Lessons from Lockdown: Keeping Clutter At Bay

Spoiler alert: Decluttering isn't the ultimate answer to getting more space in your home.

For many of us, decluttering during lockdown became a new kind of sport. With rare downtime and nowhere to go, we turned the focus inward to our neglected closets.

But now that the country is opening up, how do we balance newfound sorting and purging skills against pre-pandemic urges — specifically, the ones that involve further cluttering our homes?

Start by remembering that decluttering itself isn’t a clutter cure-all. These lessons from lockdown will help you more thoughtfully curate your home and your life, and teach you how to stop the constant need to declutter.

Poor-Quality Purchases Become Clutter

Last summer when the pool at my gym closed, my humble backyard had lots of grass but no water feature. Desperate for a summer diversion, I hastily ordered a plastic sprinkler volleyball net to play with my kids. The toy was poorly designed and collapsed under its own weight. We used it a few times before it broke, and it now sits in a heap in the garage.

It was a perfect example of revenge spending. That’s a purchase made to make up for lost shopping or experiences, which experts say rose during the pandemic.

The better strategy? Slow down and research the purchase. Read online reviews, and install Fakespot on your browser to spy bogus reviews at big online retailers. Vote with your wallet for quality, well-made, minimally packaged goods — or perhaps none at all.

Sharing Has Big Benefits

We completed puzzles, then passed them to neighbors. When we wanted things, we put the word out to our friends and neighbors, who often provided. When I let it be known that my budding-artist daughter needed things to paint, a neighbor gave us canvases she no longer wanted. My daughter primed over and happily re-used them.

There’s no reason this pass-it-on system can’t continue. Getting and giving unused things means they can be useful rather than cluttering garages, basements and attics.

It Can Wait

With retailers shuttered in the early days of the pandemic, we found a way to make do with what we had. And as the pandemic wore on, we tried to limit trips to the store. We cut tissues in half. We lectured our kids to use less toilet paper. We were zealous about keeping a shopping list and combining errands into one single trip each week.

Keep that “later” mindset. Create one more meal out of what’s in the house. Wait 24 hours before buying anything. Most likely it will still be in that virtual shopping cart tomorrow. Buying less on impulse not only keeps money in your wallet, it means less to organize.

It Pays To Have a Home Office

When working and schooling from home became the norm, we learned that working at the kitchen table is not a permanent solution, especially since eating in was the new eating out. Adapting to this new reality paid off, though it took awhile for us to finally accept it.

Creating a dedicated home office not only adds as much as 10 percent to your home value, it protects work hours, cuts down on distractions and keeps work gear from spreading all over the home. Those are benefits everyone in your home can appreciate, even kiddos.

If you lack a separate room, a desk tucked into a quiet spot or an organized portable tote plus some headphones lets you leave work (or homework) at the end of the day. Be sure to make a habit of winding down and tidying up. That keeps related clutter contained and minimized.

Creativity Beats Clutter

When my daughter cried because she couldn’t go into her middle school building, what she missed the most was getting her first locker. Determined not to miss out, she designed and created her own with cardboard boxes, a glue gun and paint. It was a crafty engineering triumph that she used all year.

The moral of the story: Buying things doesn’t fix feelings, and needs don’t always requires purchases. Also consider the related truth that too much clutter causes stress.

Go beyond individual wants and ask yourself, do your want to store it, move it, clean it, repair it and dispose of it later? Creatively repurposing what’s already on hand saves money, keeps consumer goods out of the landfill and can help clear the clutter inside your home.

Every Nook and Cranny Is Valuable

With so much time spent at home, families learned to use all their home’s square footage daily for together and alone time. In our family, that meant heavy use of curtains and hallways, and pillow forts sturdy enough to last for days.

Plenty of families across the country took it even further, paying top dollar to make their home work to the max. Kitchens, back yards, closets — no space was left unexamined. People are renovating with bigger budgets than last year. Materials and labor shortages sure didn’t help.

Whether you dove into a creative reorganization, a full-blown renovation, or simply bought a home, most of us earned a fresh appreciation for the space we live in during the pandemic.

And so, after freeing up our closets and cabinets, here’s the challenge worth meeting: Let’s resist the urge to buy and cram those closets and drawers full of stuff again. Learning to use your space for living and not storage is the real lockdown lesson.

Darla DeMorrow, Certified Pro Organizer
Darla DeMorrow is a Certified Professional Organizer® and owner of HeartWork Organizing (https://HeartWorkOrg.com) since 2004. Based near Philadelphia, PA, she is mom of 2, international speaker, and author of the best-selling book series SORT and Succeed, which outlines five simple steps to help you organize stuff, time, paperwork, money, and photos. The Upbeat, Organized Home Office is the third book in the series.