Your Home: Get organized, a room, a shelf, a drawer at a time


Help! Your family is about to descend for Thanksgiving or Christmas and you can’t stand the sight of the disorganized mess you call your home. You’re sure you’ll be disowned after they walk into the untended piles and the overflowing drawers.

In this month’s Your Home, we look at how to get organized.

Reality check

You are not going to be able to get your home from House of Chaos to House of Bliss in 12 short days. Start with one task that is doable. It could be something that is really bothering you or is in the most need, or it could just be the simplest job. It might just be one drawer or one closet. Don’t start with the hardest task.

You want to be able to get it organized quickly and feel like you’ve accomplished something so you can move on to the next task.

“It gives you the oomph to keep going,” says Leslie Byer Rosner, a professional organizer in Austin with Found Space Organizing.

Once you’ve decided where to start, put those other tasks out of your mind.

Different professionals have various cute acronyms for how to organize spaces, but they all follow the same principles.

Decide what you want the space to look like

Have a vision of that closet neatly organized. You don’t need to map it out just yet, but you’ll have the goal in mind when the organizing gets tough.

Organizing a space is not something you can do for another person unless you have their buy-in and you ask all the right questions or really know them well. Don’t try to force your organizational system on someone else, because they won’t be able to keep up with it. They’ll end up feeling like a bigger failure in the end.

Know what you have

Before you hit the Container Store or Target, figure out what you have and if you need it. Pull everything out and start sorting like items together. Do this quickly and don’t get caught up on whether you need something. That’s for a later step.

“The reason we do this is to identify what duplicates we have,” says Angela Ploetz of Round Rock, a professional organizer with the Posh Space and the blog Girlfriends Get Organized. “You might have five jars of peanut butter, two partially used, one empty and two new.”

If you get stuck on how to sort, Rosner advises to think about broad categories, then narrow it down. It might be all makeup together first, then later eye shadows in one pile and lipsticks in another. Or you might sort by function and put all the pedicure supplies into one space.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Rosner says. You’ll probably cover the floor with piles of things.

Evaluate what you have

Often we’ve heard about making three piles: Keep, toss and donate. But add another pile: Keep, but doesn’t belong in this space. It’s great to have a basket for each family member, or a basket for each room. That way you can return the items you want to store elsewhere at one time.

People often get derailed, says Deniece Schofield, author of “Confessions of an Organized Homemaker: The Secrets of Uncluttering Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life.” She’ll be in Austin next week to offer four workshops on organizing your home.

People waste time by putting items away in the other rooms, rather than tackling the room they are working on. Often they don’t finish any room at all.

If you’re stuck on whether to toss something, Schofield recommends keeping a box for uncertain items and placing it in a not-so-easy-to-get-to location. If you haven’t needed it or used it in six months, then you know it was worth tossing.

Rosner suggests if you get stuck on any step because of a particular item or group of items, take a break and go get something to eat. You also can phone a friend and talk through your dilemma. You might find you actually know what to do.

Purge what you don’t need

This is when you take your toss pile and truly toss it or your donate pile and truly donate it. If you are someone who can’t make a decision, invite a friend to help you do it, or turn to a professional for help. You want to make sure you’re not just moving what you have around, Ploetz says.

If you’re really struggling, use Schofield’s method of the uncertain box. Date the box, so you remember when the six months is up.

And if you are really struggling with deciding what to purge, you could toss it all and start over with new items.

Decide how you’re going to use the remaining items

Things that you use all the time should be in the easiest-to-reach places. Items that are special occasion or used in a pinch should be stored in higher places or behind more often-used items. Those guest towels should go behind or on a shelf above the everyday towels. That special, sparkly makeup should not be center stage in the closet; it deserves an out-of-the-way location.

This is also the time when you’re trying to figure out how you will contain all these items. Often you have the containers on-hand, but you just don’t know it: shoe boxes, egg cartons, plastic spinach bins, ice cream buckets, margarine tubs and lunch meat containers. If you do decide you need to buy containers, know exactly what needs to go in each container, how big the items are and how big the space is before you hit the store. You can shop garage sales and thrift stores for items like ice cube bins, shoe racks and stackable boxes.

Contain the items and label

Now you get to put everything back in the new container it will go in. Labeling is especially important if you live in a house with other people. You can use Post-It Notes or tape and marker or just marker. You also can get an inexpensive labeler or buy label stickers and feed them through the printer.

Put your containers away

You are now ready to clean up and put everything in its right place. Once you’re done, take a picture to remind you and your family members how it looked.

Keep it up

Remember that picture you just took. You could print that picture and put it in the drawer as a guide for others to follow. You also can avoid slipping back into bad habits by spending just a few minutes every day doing a sweep of each room and returning items to their proper places. And while you’re looking for one item, if you see another item out of place, quickly return it to the right place. Don’t spend a lot of time overthinking it or fuming about who did what; just make the correction and move on.

Schofield started with an organized list of things to do each day to keep the upkeep of the organization in check. Some rooms she’d sweep through every day; others she’d hit every other day or every third day, depending on its use. Rather than trying to keep up with kids’ stuff all day long, she’d toss things into bins, sort them out and put them away before bedtime. She says she can ignore a room for about three days before it will get disorganized again.

Ways to contain the stuff

For the endless flow of paper, such as mail, Schofield uses a bin or a box. She also had special bins where kids would put their school work or notes they needed Mom to see. Ideally those bins are right by where the backpacks are. You might need several bins for bills. One could be just for action items (i.e. Pay me, please.); another could be for things that just need to be filed. Keep a shredder and a recycling bin nearby for junk mail and duplicates of forms.

Pantries, drawers and shelves can get messy quickly. Use drawer inserts for utensils. Tie together items like appliance cords with ponytail holders. Use a shelf riser to create two layers of plates or bowls when things don’t nest together or to extend your space. Consider slots for lids and cookie sheets to store them vertically rather than horizontally.

Think about hanging things rather than stacking or shoving them in a corner. Ploetz built a cleaning supplies wall unit by hanging pegboard covered with fabric. Now the broom and mop get hung on that board, and she added bins on that board for smaller items.

Instead of stacking towels or swimsuits, add hooks in the laundry room and bathroom. You can get more towels hung and in a less messy way with a hook rather than a towel rod.

Magazine holders are great for neatly storing office supplies like paper, folders, envelopes and more. Each magazine holder can have its own supply, or you can group them together in one holder.

The back of the door is your friend. Buy those hanging shoe racks and store electrical cords and office supplies on the back of the office door. In the laundry room, store small cleaning supplies like different sponges and rags. In the bathroom, you could use it for makeup or hair accessories. In the closet, use it for jewelry, socks or maybe even shoes.

Don’t get discouraged, get flexible

Life changes, says Ploetz. Sometimes what worked for her family during the school year needed to be rethought during summer vacation.

Or, you might buy a new kitchen appliance or a new cleaning supply and need to rethink your current system to make room.

If you made your organization system too complicated, it might be time to simplify it, or, if it’s still a mess, maybe you need more structure. It’s all about finding the right system for you and forming a habit, Ploetz says.

Schofield, who now has grown children, remembers what it felt like when her children were 4 and 2 and her house was out of control. “I never wanted to go back there,” she says. “It wasn’t what it looked like. It was how it felt.”



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