How I’m Defeating My Cluttered Habits So I Actually Like Being In My Apartment

beautiful-light-filled-clean-apartment

As I write this, I am currently sitting on my sofa, wrapped in three different blankets (it’s 20 degrees outside), with two backpacks at my feet — one that I actually use, and one that’s old and that I need to get rid of, but that’s currently serving as a filing cabinet, because I have a bunch of papers and old mail that I need to sort through but have yet to do so. My two-foot-tall Christmas tree that I so carefully picked out and decorated is still sitting on my corner table, waiting to be thrown out, and hasn’t even been watered for over a week, at least. My bedroom currently has three full trash bags of clothes sitting in one corner — which I’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill since October — stacked high enough that I can only see down to my knees when I look in my full-length mirror.

If you can’t tell yet, I have a lot of clutter. My tendency to leave things lying around is one of my biggest insecurities, and frankly, it’s something that I’ve up to this point been a little too embarrassed to admit here on TFD. I go throw spurts of actively trying to combat this habit, but I somehow always regress — life gets in the way, or so I tell myself. I convince myself that it’s hard enough living in a small New York apartment, with roommates, so I therefore don’t confront the problem.

But the truth is, having a living space that is cluttered and messy most of the time makes me dread spending time in it. And spending time at home is something I have to like, because I’ve been working mostly from home for nearly a year a half now.

I’ll be neater when I have more space. It’ll be better when I can have an actual desk. My bed will surely be made when I have enough room to walk all the way around it. These are all the sort of half-promises I make to myself whenever I feel overwhelmed by yet another pile of ~stuff~ that I need to take care of. I think, eventually I’ll get to move somewhere new, and maybe I’ll even have a dedicated office space, and I won’t have roommates I have to share space with, and it will be wonderful. But of course, I have no real idea when that day will be. It makes no sense for me not to better my home situation now.

And honestly, I know I can be better. I spend roughly half of my time at my boyfriend’s apartment, where this has proven to be true. To my own credit, he has a lot more space (and closets on closets), making it easier to kind of just find a place for something and have it all fit. And to his credit, he’s just a naturally tidier person than I am. But when I’m there, I put much more effort into small acts of tidying up, like making the bed, folding the blankets I used on the couch, and emptying the dishwasher when it’s done running, not just when I need to free up space for the dishes in my sink. (Okay, and full disclosure, I leave my fair share of things lying around, but I’m much better at putting them in a dedicated space than I am in my own home. Peter will probably read this, and I don’t want him to call me out on a half-truth, because who has time.) I end up staying there for several days in a row, since I can often work from anywhere, and it’s so nice to be in a space that’s neat enough already that it doesn’t give me anxiety (and also where there is a cute cat and a ton more natural light). The biggest realization I’ve had from spending so much time in an already-neat apartment is that it is much easier to keep a space tidy when that’s how it’s started.

Last month, I made a “master plan” in my bullet journal, detailing all of the areas of my apartment that I need to tackle: under my bad, the top shelf of my closet, our two bookshelves, my mixed-up mess of a jewelry box, the cluttered windowsill behind my bed. I was going to take a few afternoons over the course of the month to tackle a few spaces at a time, to make it more manageable. I spent an evening clearing out and cute-ing up my nightstand, and clearing off and sorting through the stack of books and papers on the radiator next to my bed (before you panic, it doesn’t work/do any “heating”). I threw out so much crap I didn’t need anymore just from those two teeny spaces, and I even framed some old, pretty wrapping paper I’d had sitting around (side note: truly my favorite small decorating hack — framing greeting cards and gift packaging). I was so happy. I even took a photo and sent my mom a picture of the neat little space, because I knew it would make her smile but I also seek validation.

Of course, that ended up being the only part of my big plan that I ever accomplished before the year came to an end. Time got away from me, I guess. I have to be kind to myself, because I know some things just aren’t in my own control, like losing my grandpa, which necessitated an unplanned trip to see family and attend the funeral. And while I certainly take care of my belongings better than I did in my adolescence and college years, the clutter is getting to be a constant source of stress. If I don’t take care of it now, when will I?

I have to think in the positives: When I clear out all these bags, for example, my room will feel so much bigger. I wish I could bottle what it feels like to climb into a neatly made bed at the end of the day, because then I would at least have that little reminder to motivate me. And I can only imagine how much more productive I’ll be if I only have work to focus on, and not all these household tasks I keep putting off, and piles of clothes taunting me from corners in the other room.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I truly think I’ll be better and ~neater~ once I actually get my shit together and clean out my damn apartment, finally. Between my clean lil side table (which still is so) and my experience at Peter’s apartment, I already have some proof that I am capable of keeping a place neat. I want to want to be excited to spend time in my own place every day, but I know I have work to do before I can actually get there. So now that I know spacing out the work just won’t cut it, I’m setting aside next weekend — no plans out, no taking on extra freelance work — and getting it done.

Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at holly@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

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  • Rebecca Ann

    I feel like in the time it took you to write this, you could have actually gotten at least 2 more things done on your list of things to de-clutter. It’s a great goal to have, and once I finally achieved it, I can definitely attest that it is way easier to keep a neat place when it’s default setting is “neat.” So I know this must be a dreaded task for you to have it planned out in your BuJo, but my advice would be to just set aside a day and get it done. Schedule that day. Give yourself x amount of time for each task, including that trip to Goodwill! I promise you, at the end of the day, you will feel so so so much better, and getting back to work and life the next day will be much more pleasant, knowing that it’s all done and finally completely taken off your plate. Good luck, and can’t wait for the update on how/when you tackled the clutter monster!

    • laura

      She actually says at the end of the post that she’s setting aside next weekend to get it done! Good luck, Holly!

  • laura

    Man, can I ever relate to this. I’m good at keeping common spaces clean — particularly kitchens, as having dishes lying around is my pet peeve — but my bedroom is a total disaster. I’m trying to do a combination decluttering/organizational thing; my hope is that once I pare down my stuff and actually have places to put everything, it will be easy to just put my stuff away every day rather than leaving it in a pile on the floor. I tackled the nightstand and the under-bed storage containers last night, and my closet is up next!

    • nancxpants

      I’m glad I’m not the only one! I am soooo conscious of shared/public spaces, but let clutter build up in my personal space. Recently I started going through my belongings, and it’s definitely easier to organize when there is less junk to take care of. But of course, the real trick is not replacing it all with more stuff haha.

  • Lauren

    I took over my lease from one of my school friends, and he took that as an opportunity to not move all of his things out of the place — I only just threw away the last of his crap I found in the back of a closet, a year and a half after moving in. The process of decorating and decluttering has taken me forever, and there is still an empty bookshelf (sitting next to a bookshelf with like 50 books stacked on top of it) and a pile of clothes to donate. I get down on myself for how long it takes, because it -always- feels better once I take care of some small thing to improve my space, but I try to see it as a long term project, because that’s more sustainable for me. At the beginning of the school year I made a long term list, and was pleasantly surprised to check it again a few days ago to find I’d somehow managed to do everything on the list, just by keeping it in the back of my mind and tackling things when I had the time, energy, and money.

  • Leah Knapp

    Oooh you should check out Unfuck Your Habitat! It’s decluttering/organizing/cleaning porn at it’s finest, and he has some excellent tips for breaking up the seemingly overwhelming task of tidying an entire home. Even as someone who loves to purge my apartment regularly, his site (and Tumblr) took me to a whole new level!

    • Smashley

      Completely agree with Leah UFYH is amazing.

  • Sarah

    gonna need a separate post all about your bullet journal! mine has saved my life!

  • Mj D’Arco

    i like the idea that if you haven’t used something in at least a year (to account for all seasons), get rid of it. I also like the packing party started by the minimalists. while that might be a bit extreme i think it’s a good way to start decluttering your place.. also on making the bed.. remember it’s the only think you might have control over for the day… do it!

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