New year in, clutter out

The Baltimore Sun

It's almost time to once again ring in the new year, and one of the most popular ways to acknowledge the turn of the calendar is by making a resolution.

Getting organized often tops the list of new year's promises. And while many resolutions fall to the wayside by late January, experts say it doesn't have to be that way. With a few simple strategies, a resolution for organizing your home can, indeed, be kept.

Professional organizers say the key is to start small, and the benefits will more than outweigh the effort.

"When I look at what people are trying to accomplish in one day, it's unrealistic," said Standolyn Robertson, a Boston-area professional organizer and the president of the National Association of Professional Organizers. "Be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack."

One of the biggest mistakes people make is buying storage bins first. So, instead of letting the newly bought bins dictate how things will be organized, think of it the other way around.

"You don't buy plastic bins to get organized. You get organized, and if you happen to need plastic bins, then by all means buy some," said Robertson.

NAPO designates January as its annual Get Organized Month, to promote the idea that ousting clutter cannot only free up valuable time but can also save money.

In a November survey conducted by NAPO, 65 percent of respondents noted that their household was at least moderately disorganized. Ninety-six percent of respondents said they would save time every day if only they were better organized. And 30 percent of those surveyed believed they could save at least 30 minutes each day by being more organized at home.

But the organizers' group cautions that organization is a continuing process, and that maintaining organizational systems is as important as setting them up.

"Start today. Don't put it off," said Nadine Sachs, who runs a Baltimore-based company called Organized2Succeed and who serves as vice president of the Maryland Association of Professional Organizers.

She believes people often fall short when it comes to organizing a home for a variety of reasons. They often fail to dedicate enough time for the task at hand. Others find they are so overwhelmed they don't know where to begin. And some just have too much stuff and not enough storage.

"It's really important to set aside a specific day and specific time and know that's what you'll be focusing on," said Sachs. "Start with one shelf and go from there."

Some of her favorite organizing products include shelf helpers that gain extra shelf space in kitchens and bathrooms; expanding step shelves for spices and canned goods; over-the-door pocket organizers for shoes, toys and small clothing items; and containers with wheels for under-the-bed storage.

The question of where to start is personal, say experts. For some people, having their bedroom as a neat, organized sanctuary in which to begin and end the day is paramount. Others prefer to focus on the daily intake of paper and mail that throws their house into disarray. Common areas and high-traffic spots where daily-use items such as backpacks, shoes, mail and other clutter accumulate are other top choices.

"As a general rule, I always say start with the area or room that bothers you the most," says Jacquie Ross, a professional organizer and owner of a Baltimore-based company called CastAway the Clutter.

The endless stream of paper that comes into a house on a daily basis is often a high priority on the home-organization list, says Ross, who is working with NAPO members in the Baltimore area to help organize a local chapter, expected to be up and running by mid-January.

She recommends setting up a "command center" area to manage those items. In general, the kitchen, which tends to be the hub of the home, is a good spot for this space.

"You want it to be somewhere you can easily access, but you don't want it so hidden you forget about it," says Ross, who suggests converting a kitchen cabinet as a catch-all for daily-use items usually works well.

Keeping too much of the paper - particularly children's schoolwork and artwork - is often a problem. You can't keep everything, she says, so she suggests picking favorites and getting rid of the rest. Same with magazines. Ross advises that you create a binder for things you want to keep and recycle the rest.

You can learn to control your clutter in 2009, says Nina Restieri, an organizational expert and founder of momAgenda, a company that sells products that help mothers and others organize their day. Restieri advises that you do a little bit each day to stay on top of organizing so that projects don't become overwhelming.

Setting a schedule with categories like "every day," "every week," "every month," "every season" and "every year" can offer easy reminders for chores like washing windows or getting the carpets cleaned.

"By the end of December, I feel like I am drowning in 'stuff,' Restieri said by e-mail. "The new year is a time when it feels very important to get organized, if only because we are trying to rid ourselves of the chaos of the holiday season."

creating a more orderly house

* Resolve to start off small. Cleaning up the junk drawer seems like a reasonable task.

* Resolve to deal with mail, children's school papers and important documents. Set up a paper-flow and filing system to manage incoming papers. A transitional spot - possibly located in the kitchen - can serve as a "command center," keeping important papers within easy reach and keeping the clutter controlled.

* Resolve to sort, purge and donate any items you don't use. Those you must keep should be labeled and stored away, using clear storage bins or a color-coded storage system.

* Resolve to find storage space. Use the backs of doors and space under beds, or install shelves, hooks and pegboards.

* Resolve to use the garage. It's a great spot to store seasonal items and outdoor equipment. Get things off the floor and go vertical when it comes to finding space here.

* Resolve to finally organize your photographs. Start with the newest photos and work backward. If sorting photos into albums seems too daunting, get archival, acid-free photo-storage boxes and put your pictures in them.

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