is papers,” moaned Erica. “If company is coming over, I’ll throw all the papers on my desk and that will be the one area of the house that is messy.”

Nancy employs some of the techniques of the cleaning guru FlyLady. “I really do feel centered if my kitchen sink is clean and shiny twice a day. All the main events of the day happen in the kitchen; everyone is always hanging out there, so if I have that sink cleaned, then everything else falls into place.

“When I wake up before the kids,” she continued, “my day goes more smoothly. I unload the dishwasher, throw in a load of laundry, and shower. The key is to get up without waking my toddler,” she laughed. “I try to do one or two loads of laundry each day so that my laundry doesn’t build up too much.”

Nancy also works in a thrift-shop stop among her errands. “I have a Goodwill box that I add to throughout the month, and whenever I’m driving by the shop, I donate the items.” For toys, “we have vacation toys at our home,” she touted. “I’ll take about two-thirds of my kids’ toys and send them on vacation by packing them up into my closet. After half a year, I’ll take them out again, and they are like new for the kids.”

Margaret added one final gem from her friend Cynthia: “Even if an item is good and useful, you might give it to somebody who has less than you do. Cynthia thinks it’s a moral fault to hoard things that she isn’t really using that other people could use. Having that mindset of doing a charitable act and practicing a little detachment made it easier for her to declutter.”

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