The Organized Home
Spring Cleaning: Banishing clutter and tips for taking a more orderly — and enjoyable — approach to life
Photo courtesy of the Container Store
Chances are you’ve heard of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” a slim volume that extolls the virtues of paring down your possessions to only those that “spark joy.” Though her methods may not be for everyone, the benefits of an organized and clutter-free home are undeniable.
“Some of the biggest benefits are the ability to find specific items easily and quickly, having time to do more important things than searching for misplaced items, making more effective use of your space, saving money and feeling mentally better — more calm, less stressed, better able to concentrate,” says Barbara Tischler, owner of The Clutter Coach in Wheaton. “My clients frequently tell me how much easier life is for them when they know exactly where things are.”
Before you can begin to organize, you have to declutter. “Too much stuff causes its own chaos,” says Barbara Stoldt, owner of Clutter Be Gone, Inc. in River Forest.
The top troublemakers when it comes to keeping your home tidy are paper and clothing. “Paperwork is a problem — what to do with it and what to keep. It can pile up and become overwhelming,” says Kim Cosentino, owner of The De-Clutter Box in Westmont, who instructs clients to “file, not pile.”
Once you have a paper management system in place, it won’t accumulate and get out of control. However, initially going through piles of paper — while necessary — can be exhausting. Stoldt has had clients who have found checks, birth certificates and even cash amid stacks of junk mail.
Another area where clutter tends to build up is the closet, especially clothing. Some people keep a variety of sizes due to fluctuating weight. Others can’t seem to let go of outmoded items due to memories attached, even if they haven’t been worn in years. Others may have even accumulated a stash of new, never-worn items.
No matter your trouble-zone, focusing on one area at a time can help bring a sense of accomplishment without being overwhelming. Tischler encourages clients to adopt an “it will be good enough” attitude and just get started. “Doing something will be better than nothing,” she says.
Tischler advises clients to create a list of all the areas and items that they want to organize, and then suggests that they pick only one item on the list, start with that, and stick with it until it is complete. “That way, people avoid having a number of half-finished projects lying all around,” she explains. “Plus, it is easier to only have one small area to focus on at a time. Larger areas (such as a basement) can be broken into smaller, more manageable, chunks.”
A big part of organizing is careful consideration of how you operate in daily life. “What you are doing is helping people set up their own personal department store in their home,” says Cosentino. “When they need something, they just need to go to the right department.”
A Helping Hand
When Cosentino started more than 20 years ago, The Container Store was new to the suburbs. A few years later, shows like “Clean Sweep” and organizers like Peter Walsh hit the scene, which put a spotlight on decluttering but may have intimidated some. “Back then, people were afraid I was going to make them put everything out on their front lawn,” she recalls.
These days, there are countless articles, shows and books dedicated to the art of the orderly, but “I definitely think Marie Kondo’s book has sparked an increased interest in decluttering and organizing,” says Tischler.
However, while books may be a good starting point, Stoldt says many people still become overwhelmed and need personal and professional assistance. “Almost every client has one or more books (on organizing) in their home.”
Tischler explains why working with a pro can make the process more effective by outlining a concept called a “body double.” This is someone who is present with a person as he/she tackles tasks that might be difficult to complete alone. “Often when people work with a professional organizer, they find it easier to stay focused on the task at hand, easier to make decisions, and more energizing than when they are alone,” she says.
The length of a given organizing project depends both on the size of the project — downsizing will require more hours than redoing a closet, for example — and on how quickly people can make decisions and complete the physical components involved in the process.
“Clutter is caused by various things, but ultimately clutter represents unmade decisions,” says Cosentino. “Nobody teaches you how to organize — it really should be a class in school.”
One mistake people make is choosing containers before organizing. It’s best to get everything organized and in a designated space before trying to find the right kind of container.
And you needn’t spend a great deal on boxes, bins and the like. “A shoebox is just as good as a fancy container,” says Stoldt. “A lot of clients want it to visually look pretty, but if people can’t see it, you don’t need top of the line.”
Another misstep involves a failure to plan — starting in one spot and then leapfrogging around. “You need a plan to get through in an organized fashion. Start high and work low,” says Stoldt. “There is prime real estate in every room for things you need and touch daily.”
Sometimes the process may take longer than expected, so it helps to be patient. “It is helpful to remember,” says Tischler, “that if it took five years for a space to become what it is today, most likely it will not be organized in one day.”Edit Module