Did you know that even if you spend hours cleaning a room, it can still look untidy? How? Visual clutter!
Visual clutter is those little things around a room, that we barely even notice, but combined together can make a room look messy, dirty and disorganized.
Even the most beautiful room can seem unsettling if there is visual clutter lurking!
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Visual Clutter vs. Stuff Clutter
You might be thinking that visual clutter is the same as having piles of clutter around, but there is a difference. Visual clutter is what is left, even after you have decluttered your space and thrown away (or put away) all the junk!
Visual clutter doesn’t have to be stacks of papers or piles of clothes (although it is that too!). Sometimes it’s more sneaky. Sometimes visual clutter is smaller things that we normally don’t notice.
The bundle of wires sticking out from your entertainment center. The small herd of appliances on your kitchen counter. The school papers pinned to your refrigerator. These are Silent Irritants!
When I was growing up my father used to build and manage shopping malls all over the world. I’d get to visit some of these malls and one thing that my father always talked about was looking out for ‘Silent Irritants’.
A silent irritant is something small that you don’t consciously notice, but subconsciously it makes you feel uncomfortable. In a mall, it might be something small like a cracked tile, or some dead leaves under a plant.
Those are just tiny thing, but they can make a building or business feel unloved and badly maintained. We then subconsciously don’t want to spend as much time there or spend as much money!
However, we can also apply this theory to our homes too. You might spend all morning cleaning your living room, but even though it’s ‘clean’, something still doesn’t feel right, you don’t feel fully relaxed… that’s a silent irritant at work!
As you walk through a room in your house, you probably don’t ‘see’ the mess of wires under your desk, or you don’t notice the pile of blankets at the end of the sofa (they are folded neatly after all!). You see, you get blind to certain things over time.
Have you ever put a post-it note somewhere to remind you of something important. But over time you stop noticing the post-it note and eventually you just don’t see it at all? Yep, that’s when we get Stuff Blind!
Fresh Eyes on Visual Clutter
So how do you battle visual clutter and silent irritants? How can you spot something if you are blind to it most of the time? Well, you have to look around your room with fresh eyes.
I suggest that you follow these steps when assessing your home for silent irritants:
- Go through one room at a time
- Walk into the room and stop
- Cast your eyes around the room, what did you look at first? What caught your eye the most?
- Look around the room again, starting from the left and moving to the right. Scan every inch of the room – look at the floors, the shelves, the furniture, the walls… what do you notice?
- Every time something catches your attention, then write it down.
Here’s an example of the list I just made for my living room:
- Sofa pillows messy
- Crooked picture frames
- Dead leaves on my plant
- Ornament in fish tank fallen over
- Wires behind the speaker are sticking out
- Blinds are crooked
Most of these things are easy to fix and it took me about 10 minutes to straighten/hide everything. Now my living room looks and FEELS so much more relaxing!
Common Visual Clutter Problems and Solutions
Although all our homes are unique, there are some visual clutter problems that are more common than others.
We’re going to take a look at some of the more common visual clutter problems and then talk about possible solutions.
Problem 1: Papers
Piles of paper are obviously a big source of visual clutter. But so are other types of paper clutter.
- What about a pile of magazines or newspapers on the coffee table or beside the bed?
- Do you stick papers to your refrigerator for things that you don’t want to forget?
- Do you keep your bills in a pile next to your computer?
Those are all paper-based visual clutter and can make any space feel messy.
Have a system for any paper that comes into your house, so that it doesn’t end up in a pile on your counter.
When you collect the mail, rather than leaving it on the kitchen counter, quickly sort through it, recycle any junk mail, and put any important letters into a tray or file.
If you are worried about forgetting about the papers in the tray or file, then set a reminder on your phone to check through it all every Friday evening or every Sunday morning.
Rather to pinning things to the front of your refrigerator, you could put them on the side where they are less noticeable.
Or even better, put a small magnetic board inside one of your kitchen cabinets and put the notes in there instead. I recommend putting the board inside a cabinet that you go to a lot, such as the one with glasses and/or mugs in it.
If you subscribe to magazines or newspapers, then make a rule, that when the new one arrives, you throw out the old issue. That way you won’t end up with a pile of magazines that you never have time to read!
If you really don’t want to part with your magazines, then you can try an attractive magazine basket instead.
Problem 2: Shoes
Oh, shoes! I have a really fanatical hatred of piles of shoes! I don’t know why! Maybe it’s because I think of them as ‘dirty’ (I have boys, so their shoes are always covered in mud!) or the stinkiness that comes from them!
Even if you neatly line up your shoes next to the front door, they can still be a cause of visual clutter. And really, who has the time to neatly line up their shoes? (OK, my retired father does, but normal people don’t!)
There are a few great solutions for shoe clutter and it will really depend on your way of life and family which will work for you.
I’ll start with what I personally do – we always enter and leave our house through the garage, so I have a large basket just inside the door to the garage. We all kick out shoes off into the basket when you get home. I like this solution because it has the added bonus of keeping any dirt and grime on our shoes outside the house!
You probably already have a basket or box (even an old cardboard box) that will work for this.
I used to have a shoe cabinet in the garage, but we never used it! The shoes would just pile up in FRONT of the cabinet! The basket works so much better for us, as it’s quick, easy and even the littlest kid can kick his shoes into the basket!
Now, if you have really nice shoes, then you probably don’t want to be kicking them into a basket of mixed up shoes. Instead, a shoe cabinet might be a better choice for you – just be sure to actually use it and not pile the shoes in front of it!
Remember the best storage solution is one that you will actually USE!
Problem 3: Wires
We have so many different types of electronics in our homes now, and that means that wire management can become a real problem.
Whether it’s your phone charger on your kitchen counter or the mass of wires behind a game console. Finding a solution to the wire problem can be tough.
Once again, the exact solution will depend on your particular visual clutter wire problem. But here are a few suggestions:
- Use zip ties to bundle wires together, so they don’t snake across the floor
- Use wire clips or conduit tubing to hide wires behind desks, dressers or entertainment centers
- Use a charging station to eliminate piles of charger wires
- Use a rug to cover a cord going to a lamp
- Put away any electronics or chargers that are not regularly used, so their wires aren’t left hanging around
- Run wires through the wall (this takes a bit of time and DIY skill, but gives the best result)
Problem 4: Counters
Counters seem to be clutter magnets! I actually even have an entire post about how to declutter your counters!
When people ask me for home cleaning and organization advice, their kitchen or bathroom counters are normally the areas they have the most problems with. And it’s understandable really, our kitchens are the busiest room in the house and the space where we often get distracted and dump things while we do something else.
You want to start by doing an ‘audit’ of your counters. Look at each counter area and what you have on it. Do you have a lot of small appliances out? A pot of cooking utensils? Some jars of herbs or bottles of oil? What about piles of paper or those random little things that you don’t know what to do with?
You want to put away or find a new home for anything that is not used EVERY SINGLE DAY! Yes, you might use your blender twice a week, but should it really take up space on your counter for the other 7 days of the week?
Once you’ve got your counters clear, then you can think about ways to organize what is left. I like using baskets or trays to store things. If you really need to have your herbs on the counter, then put them into a basket or box. Also, this makes it easier to wipe down your counters, because you just move one basket, instead of each jar individually.
Rather than having a mixture of soap bottles and sponges next to the sink, you could use a little caddy or tray to keep everything neat.
Check out my post about decluttering your kitchen counters for more tips!
Problem 5: Collectibles
This is a thorny subject in the world of home organization! Some organization ‘gurus’ will tell you to hide all your collections and not have anything on display. However, others (like me!), understand that it’s nice to display our collections, but we don’t want them causing visual clutter.
If you really want to keep your collection of 1960s lunch boxes on display, then I say go for it! But to reduce the visual clutter, I suggest that you pick one space to display your collection.
Maybe use a bookcase, shelf or curio cabinet. A collection can fast become ‘clutter’ when it is spread out over every surface of your home!
If your collection ends up expanding and needs more space, then consider selling or donating some of your least favorite pieces. Or you could store some and then rotate which pieces you have on display.
Problem 6: Colors and Patterns
I’m not an interior designer and I have a bad habit of buying anything that I like the look of, without thinking about how it will look in my space.
If you have too many different colors and patterns in the same room, then it can be jarring to the eye and cause visual clutter.
Consider picking just one or two accent colors of your room and only using those. You could paint your walls a neutral color so that they don’t compete with your window treatments or pillows.
My sister has one of the most stunning homes you will ever see! But there is basically no color in it! Everything is a neutral color and that means that it all ‘goes’ together and visual clutter is a thing of the past.
I love my sister’s house, but as someone that loves all things colorful, I have to inject a bit of color into my rooms. For each room, I will pick just one accent color or tone. This helps me to still have the pops of color that I love, without the space looking like the inside of a circus tent!
Problem 7: Shelves
Shelves are a great way to maximize storage and organize your belongings. I often recommend that you use vertical storage (i.e. put stuff on the walls!) when you need to get more bang for your organizing buck.
However, too many shelves and open shelving can be massive areas of visual clutter!
Don’t get me wrong, open shelves in a kitchen with neatly stacked and matching china are beautiful. But how many of us REALLY have dishes that look that neat?
Instead of using open shelves to store things, consider using baskets or boxes instead. The box or basket can still live on the shelf, but it will look neater and cleaner if it is just one box instead of a row of bottles, lotions, and potions.
Another tip that I used to give to my clients, was to give your belongings space to breathe. Don’t cram too much onto a shelf, space things out.
Problem 8: Decor
This kinda goes along with the collectibles problem, but sometimes we can have just too many decor items in a room.
A common problem is too many pictures or photos on the walls. I used to have a big wall of family photos. They all had black frames and I thought that would unify the look. But really, it just created a lot of visual clutter.
I picked a few of my favorite photos and frames, and just kept those up. Now I can enjoy the photos more because they aren’t competing with each other for my attention!
First, you want to look around your room and focus on all the decor items you have. Vases, baskets, frames, plants… and say to yourself “do I even notice this item?” If you don’t notice it, then chances are you can do without it.
Do the items fit the space? Does it enhance your room or is it just more visual clutter?
Problem 9: Keys & Purses
Oh, this can be such a problem in some homes! When I worked as a professional organizer, I just to battle with clients (nicely, of course!) about where they should keep their purse, car keys, sunglasses etc.
Normally what ends up happening is we walk into the house and then dump them on the kitchen counter or a table by the door. They sit there until the next day when we have to hunt around to find them because we can’t remember where we put them!
The solution to this is pretty simple. Have one place that you always put your keys and purse. It could be a cute basket on the kitchen counter, in one of the kitchen cabinets or even in a dresser drawer.
Once you get into the habit of always putting your stuff in the same place (and your spouse too!) not only will it cut down on visual clutter, but it will also save you time every morning too!
Problem 10: Fingerprints
OK, so this isn’t really ‘clutter’, but fingerprints, smudges, and marks add to the visual clutter and silent irritants of our homes.
You might not even think about it, but if the light switch is grimy every time you turn it on, then it’s going to subconsciously make you think that the rest of the room is dirty.
If your stainless steel oven or dishwasher is covered in fingerprints, it will make your whole kitchen look messy.
Yep, the solution to this one is to clean! It can be so easy to forget about the little ‘extra’ areas, like light switches, door handles (and around door handles) and cabinet doors. But these need to be cleaned regularly.
Normally a microfiber cloth and a tiny bit of spray cleaner if all you need to wipe those nasty fingerprints away!
Want to find out more any the weekly cleaning routine that I use to keep my home clean (and fingerprint-free)? Check out my Weekly Cleaning Routine.
So there you have it – 10 common visual clutter problems and how to solve them! Remember, you don’t have to go crazy and try to deal with them all at once. Maybe just start with one room and then slowly tackle all the rooms in your home.
I hope that after reading this that you are able to minimize the irritants in your life (both silent and loud!).