Clearing out the clutter

As the new year begins, resolve to put your messy ways in the past

December 29, 2007|By Donna Birch | Donna Birch,McClatchy-Tribune

For Stephany Smith Gonser, being organized has been a way of life ever since she was a kid, and she has the proof to back it up.

"We have home movies of me at Christmas folding wrapping paper as we opened gifts," Gonser said.

Because she grew up in a cluttered household, Gonser said she developed the habit of putting things in their place early on.

What started as a means to keep her things organized eventually turned into a business. Ten years ago, she founded Work Simplified in Modesto, Calif., offering her expertise to homeowners, apartment dwellers, businesses, estate planners and others looking to bring order to their surroundings.

The end of the holiday season and start of the new year is often the time when people think about cutting the clutter from their lives. In fact, the National Association of Professional Organizers has designated January as Get Organized Month for the past four years.

But sometimes, people's quest for organization actually contributes to their problem. "I've walked into places where the piles of clutter were organizing [products]," Gonser said. "People rushed out and bought stuff without knowing what they really needed."

Another problem that can deflate a person's commitment to getting organized is unrealistic expectations.

"If you've lived in your house for eight years, you can't expect to organize your whole house in eight hours," Gonser said.

She recalled one job two years ago, when a client needed to move out of the home she had lived in for decades and into a residential care facility.

"I don't think she had ever thrown anything away," Gonser said. "There were [storage] baskets of all sorts and shapes that had filled up her living room. But she didn't have a system and didn't know what to do. She had 40 years' worth of stuff. I was opening mail from the 1960s."

It took four organizers working two to three days a week for six months to complete the job.

Closets, the garage and workshops tend to get overwhelmed with copious amounts of stuff, said home-improvement expert and HGTV personality Pat Simpson.

"It's just so easy to throw things in there and then just leave it," he said.

Children's rooms - with their toys, clothes and school papers - can be chaotic, too. The problem is that people continue to amass things while hanging on to items they have.

"In our time and culture, we have too much stuff," Gonser said. "We buy, buy, buy. And we have so much more space now than our ancestors, who maybe lived in a 300-square-foot cabin. So we keep filling up our spaces."

The key to successful organizing isn't just about cleaning up a mess but maintaining order once you've done the initial purge. Gonser compares getting organized to taking care of your teeth: You go to the dentist every six months for a cleaning, but you've got to floss every day between those appointments.

"As an organizer, I can come in and set up a system for someone," she said, "but what I can't do is come over every day and maintain it."

Getting started

Those who are serious about getting organized should come at the task with a plan. The first step should be to sort through the clutter to determine what stays and what goes.

You'll need boxes or containers to use for sorting. Gonser recommends dividing the boxes into these categories: trash, donate, keep and relocate. The relocate box is for items that belong in another room.

"That will help you keep focused," she said. "If you keep stopping to move something to another room, then you end up getting nothing done. I've had to bar the door to keep people from leaving a room to put items away someplace else."

After everything is sorted into the proper box, deal with the trash and donations. Dump the trash box and arrange for donated items to be picked up or dropped off right away.

Next, survey the items you plan to keep. Knowing what will stay will help determine the type of storage container or furniture needed. When shopping for containers, look for units that are clear and stackable.

If you're thinking of installing a closet system, you can either hire a company or do it yourself.

Companies that sell closet systems have a representative come out to measure the closet space and determine the best configuration for your needs. Expect to pay about $100 to $200 per linear foot.

"Sometimes, people are shocked to hear that a system for a 6-foot closet can be as much as $600," she said.

But the benefit is a well-designed and properly installed space that can add to your home's value.

For those who want to do it themselves, warehouse stores including Home Depot and Lowe's offer an assortment of systems, from solid components to wire shelving. In January, Home Depot stores will offer weekend clinics on organizing closet space and systems.

Ready to clear your space of clutter? Here are some helpful tips from organizer Stephany Smith Gonser, HGTV's Pat Simpson and the National Association of Professional Organizers:

Child's room

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