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How to Attack Clutter

Tried-and-true techniques for maintaining an organized home

Keeping up with the Joneses does have its drawbacks. Not only is it expensive to live a life of constant spending, but this lifestyle also leads to one clear and definite side effect: clutter. Clutter in your home leads to disorganization. Clutter robs you of precious time wasted searching for misplaced items. Clutter can teach children to lead a life of messy habits. Clutter – just the word makes some people crazy.

Celia Rocks, president of Rocks-DeHart Public Relations and author of Organizing the Good Life: A Path to Joyful Simplicity – Home to Work & Back, transformed herself from a spend-a-holic consumed with mindless materialism to a person on the "path to joyful simplicity," as indicated in her book. By simplifying her life, Rocks escaped from debt and in the process developed a rewarding career and found time for what matters in her life.

Rocks attributes two factors to personal disorganization. "First, society allows us to obtain too much stuff too fast," says Rocks. "Second, we don't link organization to success. Most people do not know the cost of being unorganized; therefore, they don't try to correct it with clear intent."

Get Started

Correcting the problem of disorganization has many facets. If the prospect of home organization seems too overwhelming to begin, you must first learn the steps to get started. Rocks recommends getting help in the beginning. "Seek a good friend or professional organizer to get you started," she says. "You cannot do it all yourself. If you could, you wouldn't be in the mess you are in already."

Ramona Creel, founder of OnlineOrganizing.com and an experienced professional organizer, recommends starting with the area in the home that causes the most pain. "Think about what part of your house you dread dealing with, that always makes you say, 'I just can't stand this anymore, I've got to do something about this!'" says Creel. "And it doesn't have to be a whole room. It can be a countertop or a closet or a cabinet. Often it's better to start with just one small area."

Devising a plan of attack is the first step to organization, but this step can lead to defeat even before the real cleaning begins. "Thinking about all the organizing you need to do throughout your whole house will just overwhelm you, frustrate you and maybe even cause you to give up," says Creel. "Finish that one small area before moving on to another spot. You'll get a real sense of accomplishment knowing that one area is DONE, and you'll see the organization spread throughout your home."

To get you started in the right direction, Creel has pulled together a booklet titled 10 Easy Ways to Organize Your Home. This booklet leads you through the cleaning process and offers step-by-step organization suggestions for each room in your home.

Staying Power

Once your home is organized, the trick is keeping it that way. The first step in maintaining an organized home is to analyze your purchasing habits. "Stop all buying; only buy perishable items such as things you can eat or consume," says Rocks. "Then, use up everything you have or throw it out."

Second, determine when something should be discarded. "Always ask yourself if an item is beautiful, useful or loved," says Creel. "If it doesn't meet that criteria, why keep it?" If you find an item is useless to you, remove it from your home to reduce clutter. If the item is still useful, find someone who can use it. "Donate it, give it to a friend or recycle it," she says. "Many times, people are reluctant to get rid of useful items so find a way to give it to someone."

Third, develop systems for keeping the home organized. "The key to overcoming disorganization is developing systems," says Creel. "One important system is having a set place for things, not just sticking something in a cabinet or closet because you don't know where it goes. Each storage space in your home should be designated for a particular item, and nothing but that item should be kept in that space."

"Once you have a place for everything, there is never a question about where something goes. It's simply a matter of making time to put it there," says Creel. "I recommend that clients institute a '15-minute rule' – 15 minutes at the end of the day putting things back where they belong. This is especially effective if you involve the whole house – kids and spouses too – and make it a regular part of bedtime."

Finally, purchase products that can help with home organization. Creel has created OnlineOrganizing.com to assist others with home organization. Her Web site is brimming with helpful products and tools to keep a home organized. Closet dividers, label makers, bill organizers, stacking bins and even home inventory software to keep track of your possessions are all available.

A Family Affair


An organized home is not a one-person job – it takes commitment from each member of the household to maintain the organization. Even small children can get involved. "The key to getting kids organized is making the solutions appropriate for their age, size and ability levels," says Creel. "With small children, the goal is to make things as easy to manipulate as possible – swap drawers that are hard to pull out with shelves and exchange tubs with tightly closed lids for open bins."

Labels can assist children to organize their belongings. "For small children who can't read, use a photo of a shirt where the shirts go or a picture of a Lego in the containers that hold the Legos," says Creel. "For older kids, use a written label on bookshelves, toy containers and clothing bins."

To stay organized, the key ingredient is discipline. "'You can set up a great system, but if you don't set aside regular time for picking up, your home will never improve," says Creel.

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