The latest issue of Real Simple magazine (June 2012) features an article about cutting clutter for their cover story. Although it does offer useful tips for organizing specific areas of a house with real life examples of how families with hard-to-manage room got on top of the rubble, some of the solutions involved spending heaps of money. (Do I really need to spend $350 on a Jonathan Leather armchair to organize my den?)
It really is possible, despite what mass market magazines might tell you, to get your house in order without opening up a charge account at the Container Store. Below we’ve outlined just a few tips to get you started.
- Go room by room and start every room with five empty boxes labeled, “Trash,” “Giveaway,” “Sell,” “Recycling” and “Other Room.” Then start putting everything that doesn’t belong into its respective box. This gives you a chance to focus on the room at hand. If you find that you’re placing several items that belong in a certain room in the “Other Room” box, create a box for that room. (For those of you with teenage boys, you may want to include a box labeled “Compost.”)
- Give yourself the time to really dedicate the time needed to do it right. Send the husband to the café with a book. Tell the kids to go their friends’ houses or the movies. Get someone to watch your small children (even if it’s Big Bird and Elmo). If you’re being constantly interrupted, you won’t be able to concentrate on a room sufficiently.
- Pay attention to the patterns of clutter in a given room. Are there a lot of Legos here and there and stuffed under the seat cushions. Or coins, paper clips, game pieces? Keep a small box in that room for collecting those items that tend to accrue in a given room. This precedent isn’t likely to change, and this simple tip could preserve a good deal of sanity.
- If you’re placing items in specific bins, label them, even if it’s in a discreet way on the bottom or the inside. You think you’ll remember that the blue bin is designated for return library books, but you may not. This simple act keeps everyone in the house on the same page, too, promoting peace and long term organizational success.
- Write down ideas for organizing the room to implement once you’re finished. Start a notebook and devote two or three pages to each room to sketch ideas and give yourself a way to visualize your thoughts. Keep measuring tape on hand to get appropriate dimensions and record them in your notebook. If you do need to buy any bins or containers you’ll have something to reference and prevent you from overspending.
- Feel free to dump things out on the ground. Sometimes you have to make a mess to clean up a mess. This will give you incentive to really sort through the detritus that tends to accumulate in everyday life and fuel your motivation to get the room into organizational shape.
- Sort through every nook and cranny – even the scary ones. It’s easy to let yourself think, “I’ll tackle that some other day,” but, truly, you’re better off just taking care of it in one fell swoop.
- Don’t beat yourself up if your house has gotten hyper-cluttered. Organization takes constant work, and amidst the busyness of life, it’s incredibly easy to let things slip into disarray. As you develop sound strategies for tackling the clutter, though, you shouldn’t have to spend as much time cleaning and organizing. (That is, after all, the main goal.)
- Hold off on buying lots of organizing containers until you’ve completed every room in the house. You may be surprised by how many bins that you already have around the house and the de-cluttering process is likely to free up containers as you go.
- Check out these books and articles for more great organizational ideas:
31 Ways to Make Over Your Closets
9 Ways to Organize Books
8 Great Tips to Organize Kids’ Rooms
How to Organize a Garage
Tips for Maintaining an Organized Living Room
20 Home Office Organizing Tips
Organizing Plain and Simple by Donna Smallin
Organize for a Fresh Start by Susan Fay West
The Fast and Furious 5-Step Organizing Solution by Susan C. Pinsky