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Turn Your Cluttered Chaos into a Clean Cozy Room
January 19, 2011


Turn Your Cluttered Chaos into a Clean Cozy Room

            By Celeste Robichaud


With many processes it’s often taking the first step that’s the most difficult. With clutter it can often be an overwhelming undertaking because it’s difficult to know where to begin. Before you start organizing and de-cluttering your space you need to determine three things. Firstly, determine why your space is cluttered and disorganized in the first place. Secondly, determine your motivation for de-cluttering and organizing. Thirdly, determine how much space you need to clean. Are you organizing one room or an entire house?

            The first and second questions will help you develop an approach to setting your goals and process in a way that will help you succeed. Are you emotionally attached to items or do you have the mentality that you’ll put it away later? If you know that you are emotionally attached to items then you can begin to work on fulfilling your emotional needs in a way that isn’t creating chaos in your life. Or do you just put items into your office or spare room in hopes that you’ll organize it later? The question of your motivation will help you determine your goals. Are you organizing a room because you have a difficult time finding important papers or craft supplies? Are you trying to make your office functional rather than just a pile of papers? Do you need to make your space more child friendly or accommodating of a family member with a physical disability which makes clutter a hazard? The question of how much space needs to be organized will help you divide your space into smaller and more manageable chunks so that the task is not overwhelming. The more overwhelming the task, the longer we tend to procrastinate about starting on it. If you put the task off, your clutter will only continue to grow and become more overwhelming.

            If you are an emotional clutter bug I suggest taking a digital camera with you into the space(s) that you want to de-clutter. With digital technology it is easy to take pictures of mementos to capture their memory forever. An entire box of collectibles and / or keepsakes can be cut down to a few bytes of data on a CD of pictures and just as fun to sort through at a later time. This technique will help you maintain the memory without the chaos in your life. You can simply take a picture of an item and then donate it to charity or sell it at a garage sale. If you tend to set something in an office or spare room to put away later, you can place a nice wicker basket or nicely decorated trunk in that space to add decoration to the room as well as have it serve as a place to neatly store those items until you can put them away in their rightful home. Once the basket or trunk is full then dedicate an hour to putting those items away.

           In the meantime, you have a pile of clutter to deal with. Start by sectioning off a chuck of your room or house to clean. If your are planning to de-clutter an entire house, start by saying “I’ll de-clutter the bedroom today,” rather than tackling the whole house in one weekend. If you’re doing a room and it feels overwhelming, divide it into quarters and start with the quarter of the room closest to the door. Make your goals manageable and attainable within a reasonable time. By doing this you are setting yourself up for a greater success. If you set a goal to de-clutter your entire house in one evening, then chances are the goal is not attainable and when the goal isn’t met, people tend to say, “I’ll never be able to do this.” This kind of discouragement will either lead to further procrastination or quitting all together. On the other hand if you set aside a weekend to do one room, this is more manageable and attainable and chances are you’ll be able to say at the end of the weekend, “See, I’m able to do this and it wasn’t so bad.”

            The most daunting part of organization is that it can be a slow process, especially at first. This is especially true if you are de-cluttering a large room or an entire house. The biggest key to your success is finding a pace that you’re comfortable with. Set daily or weekly goals. If you don’t feel that you have time to dedicate an entire weekend to a room then make your goal more manageable, such as “I’ll sort through 20 items in my office every day until it’s clean and organized.” If you’re going to set smaller goals such as going through 20 items a day, it is also important to monitor how much is going into the room. If you have 30 items going to your office each day and you’re only sorting through 20 existing items then you need to at least double your goal, if you plan to make progress. If you find your progress motivating then you may want to increase your pace but if you find your pace overwhelming then decrease your pace. Discouragement may lead to quitting the process down the line and quitting is not the goal of the process.

            Discouragement and emotional attachment to items can also be helped along by having a friend that you trust come in to help with your de-cluttering process. They can provide emotional support and encouragement, as well as accountability to your task, both short term and long term. A friend can also give you a detached perspective on your items and encourage you to get rid of items that really add no value to your life.

Once you have selected the target area that you want to de-clutter, start with four boxes and label the boxes as follows:

1)     Keep

2)     Recycle

3)     Garage Sale or Donations

4)     Garbage

            Keep more boxes on hand to use as the first four boxes fill up with items. Then simply begin going through items, beginning closest to the door of the room. You may have to have a separate area for larger keep items. If you have larger items that will go into the garbage or recycling try to remove those from the room immediately and place in your outdoor garbage / recycle bin. On your first sort of the area make it a goal to get rid of one item for every item you keep. As a general rule, if you haven’t used the item in the past 6 months and / or don’t have a use for it in the next six months then it can go into the Recycle, Garage Sale or Garbage pile. If you have two or more of the same item, a can opener for example, keep one and put the rest into the Garage Sale or Donate Pile. Only earmark items for a garage sale if you plan on having one in the next month. If not, donate the items to a good cause. Many charities will also pick up if you don’t have access to a vehicle or time to make a drop off at their location. I often find that online ad sites are a great way of getting rid of items. Many people will even buy all of your boxes of Garage Sale items if advertised as a “LOT SALE”. This method is a great way to make a few dollars without spending a weekend hosting a garage sale. If items are broken or missing parts they should go into the Recycle, Garage Sale or Garbage pile if you don’t have the immediate funds or knowledge to fix it. Take pictures as you go if you feel a sentimental connection to the item.

            If you have items that you feel that you’ll use someday, then take those items and put them in a box. Then seal the box and date it for one year in the future. When the date comes, and you still didn’t need to open it to get anything, donate the box WITHOUT OPENING IT. You probably won’t even remember what there was in the box. Limit yourself to two of these boxes per year during your annual spring or winter cleaning.

            Once you have completed your first pass of the room, try to dispose of garbage and recycling immediately to keep from changing your mind. If you feel that you may change your mind about garage sale items then drop them off for immediate donation. Once you’ve committed to your project you don’t want to back pedal. After you’ve disposed of all necessary items, decide if you have enough space in the room for the boxes of keep items. An important note about keeping items is that just because you have drawer space, shelf space or closet space doesn’t mean you need to fill them. Pull out four new boxes and repeat the sorting process with the items in your keep pile to try to further diminish the number of items. Once you are satisfied that your keep pile is a slim as it’s going to get begin to find a permanent home for keep items. If you don’t have a permanent home for an item then it should be donated or sold.

            Another option to consider when getting rid of items is to gift them. If you’re purging scrapbook supplies, consider giving them to a friend who scrapbooks. If you’re purging your books and know an avid reader, they may enjoy some of your old books. This is also a great conversation starter. Your friend may then be willing to show you the scrapbook that she made with the supplies or discuss the book that you both read. This way you can enjoy the items again through your friends’ pleasure of them.

            You may need to consider specific storage and organization options for specific rooms. If you are working on an office, you may need to consider a filing system and shelving that meets your needs. Offices can be the most time consuming rooms to organize but once you have a system in place it can make your life so much easier and you will spend less time looking for important documents and items. If you don’t have a current filing system for your office then start with 10 sheets of paper and label them as follows:

1)     Taxes

2)     Bills

3)     Receipts

4)     Investments

5)     Banking

6)     Medical / Dental

7)     Car

8)     Home Repair

9)     Recreation

10)  Other / Miscellaneous

            Set each piece of paper on your desk or the floor of the office, so as to create piles and then begin to sort papers into their respective piles. You can add or remove categories as needed but try to stay under 10 for the initial sort. Once you have your initial sort done, take out a box of file folders and sub sort as needed. For example, if we have a Ford Focus and a Chrysler Intrepid in our home I will sort the Car category into two sub-categories and label the folders accordingly. You may also put things like insurance papers into your Car folder.  I’ll also separate my medical records from my husbands and label the folders accordingly. Then when I put the folders into my filing cabinet I’ll put the two medical record folders into a hanging folder labeled Medical Records. You can use this same method for each of the categories.

            You can use a similar concept to apply to hobbies. For example, I’m a writer so I have a dedicated filing cabinet for my writing. I find that having a filing system for my writing allows me more time to dedicate to my actual writing rather than looking for the coffee stained napkin that I scribbled a line of poetry on. I have my cabinet organized with the following hanging folders:

Hanging Folder 1 – Story Ideas

Hanging Folder 2 – Written but Need Editing

Hanging Folder 3 – Edited but Not Submitted to Publisher

Hanging Folder 4 –Submitted to Publisher and Awaiting Reply

Within each of the hanging folders I have the following folders.

Folder 1 – Novels

Folder 2 – Magazine Articles

Folder 3 – Short Stories

Folder 4 – Poems

            I also have a section for scrapbooking supplies. For hobbies where craft supplies are needed I find tool boxes and kits handy for sorting things like beads and embellishments and try to keep similar items together. For example, I have a sectioned small tool kit for beads / brads where each section is dedicated to one color or type of bead / brad.

            To organize a filing system as I’ve listed above will take an initial investment of time but once the set up is done, it’s easy to maintain if you maintain it in small chucks. For example, I have a basket on my desk that contains the following folders:

Ø  To File

Ø  To Read

Ø  To Action – High Priority

Ø  To Action – Medium Priority

Ø  To Action – When I Have Time

            Once my basket is full, I know that I need to dedicate some time to Filing, Reading and When I have Time folders, once the High and Medium folders have been attended to. I try to make time weekly to skim through my folders and file stuff away and catch up on Reading. It may also be a matter of determining your priorities. There are not enough hours in the day for everything to be high priority or even a priority at all. Often we will add items to a priority list that neither adds value to our lives, nor is it something that we need or want in our lives. It may be that a friend said, “Oh you just have to read this article about knitting.” You may love knitting and if you do then add it to your file but if you detest knitting then it is of no benefit to you. I often will scale items on my priority list on a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being Urgent. If you have items on your list that are 5 or less then they can probably be removed from your list all together. You may even have to scale back items that are 6 and 7 depending on time.

            When organizing closets of clothing, if you haven’t worn it in six months or if it hasn’t fit for six months then it needs to be put into your Garage Sale / Donate pile. Dress the body that you have now, not the body that you want 6 months from now. Do not keep clothes or shoes that are out of style or in disrepair unless you plan to fix them in the next week. If you don’t follow through with fixing the item then add it to your Garage Sale / Donate pile. Organize your closet by season. Keep your winter clothing on one side and summer clothes on the other side. Do not move your winter clothes into a spare room during the winter and vice versa. By maintaining two seasonal closets you are only allowing yourself more room to collect more clothing which is exactly what you’re trying to minimize. Once separated by season, put all pants together, all skirts together, all dresses together and other similar items together. Organize your dresser drawers in the same fashion.

            With storage rooms, store keepsakes and other items in plastic containers to better protect the items inside from potential flood damage and cardboard that eventually falls apart. Cardboard also tends to be building material for pests such as mice. Plastic containers are more durable and easier to stack. Cardboard will often collapse if you stack boxes that are too heavy on top of one another. Clearly label each plastic storage container so that you know what’s in them should you have to search for something. Keep your storage space to a minimum. If you have a larger storage space you will fill it.

            When you have de-cluttered the rooms and they look organized, give a quick dusting, polish the furniture, and run the vacuum around. The result will be a clean, fresh-smelling and inviting environment. Also, add an air freshener or candle to give the area a fresh or cozy smell.

            Make goals once you’ve completed your room or home, such as the basket that I have in my office. Once my office was set up, I began to go through my basket weekly. By maintaining your room you may spend 10 minutes per week organizing compared to an entire weekend once your room is fully cluttered. 

            If you are finding that you’re buying more stuff than you have the space for, then place boundaries on yourself. If you buy another dress, then resign yourself to get rid of one that’s already in your closet. Even with my storage area, if I know I have enough room to store 15 large plastic storage containers comfortably, I may keep 20 on hand. Once the 20 containers are full then I know that I need to do another purge and get rid of half the stuff in storage. This allows for a great opportunity for you to reassess what you’re storing and why.

            Once you have your home de-cluttered, maintenance is an important part of keeping it that way. As you leave a room, put items away where they belong. Have a designated spot for every item in your home and ensure that it’s put there when you leave a room. Have designated receptacles for laundry, garbage and recycling, if applicable to the room. An organized space is easier to maintain with the right tools and organizational storage items. Also, make an annual tradition of doing a winter clean to remove any items that you are no longer using. It can even be a fun task. You can get the whole family involved and make a challenge out of who can purge the most items from the house. It’s a great activity for a cold, snowy day when everyone wants to stay indoors. It can also make a great Christmas tradition to donate the items to the local shelter.

            If you choose to do a Garage Sale for your initial de-clutter or your annual de-clutter, you can make a fun challenge out of that as well. Challenge your wife, husband and children to be the one to sell the most items at the garage sale. Whoever is the best salesman and makes the most money, decides what the money is spent on. Spending the money earned at a garage sale after a de-clutter and purge also a great reward at the end of a daunting task which is another great incentive.

            Finally, once you have completed your de-clutter, your most important task is to now enjoy the home and the spaces that you’ve created. You should also be proud of the work that you’ve done to create a home that your whole family can enjoy and find solace in. 


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