Tame the Clutter
Tips from local experts on organizing your home
Lisa Winn of Simply Organized helped Jennifer and Ralph Warnock install a system in their playroom to organize toys.
Photography by Robert Clark
Pack rats are nest builders. These little animals are known for collecting and keeping materials, from branches and twigs to chair stuffing and engine wires. They especially love silver, shiny objects. Pack rats also come in human form and live in houses filled with treasures they deem too sacred to give away. If you are a pack rat, maybe now is a good time to consider de-cluttering your home.
For those who are not sure if they want – or need – to tackle a home organization project in 2012, consider these statistics:
- According to Harper’s Index, the average amount of time that the average American spends looking for misplaced things over the course of a lifetime is one year.
- According to Home Gain, the Home Seller’s Online Resource, a survey of nearly 1,000 real estate agents regard clearing out clutter as the number one home improvement project that will speed the sale of a home and command a higher selling price.
- Cleaning professionals indicate that clearing out the excess clutter would easily eliminate 40 percent or more of the housework in the average home, reports the National Soap and Detergent Association. (Source: www.clutter-organize-transform.com)
Are you convinced yet? Columbia Metropolitan magazine spoke with four experts, each of whom has a slightly different and unique perspective on eliminating clutter. We hope this will provide the fuel needed to help you get started.
Lisa Winn of Simply Organized
Start small, somewhere manageable. Organize first and be willing to get rid of things. If you have difficulty deciding what to keep or give away, ask a professional, or an objective friend, for help.
Once you decide what you are keeping, then you can design your space. A lot of times, people spend money to store things that they really don’t need to keep. Don’t go out and buy a big armoire to keep your things until you go through and get rid of unnecessary items.
Whole-house organization isn’t a weekend project, but it is possible that one room can be a weekend project. A closet can be a great place to start. Remember it took a long time for your space to get disorganized, so it’s going to take time to get it organized.
Living in a Small Space
A resident of Shandon, I understand personally the tight feeling a modern family experiences in an old house. I have noticed that people’s closets are not usually configured for them to use space effectively, so I install closet systems. It’s amazing how much more room you can find when you configure your space. For under the bed, the plastic storage boxes that are designed for that purpose are a great investment.
The less space you have to store items, the less things you can keep – and that can be a good thing.
If you have more toys than the children can clean up, then you have too many toys. Remember you are not doing them – or yourself – any favors by buying more toys. Keep things like Play-Doh and games up high, and keep accessible to them only what they can clean up themselves.
If it’s a shared bathroom, each person can have their own drawer or basket, and when they go in, they can pull out their belongings. Buy different-colored hooks or clothespins for each person’s towel – that will cut down on the laundry.
Specific shelves are made for fitting around pipes. You might have to store towels and linens in a closet near a bathroom if you do not have much storage space. Keep only necessities in the bathroom, like toothbrushes and shampoo. Usually, makeup and toiletries can be stored somewhere else.
Jayne Elmgren of Clutter Marshalls
I like to use catch-phrases, because they stay with people – things like, The OHIO Method: “Only Handle it Once.” When you open your mail, deal with it. Put it in the place where it goes. It may take a few extra seconds right now, but it saves a Saturday later.
Another thing I call “the measles” can be a great diagnostic tool to help you see how much you handle each piece of paper. Have a red pen handy to put a mark on the paper each time you handle it. Before you know it, the paper will have red dots all over it, like the measles, and you will see that you have handled it way more than necessary.
I try to get people to go paperless. Otherwise, if you feel you must keep papers, like monthly bills, I recommend keeping only one month’s worth (unless it is tax-related, and even then, the IRS has approved certain scanning methods).
When you come home, hang up your clothes. It takes five seconds more to do it, but it saves days of washing and ironing. People rush these days, but it’s so much easier to go ahead and just do it – those five seconds aren’t going to make you any later.
Clothes are hard to get rid of, but we only wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time. What I do is hang all the clothes backwards in the closet, so the hanger is facing the wrong way. As you wear the clothes, hang them back up correctly. At the end of each season, you will know what you are wearing and what you are not. It’s the same thing with the underwear drawer – sometimes, you just have to go ahead and get rid of things.
Think of your kitchen as having prime real estate spots, and you want the stuff you use everyday in your prime real estate. Set up your pantry like a grocery store; for example, keep all the canned tomatoes together, all the chicken broth in one spot and all the boxed cereals together.
Plastic storage containers are the hardest to organize. I try to encourage people to keep them at a minimum. Realize that the disposable ones are disposable and if you give them away, don’t ask for them back. I am a fan of storage bags instead – they are so easy and a great space-saver.
Bathroom cabinets are so deep and big that you really only use part of them. It is helpful to install a system to get more organized. Sometimes in a cabinet, I’ll find 17 bottles of rubbing alcohol, often because a person needs it and cannot find it, so they go and buy more. In fact, everyone seems to have their obsessions, things they have over-stocked, things they can’t get enough of. For some it may be sticky notes, for others toothbrushes, and for some picture frames.
Messy cords are a tough issue. The best thing to do for cords, in the bathroom, is to unplug the item and put it away.
Purchase storage containers that are the color you relate with certain holidays for putting away decorations. It will make it really easy when you go to find the Halloween decorations and you look for the orange or black containers. For Christmas, use red or green. Colored containers are usually sold around the time of the holiday season.
When to hire a professional
People fear organizers. They think I’m going to replicate a television show by coming in, putting all their stuff on the curb and having them go through it in five minutes. But I have a motto: You can keep whatever you want to keep, but it has to have a home and not just be sitting out on a horizontal surface.
It’s a good time to hire an organizer when you get to the point where you cannot stand the clutter anymore, when you feel like your house is not a haven. It is an investment in your house and your sanity. Studies have even shown correlations with clutter and both depression and obesity.
Rebecca Howser of Rebecca Howser Interior Designs
First and foremost, with any design concept you definitely need to take your lifestyle into account – whether you have children and/or pets or if you are a neat freak. That gives you a place to start.
Paper Clutter & General Organization
Not everybody has a designated workspace in the kitchen, but if you have a wall that is wasted space, you can hang a bulletin board. You can mount it in a unique way, such as painting and framing with a vintage frame. I am always painting things, just to change the look of something. You could also use a magnetic primer or paint on the wall to turn it into a magnet board.
A label-maker is a good thing to invest in for labeling containers that store hidden items. I have done this in my own home, and it was a wonderful investment.
I also encourage everyone to donate things that have not been used in the past year to places like Hannah House, which will accept most household items, including toiletries, and The Habitat Restore. You can also consign better furniture, clothing and baby items.
I like the use of dividers in drawers, and in my own kitchen I often survey the drawers for items not used in the past year.
While glass-front cabinets are popular because they make a space appear bigger, that may not be the best choice for your kitchen if you are messy or are prone to clutter.
The Family Room
A lot of homes have built-in shelving, but consider installing cabinets. For a less expensive option, natural fiber baskets can be a great way to contain things – as long as you don’t get too much stuff in them. I love the Container Store and Mary Lion, a local artist found on Etsy, for finding great containers. A good-looking one can be a piece of art.
Margo Orlandini of Verve
Find dual-duty pieces. A large ottoman in a family room can be used as a cocktail table and as storage for items that are not used all the time, like blankets you need for those nights when you want to curl up in front of a fire.
Sometimes you can find great blanket chests in flea markets or antique stores. They can be refinished or painted to work in almost any space. In a bedroom, place it at the foot of the bed; add a seat cushion, and you have seating with great built-in storage.
Art, Pictures and Knick-Knacks
Too many family pictures? If you want less clutter but still want to see them all, invest in a digital picture frame. You will only need one, and it can be set to make a slide-show of all your favorite pictures.
If a digital frame doesn’t fit into your scheme, try grouping your pictures in one place and make sure your frames are similar to each other. That will make it look and feel like a group of one instead of multiples of different items.
Do you have tall ceilings? Add a shelf around the top section of your wall about 18 inches down. This can be a great place for trophies, hats or other collectables that your kids want to see but don’t need to have in hand.
General Design Advice
Too many patterns can make a space feel cluttered and closed in. Three patterns in a room is a good number. Many rooms can begin to feel confusing with more than three. Vary each pattern in size and style. If multiple patterns and colors are not to your liking, try taking adding more texture instead. To make a room feel less cluttered, don’t overcrowd the room with too much furniture. One large piece may be all you need as the anchor. Add metal or glass pieces to lighten the feel of your room.
Wonder if you’re a pack rat? Click here and take our quiz to find out!