There are only a few reasons surfaces become cluttered. One of them is that things aren’t put away after they’re used. That one is relatively simple to remedy. At most, it requires redefining when tasks we begin are finished.

Sometimes there isn’t a place for a particular item. This can be a common situation in a home that is already filled to the brim with stuff. The item can only go in an overflowing closet or drawer that’s a little too hard to close. Therefore, it’s clear that keeping surfaces clean requires a little work on the front end.

That work is worth it to me because an uncluttered space decreases my anxiety. Living in disarray causes both stress and negative emotions. It can also cause you to lose things. Having a place for household items eases the process of putting things away and finding them later.

If you need some motivation, consider the wisdom I heard from the restaurant managers I worked with during college. They’d round a corner to see a server slacking off and say, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

I don’t want to feel like I’m working a part-time job while I’m at home, but I do want to keep my home clutter-free, so I tend to take a more laid back approach. I clean as I go. Each time I get up, I put something away.

Ideally, the end tables in my living room and the counters in my kitchen would always be free of clutter. I prefer to have only one item (a lamp or valet tray) on small surfaces and maybe two or three items on a larger piece of furniture like a TV stand or desk.

To make this possible, everything I own must have a place (that’s not on a surface). And things need to be put away in a timely manner.

photo: Michael Mroczek