After the holidays: Clearing clutter for good


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If your home is feeling stuffed after the holidays, it’s time to take stock, trim down and whip it into shape.

“Like working on personal fitness goals, getting your home organized seems to be on most persons’ lists for New Year’s resolutions,” says Ginny Snook Scott, chief design officer and vice president of sales and marketing for California Closets (, based in Berkeley, Calif. “Disorganization is directly correlated to stress, while an organized space can lead to a sense of calm.”

The easiest way to create a Zen-like zone at home is to simply have a place for everything, and then keep everything in its place. But that can be easier said than done.

Scott says the majority of people seeking organizational assistance from professionals need help tidying bedroom closets and kitchen pantries. “Often, the parts of our homes that become the most disorganized are the places where many people use the space,” she says. “Or people will just throw things into a closet and quickly close the door.”

But not even an organizational guru can perform magic on a monumental mix-up without first clearing away the clutter. “The cleaning-out phase is one that can cause people the most anxiety,” Scott says. “Some people have difficulty starting the process of clearing out, so they can never move into the organizational phase.”

Scott says to start by straightening a small space. “Pick a single task for organizing — the hall closet, pantry or linen closet — which can be accomplished in three hours or less,” Scott says. “After you have success organizing a smaller space, you have a head of steam to accomplish the looming larger tasks, such as the master bedroom closet or garage.”

Any organizational task must begin from the ground up. Get everything off the floor and, as you start to go through items, place them into one of four piles: keep, repair, discard or donate.

•  Keep: The keep pile should be filled with items you will use. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to live with everything you keep. “Many people are sentimentalists, and don’t want to get rid of everything,” Scott says. “You don’t have to be so quick to throw things away, but you shouldn’t have to move your child’s art project every time you’re looking for a shirt in the closet.” Instead, Scott says, pack and move special sentimental items into a closet’s extra-high storage space or into the attic.

•  Repair: The repair pile actually takes stock of items that no longer work. A broken chair that needs to be fixed might need to be discarded or donated, while one of your favorite shirts that’s missing a button is a simple repair.

•  Donation: The donation pile will have items you’ve outgrown, which includes everything from clothing and sporting equipment to dishware and decor items. Chances are, if you haven’t used an item in two years, or had forgotten about it entirely, it’s time to purge it.

•  Discard: The discard pile includes items that are broken, but can also include well-worn items that used to mean something to you.

“If you’re having a hard time figuring out what to keep, place those items into a suitcase and store them away,” Scott says. “If you haven’t thought about those items in three months, it’s time to get rid of them.”

After culling through items in a space you want to organize, you can employ professionals, such as a local California Closets franchise, to dissect the disorganization. But be prepared to spend at least $500 for organizational services, with some projects costing thousands of dollars if customized built-in shelving and drawers are part of a revamped repository.

After clearing the clutter, Scott says there are three steps to organizing any storage space:

• Categorize larger similar items by hanging or shelving “like” items together. Drawers and cubbies are also useful during this first step of organizing.

• Containerize smaller items by placing them in baskets or see-through plastic cartons with lids. Then place these in the appropriate shelving unit, drawer or cubbie space.

• Personalize by labeling shelves, containers, cubbies or drawers with their contents. This is especially helpful in a shared space, so people know where to place an item after it’s been used.

Make sure to shed light on the task at hand when reorganizing a space by installing overhead track lighting or task illumination with lamps or wall sconces.

“Dark closets minimize what you can see,” Scott says. “And if you can’t see where items go, there’s a likelihood the space can go from organized to disorganized very quickly.”

Creating clutter-free areas are common sense when it comes to placement of items in a space. “The items you use most should be at eye-level and easiest to access,” Scott says. “Also, look for lost storage space — underneath a staircase or a nook in the entryway — as places to keep everyday items stowed and in tow.”

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