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Use ABCD method to clean up your living space
Jan 23, 2015

by Katherine Salant

The builder had an army to catch every dust ball, so the house was spotless, but shortly after moving in and unpacking, you’ll find the clutter that’s driving you crazy in your present house will start to pile up again unless you take action. 

This seemingly obvious fact is lost on many buyers, who think a new house will stay clean by itself. Of course, it won’t, though a new house can be a powerful motivator to make changes in your household routines, and it will likely have more storage than you have now, which will make it easier to keep the clutter under control, said author and decluttering expert Sandra Felton. 

Adapt new storage

But, she went on to say, this potential will not be realized without a lot of input from you. You’ll have to figure out how to adapt the new storage to meet your needs, and then you have to use it — that means putting stuff away. 

This may not come naturally. It doesn’t for most people. 

But, Felton said, it can be easier to change ingrained habits in a new house where you don’t have established behavior patterns, though she cautioned not to expect miracles overnight. It will take awhile before new habits become automatic. 

How long? 

Felton said this depends on the effort involved. But rather than focus on the number of days or the number of repetitions required to imprint your automatic pilot, she focuses on the time required to do the chore. If the chore takes 30 seconds or less to do, most people can commit to trying a “put it up now and don’t pick it up later” regimen, Felton said.

When the commitment is joined to a reasonably organized house, the effort is easier. The reason that clutter accumulates in the first place is because the house is not well organized, said author and household organizing expert Deniece Schofield. No one deliberately clutters up a house, she said, but if putting something away requires too much effort, “most people procrastinate and promise to put it away later.”

ABCD method

In Schofield’s experience, there are usually four reasons that stuff gets left around.

First, the place to store the item may be inconvenient. If it’s a platter and you have to stand on a chair and then take two other platters out before you can put that platter away, it’s too much effort. 

Second, the place to keep the item may not be well defined or confined. If you stick the scissors in a drawer and they get lost among all the other junk, it’s easier to leave the scissors on the counter where you know you can find them. 

Third, the item is stored in the wrong place. You need to store it where it’s used. If you frequently use a pair of scissors in your family room, keep it in a drawer nearby, not in the kitchen or in your office on the other side of the house. If you use scissors in all those places, get three pairs. 

Fourth, you have too much stuff. The problem is not lack of space but owning too many possessions, many of which are never or rarely used. A move to a new house presents a great opportunity to address this overabundance and Schofield recommends sorting and prioritizing using her ABCD method: 

• The A things are the top priority — you use them everyday and there’s no substitute. 

The B items are important — you use them frequently, at least once a week. 

• The C things have marginal value — maybe you use them once a month. 

• The D things are a total waste — you never use them and should get rid of them.

Once you’ve prioritized and pruned out the D items, you have to figure out where to put what’s left. In the kitchen you may be pleasantly surprised. 

Many homeowners discover that they kept the rarely-to-never-used C and D things in the easy to reach cabinets, so the always-used-every-day A and B things ended up on the counters. They had previously concluded they needed more cabinets and counters, and were delighted to find that what they really needed was a far less costly major reorganizing. 

Where to put the non-kitchen stuff that may be spread around the rest of your house is not so obvious, but the first step, Felton said, is to group like things in one place. 

Go through home room by room

She recommends getting several  boxes and going though the house, room by room. Once you have all the items organized in groups, which can take you several weeks, depending on the degree of disorder and the time available for this project, it will be easier to designate a temporary spot for each group in your current house and a permanent place in your new house. 

To prevent things from “rearranging themselves” and getting jumbled up all over again, Felton stressed that each group needs its own permanent container, and each container must be labeled. 

Besides sifting and sorting general household items, a move to a new house can be a great incentive to go through your clothes, Felton said. As the size of house has ballooned in the last 50 years, so have the size of most people’s wardrobes. 

Much of it, however, is clothing that doesn’t fit “but might someday if I lose 25 pounds” or “things that might come back in style.” But, Felton said if you haven’t worn the item for a year, consider giving it away and tell yourself, ‘If I do lose weight, I will reward myself with some new clothes’.”

Schofield pointed out that while styles occasionally do reappear, your old clothes will not look new and things never come back in exactly the same way so the detailing will be different. 

Besides the “it may fit someday” and “it will be stylish again” rationales, people also hang onto clothes and other items because they don’t want to appear ungrateful to the person who gave it to them or because the items have sentimental value, Felton said. 

“Many people feel that a person is infused in the item. If you get rid of the item, it’s like getting rid of the person they loved. Some people have poor memory and keeping the items keeps the memories fresher. If you have room for these things it’s fine to hang onto them, but if they negatively impact your life, there’s no reason to keep them. If granny were there she would say, ‘I want you to have a good life.’ She would be the first to say,’ get rid of it’.” 

As you sort through and prioritize your belongings prior to your move to your new house, you will inevitably end up with a sizeable “maybe” pile — things you don’t use or wear, but you’re not ready to give away. 

Felton’s suggestion for this ambivalence is to put all the items into clearly labeled boxes and put them in the garage for six months. Shortly before you’re ready to move into the new house, get out the boxes and take a second look. You may find some things you still want, but many will not be missed and can be given away without regret. 

When you’ve finally finished the sorting, given away the unused excess and found a place for everything that’s left, you may be inspired to start the “put it up now and don’t pick it up later” program while you’re still in your present house. And, that may mean fewer habits to change when you move into your new one.

— Inman News.