A common thing I see in clients' homes is what I affectionately call the "dump zone." It's any area (and there may be a few of ‘em) where we dump the armloads of stuff we carry in from the outside world each day: mail, packages, shopping bags full of goodies, backpacks, purses, coffee mugs, keys, take out containers, or any other stuff that perpetually flows into our homes. It's typically a family affair too; we all love to drop our stuff in that area (usually a flat surface like a counter or table).
The problem is that we often don't deal with this stuff (I call this Processing) until it's oozing everywhere, company is coming over or the housecleaners are coming soon. And sometimes even those things don't persuade us to deal with it, because frankly, we don't even see it anymore because it's been there for ages and sorta blends into everything else.
(Side note: one of my favorite things that happens when working with clients is when I point out a pile of stuff and she looks 100% surprised that it's even there! Proof that we really do stop seeing our stuff. Our brains are hard wired to do this, so don’t feel like it’s just you. It’s not. We all get “clutter blind” to some extent.)
The fix to this messy problem is to develop the habit of dealing with the stuff within the first 5 minutes of walking in the door.
Here’s how to create this simple & effective habit:
*Now this may sound a little goofy, but I want to start us off on the right foot so indulge me for a second: if you need a restroom break first, go, but do not stop anywhere else while you come back to the drop zone. Trust me, if you walk away, you’ll get engrossed in something else. . . I know this because I do it all the time myself. It’s all about self management, my friend. No one is immune to a squirrelly brain.
Ok, let’s do this! Grab your phone and set a timer for 5 minutes. Challenge yourself to see if you can stick to just 5 minutes. You might be surprised to learn that you finish before the timer goes off!
On a flat surface, do a quick sort of the stuff. Your sort might go like this: this thing goes to Kid A, this stuff goes out to the garage, this goes in my closet, this goes to Kid B, these groceries go in the pantry, this mail is junk and goes in the recycling bin and this mail goes to the paperwork station.
(Don’t have a paperwork station? Let’s fix that. Check out this post and this one too. Need more help? If you’re in Atlanta, contact me here. Outside Atlanta? No problem. See how I can help by clicking here. Slaying the paper monster is my jam. Weird, I know.)
Put the stuff away that goes in the room you are currently in first. Then grab and armload of stuff that goes to an area of the house and go deposit it there. Putting things on beds or next to doorways is permissible. We’re not straightening the whole house, just processing the new stuff that came in.
Enlist the family if they are home! Repeat step #3 until all the little sorted piles in the drop zone are GONE.
Is there something still there? It’s because it doesn’t have a home yet. Ask yourself, “If I were going to look for this, where would I think to look?” Presto, there’s your answer. Do the thing that makes the most sense to YOU because YOU’RE the one that will be looking for it later!
By training ourselves to deal with the "new" stuff coming in right away, "drop zone" piles will quickly diminish and the whole space will feel lighter and clearer. This is a habit that everyone in the household can work on together. Aim for improvement, not perfection. It's a simple, fast and effective way create a more peaceful home.
If you build this 5 minute habit every day, I guarantee you will feel less stress and overwhelm in your home. It’s the perfect place to start when you are feeling like you don’t know where to begin.
Remember, YOU don't have to do all of this yourself, enlist the family to pitch in and take care of the household drop zone stuff too.