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Ways to conquer chaos and clutter

March 29, 2014
photo - Woman standing in overflowing laundry room
Woman standing in overflowing laundry room 

etting rid of your stuff is like shedding extra weight. It takes work, commitment and ongoing maintenance, but once you've seen the results, professional organizers say you'll want to make the new lifestyle permanent.

Of course, exercising is hard and so is exorcising your inner hoarder.

There are many reasons why our homes, garages and offices are disorganized and cluttered with excess clothes, papers, books, gadgets, furniture and even what appears to be trash.

Some things have sentimental meaning. Others were irresistible bargains. And many items seem absolutely necessary.

Whatever the reason, clutter can get out of hand.

"At some point, it starts to take control, rather than you being in charge," said Eve Sckolnik, owner of Organized by Eve, "and then everything feels out of control."

Sckolnik prefers to not focus on the "why" but the "when."

"I ask clients: 'When do you think you'll use that pile of wood to build that doghouse?'" Sckolnik said. "Or: 'When are you going to use that fabric to make a quilt?' when they haven't done any quilting in 10 years."

Cari Pemberton, owner of The Clutter Cutters in Colorado Springs, also helps people conquer chaos using organizational strategies.

"We think we put something down 'just for now' - the three dirtiest words in decluttering - and we end up with a situation that chokes us," Pemberton said.

A messy closet or room can weigh heavily on a person's heart and mind, Pemberton said.

"It zaps our energy and clouds our activities."

Conversely, she says, decluttering not only frees up space and revives the spirit but also leads to the ultimate goal: "Time to do what matters most in life."

Because if you've ever tallied up how long you've spent searching for lost keys or a favorite blouse that's gone missing, or how much money you've spent buying duplicate items, you know that disarray can be costly in more than one way.

A season of renewal

Organizational dieting doesn't have to be as overwhelming and daunting. Start with the room or area that's driving you the craziest, Pemberton suggests, and work until you finish tidying it.

Spring is a season of renewal and it lends itself to cleaning closets to make way for a lighter wardrobe or organizing the garage to find gardening tools and other items for outdoor projects, Sckolnik says.

And it's important to have the right tools, Pemberton says. For example, use dark plastic bags, not clear ones, so you won't second-guess your decision of what to get rid of and what to keep.

It's also good to establish realistic and achievable goals, Sckolnik advises.

"Start with something really simple and doable," she said, such as opening a garage door and digging in. "Then, pull the trash can out. Then get a box for donations. Then work on one shelf or one corner - because you know you can do those things. Eventually, you'll get the whole garage clean."

Another strategy, Pemberton says, is to begin at the door of one room and work clockwise.

"Remove everything that doesn't belong and put it in a basket to sort later," she said.

Involve the family, Pemberton said, and make it fun for children by offering an incentive, such as a bicycle ride or card game afterward.

"There's a need to teach our kids how to intentionally organize and maintain their spaces," Pemberton said.

Have children purge old candy, baby toys or clothes they've outgrown, she suggests.

Every little bit helps

Just spending 10 minutes a week or the two minutes during television commercials can make a big difference, Pemberton said.

"We do the seven-minute sprint - we set the timer for seven minutes and everyone in the house puts away everything they can in seven minutes," she said.

If you're uncertain about clothes, ask a friend's advice on an outfit, Pemberton recommends.

Or if you're nostalgic about an article of clothing or a collectible, take a picture of it or repurpose it. You can frame a piece of the fabric for a wall hanging or make a potholder, for instance.

When decluttering, Sckolnik suggests creating three piles: "keep," "toss" and "maybe."

But just because something is old doesn't mean it should be discarded.

"If you use that thing, whether it's your rattiest running suit or your favorite coffee mug, you get to keep it," Sckolnik said. "If it's a brand new item with the price tag on it but you haven't worn it in two years, you probably aren't ever going to wear it."

Don't forget, Pemberton said, to make time at the end of the day to haul away whatever you've decided deserves a second life. Otherwise, you'll just have created more piles of junk.

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