When Every Item Has a Home

Creating a peaceful, restorative space starts with decreasing clutter
By Mollie Donghia
Mollie Donghia
Mollie Donghia
Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
November 21, 2021 Updated: November 22, 2021

When was the last time you searched your home to find a misplaced item? Maybe it was your car keys, wallet, pair of shoes, or a favorite toy of your child’s? Whatever that item was, chances are you looked between 1 and 10 minutes, which is the average time we spend looking for something we’ve lost.

Under 10 minutes doesn’t sound too bad. But if we zoom out over the course of a normal lifespan, we spend more than 6 1/2 months of our lives, equivalent to almost 5,000 hours, looking for things in our homes.

That’s a significant amount of time spent doing an activity that could be avoided. The solution? A home for everything.

A home for everything means each item in your home has a designated place to return to. Each item’s home is consistent, convenient, and attainable.

When your possessions are in their homes, this means much less time spent searching for a misplaced item and—equally as significant—a decrease in the amount of clutter on your surfaces.

The Problem of Not Having a Home for Everything

The main culprit of clutter is when items either don’t have a home or they fail to make it back to their designated home.

Decluttering guru, Marie Kondo says, “The reason every item must have a designated place is because the existence of an item without a home multiplies the chances that your space will become cluttered again.”

Once an item remains on a flat surface that’s not its home, it’s an invitation for others to follow. Clutter breeds more clutter and when several items are out of their places, it psychologically allows us to make exceptions for more clutter.

So if the solution is to have a home for every item, why is it that we struggle to keep up with this rule? After taking a serious look at some of my habits over the past few years, I’ve found that there are four reasons why items never make it back to their homes.

1. The home is unspecified.

We all have our personal belongings and probably know where those particular items go. But what about the shared items that everyone uses? When items don’t have a clear home that everyone knows, chances are they’ll either get placed in the wrong location or end up sitting on a flat surface, waiting for someone else to put them back where they belong.

2. There are multiple homes for the same item. 

When there are multiple homes for the same item (like books, important papers, toys, shoes), this usually results in two issues: searching multiple locations for that item, or creating more and more homes because there’s not just one set place to store them.

3. The home is unrealistic and inconvenient.

I’ve had many occasions when the reason an item didn’t make its way back into its home was because it was too inconvenient to put it away. I didn’t want to take the time and effort to go into the basement or find the correct box, so that item usually sat on the kitchen counter until I had the energy to put it away.

I’ve since learned to avoid this by making each item’s home convenient and also by following the two-minute rule. If you can accomplish something in two minutes or less (like putting something away), do it without hesitation.

4. The item doesn’t fit into a home. 

The last reason why I believe items don’t make their way back to their homes is when the item is “random.” By this I mean a magazine, a return you need to make, loose cash, a toy that needs repaired, a collection of rocks from a nature walk, kids’ schoolwork or art projects, and so on. There’s no obvious home (probably because it’s a random item and there aren’t others like it) so the most likely scenario is that it ends up on a countertop for a while until we decide what to do with it.

The solution to finding a good home for our belongings is not more and more storage or a better organization system. The solution is less stuff to find homes for and return back at the end of the day. Reducing the amount of things we have in our home has been a significant way that we’ve eliminated most of the clutter, which is a key starting point to making sure every item has a home.

Making It a Habit

Keeping a clutter-free home is not a simple task, especially with loveable, but less-than-tidy children running around all day. But there are habits you can commit to that encourage everyone in your family to see the benefits of returning items back to their homes.

Find a home for everything. 

Commit to finding a home for every item in your home. Start with your common “dumping zones” (where items usually end up creating clutter). Find a logical, easy to remember home for those items. If you can’t find one, ask yourself if the reason for this is because it’s a “random” item that’s causing unneeded clutter. If so, donate, sell, or discard it and move onto the next item.

Teach your kids to return items. 

Teaching our kids that every item has a home and encouraging them to clean up after themselves is a simple way that reduces a lot of clutter from toys, dirty clothes, and shoes. Of course our kids are not little robots, so we have to set realistic expectations but also limit the amount of toys that they have access to.

Be diligent every day. 

When I commit to clearing off my flat surfaces every evening, this eliminates a build-up of clutter that goes on for days. Taking a few minutes after we put the kids to bed to tidy up and return items back to their homes makes for a much more peaceful morning and teaches us to be mindful about what we keep (such as mail or kids’ artwork).

Store items in convenient places. 

When an item’s home is inconvenient or too challenging to get to, I’m likely to make an excuse and toss it into the common dumping zone (aka my kitchen counter). You want to make each item’s home simple enough to access so that it’s too easy not to return it.

Decrease when needed.

If the convenient home has reached its capacity of storage, this is a good reason to decrease so you’re not overwhelmed and overloaded. I store my kids’ outgrown clothes in large bins in our attic. I’ve set a rule that I can only have one bin per size. When that bin is full, I don’t grab another one and begin filling it up, I take a look at the items and see which ones I can get rid of to make room for the ones I want to keep.

Our goal in living a more simplified life is not to have a spotless home at all moments of the day, but to learn simple habits that produce mindful behaviors and leave more time and energy for the things we value most.

This article was originally published on This Evergreen Home.

Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.