We live in a cluttered age. Despite our best efforts and intentions, we continue to pile up more stuff than space to hold it.
Does this new year finally mean a clean slate? Or are you doomed to more lost keys, misplaced receipts and impossibly messy countertops?
“Get organized” annually ranks among the nation’s most popular resolutions (right behind “lose weight”). More products exist today than ever before to help us reach that goal. But our personal transformation to efficient neatnik always comes down to how we rein in our own disorderly tendencies.
“People are getting more technologically organized,” observed author Deniece Schofield, a longtime home management expert. “Like they say, there’s an app for that. But as far as procrastination, setting things down and forgetting them, creating complex systems that are impossible to maintain or just making the same messes over and over - we’re dealing with human nature. People will still be people.”
Especially people with too much stuff.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Sacramento, Calif., professional organizer Gwynnae Byrd. “That’s the phrase I hear over and over again. And it can be overwhelming. You look at all that stuff and don’t know where to start.”
It’s overwhelming. That’s the phrase I hear over and over again. And it can be overwhelming. You look at all that stuff and don’t know where to start.
Professional organizer Gwynnae Byrd
“I was an only child,” she explained. “When Mom passed, she was kind of a pack rat, and it was left to me to sort it all out. I thought, ‘If only there was someone to help me!’ It’s a very common dilemma. The best gift you can give your children is to have your affairs in order, not only legally but your stuff.
“I went into law to help people,” she added. “Now, I’m helping people on a much more personal level.”
Like a journey, a more organized life starts with one step.
“You’ve just got to start,” Byrd said. “There is no one right way to organize or perfect storage system for every person. You pick a spot and start. It’s just getting over that initial hump. Do a little at a time. If you start to see results, you stay motivated. It’s like losing 10 pounds; it doesn’t disappear overnight. Neither does the clutter. But you’ve got to start somewhere.”
The biggest roadblocks come from “deferred decisions,” Byrd said. “You need to make decisions on whether to keep something. Often, people can’t decide, so they just keep it. I’ve had clients pick things up while sorting stuff and put it right back down again in another pile. Getting organized is about changing habits. Ideally, you need to make a decision at the time that item comes into your house.”
That starts with little everyday decisions, she said. For example, mail can pile up quickly. Instead, sort it over the recycling bin as soon as you bring it inside. At the point of purchase, decide if you really need a printed receipt (usually the answer is “no”), otherwise little slips of paper may stuff your pockets or purse. When traveling, know exactly where you’ll display a souvenir before you add it to your dust-catching clutter.
Schofield has been helping people declutter nationwide for decades. Nicknamed “America’s most organized woman,” she’s written five books on this popular topic and now tours the country, offering her advice.
Getting organized can feel painful because people invest so much emotion in their possessions, big or small, she said. That includes items that weren’t originally their stuff, but were passed down from other family members or friends.
“We have this emotional attachment to stuff,” Schofield said. “Taking care of it can be emotionally draining, too. We have to constantly remind ourselves, ‘This object is not my mother, it’s not my grandmother – it’s just stuff!’ We have to give ourselves permission to let go.”
We have to constantly remind ourselves, ‘This object is not my mother, it’s not my grandmother – it’s just stuff!’ We have to give ourselves permission to let go.
Author Deniece Schofield
Schofield also recommends breaking down the task into small steps. “Do it piecemeal,” she said. “Put blinders on and just focus, one drawer at a time.”
The key to staying organized is finding space for the stuff you keep.
“Everything should have a place,” she said. “And don’t bring anything else into your house unless you know exactly where it’s going to go.”
No space for extra storage? Think again.
“There are four ways to store things: Hang it up, on the floor (under furniture), in a drawer or on a shelf,” she said. “You can find alternatives, and there are so many options now with multifunctional containers. But make sure to measure your closets and storage space before you buy or those containers and boxes may not fit.”
See-through drawers that can be easily pulled out are Schofield’s favorite option. They provide quick access as well as visibility. Labeling is important, too. It designates a place for stuff and helps build the new habit of putting things back where they belong.
There are other benefits besides a tidy home, she added. Organization frees time and builds a sense of well-being.
“Stuff can get in the way of our relationships and responsibilities,” Schofield said. “You have to be brutal with yourself. We use the ‘delete’ key all the time on our electronic devices. Use it with stuff, too.”