One question I always ask a new client is, “Do you think your space has the problem of too much stuff or is it just that things are not properly organized?”
I admit that this is a bit of a trick question because nearly always the answer is “both.” Having too much stuff will always stand between you and organization as you struggle to maneuver around the excess.
Sure, you can file-fold your entire t-shirt collection and just barely manage to cram it all into your dresser drawer, but those shirts will be so jammed together that you’ll struggle to pull one out without others coming with it. Not to mention that your t-shirts will have permanent wrinkles from being so tightly packed. And I’d like to see you maintain your composure while trying to put it back into the drawer!
With all the time you’re spending in your home these days, you’ve likely noticed that there’s plenty of items lying around that you hardly use, or food that’s gone bad but is still sitting in the back of your fridge. However, with this extra downtime and lack of visitors, now is the perfect opportunity to finally get your house in order. So, it’s time to toss out any junk that’s managed to sit on your nightstand for far too long, and throw out those old, expired salad dressings to go, along with the broken can opener that still hasn’t made its way to the garbage.
While the thought of decluttering and reorganizing your home can be overwhelming, it’s much more doable than you think. Better yet, it can all be done without needing to purchase anything new. To help you get started, we pulled together tips from decluttering and organizing experts living in Nashville all the way to professionals living in Vancouver, BC (and many more in between). Here’s how to get your house in order without buying anything new.
The middle of winter with the lousy weather and post-holiday lull is such a cozy, indoor time. Not surprisingly, this is why TV consumption peaks in the winter. So... what are you binge-watching this month?
Have you seen my new favorite Netflix find, the BBC’s The Repair Shop? It’s a sweet show that reminds me of if Antiques Roadshow met How It’s Made crossed with The Great British Baking Show. Its charming personalities, beautiful thatched-roof barn, fascinating antiques, and stories of family history make for a “can’t-stop-watching” program!
Let me tempt you with the show’s intro:
“Welcome to The Repair Shop, where much-loved but broken treasures are brought back to life. Furniture restorer, Jay Blades, and a dream team of some of the country's most skilled craftspeople bring their talents to bear on beloved pieces of family history. Utilizing expertise passed down the generations, transforming priceless pieces of family history, the Repair Shop team will resurrect the items, the memories, and the stories behind them.”
According to The Harris Poll, Thanksgiving is Americans’ second favorite holiday (Christmas is #1). Thanksgiving’s popularity may be due in part to the fact that it’s one of the few holidays we celebrate that involves no gifts, not even candy. No gifts equals no wrapping paper to throw out, and no abundance of new stuff to incorporate into the house like at birthdays and Christmas.
In her indispensable, bestselling book Organizing from the Inside Out, organizing and productivity expert Julie Morgenstern introduces her SPACE acronym to define steps of the organizing process.
SPACE stands for Sort, Purge, Assign a Home, Containerize, and Equalize.
My organizing format incorporates the SPACE tasks, while grouping them into phases: Discovery, Take Shape, and Live & Learn. Each phase takes into account the bigger picture of what you wish to accomplish so you can truly organize your home for the life you want.
With the ever-changing, constantly-updating world of personal electronics, one situation my clients frequently face is cable confusion: drawers and bins full of cables and only a vague idea which devices they match and which cables are still needed. To further complicate matters, often the devices are stored elsewhere and cables are stashed in various places around the house (and cars).
Do you have a nest of unknown charging cables hiding somewhere in your house? Let’s round them up and create a better system!
Why do we get into cable confusion in the first place? Technology changes rapidly, forcing us to upgrade to the latest, greatest, fastest charging cable because our new phone/tablet/laptop is now incompatible with the old one -- the one that was the latest, greatest, fastest just last year! It takes time and effort to upgrade these technologies so it’s easy to skip taking the time out to dispose of the old cables and organize things properly.
Cables and chargers also get messy when multiple members of your household are all sharing and accessing them on a regular basis, taking them out and, if they put them back at all, putting them back in the wrong place or in an untidy way.
To create an organized solution, you’ll want to set up a system that makes it easy for you to identify and access the cables and chargers you currently need.
Last weekend, I cleaned out my own electronics drawer. I did it using 3 Organizing Principles that you can apply to just about any organizing project.
I store electronics accessories in a small drawer at my desk and it tends to get messy because other family members access the cables and chargers -- many hands are in and out of it frequently. As with other spaces that multiple people need to access, labels will be a big part of the solution to keeping this drawer organized so every family member will know what’s what and where things go.
Organizing Principle #1: When organizing a small space, take everything out so you can see what you have and sort all of it at once.
I dumped the whole drawer out onto the desk, then set about grouping the items into categories: cables, chargers, cleaning cloths (Wow, do these accumulate!), earbuds, miscellaneous.
After grouping the items, it was easy to see the things that I could throw out or donate and the things that didn’t belong in an electronics drawer. Have a trash bin and a donation bag (I recycle grocery bags for this purpose) close at hand so you can immediately get rid of your discards. One thing that stuck out to me was a credit-card shaped piece of plastic that removes bubbles from screen covers. Why had I kept this? It’s a great example of the kind of thing that we hold onto for no good reason! If I get a new screen cover, it’ll either come with a new plastic bubble remover or I can just use an actual credit card, so this useless piece of plastic went into the trash.
Also headed to the trash bin were worn or frayed cables and the little stickers with which my kids used to decorate their devices’ home buttons. I decided the tape measure, since it’s not electronics-related, should be re-homed to a desk drawer where it could live near the ruler and the larger screen-cleaning cloth went to my car where it can be used to wipe off the GPS screen.
Of the cables I sorted, one was old and had a connector that didn’t fit any of our current devices. Because it’s not in current use, it shouldn’t live in this frequently-accessed drawer. Instead I’ll store it in a bin with old devices to deal with in a separate organizing project. [Check out my upcoming social media posts for ideas about how to handle old devices.]
After eliminating the excess, I went through the remaining cables and wound them into neat bundles. A trick I like is to use hair elastics to keep the bundles together because they don't tend to dry out like rubber bands and they're a little bit smaller so you don't have to wind them around as many times.
It may be tempting to want to use the hair elastics to color code the cables, but resist this temptation unless you live alone and are in complete control of your cables. Color coding is fussy and without a written key to explain the color system, it exists only in your head and no one but you will be able to maintain it. Plus, what happens if you run out of a certain color elastic? You’ll have to run to the store to buy a whole package just to maintain your system.
Instead of color coding to maintain order, look to...
Organizing Principle #2: Labels make for easy identification and retrieval.
Professional Organizers love labels not just because they look tidy, but because they serve a real purpose: When things are labeled, it’s easy to identify them at a glance.
I used my label maker to label the end of each cable (the end that plugs into the device) according to what type it is: Apple, Android, laptop, etc. If there’s an odd cable that goes with a specific device, make sure to label it in a way that makes it easy for others to know which device it goes with. For example, I still use an old iPod Nano and it’s now the only device we own that uses that old cable, so I labeled it “Kate's iPod.” That way, if someone comes across that cable in the drawer, instead of thinking it’s old and they can throw it out, they’ll immediately know that it goes to my iPod. So don’t throw it out!
I personalized the labels for our laptop chargers too. My husband and I have laptops that use the same charger, so I just labeled those “MacBook,” but my daughter’s laptop uses a different charger so I labeled that with her name.
If you don’t have a label maker, fear not! Use a piece of masking tape to create a little flag around the end of the cable and write on the tape with a permanent marker.
After the cables were all organized, I bundled the headphones with more hair elastics. No need to label them because I’m the only one who keeps headphones here and they are universal, fitting any device.
Now it was time to put the drawer back together. I dusted the drawer and washed the drawer organizers and put them back, configuring them with the smaller compartments in the front so little things are easier to reach.
Organizing Principle #3: Designate a home for each item, so things end up back where they belong and outside items don’t drift in.
This is an electronics drawer, so if it’s not in that category, it doesn’t belong here. Labeling each compartment will help cables, chargers, and other items find their way back into place after use while keeping stray items from taking up lodging in this drawer where they don’t belong.
This was a small project that took all of 15 minutes from start to finish, but the impact it makes on my daily life is big. No more digging around the drawer in frustration, trying to figure out which is the correct cable and charger, and struggling to untangle it once I do find it. No more family members accusing others of stealing their chargers, because now everyone can find one when needed and, just as importantly, put it back when finished using it!
Let’s review the 3 Organizing Principles that came into play here:
You can apply these organizing principles to all kinds of small spaces: the “junk” drawer, a dry-goods pantry, a tool box, etc.
Do you have a disorganized small space that you use on a daily basis that is bugging you? What space is it and how do you think you’d tackle it? If it’s a bigger small space, such as a pantry, try breaking it down shelf by shelf or category by category (baking, spices, snacks).
P.S. Special recognition to anyone who can identify the exception to rule #3 in my drawer!
Do you know this woman?
Laboring to keep this ball of possessions aloft...nearly crushed by the weight of her stuff...dragging even more behind her. Could this be you?!
Last weekend, while in Manchester, NH, for my daughter's robotics tournament, I took some time in the middle of the day to visit the Currier Museum of Art.
When I walked through the glass doors into their special exhibit by artist Ethan Murrow, I gasped and stoped in my tracks. In front of me, larger than life, was this incredible, mural sized Sharpie drawing.
"That's how my clients feel before they call me,"
I said to my husband.
They feel overwhelmed, overloaded with stuff (physical things, paperwork, digital stuff, or even memories), and they just don't know where to begin unraveling it. When we feel that way, it can seem as if we're hauling the full weight our possessions on our shoulders, and even then we can't fit it all and have to drag the rest behind us!
Does the poor woman get any help? The child looks less like he's trying to prop up the ball of stuff and more like he's just trying to avoid having it fall on him. The full burden is on her!
And yet, there's beauty in this work of art. I admire the exquisite detail in the variety of items, the flowing quality of the Sharpie-drawn lines, and the woman's strong, even elegant, pose.
We can find beauty in confronting our possessions. Do we need to labor under such a heavy burden? No! We can enlist the help of our family (That child is definitely old enough to help!), our friends, and professional organizers (This is what we love to do!). Take a look at that ball of things and discover the legacy of your life that it contains.
We can begin, piece by piece, to untangle the blob of accumulated possessions.
Here's a fun idea to help you part with some of your excess stuff:
a good old-fashioned swap.
The general idea is that you get together with a bunch of friends and/or neighbors and everyone brings things they don't want anymore but that are in good, usable condition. Then you all go "shopping" for each other's stuff!.
You can host your own -- make it a party! -- or sign up for the August 18th event at East Providence's wonderful Fuller Creative Learning Center.
If you decide to host a swap party, you can do it indoors or out, setting up tables or picnic blankets to display the wares.
It can be a pure swap ("I'll give you this coat for two of your books.") or you can assign items a value or rating. Give each item a star rating and trade based on how many stars items "cost." For example, you could trade three one-star items for one 3-star piece.
Your goal should be to end up going home with less than you brought, so choose to swap for smaller items or swap multiple items for one of something else.
At the end of the swap, offer to load up your car and drive ALL the leftovers to a donation center. Bring items to the closest one (Search for "donation center near me.") or your favorite charity.
Whatever you do, don't let that stuff back into your house! If you already decided you were ready to part with it, trust your instincts and stick with your decision.
Many of you may know Gretchen Rubin who gave a “bonus keynote” address at the conference. She has some interesting ideas about personality types, but my favorite takeaway from her talk was about how we can declutter our clothes.
If you have trouble deciding whether or not to keep an article of clothing, see if it passes the “Ex-Factor” test. Imagine you are wearing that faded, tattered sweatshirt and you run into your ex. Would you be happy to be wearing that?
Gretchen’s other insight about paring down clothes is that she noticed that people actually feel they have more to wear after getting rid of excess clothes. It sounds counterintuitive, but I experience this with my clients all the time. Once you weed out the excess, you feel more satisfied with what you have and experience a feeling of increased abundance.