If you live in a house with other people, as most of my readers do, there are going to be times when you are going to have to deal with Other People’s Stuff (OPS). Unless you live with a herd of raging neatnicks, in which case I’m not sure why you’re reading my blog… Anyway, the OPS can range from towels on the bathroom floor, bookbags & briefcases left in the entryway, shoes (and socks – ew!) all OVER the house – my boys shed socks like a tree sheds leaves.
Anyway, you may not be aware of it, but you have a choice of how you want to deal with the OPS. You basically have three choices – ignore it, clean it up yourself, or somehow inspire them to pick it up themselves. My vote is for option 3 in most cases. Even very young children and very old husbands can be trained to pick up their things if you use the correct motivation.
The trick is to make it more inconvenient for them to continue in their bad habits than it is to just go along with the program and put their stuff away in the first place. It may take a few weeks to get them trained, but if you stick to your guns, your family will be self-cleaning in no time.
Step 1 – is to give them fair warning that something new is going on and lay down some ground rules. You can do it in person or just leave notes in strategic locations. Sometimes a note has even more impact than the spoken word. You want to say something to the effect of “Dear Family – I have implemented a zero tolerance policy for clutter in the following areas: Entry way, living room, front bathroom, and dining room. After today, anything found in these areas that does not belong there will be removed by the Management. Signed The Management (Mom)."
Step 2 – when the OPS appears, and trust me, it will appear almost immediately, what do you do? Well, naturally, you remove it. Where you remove it to, is entirely your choice. The one thing you shouldn’t do is remove it to any place where the OP wants it to be. To do that is to condemn yourself to a life of involuntary servitude. My only exception to this is for sick OP’s or OP’s who are in crisis (midterms, big work projects, holiday crunch time, etc.)
Step 3 - So where to put it? Be creative. Have a little fun. You could put it in the dog house, the garage, the bathtub, under the bed, in the hall closet, or you could hold it hostage in a laundry basket in your closet. Then when the desperate OP comes to you in search of the missing object, shrug and look vaguely around. “I don’t know, honey. Didn’t you put it away? You didn’t leave it in the front entryway did you?” pretending horror. If you’re feeling kind, you might give them a hint – “I think I put a load of OPS in the garage somewhere…” or if they aren’t terribly late for anything, let them look for it for a while, to the tune of friendly suggestions about putting their stuff away next time.
|You want this? Sorry, it's mine now.|
They are likely to get mad. That’s OK, let them. Remind them that you gave them fair warning and that you are not responsible for keeping track of OPS. It’s not your fault that they didn’t take you seriously, is it? Help them find their OPS, but gently remind them that they have a choice next time to put it away themselves.
As for the laundry basket hostage situation, feel free to demand bribes, extra chores, or extravagant promises for the return of valuable items, such as keys, iPods, and backpacks. For non-valuable items, use your own discretion. There is always the Goodwill pile.
I did this once when I found literally every pair of shoes my two sons owned lying around the house. I gathered up all the shoes and then insisted that they sing “I’m a Little Teapot” complete with arm movements to ransom them back. I found it very entertaining and next time I threatened to videotape it for Facebook. I haven’t found nearly as many shoes lying around since then…
If you'd like to see other decluttering posts, just click on the Clutterbugs label at the bottom of this post for a complete list.