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May 09, 2021

Cast Away the Clutter!

I love my husband dearly, but I have to admit that we have certain subjects where we don’t see eye to eye. The storage room off the garage, for example. I’ve (almost) stopped nagging him about the fact that it should be condemned and I’ve (almost) resigned myself to just not opening the door.

I want to take an entire Saturday and tackle this monster. Randy takes one look and wants to immediately grab the T.V. remote. But there’s middle ground here — and hope — according to the organizing experts I consulted. Like the old advice about eating an elephant, you just have to do these things one bite at a time.

Start with small, well-defined tasks and don’t get sidetracked, suggests Kim Taylor, owner of The 25th Hour in Manhattan Beach, California. If it's a closet, just organize the closet, not the entire room. If it's catching up on phone calls, make them all at once — and don’t start filing recipes or rearranging furniture half-way through the task. (OK, so Randy and I can start by clearing the old paint cans out of the metal cabinet in the storage room and taking them to the hazardous-waste drop-off station. Baby steps…)

Here are some terrific resources to help us tackle that stack of mail on the dining-room table, that pile of outgrown clothes in our kids’ closets — and even a storage room filled with who-the-heck-knows-what:

°    At flylady.net, professional organizer Marla Cilley knows what it’s like to suffer from CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome). She’ll take you —  with her own brand of homespun humor — through the process of organizing and cleaning your home. She also has some fun organizing tools, including her book, Sink Reflections (Bantam; $14.95 plus shipping), available on her site.

°    Visit getorganizednow.com for great tips and to subscribe to professional organizer Maria Gracia’s free e-mail newsletter. (I save her newsletters in an e-mail folder for quick reference. Her holiday tips alone will make your life easier.) Gracia’s monthly checklists will help you stay on top of seasonal tasks around the house, such as putting up storm windows, cleaning gutters and getting the family car ready for hot- or cold-weather driving. Her book, Finally Organized, Finally Free For The Home, is available in print ($24.95 + shipping) or in a digital PDF version ($19.95) at the website.

°    The National Association of Professional Organizers can help you locate an organizer in your area. Just enter your ZIP code here.

Check out these other great tips from Gracia, Cilley, Taylor and Jeannie VandeWeg, a professional organizer and owner of All Squared Away Organizing in Sebastopol, California:

°    Stop keeping things “just in case.” Do you really need all those hair clips and those old issues of Newsweek? With the exception of certain seasonal or formal clothing, seasonal sports equipment, etc., if you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't need it.   

°    Double up. Double-hanging closet rods quickly expand the available space for young children’s smaller clothes — and make them more reachable. Add hanging baskets and boxes for socks, hair accessories, etc. Clear, plastic hanging shoe holders are great for holding accessories.

°    Grab your label maker. Large plastic containers with multiple pull-out drawers are inexpensive and great for storing loads of small toys and doo-dads. For younger kids, attach photos of dolls, Legos, etc. to the drawers to show where items belong.

°    Create a “wall-of-fame” bulletin board for kids’ artwork and stories. Every week, add new artwork and store favorite older pieces in a notebook with sheet protectors. Send the rest to family and friends. Kids can help address the envelopes. A fun added touch: Current offers kid-friendly address labels at great prices: www.currentlabels.com.

°    Designate a “morning-launch-pad” spot. Here’s where everyone places backpacks, keys, cell phones, DVDs to be returned, gym bag, outgoing mail, etc. It can be a large basket by the front door, a bench with a cubbyhole for each family member, etc.

°    Create an emergency station. The utility closet is a great place to store flashlights, candles, matches, batteries and a fire extinguisher. Keep the smaller supplies in a covered box and mount the fire extinguisher on the wall.

°    Too many toys? At the start of each new season, rotate younger children’s toys to keep them fresh and interesting. Donate gently used clothes and toys to a donation center or children’s shelter. Let your child help choose the items and help deliver them.

°    Create “kid-paper central.” Purchase a magnetic, vertical file holder with a section for each child. Attach it to the fridge and remind kids to put all school papers in their file each day. If space permits, different-colored 9-x-12-inch “in” baskets on the kitchen counter work well, too. In the summer, use the files for notices from camp, swim team or other kids’ programs.

°    Make bathroom sharing easier. Assign a favorite color for each child, and use colored baskets to separate combs, brushes, etc. This system works with everything from toothbrushes to towels.

°    Reduce morning bathroom traffic. Stagger wake-up and/or shower times and set up a separate area (with a small vanity table, mirror, etc.) in the bedroom for styling hair and applying make-up.

°    Color-code the family calendar. Choose a calendar with big squares and place it in a busy family area, like the kitchen. Attach different-colored pens (one color for each family member) with string or dental floss. Each person can see their activities at a glance — and the family carpool organizer can see what each day’s schedule holds.

°    Save the date. Stash birthday-party invitations, tickets for the school play and other date-related items in a tickler file by date or in a wall calendar containing a pocket for each month.

°    Switch to online bill paying. Many banks now offer this service at no extra charge. You’ll save time, postage and headaches. And at tax time, you can print out a record of all deductible expenses. (We’ve been doing this for two years now, and I’ll never go back!)

°    Purge old files. Sorting through just 10 files per day makes this task manageable. Shred and recycle unneeded items. And don’t forget computer files. Just 15 minutes spent purging old computer files frees up valuable hard-drive space.

°    Invite the “house fairy” into your home. This most-welcome guest leaves little thank-you notes for kids for a job well done and leaves behind everything from stickers or small treats (for younger kids) to notes telling older kids they’ve earned a movie rental or a music download. (Spouses like to be visited by the house fairy, too...)

°    Create family rewards. After spending the afternoon cleaning the garage, organizing closets or collecting toys for donation, your team deserves a reward. Take everyone for ice cream or rent a movie and snuggle on the couch. Don’t forget the popcorn!

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Great hints for organizing. I use to nag my hub to finish his unfinshed projects then I freed myslef of that. I told him that when I got tired of the unfinished project, I would let him know then in a week I would hire someone to finish it. This way, I don't nag him and I choose to live with the projects as long as I watn. He can choose to finish them or pay the handy man to do it. Since then, no more nagging! It has worked because I have a choice.

Hi Laurie,

Great comment, and good advice! But what do you do when it's a roomful of stuff (everything from possible junk to possible family heirlooms) and hub needs to decide what goes to Goodwill and what stays because it's stuff from hub's side of the family? :) Sticky situation...

If it's important to you than you pick out the treasure from the junk pile and put them away. Otherwise your choices are to live with the junk or have it hauled away. You could also designate him a junk area to do with as he pleases. You would not be able to nag him over that area at all.

I have a friend who is a neat freak and she recently married a clutterer. She was freaking out at his habit of laying things on the counter. I told her to give him a basket on the counter and he could dump whatever he wanted in the basket. When it was full, she would empty it out on his side of their exercise room that he was also allowed to keep anyway he wanted. That way he had two areas that he could be himslef in and she could have her neat areas as well.

What do you think?

Laurie, thanks for the thoughtful comment. You have some good ideas here. Marriage is definitely about compromise!

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