How much is too much? What is the “right” amount of something to have? As an organizer, these are questions I’m frequently asked, and the answer is different for every situation. It depends on three factors:
How much space do you have?
How much money do you want to spend?
What do you realistically use?
I recently found a stockpile of brand new socks that my husband, Jeff, had stored between two stacks of sweatshirts. I was horrified. And, when I opened his sock drawer to put them away properly, I was even more horrified. There were piles and piles of socks… So, I asked Jeff to explain. Here’s how our conversation went:
Like most of my projects, this one started with a phone call. There was a townhouse and two dads, two kids, two dogs, and way too much stuff. Could we help? Of course.
At the first appointment, we met Bill and Alvarro, two busy dads at their home in Brooklyn Heights which was beautifully decorated yet warm and child friendly. From the basement to the office on the top floor, we could see the evidence of a well lived life. Gifts, souvenirs from travel, photos, school projects, and books could be found in boxes and piles throughout the house. Bill and Alvarro craved better organization so that they could live with less clutter and less stress. After a walk through of the house, we made a plan: we would meet once a week, and tackle one room at a time, starting in the kitchen.
Deadly flooding, devastating hurricanes, and raging wild fires – never in my memory have so many natural disasters occurred in such a short period of time. News reports talk about the loss of lives, loss of homes, and loss of financial security for those impacted, and even weeks later, for some, the unavailability of basic needs like water and sanitary supplies is still an issue. Yet, even with such unthinkable loss, the victims are equally saddened by the loss of sentimental items held so dear.
People sometimes facetiously consider what they would grab if there were a fire or an immediate need to leave their home. Yet, in a true emergency, when these questions are no longer hypothetical, an emotional paralysis ensues. Your child has 50 “special” stuffed animals. You have 30 “special” sweaters, and no idea where your important papers are stored, or, even what would be considered important. Your home is overflowing with so many “special” items that, in the end, nothing is special.
When my twins were born 17 years ago, we received not one, but two decorative, monogrammed seesaws…from one store. It’s difficult to imagine that the store wouldn’t have told the second person ordering this “gift” with the same names and delivery address to select something else, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that I was stuck with two seesaws that were, in my practical mind, a waste of space and a silly gift. So, I did what any self-respecting professional organizer would do and put them both out on the curb the next morning.
Although this can be difficult for some people, never feel compelled to keep a gift you don’t like. It will end up taking up space in your home and your psyche for what is often literally years. To avoid this, consider these tips
Over the past few months, I’ve had a number of clients ask me for help organizing storage units. Some clients have multiple storage units and some have just one. In some cases, the storage units are complimentary perks that come with apartments, and, in other cases, exorbitant fees are paid. Sometimes, the client knows exactly what’s stored in the unit and wants to make it less cluttered or more appealing. And sometimes, the items have been put away for years, and the client has no idea what s/he will find there. While I generally believe that a client is better off purging and living within his/her space means, here are some instances when a storage unit is a good idea:
Even though the temperatures in New York City are still hovering in the 40’s, I have to believe that spring is right around the corner. And if spring is near, then it’s time for SPRING CLEANING. Sometimes purging is emotionally draining because of the sentiments surrounding your possessions, but here are 10 items you can get rid of RIGHT NOW without another thought!
Clothing that’s too small, too big, stained, torn, or beyond repair
Clothing that’s never been worn and never will be worn
Any toiletries, cosmetics, or medications in your bathroom that have expired
Everyone has clutter, even the most organized person. The reasons behind the clutter; however, are different for each person. What does your clutter say about your personality? Are you…
1. UNABLE TO MAKE A DECISION?
Many people hold onto things/clutter because it’s easier then deciding whether or not to keep it or where it should go. In fact, an entire organizing industry has arisen to meet the demands of this group. Often, they’ll label and contain instead of eliminating.
2. A PROCRASTINATOR?
This group of people constantly put off sorting/purging their things because it’s not fun or enjoyable to them. They would rather do ANYTHING other then pare down possessions, so they never get around to it.
3. EXTREMELY SENTIMENTAL? This personality type thinks EVERYTHING is worth saving…every scribble from their child’s nursery school days, every photo (even blurry ones), every dish, and every item of clothing.
4. SEVERELY TIME CHALLENGED? Many people don’t have difficulty making decisions and they’re not procrastinators or overly sentimental. This group of people is so stretched for time, they simply can’t get it done. When they do have a block of time, they easily and happily de-clutter. It just doesn’t happen often enough.
Many of my clients believe that if they save certain items, one day they’ll become the type of person that uses them. I hate to say it, but in my experience, it doesn’t happen like that. Instead, these things tend to lie around FOR YEARS without ever getting any use. If you’ve had any of these items lying around for one year, five years, or ten years, it’s finally time to use it or lose it!
Baby Clothes: If you aren’t having another one, it’s time to donate old baby clothing. The same goes for the toys and games your children have outgrown.
Clothes That Don’t Reflect Your Lifestyle: If you haven’t worked in corporate America for years, there’s no reason to have a wardrobe of conservative suits. If you aren’t having another baby, purge all maternity clothes.
“Cute” Clothes for Kids: Instead of saving these for special occasions, have your child wear them and wear them often. Expensive children’s clothing is outgrown so quickly, why leave it sitting in a drawer?
The Skinny Phase Clothes: If your weight fluctuates, keep clothing for a realistic range of weights. One size bigger or one size smaller should be enough. And, if you do lose a ton of weight and didn’t save your “skinny” clothes, don’t you deserve a little shopping spree?
Old Purses: If they’re sitting in the back of your closet, consider consigning ones with value and donating the rest.
Extra Large Kitchen Appliances: If you haven’t used them, or can’t figure out how to use them, it may be time to get rid of the bread maker, ice cream maker, fondue fountain, and anything else taking up unnecessary space in your kitchen.
Distilled Spirits: Go through your liquor cabinet, and only keep alcohol you might drink or serve to guests. Keep in mind that open bottles can lose their flavor after multiple years, so purge those as well.
Fine china and silver: If you have it, find an occasion to use it!
Photos: Put them on display, create photo books, or save them to the Cloud. They’re useless sitting in piles or boxes, where they may get damaged.
Home Decor Pieces: Souvenirs from vacation or art that your spouse hates…if it’s not going to be put on the walls any time soon…it shouldn’t be kept anywhere else.
Although there’s nothing I love more than spending an entire day blissfully organizing my home, I recognize that this is not everyone’s idea of nirvana. If the thought of spending the day organizing is daunting, I recommend spending a few minutes every day to keep clutter at bay. This way, you can maintain organization without putting in a lot of time or energy. So, in addition to NOT creating a mess each day, here are some ways you can proactively avoid clutter build up.
1. Make your bed as soon as you wake up every morning. There are few things that take less than 5 minutes that give you as many organizing points as this one. Not only does this start your day in the right mindset, but don’t underestimate how happy you’ll be to see it neat and orderly when you come home later in the day.
2. When you’re getting dressed in a hurry, you may change outfits a few times. If this is the case, Do NOT discard clothing on your bed or closet floor. After you try something on, it takes literally seconds to hang it back on the hanger. Also, if you find that every time you try something on, you opt not to wear it, consider donating it. Whenever you take something off a hanger, move the empty hanger to the front of your closet. This saves time when you need a hanger, and it allows you to accurately see how much space your actual clothes (not empty hangers) take up.
3. Wash your dishes as you use them, and empty the dishwasher when the dishes inside are clean. This avoids a dirty pile accumulating in the sink. When you prepare meals or snacks, make extra, so there’s some available for another day.
4. After showering, hang up your towel. Quickly wipe down the counters and mirror to keep surfaces clean.
5. Sort your mail every day. Throw away junk mail, catalogs, and solicitations immediately. Put bills and anything that needs to be processed in a designated in-box.
6. When you walk into your home, hang up your coat and bag. Charge your phone in the same place every day, so you don’t have to run around looking for it.
7. If you can, multitask. Phone calls can be made while doing light exercise or straightening up the living room. If you commute to an office, capitalize on this time to answer emails or catch up on news on your phone.
8. Follow the “one thing” rule. Whenever you leave a room, bring one thing in the room to its rightful place elsewhere in the house. Try not to leave a room without SOMETHING in your hand, unless, of course, everything in the room is in its proper place.
There’s nothing worse than rummaging through your purse, looking for your cell phone, while someone watches, witness to your disorganization, as you miss a phone call. When your purse is organized, you’ll feel in control and more powerful. So, here are some tips for organizing your purse:
• Never buy a bag that doesn’t have at least two internal pockets. You need one for your cell phone, and one for keys and other items that you reach for often.
• Avoid bags with dark linings. It’s very difficult to find things when they’re inside a dark bag.
• Use brightly colored cosmetic bags for smaller items such as lip gloss, band aids, and ibuprofen.
• Carry only what you truly need. Bags get heavy, so eliminate what’s unnecessary. You don’t need 5 pens, 2 phone chargers, or 6 packs of gum.
• Don’t save unimportant receipts. Don’t clutter your bag with Starbucks receipts and the receipts from the dry cleaner.
• Carry store credits in your bag. You can’t use them if they’re home in your night table drawer.
• Make a photocopy of everything in your wallet (front and back). In the unfortunate event that your wallet is stolen, you’ll have a record of what you’re missing and which credit card companies you need to call.