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March 01, 2010

Organize this!

Some tips to keep your clutter from becoming a catastrophe

Pepper Rodriguez

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In a perfect world there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. But the reality of a working household is usually somewhat less than this ideal. A little organization can help a hundredfold when limiting clutter is the goal.

Who hasn’t had to deal with a messy desk, a cluttered closet or a disorganized drawer? In this age of computers and electronic paraphernalia that is supposed to make life easier, it seems you still need to exert a little elbow grease to tidy things up.

But it is a task that is easier said than done, especially if you’re moving to a new home, experiencing a change in lifestyle (expecting a new child or downsizing) or have a habbit of allowing a little bit of clutter to pile up into a monster mess. A little will power is still key to cleaning up, and a little planning goes a long way too.

Nowadays, it seems, having a professional come in and do a once-over of your home is the way to go, and judging from all those home renovation shows on TV, it’s a very popular choice.

That may be a pretty expensive proposition, however, so, we talked to a couple of Calgary-based interior design and storage experts to get some home organizing advice in time for spring cleaning.

The clutter effect
Clutter affects lifestyle and even well-being, so as we step into another spring cleaning season the important thing to remember is cleaning up is a year-round activity and not a one-time solution. Think of clutter as a virus, deal with it before it becomes a problem.

“The best way to begin cleaning up is to concentrate on a certain space first. Find a spot that will not overwhelm you and go from there,” says Caireen Kennedy of Bloom Property Stylists who, along with partner Angela Martini, runs the Calgary-based interior design company specializing in home staging.

“Tackle one problem spot at a time, start small, don’t try to do too much at one time,” Kennedy says. “The garage is usually the biggest trouble spot, but if you try to take on that without a plan you may find yourself quickly overwhelmed.”

Martini agrees. “Start with a closet, or dressers, work yourself up from there.”

StorageWorks’ Murray Kobe has an even more succinct answer: purge. “The rule of thumb is to get rid of something you haven’t touched or used within a year. You can make that even two years, but if you haven’t used it within that period chances are you never will and it’s just taking up space.”

Kennedy says that is usually the best way to get rid of clutter, but for “collectors” who can’t bear to part with their stuff — be it dolls, comic books, ceramic figurines and other collectibles — you need to be a little more creative.

“You can designate one place for these collectible items, find a creative way to display them, pick a few to display and store the rest and change the display every few months, just like what a museum does with their exhibits,” she says.

When not displaying your treasures, it’s always a good idea to keep flat surfaces free of clutter. “Keeping your countertops and dressers and cabinets and other flat surfaces free of clutter helps establish the design flow of the home,” Martini says.

Bin there, did that
Clear, plastic bins — not the most environmentally-friendly solution, mind you — are a cheap, easy way to keep your stuff organized, Kennedy says.

She recommends having what she calls a “memory bin” as a creative way to clear the clutter while preserving memories.  “You can lock away things that have sentimental value like old baby booties or your children’s art work from grade school in this memory bin and store it somewhere out of the way.”

Martini says the important thing is to know what to keep in this bin to keep it from overflowing, leaving you with the same problem.

“Have your memory bin and your garbage bin beside it, make a quick decision to keep an item or lose it. Know that for a lot of things, like clothes or books and even furniture, you can donate those or maybe even make money out of them by selling them online,” she says.

StorageWorks specializes in these kinds of storage bins and a wide range is available in their two stores. “We notice that 80 per cent of the market is women and what we do is customize closets and cabinets to make it work for them,” Kobe says.

Creating habits
Never in the history of mankind have we been bombarded with so much commercial products as we are now, and our tendency to amass everything from clothes, shoes, furniture and accessories can lead to organizing headaches down the road.

Now, it is up to us how we put this stuff away in an organized, eye-pleasing fashion. The best way is to create habits of fixing up, picking up after yourself and being organized.

“Involve your children, designate a clean-up time, it can be once a week or even 10 minutes everyday,” Martini says. “This way you don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of spring cleaning,” Kennedy adds.

Kobe agrees. “It takes 21 days to create a habit. On the first week, tell kids to do the clean-up every day, the second week remind them every other day, and the third week make it a twice-a-week ritual. It’s a good way to form good habits for life.”

They also caution against buying more stuff than you need. Finding space to fit all your clothes, shoes, jackets and other personal accessories can be challenging. “It’s not just the women who have problems in acquiring shoes, men can be just as bad nowadays,” says Kennedy.

“Know your needs and limits, when you buy something and you know you don’t have space for it, maybe it’s time to get rid of stuff to make room for more,” Martini adds. “Or re-purpose old furniture, find new ways to use them in a different way instead of buying a new piece.”

Both agree that determining the lifestyle you want plays an important role. “Each home is different as everyone has their own likes and dislikes,” Martini says. “The trick is finding the balance between functional and style.” 

The Don’t List in Organizing

  • Don’t put everything out in the open. Put away stuff you don’t use often. Avoid piling up stuff.
  • Don’t overstuff file drawers, periodically go through your files and shred what you no longer need.
  • Use only lidded containers with windows or at least label them so you know what’s inside.
  • Avoid visual clutter in clothes closets, try using a uniform set of hangers, prioritize clothing putting often used items within easy reach and out-of-season stuff  in a more remote spot.
  • Measure before you shop; make a list of all the pieces you want to store and figure out how big a box you will need before you buy. Have a place handy where the box can be stored after.
  • Don’t pick containers willy-nilly, too many colours and sizes create visual chaos. Stay with a uniform colour and size.


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