My number one clutter-busting rule from At Home with Madame Chic is this: always keep your hot spot(s) clear. Hot spots are the areas in your home that tend to develop constant clutter, most likely high-traffic areas of your house. Here’s how to tackle them.
Our hot spots are the dining room table, the stairs, the entryway table, and the bench at the foot of our bed. They will be different for everyone.
You know what it’s like. You’ve been out all day with the kids. You bring in your handbag, the mail, your sunglasses, and your ereader. You set these things down on the first surface you see: the entryway table. You get distracted because the kids need help washing their hands and the dog needs to be let out. Oh, and you weren’t the only one who brought things into the house. The kids placed their artwork from school and a few miscellaneous rocks they picked up from your walk on the table too. Your husband played golf that afternoon and left a handful of wooden golf tees, his receipts, extra change, and golf hat all on this now glorious pile on your entryway table. What once was a clear space now holds everything from your handbag to golf paraphernalia to glitter paper and rocks. Sigh.
Much of this can be solved by simply having a place to put your things when you get home. A shelf in the hall closet for your handbag. A hook for your keys. A rack for the hats. A desk for the artwork. It will take a few more seconds to put everything in its proper space, but once you do, this hot spot will be cleared.
Other hot spots also tend to soak up transient clutter—clutter that just happens to pass by throughout our busy days. For example, our dining room is also our living room. And, oh yes, this space is also the playroom. So we find the most random assortment of belongings on our dining room table at any given moment. Books, hair bows, sunscreen, children’s toothbrushes (I know), receipts, paperwork, dog biscuits, and empty cups of tea are the kinds of things you might find there.
I used to resign myself to it. I would tell myself (save for the empty cups of tea and the odd paper here and there) that none of that mess was mine. I would blame it on other people. I had become used to it. When I started loving my home again, that hot-spot clutter stood out to me like a peeling nail in an otherwise perfect manicure. If Madame Chic saw my dining room table, she would probably stare at it in utter confusion. In her home, every piece of furniture had a specific function and the dining room table was for food, flowers, candles, and tableware. Anything not related to fine dining wouldn’t be caught dead on her table.
Now, several times a day, I clear off the dining room table. If I am passing by it and see something that does not belong, I pick it up and put it away on the way to wherever I’m going. Yes, it requires constant editing, but hot spots do.
Then I noticed something very peculiar. The more I cleared our dining room table hot spot, the less stuff accumulated on it. My husband started putting his things in “his” bowl. (I keep a blue-willow-patterned antique bowl for him to put his change, wallet, golf balls, etc. in. I cover it with a vintage linen pillowcase to hide the unsightliness of it all.) My husband is now on board. My girls will now grow up with a clear dining room table, and they are less likely to clutter theirs when they are older. The ripple effects of keeping your hot spots clear are marvelous and vast.
Let’s try an exercise. Go to your hot spot. Right now. I’m serious. Go have a look. What is on it? I bet it is a miscellaneous assortment of random items. When you have small children, sometimes these items will inspire in you a combination of exasperation and the giggles. Let’s get real. It’s time to clear that hot spot, now and tomorrow and the next day. Yes, you have to keep going back, but the clutter will be less and less over time. I promise.
Constantly clearing the clutter in your hot spots will become second nature to you, no longer a chore, but just a way of life. You’re passing by the playroom on the way to the living room (or in my case, just walking a few feet), so you might as well pick up the magnetic fishing boat toy and put it in its rightful place. This is not to say that your children won’t learn to pick up after themselves. They will. It’s just that you are leading by example.