Organizing Your Home and Life

Archive for the ‘Decluttering’ Category

I have four kids.  Two are in high school.  One is in elementary school and one is in preschool.  I cannot tell you how many people over the years have asked me what I do with all of that artwork.

Over the past 16 years, thousands of pieces of artwork have walked through my front doors with everything from drawings to sculptures to models.   Miraculously (or  maybe not so miraculously) I have managed to organize it all and keep it all under control.  I am a natural organizer so many times it happens without a lot of thought from myself but I know that is not the case for everyone.  So I have put together several tips that help guide me though the piles so that I can avoid clutter and being overwhelmed.

1. Decide what is worth of keeping.   I know that might be a very tall order considering you would like to keep everything but this is where you need to be extra judicious.  Not everything is keepable.  Perhaps you can sit your child down and go over the keepable stuff with him or her. 

2.  Have a file box or bin or drawer in your house for keepable stuff to store throughout the year.  Preferably this file is flat and a size that can hold odd shaped or sized art.  Everything goes into this file.

3.  At the end of every school year go through these boxes/drawers a second time and sort out the stuff that is keepable and the stuff to toss.  You might have a different opinion on it at the end of the school year.  Do your best to eliminate at least 40-50% of what is in this file.

4.  Whatever is leftover in this yearly file box should be transferred to a more permanent storage spot like the attic.  Get a airtight and waterproof container to store your art.

5.  If you have a scanner you should consider scanning the art digitally.  This is a good idea for stuff that is not your top pick of keepable items but you still would like to have a momento on hand.



Last week I blogged about my dad who was painfully taken from us a few weeks ago.  I do get overcome sometimes with grief and I know that is a normal part of the process.  Yesterday a rep from a hospital where my dad was once a patient called my house to ask how to get in touch with my dad. She was planning a reunion and wanted to invite him to come. I had to share with her our painful news.  It stung to have to repeat it and sometimes I feel for the person on the other end of the phone who really doesn’t know what to say.  So I just talked soothingly and reassured her that I was ok and that things would be alright.

Over these past several days I have found myself migrating to my dad’s condo to clean up and clean it out.  To others it might seem like work but to me it doesn’t.  I find myself cleaning and dusting and boxing up things and it doesn’t make me sad.  It doesn’t make me tired.  In fact it does just the opposite.  It makes me feel like I am taking care of my mom and dad’s things in a respectful manner the way I feel they deserved to have their things treated. 

I love to organize and it is my passion and being able to organize and declutter my parent’s condo for the eventual sale is something I cherish.  It’s something I feel I am doing as my last bit of service to my parents who gave so much of themselves to get me to where I am today.

As I organize and clean up and clean out, I learn about myself and I talk to my dad because in my heart he hears me and I feel better for it.  This is all a process but one that I am glad to do for my dear ole’ dad.

It’s my favorite time of the year – a planners dream….the end of September means that the holidays are right around the corner.  Year after year we all continue to get behind and each year I become more and more determined to not become behind.  This is why my goal is to have a holiday game plan in place by October 1.  Some of the things on my goal sheet are exampled below:

1.  Halloween costumes – start shopping for those now.  Avoid the long lines.  If you are making your own costumes, start now as well. 

2.  Holiday portraits – if you are not taking the portraits yourself, this should be planned out now including making the appointment and going.  It takes a few weeks to get portraits back and it is best to avoid procrastinating on this.  As the holidays get closer it will get harder to make a timely appointment.

3.  Holiday greeting cards – Start getting your address lists in order. Print out mailing labels and return address labels.  You can find some good sales on holiday cards so if you buy now you will be way ahead of the game.  You can then start to write up your cards or start to create your family newsletter.

4.  Thanksgiving plans – Thanksgiving is only 2 months away.  Start contacting your family and friends to see how you all will celebrate your Thanksgiving day.  If you are cooking, start to plan out what the menu will be and what kind of recipes you will need.  Get your decorations together and ready to be put out after Halloween.

5.  Purge in your house – This rule is really important especially if you have kids.  Your kids will likely get many gifts so it is important to purge any old items or toys or games that they no longer use. Do the same for clothes too.  Think of giving these items to charity.

6. Speaking of charities start thinking about whether or not you want to give to charity this holiday season. If so, figure out how much you will be giving whether it is money or merchandise.  If merchandise, start shopping now. 

7.  Have your kids get their holiday gift lists in order as well and start a budget for yourself to ensure that you are not overspending and that you are keeping within a specific budgetary guideline.

8.  Gifts – it’s never too early to shop for the favorite people in your life.

If you can start accomplishing some of these tasks early you will be way ahead of the game.

Sometimes being neat and clean doesn’t take a whole lot of effort.  In fact sometimes it is just about changing a few old habits.  These three tips can help start you onto the road of clutter control and organization.

1.  Make your bed – As soon as you wake up make the bed.  I have done this every day since I was a kid.  Messy beds really make the room look sloppy and undone.  It doesn’t matter how neat and picked up the rest of the room is.  If the bed is unkept it ruins the entire look of the room. 

2.  Never leave dishes in the sink.  I never leave dishes in the sink nor do I let my kids leave their dishes in the sink.  I do use a dishwasher so I put the dishes right into the washer for future washing.   Also, I never go to bed with dishes in the sink or on the counter top either.  One reason is because dirty dishes attract bugs.  Another reason is because, for me, there is nothing worse than waking up to work waiting for you and dish washing is definitely WORK!  I prefer to be more proactive with my dishes and have them all done before bedtime.  If you do not have the luxury of a dishwasher (which I have at various times in my life) then handwash your dishes and then dry them and put them away as soon as possible.  I learned this rule from my mom who also implemented the same rule when I was a kid.  Consequently the kitchen never looked horrendous when I woke up the next day.  Following this rule also allows you a peace of mind when you wake up in the morning to a fresh, clean kitchen.

3.  Five minute rule in each room – I love this rule and follow it all of the time.  The rule basically says that when you go into any given room during your day, spend a total of five minutes to pick up in the room, throw some visual clutter away, or do a sweep of the room if things are out of place.  It’s a rule that forces you to address clutter and mess as it is happening as opposed to a week later when the clutter is so out of control that all you want to do is leave the room and shut the door.  Being more proactive than reactive is the key to keeping clutter under control.

Following these three easy rules will not only help you control the clutter but it will give you a sense of relief that order is being kept in your home.

As you are going around purging and organizing one of the questions you really should be saying to yourself is:  “Do You REALLY Need It?”

There is no doubt that organizing and purging is a difficult process.  Why is that?  Because we are all totally and madly in love with our stuff regardless of how old and useless our stuff is.  Our stuff is a representation of who we are and where we came from.  I remember growing up as a child with parents who grew up during the Great Depression.  They had a special attachment to their stuff because they were under very dire economic conditions.  They carried that thought process with them well past the depression even when economic times were good. 

Which takes us to today and where you are at with your personal stuff.  If you are really serious about being organized and having a more peaceful and less stressful home environment it will take a complete examination of all of the stuff in your home to really determine if the stuff is necessary.

S0me of the questions to ask yourself are:

1.  How useful is this to me now?  Is this item one of those things that you  keep just to keep and it serves no useful purpose?  In fact is it something you have not seen or looked at in over 6 months and is not a holiday decoration?  Toss it.

2.  How useful will this be to me in the future?  Does the object have any useful purpose in your future at all?  Will my kids be horrified that I saved these items for them and their future?  Evaluate and toss.

3.  If I am saving this for my kids what are the chances that they will want it or need it in their future? See #2.

4.  Is there any monetary value to what it is that I am keeping?  If the answer to that is no, toss it.

5.  Do I have no idea why I am keeping it but it sure does look cute or it sure is pretty or it sure is (fill in the blanks)?  If the answer is yes, toss it.

Get past whatever it is that is causing you to hold on to this kind of stuff and let it go.  Once you do you will be well on your way to a more enjoyable and organized existence.

Memories are a key part of our lives and homes.  So how do you declutter and organize your memories?

A lot of times I hear people going through their clutter and saying “but my child made me this once in a lifetime picture of ….” or “I got this beautiful sweater from my aunt’s cousin’s best friend who hand made it and I cannot bear to part with it.”

Decluttering your memories is very difficult.  I, too, have a difficult time with it.  I still have some old clothes that my mom once wore that I took with me when she passed on.  Some I have since parted with and others I have not.  I have four kids so you can imagine the artwork that has come into my house over the past 16 years.  And my husband is known to give me lots of very touching and memorable cards.  So what do you do with it all?

The hard part in sorting through these types of collections is looking realistically at what really should be kept and what should not.  I have compiled a few simple ideas on how to tackle this type of job.

Children’s Artwork

I have found that the best way to tackle children’s artwork/schoolwork is usually at the end of each school year.  During the year I put the schoolwork in a filing drawer.  I only file away the interesting papers like pretty art or a special essay or a skill that they just learned.  At the end of the school year (or more frequently depending on the amount that you have filed) I pull all of the artwork out and go through each paper one by one and prioritize the most special paperwork.  I try to keep about 10 to 20% and the rest will be thrown out.

Each of my children has his/her own memory box.  I will put the special artwork/paperwork in their own memory box.

The memory box is also where I keep special momentos that are unique to each child such as first pair of shoes, first dress, medals, awards, etc.

Unused Gift

Many times we get gifts that we end up never using.  It happens to all of us at some point in our lives.  I am not a big fan of re-gifting so I don’t recommend it but if you are a fan of it then by all means do what you feel comfortable doing.  I am, however, a big fan of giving to charity or garage sales.  If there is something I just cannot use in my home I will go the charity route and donate it.    This way I am not completely throwing out the gift but I am giving it to someone who will probably use it more than I will.

Spouse Momentos

I keep a memory box for myself just as I do for my kids.  This is where special items that I have received from my husband or kids go.

Most items that I get from my husband or kids are cards.  One great idea to do with all of those cards is to make a scrapbook out of them.  I usually tear the cards up and keep the saying or the writing on the card and put them into a pretty scrapbook.  It’s a nice way to display a beautiful collection of cards and momentos.  If you must keep those dried flowers that your husband gave you when you got engaged, put them in a baggie and place them in your scrapbook.  Another suggestion is to take a photo of those special occasion flowers and scrapbook the photo instead of keeping the dried flowers.

Organizing your momentos does not have to be too difficult but if it is enlist the help of a partner who can objectively help you get through it all.

I am a firm believer that any old run down house can have curb appeal with a new paint job and some nice landscaping.  With a few simple things that don’t have to cost a lot of money, old things can be made to look new again.

The same rule applies to the inside of a house.  I have seen lots of beautiful, large, and expensive homes look really messy and just plain bad inside because the homeowners were too cluttered and disorganized.  On the opposite end, I have seen very small, inexpensive apartments or homes look very nice when uncluttered and tidy.  By removing the clutter and clearing out the excess it is possible to have any house made to look clean, beautiful, and cheery. 

All it really takes is a willingness to let go of the unnecessary stuff and establishing a place for the stuff that is going to remain.  Now that may seem like a tall order but it really isn’t.  

The first mistake that most people make when they want to organize their mess is to go out and buy a lot of products like bins, containers, beautiful gadgets,  how-to books, etc etc.  That is the worst mistake you could make in the beginning.  Why?  Because you don’t know what kind of containers and how many you will need until you get rid of the stuff that you don’t need or want any longer.   Face it, you know what is clutter and what is not.  If for some reason you struggle with that question, you will need to take a closer examination at your stuff piece by piece.  You should only start shopping for containers when you have cleared out all the clutter.  You will be surprised at how little you will need to buy. 

Decluttering is also a mindset that you must live every day.  That doesn’t mean it has to be hard or time consuming.  It simply means that during the course of your daily lives you should always be thinking “Is there a better way to be doing this?” or “Will this make my life easier?” or “How can I make my life in this area easier?”.  You might be surprised at how creative you can become when you start to think like this.

If it doesn’t add to your life or on the other hand subtracts from your life, consider changing the habit or behavior.  Think outside the box.  If you are tired of your kids leaving their backpacks all over the house only to be wasting time in the morning looking for them, consider hanging some hooks inside the room where they enter the house after school.  Tell them that they must hang their backpacks on the hook.  That way you will know where they are at all times.  If you are always losing your keys, hang a key hook.  Are you tired of cluttered kitchen countertops?  Look at what is cluttering them and think hard about what you really need on top of them and what can go up onto a shelf or cupboard.  I have a really old stand up mixer that my mother in law gave me a few years ago. It doesn’t really work anymore.  It is sitting in a cabinet in my kitchen.  It’s not really bothering me by being there but it is of no use so out it is going this week when I call a charity to come and pick up some kids clothes that I am giving away.  If you don’t use it or it hasn’t been used in 6 months, you should consider if you will realistically ever use this item again.  If not, out it goes.

When you start to declutter your life and your home you will start to feel a sense of peace and tranquility because things around you will feel less chaotic and less stressful.

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