Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Tongue not entirely in cheek, I believe the same is true of stuff: it expands to fill the space you have. When people find themselves with a spare room or closet or cabinet (because they built an addition, or moved into a bigger place, or a roommate moved out), it doesn’t stay spare for long. Either they fill the space with rarely-used stuff, or they buy new stuff to fill the void. Nature – including human nature – abhors a vacuum.
Here are three tips for controlling your stuff, instead of letting your stuff control you.
1. Everything in its place. Designate a place to drop your keys, a place to put mail and newspapers, places for dishes and laundry and anything else in a state of “not ready to be put away”. Never let things pile up in places they don’t belong.
2. Keep surfaces clean. This is the grownup version of “pick up your toys”. When you’re working at a desk, cooking at a counter, or eating at a table, the surface becomes a temporary space for stuff. Don’t let it become permanent. This lifeedited post takes a different approach: to keep surfaces from piling up, reduce the number of surfaces you have!
3. One in, one out. This is the hardest rule to follow, but many small-house residents swear by it. Every time you acquire a new item, make room for it by giving up another item. Not necessarily throwing it out, but selling it, donating it, or otherwise purging it from your home and your responsibility. Keep constant the number of things you own, and the tank never overflows.
The end goal is not being able to declutter (lots of people thrive in messy spaces), but breaking the habit of consumerism. For the big picture, read this article on theminimalists. Your needs should define the place where you live – not vice versa.