If you're tired of clutter, get organized

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September 09, 2006|By Claire Whitcomb | Claire Whitcomb,Universal Press Syndicate

You're lucky if you have the Zenlike ability to live with less. But if you're struggling to find peace and calm amid junk mail, children's backpacks and gadgets that commandeer shelf and counter space, then you'll need all the support you can get.

Clutter is the bugaboo of modern life. Every time a birthday arrives or technology changes, new possessions arrive at your home, forcing the issue of where they should go.

Fortunately, solutions abound in two new books: Organize It! by Mervyn Kaufman (Filipacchi, $18.95) and The Well-Organized Home by British design writer and stylist Judith Wilson (Ryland Peters & Small, $27.50). Here are their best tips.

Go on clutter patrol. Walk through your house as if you were a stranger, Kaufman says. Enter where your guests enter - the front hall, the kitchen.

Then regard your possessions with a dispassionate eye. Forget that Aunt Clara gave you that floor lamp. Earmark everything that isn't used or doesn't enhance the style of your house. Send it up to the attic or off to eBay.

Identify clutter hot spots. There's a reason why bills tend to languish on the kitchen table, and toys lie scattered on the living room floor. Your house has a lack of storage - or storage that's awkward to use, Wilson says.

In the kitchen, add a basket or a shelf for "in use" papers. In the living room, devote a cupboard to children's games, workout equipment or whatever typically gets left on the rug.

Seek out dead zones. Maybe your house has a landing with enough space for a storage bench. Or perhaps your hallway has room for narrow shelves that can hold collectibles. Look around for dead zones and tap them for storage.

Know your chaos quotient. If you like rooms with a lived-in quality, "plan for casual, easy-access shelves and hooks," Wilson says. But if visual serenity is your goal, keep the detritus of daily life - like running shoes - behind closed doors.

Go on a rotation diet. Instead of having everything you own out all the time, change your art and collectibles seasonally. If you build a narrow ledge over your sofa, you can display framed pictures by leaning them against the wall.

Be strategically neat. What do you really want organized - pots, compact discs, linens? "It's amazing how a customized shoe rack or neatly planned library can truly improve the quality of daily life," Wilson says.

Eliminate night-table clutter. Mount lighting on the wall behind your bed and skip bedside lamps, Kaufman says. Choose night tables that have cupboards or drawers so you can stow books, prescriptions and tissue boxes out of sight.

Camouflage storage. To make cupboards disappear, paint them the same color as your walls. If you're choosing wood or veneer, ask to see a large sample. "Highly decorative grain can look very dominant," Wilson says.

Go floor to ceiling. Create an architectural wall of open shelves, Kaufman says. Feel free to hang paintings in front of your books or place sofas and chairs next to the shelves that hold items you don't need to reach every day.

Plan for easy cleanup. "Even the best of us need to conceal mess in a hurry sometimes," Wilson says. She advises quick-stash storage: an ottoman with hidden space inside, a basket tucked beneath a side table, or a coffee table with a shelf or drawer underneath.

One in, one out. Once you've taken all the above actions, keep in mind that you'll have to do them again if you aren't ruthless about what you acquire. If you obtain something new, get rid of something.

But the rewards of living with less can't be underestimated. A well-ordered house "goes a long way to encouraging relaxed living," Wilson says. "If the entire household knows where to find key items - and, by definition, where to put them away - a home runs on well-oiled wheels."

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