Clutter is a mischievous beast. It innocently enough starts with a few pieces of mail on the counter or clothing on the floor. At the start, we are completely and well within our realm of organizing comfort, so we might ignore the mail or step over the clothes with the knowledge that we can address those items later. The problem is that sometimes later doesn’t happen for a really long time, and during that time, the few pieces of mail grow to mountainous levels and the clothing piles up and spills out into the hallway. The clutter gets bigger, it seems to take over, and stress ensues. At some point, at the tipping point, that innocent clutter takes on a life of its own. It becomes ominous and overwhelming.
Sounds scary, right? However, have no fear if this situation has happened to you. There is an answer, and although you might be standing overwhelmingly in front of this mess in the current moment, I’ve got some simple steps that will get you back on track to a less cluttered state of living in no time!
First, breathe! Take a deep breath and recognize that your clutter, your mess, does not own you. It is not a reflection of your talents, capabilities, level of motivation or personal character. It is just simply a pile, or maybe many piles, of inanimate objects. It’s just stuff and it has no life, no feelings, energy or power. I recommend that you find a friend to help, when possible. Whether you engage your husband, mother or a set of hired hands, conquering large tasks with others makes the entire process feel more manageable.
If you are tackling this clutter by yourself, you must recognize that you are one person, with 2 hands and feet, and only so many hours in the day to accomplish the clean-up. Regardless of the size of your team, scope out the scale and variety of mess and decide on a preset time-period each day to tackle a portion. If you have an hour a day to spare, set your timer on your phone for an hour and get to work. When the alarm sounds, what is done is done. Walk away and get on with your day. There is always tomorrow to continue your efforts.
Find a good staging location close by. Clear out some floor or table space to stage and sort the clutter that you plan to address. If the mess is large, you might need to find multiple places to stage sorted items. If the weather is nice, take it outside temporarily onto a tarp or blanket. Isolate a few plastic bins or garbage bags to place items in as you sort through and categorize.
Work in zones. Pick one spot, any spot (let’s call it Zone 1), to get started. Don’t look around. Don’t get distracted. Don’t give in to your urge to skip from place to place. Just put the blinders on, hone in on that zone like a cave man on a hunting mission and get that one spot cleared out. If you address one portion or zone of an overwhelmingly large project at a time, you will find that the stress and overwhelm is greatly reduced. Your feeling of confidence, control and capability will increase as you go.
Once you have set your time limit, cleared a good work area and picked a zone to start, get to work sorting the contents of that zone into the area or areas that you just cleared out. Ask yourself what each item is and what category it falls into. Where and how is each item used? As an example, if I am looking at a pile of pens, magazines, mail and miscellaneous supplies, I might start by separating everything into 3 categories: office supplies, magazines and mail. I will also likely have a trash can or bag nearby to throw out items that are no longer working or needed.
As I move through the clutter from one zone to another, I might find new categories of things, so I will just create more piles or bins to contain them as I go. Don’t get too caught up in the categories as you sort but remember to keep them limited and at a high level. If you overthink it, you will have so many categories set aside that you will have just moved the clutter from one area to the next with little to no progress being made.
Once the entire mess has been sorted into different categories, it is time to find homes for everything and put it away. Once it is all sorted, I can decide where each one of these categories currently lives or should live in my house. For example, I will put the office supplies back where they belong in the bins in my office, the mail will be opened and filed accordingly in my mail management system (this is another lesson altogether), the outdated magazines will go into the trash, and the latest editions will be put into the basket in my living room.
There are always going to be those items at the end that are different from the rest; the ones that you don’t know what to do with. My advice is two-fold for these situations. First, if the item is something you regularly use and/or love, you will need to find a new home for it somewhere. I would try to keep it close to the area where it is used or can be most treasured. Secondly, if the item doesn’t fall into one of these 2 scenarios (use or love), get rid of it! I don’t care if it was expensive, given to you by your dead grandma or if you are determined to pass it onto your children someday. If you don’t use it or love it, it has no business living in your home. It will continue to be a source of clutter and/or stress and is not worth your time or energy when there are bigger fish to fry. There is no rule that requires you to keep items that are gifted from or for others. I can assure you with almost 100% confidence that God has not made it your purpose to be the keeper of everyone else’s things, so do not let the guilt set in, even for a minute.
We all know that the best way to control clutter is to never let it get out of control in the first place, but sometimes life happens. We get busy, distracted and pulled in many directions, and clutter appears despite our best efforts. If you just take a deep breath, isolate some portion of each day to focus on the mess, and bite off one chunk at a time, you will find that even the largest and most unruly mountain of clutter is conquerable.
People ask me all the time about my favorite organizing products, and my list of go-to's seems to be so large that I usually struggle to give them a quick answer. If we are talking about organizing in the kitchen, I love to use products like lazy Susans, cabinet drawers and clear decanters. In the bedroom, I am a huge fan of organizing with under-bed bags, felt hangers, dresser drawer dividers and decorative baskets. I use a ton of large contractor grade garbage bags to assist with sorting, downsizing and moving, and there are literally a million organizing uses for small zip ties.
My “favorite” products really depend on the scenario and space that we are organizing in the moment. What I can share though are the tried and true brands that I keep revisiting again and again. These brands make products for use in many different areas of the home and are some that I seem to be reaching for or suggesting repeatedly.
3M Command – 3M has greatly expanded their Command line in recent years, and now offers a large variety of hooks, picture hangars, ledges, mirrors, racks, caddies, grippers, cord bundlers and more. I love their grippers for neatly hanging brooms, mops and other cleaning tools. Their picture hangers can be used for an endless number of projects that have nothing to do with pictures, and their key racks, dry erase message centers and hanging knobs are just plain cute. Their products can be used virtually anywhere, and the adhesive strips allow them to be moved around with little to no marks left behind. I probably don’t need to tell you where to get these since they are sold everywhere from your local supermarket to big box retailers like Target and Home Depot.
youCopia – I think I have mentioned this brand before and they are one of my faves. Their products are not super aesthetically pleasing since most are simple white and clear plastic or metal, but this brand makes high quality products at a very reasonable price. They offer shelf risers, lazy Susans, racks and organizers that are perfect for corralling pot lids, spices, coffee, tea, vitamins, beauty supplies, office supplies and more. This brand can be purchased at The Container Store and online at places like Amazon.com.
Room Essentials – This brand makes bins, baskets, cubbies and a variety of housewares and décor. What I use most often are the cubby systems and bins that help to organize everything from a cluttered toy room to the overflow in the laundry room. They make cubby shelves in a range of sizes, shapes and finishes to fit anyone’s taste and budget. Their products are widely available, so replacing bins or shelves is easy, and they can be assembled in a reasonable amount of time. These products can be purchased at retailers like Target and Walmart.
Real Simple – This is another great brand that produces a ton of useful organizing and home décor products. They make bins, bags, flocked hangars, drawer dividers and closet organizers. These are good looking products that stand up to even the most aggressive of clients and are also very budget friendly. You can view all their product options at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
PlanetSafe Calendars – This vendor makes great wall calendars and self-stick white board mats to track projects, ideas, family activities and events. They offer an extensive selection of sticky note organizing systems, which really simplify the to-do process and paper clutter for people who need to visually see everything daily. Check them out at www.planetsafecalendars.com.
Urban Legacy – I am really obsessed with this vendor’s selection of shelves and brackets lately. They are based local to me in Lancaster, PA and use reclaimed barnwood to craft beautiful, one of a kind shelving, racks and bins. I currently have these hanging in my laundry room with rose gold brackets! View their craftsmanship on Etsy or at www.urbanlegacy.us.
Folex Company – This is more of a cleaning product than an organizing tool, but is essential for removing spots, stains and smells from just about anything. I buy their Instant Carpet Spot Remover by the gallon and use it everywhere. It neutralizes pet and mildew smells very quickly and has proven to remove stains better than any other product that I have tried. I buy this at Lowes, but there are many other retailers who distribute it.
These are just some of the brands that I find myself recommending to customers and using in my own home on a regular basis. There are a ton of other great options out there, and the fun thing about the organizing process, is that it is truly unique and personal to the individual who is getting organized. There is no one-size-fits-all, so my favorite might not be yours. Thanks to retail establishments like The Container Store, Home Goods and Target, we can always be sure to find the right tools and supplies that fit our taste, lifestyle and budget while having a bit of fun in the process!
Tiny houses are the trend lately, and it seems that many Baby Boomers are opting for a downsized lifestyle and more adventure, as opposed to a sprawling dream home with thousands of square feet. Organizing for very small spaces can be challenging, especially if you are downsizing from a much larger footprint. Once the downsizing activity has taken place, there are a few guiding principles to consider when setting up or arranging your new smaller space:
Once arranged, the following guidelines are just a few that can help to maintain a neat and well-organized space:
Examples for Bedrooms:
Examples for Bathrooms:
Examples for Kitchens:
Examples for Living Rooms or Multi-Function Family Rooms:
With a bit of creativity, the diligence needed to develop some new habits, and the right storage products, anyone can survive and even thrive in a small home environment.