How ketchup can be the solution to clutter

Experts share tips and the family benefits of decluttering

Just over a year ago, Mona Shand decided to get serious about her family's clutter. 

"I looked around, and I thought, 'You know what? The problem is not that I'm not organized enough. It's that we just have too much stuff,'" Shand said.

As she went through their home room by room, Shand realized her efforts were about more than having a less cluttered place to live.

"I started to think about what message that was sending to my kids. If we put all our value in these things. If we spend all our time accumulating, maintaining, cleaning, moving, occupying ourselves with stuff -- What does that tell them? You know, it doesn't leave time for the things that are really meaningful," Shand said.

Beyond the larger life lessons, child health experts say clutter has a negative impact on kids' everyday lives.

A recent study published in the Journal of Development Psychobiology found low-income children living in more disorganized, chaotic homes had more trouble regulating their emotions.

From a practical standpoint, clutter also makes it more difficult to clean, creating a more welcoming environment for germs or pests.

Likewise, a messy kitchen makes it harder to prepare healthy dinners and easier to rely on prepackaged ones.

Homework can also be affected. Numerous studies find children have more trouble concentrating in rooms with too much visual stimuli. Less to look at means more focus on the task at hand.

Back in Brighton, Shand quickly surpassed the 40 bags goal and kept going. She says clearing out her family's excess belongings has taught her children what really matters.

"I think it’s getting easier for them to understand that these are just things. They don't define us, and we don't have to hold onto them to be happy. They're not what bring us happiness," Shand said.

So what about the things you decide to keep?

Organizing expert Cas Aarssen says she's found a simple solution, and it all started with a bottle of ketchup.

"The ketchup in our fridge was pretty much a nightmare, and I was always looking for it. 'Where's the ketchup?' You know, when you have little kids they eat a lot of ketchup," Aarssen said.

Aarssen is the creator the popular "Clutterbug" podcast and YouTube channel. The mother of three says it was her condiment conundrum that inspired her love of labels.

"It became this hunt every day for the ketchup until we made a label that said 'condiments' on the side of the fridge. I kid you not, everyone put the ketchup back there from then on, and that's the magic of labels," Aarssen said.

Aarssen is serious about labels. In her house, even the box of labels is labeled.

But it works.

"Labels are a life saver. Labels will change the way your family works," Aarssen said. "As soon as you label a spot as being something's home, subconsciously, you and your husband and your kids are going to start putting things back in that spot."

Aarssen said labels are especially helpful when members of the family have different styles of organizing or if you have children.

"Without labels, I mean, as soon as you put it in a bin for a child, it's out of sight, out of mind," Aarssen said. "They don't know it's in there, and they definitely don't want to put their toys back in a space that feels like a void."

Tiny labels won't work. Aarssen said you should be able to read your labels from across the room and picture labels are particularly important for kids.

"You sort the toys into categories, so all of the play food together, and all of the Little People together, and then you make big picture labels for those containers," Aarssen said. "It's a subconscious thing, even for an 18-month-old child and up. They're going to know that's where the toy goes and put it back in that spot."

If it sounds a little crazy, Aarssen says to just try it.

"Friends and family would come over and be like, 'Why is everything labeled? You're such a weirdo.' But you know what? All of their homes are labeled now, too," Aarssen said.

Aarssen has several organizing tools, including labels for toys and crafts, available for free on her website. Check out the items with the $0.00 price tags. You will need to “add to cart” to get the free download link.

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