Coming clean: Take time to organize your space

  • Article by: GEORGEA KOVANIS , Detroit Free Press
  • Updated: February 28, 2014 - 2:09 PM

Tips for cutting the clutter and getting organized before spring.

You probably don’t want to hear this, but it’s the truth: Most of us have too much stuff.

It takes up space in our attics and basements and garages.

Along with the lidless Tupperware containers, empty pickle jars and leftover holiday cards, it spills out of closets and cupboards and into our lives, cluttering our minds and making it difficult for us to find time or space or anything.

“I think a lot of times it kind of makes us stuck,” said Betty Huotari, a professional organizer from Detroit.

“I’ve spoken with people who say, ‘I’m really spinning my wheels. I’m not getting ahead,’ ” said Huotari, who also serves as secretary of the Michigan chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers. “People say, ‘I didn’t grow up this way.’ ”

“Look at our homes. Typically our home’s probably grown over the years. If we compare how we grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, I’m sure the average home is probably larger,” which means there’s more space to fill, Huotari said. “I kind of joke around and say, ‘Have you ever seen one of those storage places go out of business?’ ”

So, how to come clean?

Here are some tips from Huotari.

Think of getting rid of clutter as fun. “If you go in with a good mind-set, it’s helpful. Sometimes you can play music. You can invite a friend. If you don’t have the funds to work with an organizer” — professionals typically charge between $40 and $70 an hour — “maybe there’s a friend who can tag-team. You can laugh and you can exchange. Having a reward … you’re more likely to do it if you have a reward.”

Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed. “You have to break it down to manageable projects.” Think about when it makes sense to do specific chores. “A lot of people will do paperwork in January, February. Not only are they preparing for taxes, they have to make room for the new year.”

Remember that each room in your house has a function. “Visualize, first of all, ‘What do I want this room to be?’ If you think, ‘I want this room to be where I read, where I meditate, where I exercise,’ those are the only activities we should allow to be in that room. We have to remove the items that don’t belong. We don’t want to have 10 or 20 different activities happening in that room because we probably don’t have enough room for that.”

Rid your closet of clothes that don’t fit. You want your closet to be clothes that feel good and fit you currently. If you want to keep some of the clothes that don’t fit because you suspect you’re going to go up or down a size, store them elsewhere. Also, take inventory of what you find in your closet. “If you don’t feel that you love this item, donate it. What good is it for it to stay in your closet if you know you’re not going to wear it?”

Don’t keep your clothes in dry cleaner bags. They take up space and it’s difficult to see what’s inside of them. Plus, clothes should breathe. Organize according to category so you put your blouses together, your skirts together, your pants together. That way you’ll know where to find things.

Hang as much stuff as you can. It’s easier to see things when they’re hanging as opposed to at the bottom of a drawer. Likewise, it’s easier to keep track of your shoes if you keep them on a shoe rack.

Store kitchen utensils you don’t use regularly. You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I use this every day?’ If I use it every day, it might make sense to keep it on the countertop.’ Otherwise, store neatly in a cupboard or a shelf in the basement where you have easy access to it.

Think about the things that hold sentimental value. If you’re saving Grandma’s teapot because it has sentimental value but never use it, what’s the point? “Are you keeping it in a box downstairs where you’re not honoring it? Use it. Would Grandma be happy if you were using her teapot? Probably.”

Establish a routine: “If you’re bringing your mail in, putting it in the same tray, the same shallow basket, so you’re not dropping your mail on the kitchen table, the dining room table. The next day it’s in the basement. That’s how things get lost.”

Don’t stress about being perfect. “A lot of times, we have to lower that bar a little bit and say sometimes we just have to be organized enough. … If you have to look in two files to find this paperwork, that’s OK. It’s better than having to look in five drawers.”

For a list of resources on where and how to winnow down your possessions, visit www.napominnesota.com/resources.

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