February 14th, 2011

Home Organizing

As the owner of a home organizing firm, people sometimes ask if I’ve always been organized. And while I answer that organizing has always been a strength of mine, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that I realized the relationship between being organized and my sanity!

Here is what happened: My husband was out of town and all day I had been looking forward to taking my three young daughters to the Chicago Botanic Garden Holiday Festival in Highland Park. I imagined it to be one of those magical nights, the memory of which my daughters and I would always cherish. What I hadn’t anticipated was that my kids would whine and complain throughout the entire evening!

By the time we got home, my nerves were shot and my patience completely worn away. I opened the front door and saw a huge mess — toys and books scattered everywhere, dishes left over from the afternoon’s snack, clothes my girls had tried on and never put away strewn all about. I took in the whole scene and burst into tears. Somehow I had held myself together through two and a half miserable hours at the festival, but seeing my living room in such disarray put me over the edge and my kids watched as I had a total “mommy meltdown.”

After pulling myself together, I put the kids to sleep. I went back into my living room and started putting things away. And as I did, I realized how much better I felt getting the room back in order. In that moment, I understood in that, try as I may, I cannot always control how events turn out. But the one thing I can control is my environment — and it feels good when I do.

So in order to keep on living relatively “meltdown-free”, here are some of the strategies I employ to stay on top of things in my own home.

Put Things Away – I’m constantly amazed at how quickly my family can take a room in which everything is in place and trash it. But truthfully, we do need to take a lot of stuff out of place each day in order to use it. The problem comes when the stuff is not put back. So, when possible, put things away as you go. Of course, we all know that’s not always practical.

First, to keep your home under control, try to spend at least 20 minutes a day putting things away or at least back in the room where they belong. Then it’s easier to more specifically put them away later.

Also, when leaving a room, look for the things that belong elsewhere and drop them off. For example, in my home, items always seem to end up in the kitchen. So, whenever I see something in my kitchen which doesn’t belong, I put it on the corner of the counter that is closest to the door. When I leave my kitchen, I take those items and return them to the rooms where they belong.

Finally, determine your level of tolerance for clutter in your own home and take action when you’ve reached that point. For example, shoes oftentimes seem to collect by the door to a mudroom or garage. Decide how many pairs of shoes you are okay with and once that number is reached, put away or have your family put away those extra shoes.

Consistently Purge – Keeping excess items which you no longer use, need or want make keeping your home organized much more difficult. Anything not being used or enjoyed just takes up valuable space. Moreover, it may prevent you from storing things in such a way that you can see what you have and easily get to it.

So always be on the look out for things you can give away or sell. Set up an area in your home to collect these items. Then, once you’re ready to make a donation, the items are ready as well. Also, when you replace items in your home, be sure to take the old item to your designated spot for donations. For example, if you get a new pair of running shoes, put the old pair in the donation bin.

If you find it difficult to let go of extra possessions, try giving yourself a daily or weekly goal. Go through your home and look for 10 items to part with. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it feels to let go of things that you don’t need or use.

Know what you have and buy only what you need – Make sure that you know what you have and where you keep it so that you can check your “inventory” before making a purchase.

By keeping “like” items together, you can see exactly what you own. Once a client showed me how she’d cleaned out her refrigerator and put all of the like items together. The good news was that she could now easily see what groceries she needed – the bad news being that she had five open jars of mayonnaise!

And while buying in bulk or on sale can save you money, it can also quickly eat up your storage space. So always delay making new purchases until your supply is running low. For example, getting bulk paper towels from Costco can be a great bargain, but if you already have unopened bulk packages, additional ones will overwhelm your kitchen storage area.

Assess the Mess – If clutter continually builds up in specific areas of your home, try to figure out why. Ask yourself:

Is there a place for each of the items and does my family know where the place is?

Is the place convenient and easily accessible to where the items are used? Are there excess items that need to be purged?

Would additional storage containers help?

After you determine why the clutter builds up, make the necessary changes and then reassess.

While I can’t promise you a meltdown-free future or a home that’s always in perfect order, I do believe that by following these guidelines you can attain a sense of control over your space and, hopefully, a sense of calm to go with it.

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