Expert Advice to Tame Clutter

From Better Homes and Gardens

Almost everyone has a drawer, a closet—or hey, an entire room—that acts as a catchall for the objects that no one knows what to do with. Whatever the object and whatever the reason, clutter can build up quickly. Here’s how to stop it in its tracks!

Target your efforts.

Avoid zigzag organizing. Scattering your efforts over multiple rooms prevents you from seeing progress. For visible, dramatic results, work one room at a time, one section at a time, completing each area before you move on to the next.

Make a donation station.

Generous gifting at holidays and birthdays can overwhelm already stretched storage. Go through toys with your child before birthdays and holidays. Have a donation station always available for kids to put toys when they have decided they are tired of them.

And if you earmarked something for donation, take it directly to your car. Items “waiting” for a trip to the charitable drop-box linger, grow and mutate into a mountain of clutter.

Multitask on trash day.

Use trash day as a reminder that it’s time to clean out the refrigerator. You’ll make room for new stuff to come in and get rid of any spoiled food before it gets smelly or messy.

Don’t let tax season turn into a treasure hunt.

Keep a folder labeled “Tax Documents” where you sort your mail. As statements come in, slip them into the folder. When tax time comes, everything you need is in one spot.

Come up with a plan and map it out.

Examine the room you want to organize and visually break it into small areas that you can tackle in increments. Then prioritize your tasks, starting in an area where you can quickly see progress. Schedule time to work on a project when you’re most energetic and least likely to be distracted. Set a timer and quit when the timer rings.

Let go of sentiment.

Keep only things that really matter to you, that you use and that you have room for. Ask a trusted friend to help you go through memorabilia. It’s easy to get lost in the past while reading old letters or looking through old photos, but a friend will keep you on track. Be kind to yourself and give yourself more time to tackle objects that have feelings attached to them. But don’t let grief or guilt bully you into keeping things you don’t really need. Keep only a few strong sentimental reminders.

Just get started.

Don’t get waylaid by the knowledge you won’t finish every task in one day. Begin with a small, manageable project, such as a sock drawer. Every morning when you find a pair of matched socks, you’ll be inspired to tackle organizing additional drawers and other spaces. Experiencing the benefits of organization breeds motivation.

Schedule organization into your life.

Play “beat the clock” and set a timer for 15 to 30 minutes. See how many organizational tasks—sorting the mail, reorganizing a cupboard, putting laundry away—you can complete. Knowing that an end is in sight will make it easier for you to get going.

Eliminate procrastination.

Make yourself accountable by setting deadlines, and reward yourself when you achieve your goals. Not good at self-imposed deadlines? Throw a party. When you know people are coming over, you’re more likely to straighten up.

Make a to-go station.

Don’t waste precious time every morning running around the house looking for the items you need for the day. Use a “transfer basket” to gather everything that needs to go out the door the next day—library books, bills to mail, schoolwork, etc. Haul the basket to your car every morning and bring it back into the house when errands are done.

Take inventory of your closet.

If your closet is overflowing, yet you still can’t find anything to wear, it’s time to size up what’s inside. You should have only three types of clothes in your closet: clothes that fit you, clothes you love and clothes that always bring you compliments. Anything else should be donated for someone else to love.

Make use of the backs of doors.

Attach shallow wire shelving to closet, pantry and basement doors. If there’s space, line the adjoining interior wall with narrow shelves and hooks for items such as cleaning supplies, handy tools or pantry goods.

Think dual-purpose.

Look for furniture that works hard: beds and coffee tables with drawers, ottomans with lift-off tops for out-of-sight storage and chests that can stow linens and also serve as buffets.

Use an old wooden ladder as decorative shelves.

In the bath, stack it with hand towels and potions. Keep DVDs at your fingertips in the media room. Or rest small wire baskets on each step to store fresh fruit in the kitchen. For added stability on A-frame ladders, drill holes in the side opposite the steps and add dowel rods; they also make great display bars for hanging objects.

Cut crafts clutter.

Keep scissors handy by looping a cord through the handle and hanging the pair on a cup hook attached to a shelf. Store wrapping paper rolls upright in an umbrella stand or wastebasket. Use fishing-tackle boxes to organize small sundry items such as threads, buttons, beads and scrapbook embellishments.

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