Fighting Clutter: The Horizontal Surfaces Tax

I’ve been waging a long term war with clutter in my house. Long term as in “same long term as my diet”–meaning like in any war, there are significant troop movements on both sides of the battle front. There are times when I make a concerted effort to beat back the forces of clutter, only to have that clutter plot a sneak attack in the middle of the night. Suddenly, the house is bursting at the seams again, and I’m not sure how it happened.

Before the big Disney vacation, clutter had been waging one of its strongest offensives in quite some time. When we got home, it looked for a while like all hope was lost, as Disney clutter had stowed away in our suitcases, ready to pounce out and reinforce the normal clutter as soon as the zippers were loosed.

Something had to be done.

Typically. I’m the Anti-Clutter General in Chief. I lead the charge in major battles, reining clutter in somewhat and assigning it to other members on our attack squad, who then (hopefully) extinguish their assignments with gusto. In practice, this isn’t always the case. And I realized this last time that that had to change. I needed a complete team, 100% behind me. It was clear a simple pep talk wasn’t going to cut it.

I had to motivate them with something that would matter. And that motivation would have to be money.

But on the other hand, I can’t afford to continually be offering bounties on clutter piles. Instead, I had a brilliant moment of inspiration. An epiphany.

The Horizontal Surfaces Tax.

I had studied my enemy for years, and I knew that the greatest bastion of clutter offenses rested on this simple premise: if it’s a horizontal surface in my house, clutter will invade it incessantly until that surface is swarming with toys, papers, doodads, junk mail, and a variety of detritus. To date, the battle has been waged one surface at a time. I’ll completely wipe out clutter in one area, then move on to another–only to discover that clutter crept back to the original area when I wasn’t looking.

That had to stop.

So what I’ve done is this: I completely clean off a surface. Make it 100% clutter free. And then I’ve mustered my troops: Denisa, TRC, and DC (MC doesn’t count yet. Her main weapon is drool, and that just doesn’t tend to accumulate.) I inform them that the now-clean horizontal surface has been declared a declutterized zone, and a standing bounty is put into effect. Anyone caught leaving ANY UNAPPROVED ITEM (paper, toy, phone, iPad, dish–you name it) is subject to paying a Horizontal Surfaces Tax to the finder of that item. The tax is 5 cents per item for children, 10 cents per item for adults. So if TRC leaves his 3DS on a declutterized zone, and I find it, he owes me 5 cents. If Denisa leaves an item and DC finds it, Denisa owes DC 10 cents. Plus–the violator has to clean up the item in question, then and there.

It’s a simple principle. So simple I wondered if it would actually work. My family seemed skeptical. They’d witnesses cunning attempts to squash out the cluttering hordes in the past, and they knew those attempts had all failed. But they agreed to go along with me. (TRC even tried to declare his room a declutterized zone, meaning any parent leaving anything there would have to pay him money. This motion was quickly voted down.)

There are currently 6 declutterized zones in my house. My side table. The top of my bureau. The kitchen hutch. The kitchen corner cabinet. The living room bookshelves. The living room end table. These zones have been 100% clutter-free for five days now. Step by step, I continue to eradicate clutter in new areas, freeing my house one zone at a time.

I think we might be on to something. If nothing else, this is the longest those areas have stayed clean since we moved into the house.

In this war, you have to take victories where you can get them.

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