The Organized Home: 
Tips for a Clutter-Free Space

Year after year, many of us make the same resolutions:  we’re going to “be healthier” and “get organized.”

Year after year, we attempt, and maybe even succeed in getting these goals off the ground.  It’s sticking to them that proves to be the real challenge.  You may have cleaned out your closet and eaten whole grains the entire month of January, but now winter is dragging on and you can’t go running in all this snow and the dirty clothes pile in the corner is nearly as high as the dresser again.  And it’s only February.

While I can’t give you any advice on healthy eating or making it to those Saturday morning spin classes, I can provide a few straightforward tips for creating and maintaining an organized home.   It is one of the cornerstones of good design. 

When you enter a well-designed home, you’ll notice that there’s little to no clutter.  A well thought-out design provides a dedicated, convenient space for all of its owner’s oft-used and much-loved things.  It is curated of excess and supports its inhabitants’ lifestyle and daily tasks, rather than reminding them of unfinished projects.   Your home decor should surround you with things of beauty and purpose.  Like your favorite handbag, the best design incorporates beauty into the items you use every day:  a reading lamp in your favorite color,  a colorful rug that hides all kinds of stains, elegant dinner plates.  

We all recognize the importance of creating this sense of calm and beauty in our homes, but how can we make it a reality?  By repeating and sticking to this mantra:  Everything has a home.  Everything in my home is something I love or use.

The first step to organizing your home is to identify your problem areas:  where do you find yourself wasting time, searching for things, or inwardly cursing while you’re trying to get something accomplished?  It may be when getting dressed in the morning, searching for a bill that needs to be paid, or clearing

clutter off the dining table in order to sit down to dinner.  Once you figure out the spaces that are continually holding you up, pick a relatively small, manageable area as your initial project.  Sorting out the mail “dumping” area by the kitchen door as opposed to the entire basement is a much less daunting task – and one you’re more likely to actually tackle.  Set a day on your calendar to commit to this project and enlist any help you think you might need. (If you’re planning to clean out your closet, you may want an honest friend to tell you what fits and what doesn’t. If it’s the kids’ playroom, they should be involved in the project.) 

When you begin cleaning out your first “problem” area, remember your mantra:  Everything needs a home.  Ask yourself the two critical questions:  Do I use it? Do I love it?  If you use it in this area, find a home for it.  If you don’t use it,  but you love it, put it in a box labeled LOVE.  If you don’t love or use the item, but don’t want to throw it away, put it in a box labeled SORT.  When you’ve cleared out all of the items you don’t use in the space, take your LOVE & SORT boxes out of the area for the time being.  (Don’t worry, you’re not getting rid of any boxes at this point, just clearing away items that you don’t use in this space.)  There will probably be plenty of space to create a home for all of the items you use once you’ve cleared out everything you don’t.  

Once you’ve organized your initial problem area, see how it affects your life over the next few days.  The positive change will likely motivate you to clean out and organize another, possibly larger area.  Keep moving to new areas of your home and applying the same method of sorting.  Only keep the USE items in the area you are organizing, while placing your LOVE items in a box and everything else into your SORT box.  It may take you several weeks to tackle all of your problem areas, and you may collect quite a few LOVE and SORT boxes as you move through the house! 

After you’ve lived in your house with only USE items for a week or two, bring back out your LOVE box(es).   Take each item out, one by one, and consider whether you still feel as attached to it.  If it is truly special to you, consider ways in which the item could be turned into a USE item.   Perhaps the coffee mug your son made in preschool could replace the standard pen cup on your desk?  With those items that are purely decorative, enjoy “shopping” from your box and placing them in new spots around your home.  Sometimes the mere act of moving an object to a new room can help us to appreciate it anew.   If you absolutely don’t have a place for something you love, consider giving it as a gift to someone special. 

Now that your home is comprised only of items you use and/or love, you may not feel the need to go through your SORT boxes and can happily drop them off at your local Goodwill.  Unfortunately, for most people, that is just not the case.   Even though you’ve already acknowledged that the SORT boxes are full of things you don’t love or use, it can still be difficult to part with their contents.   Why?  Professional organizers will tell you that helping clients relinquish things they don’t need is one of the biggest challenges of their job. 

Pernille Nils Ebbeson is the founder of Collage, a professional organizing company dedicated to helping people achieve a clutter-free life.  She ascertains that most people hold on to unused clutter for one of two reasons:  they believe they will need it one day in the future or they have a sentimental attachment to it.  She suggests placing any items you’re holding on to for “someday” into a box, then seal and date it.  Place it wherever you typically store things.  If you haven’t opened it within six months to a year’s time from the date on the box, donate the box.  It’s also helpful to remind yourself of all the people who would be grateful to be able to use your “someday” items right now, and who may not be able to afford such an item if you refrain from donating it. For sentimental items, try keeping one piece of a larger collection.  If you can’t bear to give away Great Aunt Joan’s china collection, but only use your dishwasher-safe set, group her dessert plates into a decorative wallhanging in your dining room and donate the rest.  You’ll have one less storage box and be able to enjoy her china on a daily basis – without having to handwash it!  If you still find yourself unable to let go of many items in your SORT box, you may want to enlist a professional organizer to help you see these things more objectively. 

Once you’ve created an organized home, it’s essential to maintain all of your hard work!  Pernille provides her clients with a brilliant tool she calls a “passport.”  When a room is perfectly neat and everything is in its “home,” she takes photographs of each area within the room.  She then collects the photographs of the room into a small booklet – the “passport.”  She walks everyone who uses the space through its organized set-up and has them all sign off on the passport of photographs, before leaving the passport in an accessible spot in the room.  Now anyone who uses that space knows exactly what it should look like and is able to clean it up when asked.   Kids, spouses, and cleaning help can all refer to the passport photographs to remind themselves where everything fits. 

Pernille also recommends setting aside 15 minutes each evening for everyone in the family to tidy up their areas; set an egg timer and try to make a habit of having tidy-up time at the same hour each night until it becomes a routine for everyone.  It’s also helpful to set annual or seasonal dates on the calendar for a family clean-out day.  Set these clean-out days for after the holidays and kids’ birthdays, times when we seem to be overwhelmed by new items.  Give everyone a LOVE and SORT box, and try to donate old things each time a host of new items enter your home.  Maintain these habits, and enjoy your own organized home. 

For more Home Organization Tips, visit The Westchester Decorator at www.westchesterdecorator.blogspot.com.

[blockquote class=blue]Kitty Burruss is a hyper-organized interior designer in Briarcliff Manor and has been known to label the drawers in her linen closet.  She works for Barbara Sternau Interior Design.

 

Barbara Sternau Interior Design Box 404, Waccabuc, NY bsternau@optonline.net
914-631-1875
www.barbarasternau.com[/blockquote]

 

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About the Author: Kitty Burruss