“Time goes by so fast, people go in and out of your life. You must never miss an opportunity to tell those people how much they mean to you.” - Anon
Many families are finding themselves in the midst of a clutter crisis and are totally at a loss as to how to bring order to their chaotic homes. Whether your clutter crisis is confined to one room or if your home seems to be a hopeless cause, terrifying even to think about, you can bring order to that chaos.
Do you find the sheer volume of the clutter in your home daunting? Never fear! There is a way to find that lovely home of yours again. Despite the stacks of papers, newspapers, magazines, the piles of clothes, and other belongings everywhere, you can find your furniture and floors again. You can learn to enjoy your home once more.
Have you stopped inviting friends and family over to visit because you’re embarrassed to have anyone see how you’re living these days? Do you find yourself sleeping on half your bed, because of the piles of clothes on the other side? Are your children taking over the living room with their toys, because there’s no room for them to play in their own bedrooms? Is your family eating dinner on their laps because your dining table is stacked three feet high with papers and magazines?
As bad as it might seem now, there is a way to deal with this kind of disorganization and disorder. And don’t worry, it’s painless and inexpensive. It will require some work on your part and that of your family. If you get the whole family in on the organizing, you could even have some fun together.
For starters, deal with only one room at a time. A houseful of clutter and chaos is too overwhelming. You need to break it down into small jobs that are more doable and less intimidating. Taken as a whole, you’d run screaming into the night, or want to run away from home, before you’d be brave enough to tackle a whole house at once.
You can choose any room you wish to begin with, but you should probably start with a large room, one that people are bound to see when they come to visit, such as the living room or den. This is both incentive and reward for the determined organizer. When you see what can be done with a little elbow grease, organization, and determination, you’ll want to move on to the next room and the next, and the next.
After you’ve chosen the room you intend to organize first, get hold of some garbage bags, baskets, and boxes. It’s time to go to work! The first step is what professional organizers call “purging.” Go through every piece, every pile, and every stack in the room, and put every item in one of three piles.
The first pile is for trash. This is for anything that is broken and can’t be repaired, or anything you simply don’t want any longer and is not in good enough shape to give away to someone else.
The second pile is for objects you intend to give away. These should still be useable and in reasonably good condition. Anything you can no longer use or simply don’t want anymore can go in this pile. Just because you don’t want them doesn’t mean they are useless. There are charities that can benefit from your donation. You could also have a garage sale, if you wish, and sell all that unwanted junk. Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Plus, you earn a little extra cash for you and your family. You could put that cash into a vacation account and add to it throughout the year.
The third pile is for the items you can’t bear to give away or sell. These are items that have sentimental value, things you find beautiful, things that are still useful and have a certain place in your home. Don’t keep anything that’s not useful or beautiful to you.
As you go about the purging, you’ll find lots of items that don’t belong in that particular room. Slip these items into a basket, as you find them. When you’re done with the purging of that room, take all those bits and pieces and put them where they belong. You could get your children to help with this part. They may discover long lost toys and personal items for which they’ve been searching for a long time.
Okay, so now you’ve got three piles of stuff. Put the trash out to be picked up by your garbage man. Put the charity pile into boxes and load into your car, to be taken to the charity of your choice. Even some charities will come and pick up boxes and bags, if you give them a call.
Now it’s time to clean up that room. Dust the furniture, vacuum the carpets, or mop the floor, and put all your beautiful pieces back where they belong. Congratulations, you now have a living room or den that you’d be proud to invite friends to see.
When it comes to bedrooms, besides the numerous flat surfaces to deal with, there is the added chore of the closet; but now that you know you can handle it, you’ll breeze right through it. Start by going through the hanging clothes in the closet. Pull out each piece and evaluate its worthiness to remain in that closet.
First of all, does it still fit? Don’t fool yourself into keeping pieces that you’re sure you’ll fit into again “one day.” If it doesn’t fit, it’s out! You’ll probably find pieces that are out of style and should be discarded. You may even find pieces that are so old, they are back in style again. Congratulations, you have something new to wear. Be honest with yourself about each piece. If you haven’t worn it in several years, odds are you are never going to wear it ever again; out it goes. You may even find pieces you had purchased, crammed into that overflowing closet, and completely forgotten about.
Again, make the three piles. One is for anything that is ripped, torn, or otherwise “unwearable” and not fit to give away. A second pile should be for the pieces that are in pretty good shape, even if they’re old. Maybe all they need is a button sewed back on or a seam repaired, before they are good enough to be given to a charity or a friend. The third pile is for the pieces you’re going to keep. These are pieces that are in good shape, still fit, and that you still love to wear. Remember, keep it only if it’s useful or beautiful.
Repeat the steps with all boxes and bags of clothes, shoes, hats, etc. in your closet. You may have to be ruthless, discarding items you’ve had for years that have taken up what looks like permanent residence in your closet space. Don’t be fooled; if you haven’t used them, you probably won’t. Resist the packrat urge to hang onto everything.
After you’ve repeated the steps in regards to your dresser drawers and shelves, you’ll be amazed at the space you have to work with now. You may have forgotten that was a walk-in closet, since you haven’t been able to walk into it for so long.
Haul the trash out again. Box up the donations or garage sale bits and pieces. Take them out of the room; you need space to work. Now that you know what you have left and wish to keep, you can judge pretty accurately what you need in the way of containers for what’s left. Find some pretty boxes or baskets to containerize your belongings. Some stores carry a huge range of containers for you to choose from, making your job easier. There are beautiful cloth-covered boxes and baskets, as well as cardboard, wire mesh, wicker, and many more. Remember to label any closed boxes, so you’ll always know exactly where everything is in your new, uncluttered, closet.
Now that you’ve tackled the dreaded closet, you’re ready to take on the rest of the room. Go through all the bits and pieces stacked on all the furniture in your room. Deal with the papers and stacks of magazines.
Try to resist the urge to keep the piles and piles of magazines you still haven’t read, though they’ve been there for months. You can try to go through them in the evenings, or you can just box them, bag them, and take them to your local library. They recycle those old magazines, selling them for pennies to those who can’t afford expensive magazine subscriptions. The money gathered goes to the library system to purchase new books. Everybody wins. You get an uncluttered, magazine free zone to live in and the library makes a few bucks too.
When you’ve finished purging the unwanted pieces from your room and containerizing what’s left, be sure to dust, polish, make your bed, vacuum the carpet, or mop the floor. Try to get the trash out right away and move the donations or garage sale pieces out of the house. It’s an important incentive to be able to see how beautifully uncluttered each room becomes.
Now, you can repeat these steps for each of the other rooms. It may take a few weekends to accomplish the whole place, depending on the size of your home or apartment.
Remember to pat yourself on the back as you organize each space or room. Personally, I’d recommend taking a photograph of each room as you finish it. In the coming weeks, it’s a great way to remind yourself, not only of the accomplishment, but to help you remember exactly how the room looked after you finished organizing it. This helps tremendously in the upkeep of the room or space. Tack up that picture and keep the room looking just like the photo.
After working so hard to make the space or room look exactly the way it should, it’s time to teach yourself to keep it that way. Learn to put things away as soon as you’re finished with them. Always put things back where they belong, so you can find them the next time you need them. Remember what your mother always told you. “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
Give yourself a month to decide if the new system is working for you. If it’s not, then re-evaluate the system. Try another way, until you find what works for you. It should not only be efficient, but also be easily maintained. The idea is that you’ve put the time and effort into organizing your space, now it should be easy to keep up. Ten minutes per day should be enough to put each room back to rights.
Keep in mind that you don’t just quit an old habit, you must replace it with a new one. And remind yourself to not fall back into old messy ways. After you’ve spent three weeks putting things away, it will become a habit you don’t even think about; you just do it. The satisfaction you’ll feel each time you look at that newly organized space will help you develop the good habit of keeping it in order.
When it’s time to tackle the children’s rooms, you can include them in the process (depending on their ages). Even young children will enjoy being with you and sort through all their belongings. You might find it’s more difficult getting them to let go of pieces than it was for you.
Children tend to be more materialistic, especially if they have a great many belongings to sort through and decide about. Be patient with them about the purging process. Some kids have difficulty getting rid of even broken, old toys. You won’t want to discard anything that they love to sleep with, or hang onto during the day or night. It might look old and disgusting to you, but it’s security to them; and forcing them to part with it could be traumatic.
Since many toys can have small, easily lost and broken pieces, it’s essential to purge carefully. Convince them of the wisdom of discarding toys that are broken and might be hazardous for them to play with. The toys they’ve outgrown can be passed down to younger siblings or given to worthy children’s charities.
Encourage small children to consider others who are not as lucky as they are and possibly don’t have any toys. Encouraging generosity at an early age is a good thing. You can set an example by making donations of your own to charitable organizations. Let them see you doing this. Children model what they see.
After you get your children’s rooms purged and cleaned up, it’s time to organize things to make it easier for them to find what they need to play or learn. Make sure your child’s room is age appropriate and height appropriate as well. Organize their closet with the hanging rods placed low enough for them to reach their own clothes. They can start taking some responsibility of putting their clothes and toys away each day.
Be sure you set up an area for them to play in, a nice large section of the room where they can spread out their toys and books and enjoy themselves. Their room should be inviting to them and comfortable for sleeping and playing.
A good way to help children stay organized with their belongings is to color code things for them. Many stores sell child-sized shelves and cubes in crayon or pastel colors. Putting a picture of the desired toys, books, etc. on the shelves or on the cubes will help children learn where everything goes in their room.
The best way to encourage children to stay organized is to guide them each day until they learn what goes where (you might consider letting them help decide where to store different pieces). And of course, you must be an example to that child. They’re not going to learn to be organized unless you are too. Children learn what they live. If you want them to learn to be neat and tidy with their belongings, then you must be neat and tidy with yours.
Depending on the age of your child, evening clean up needs to be supervised. Don’t’ just bellow, “Clean up your room!” Children need specific instructions. For young children, give them three things to accomplish and only three at a time. Take a clue from one of the children’s shows on television. Dora the Explorer is a good example of the rule of three. Each time she goes exploring, she has three objectives to accomplish, only three. Try this with your children. Have them put away their books, then any blocks spread out on the floor, then all their dolls or action figures. Then check back with them to see how they’ve done. Continue until the room is neat and tidy.
Want your children to continue staying organized? Then tell them what a great job they’re doing each time they accomplish a task. For younger children, you might consider setting up a reward system for tasks accomplished. Stickers and stars are popular collection items for kids.
If you start your children at an early age to tidy up and stay organized, it will stick with them throughout their life. Remember though, that pushing them too hard will make them go the opposite direction. Let’s not go to extremes. You don’t want to bring up the next generation of Felix and Oscar.
And as long as we’re talking about keeping kids organized, we might as well tackle the day-to-day problem of staying organized and getting everyone out the door each morning. In the interest of sanity and happy families, there are a few things you can do to make this whole process easier and veritably painless for everyone.
The night before, check over your own schedule as well as that of your kids. Determine who goes where and what time, as well as after school activities, lessons, practices, etc. Knowing where you need to be and what time you need to be there will make it less hectic for you and your kids.
Pack everyone’s lunches the night before. Sometimes, there’s just no time for that kind of mad dash in the morning, if everyone is running late. Stash each lunch in the refrigerator, clearly marked with each person’s name on the appropriate lunch bag. This way, each child gets what he or she likes best for lunch, no mix-ups. And don’t forget your own lunch. You could also have the coffee maker primed and ready to go for the morning. Then all you need do is push the button. Coffee will be perking while you get ready for the day.
Have everyone’s clothing ready the night before. Anything that needs ironing should be done before bedtime. The early morning is no time to discover that the outfit your daughter wants to wear is a wrinkled mess. Make sure your own outfit is ready to go too.
Make sure what you want to serve for breakfast is ready to go. You might also want to consider having some kind of emergency portable breakfast available for mornings that seem more hectic than usual. Believe me, even with careful planning, there will still be mornings that defy the imagination in sheer confusion. Always have a back up plan.
Have your children gather all they need for the next day, whether it’s books and papers, homework, or something special they’re taking to school. Make sure their backpacks are ready to go for the morning. Don’t forget to have your own things packed the night before as well, such as your purse and/or briefcase. If you own a cell phone, be sure it’s on its charger the night before. A dead cell phone becomes just a paperweight.
Keep your sanity and keep a happy crew by being just a little organized and getting things done the night before. It will make for a smoother take-off the next morning. Who knows, you could even give yourself a few extra minutes to sleep, instead of getting up and dashing around like a crazy person.
“Time is not a line, but a series of now points.” - Taisen Deshimaru