Home secrets

Declutter in 5 Easy Steps

Moving offers one great reward: For at least one week after unpacking, you know where everything is. You’ve trimmed the excess and placed everything by type in one accessible, logical place. You can see at a glance that you have 40 C batteries and three 100-watt light bulbs. You have 12 cans of dog food and one extra leash. Does life get any better?

We all know household organizing is possible because we’ve all done it — countless times. Unfortunately, organizing has the same inherent problems as dieting. You can’t just do it one week a year – it has to become a way of life or your perfectly refined system crumbles back into chaos.  Think of all the organization systems you’ve tried – and abandoned. What was wrong with them? In short: You have to develop your own system that fits your family and your lifestyle. And it has to be something that you can maintain — week after week.

So take these 5 tips as tips, not as the last word in getting it all together in your household. You are the only organization expert for your life. Adopt ideas that suit your needs, amend others, discard the rest and make your own.

Check your system regularly to see what’s working and what’s not. Even the “perfect” system must evolve with your family.

1 Cull and Purge.

No matter what system you adopt, your first step should be to get rid of the excess. Go through everything in your house, room by room, item by item. Throw or give away anything you don’t use. Not sure about something? Box these items and store them in the garage for a year. Then throw them away next year.

2 Clutter Hotspots.

Think about where clutter builds up in your house. Usually, you’ll find it:

• By the entry door.

• On the kitchen table.

• On any flat surface – bureaus, dressers, coffee tables.• All over your kid’s room.

• In drawers, closets, attics and garages.

Now consider why clutter accumulates in these areas. The entry door is obvious: It’s where the whole family dumps the stuff they’re lugging in from the car: books, backpacks, mail, briefcases, shopping bags, purses, sunglasses, coats. Entry clutter is demoralizing because it’s the first thing you see when you come in.

The kitchen table is where kids do homework and play games. It’s where parents pay bills, sign school papers and read the mail and the newspaper. And if you can find space, it’s where the family eats.

Clutter accumulates when you don’t have – or take — time to put things in their proper place. You don’t mean to leave that scarf on the TV stand forever – just till you go by the closet. Then, two days later, it’s still there.

Kids’ rooms are messy because they have kids in them. And kids have lots of stuff with lots of pieces. Besides, it’s the rare child who likes to clean his room.

Finally, storage areas are cluttered because we don’t plan what we put there, we just stash it out of sight – and forget it.

3 Contain It.

It’s human nature to dump extraneous items at convenient spots. Now work around this universal truth. Think containment. Think organizing baskets – ideally, one for each room.

Baskets are a good place to stash stuff attractively. Sure, you could use drawers, but you can destroy a perfectly organized drawer by stuffing in some unrelated items because friends are dropping by for a visit in ten minutes. Those items will never resurface. They’re in the wrong place, and you’ll never remember where you put them.

Here are some strategic places to place clutter baskets so the great black void doesn’t happen in your home:

The family entrance. Consider a storage chest with a drawer or basket for each member of the family. When he or she comes home, its easy to just stash the stuff they’re carrying in an appropriate drawer or basket and distribute it later.

These baskets are also handy for tidying up. If Junior leaves a toy out, Mom just stuffs it in his drawer. He can put it away later – not Mom.

The clutter is out of sight but not out of mind. If Dad can’t find his glasses or car keys, that basket is the first place to look. It’s a logical temporary resting place.

Bottom of the stairs. Collect items here and take them all upstairs in one trip.

Kids’ bedrooms. Place a large basket here for quick cleanups. But make sure it’s emptied within 24 hours. This is a temporary resting place.

When the baskets are full, empty them. But all items have to go directly where they belong, not on to a dresser or counter top.

4 Assign Items Their Own Space.

When you need an extension cord, you should know exactly where to look for one. That means extension cords need to be put in the same place every time. And that’s true for all belongings.

Organize all your belongings by type. Group them in containers, if feasible, and label them. Then assign them a permanent resting place – a handy, accessible place near where you will actually use them. You don’t keep your pantyhose in the kitchen cupboard do you? So, by the same reasoning, you shouldn’t keep your stationery in your walk-in closet, either. ‘Nuff said.

5 Maintaining Your Systems.

Even the world’s best systems can’t operate on independently. You need to budget a few minutes each day for maintenance: returning things to their places and tossing out papers. In short, organize your life.

Start with your time, plow through the paperwork, attack the house one room at the time and end up with your car. Amaze your friends by being able to fetch your old blood pressure kit in less than two minutes. Impress your neighbors with an immaculate garage. Wow your kids by showing up on time for recitals and soccer matches.

This may not make you master of your universe. But it’s the closest you’ll come in this life.

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