Entries in household clutter (2)


Out of Control Clothes

I frequently walk into homes with tons of clothes only to have a client tell me that “well, I just need to get these organized.” It is true enough that an organizational system is needed, but we’re all living with finite space limitations. Most of the time, the answer isn’t a bigger space or a clever system of boxes or shelves, tempting as those may be. The answer is the hardest one -- sorting and prioritizing.

It may be time to take a hard look at your closet. 

True story. I was working with a single mom one day. It was early in the winter, so it was starting to be serious coat weather. As there was no coat closet near the entry, there was a large wardrobe in the living room which functioned as the coat closet, holding the coats, hats, gloves, sports equipment, etc. for this family of three. After we reconfigured much of that living space, I suggested we tackle the contents of the wardrobe.

“Oh, we don’t have to do that,” she said.

I persisted. “Let’s just take a quick look in there.” 

She was game. We quickly discovered that it was so jammed full (coats, hats, boots, scarves, athletic equipment, sneakers, too many hangers) that nobody could get anything in there. Thus, the coats and jackets in current rotation were tossed on furniture (or the floor) in the living room and dining room. Athletic equipment was likewise strewn throughout the living room, dining room and kitchen.

We ended up getting rid of about two-thirds of the contents of that wardrobe. Some went to a consignment shop and some things were donated. A few things were in such a bad state that we tossed them. There were multiple coats and pairs of shoes that her kids had long outgrown. There were coats in there which she no longer liked and didn’t even remember having. The upside was that we also unearthed a few favorite pieces she had forgotten -- it was almost like getting new stuff!

When we were done, there was room in the wardrobe. We had designated a shelf for things like yoga mats, athletic gear, and so on. Every member of the family had a nook for their hats and gloves. No more coats hanging on chairs and no more gloves lost because they were absent-mindedly tossed on the kitchen table.

I learned two things from that experience. The first was that just one closet (in this case a wardrobe) can create an entire room's worth of mess. It's fair to say that at least one-half of the mess in the living room was caused by the over-stuffed wardrobe. When we fixed that it became much easier for her and her kids to put things away. Thus, the living room looked fairly tidy, pretty much all the time.

The second thing I learned was that I have to just go with my client sometimes. In this case, I had a client who was game to give it a go when I suggested it. And she was able and willing to let go of things she no longer needed, wanted or used.

With the living room tidy and manageable, she was thrilled and her kids were happy. If you have a problem with clothes in your home, your closets (or dressers or wardrobes) may be the source of the problem. Don't be afraid to get in there and tackle them. 


Drowning in Paper, Part 1

Every home  I am called into requires creativity, patience and a bit of quick thinking on my part, but one thing I know I will come across in the majority of homes is out of control paperwork. I run into mounds and mounds of papers everywhere -- stacked on top of the refrigerator, tucked alongside the television, piled high on the kitchen table, hanging in grocery bags from door knobs, scattered across the living room sofa, tucked into dresser drawers and laying on every available surface. The papers I come across are all kinds and they’re often all piled together -- junk mail, old financial papers, christmas cards, bills, bank statement, grocery receipts, restaurant receipts, medical bills, coupons, school papers, recipes, magazines (often magazines with organizing tips) and just about anything you can imagine. 

Most of my clients keep all of their papers for fear of losing one which may be important. Ironically, with paper everywhere, it is impossible to locate the one they may want or need.

And if you don’t know where your important papers are, you might as well not have them at all, right?

If you can relate to at least some of that, you have certainly been in a situation where you needed a specific paper but couldn’t find it. Anxiety builds exponentially for every second spent rifling through the various papers in your home. It’s a terrible feeling. And while filing may seem dull, what it does is eliminate anxiety on the back end. No more hunting for your auto insurance policy, or your passport, or that very important tax document. Filing is not about putting things away, so much as it is about retrieval. At the end of the day, it is about eliminating unnecessary anxiety.

But before I tackle the stacks that may exist in your home already, I want to talk about new paperwork, that is, the paperwork you bring into your home on a daily basis. After you develop new habits for the new papers, you can then start to tackle some of the pre-existing stuff.

-- Junk Mail.  Bring your mail into your home and head straight for the trash can or recycling bin. Toss all the junk mail immediately. Keep the rest. Do this every day. Make it your pattern and I guarantee you will start to notice a difference in the mess in your home.

-- Receipts.  If you are not self-employed, you don’t need 99% of the receipts I find in homes. I constantly come across receipts from Starbucks, Walgreens, Giant Eagle, Target and Applebees, to name just a few. Not self-employed? You can’t write off that dinner; thus you don’t need the receipt. Toss it. Burn it. Torch it. Line your cat’s litter with it because you don’t need it. And you never will. [If you are considering returning something -- say a new pair of jeans -- keep the receipt with them. Once you remove the tags and wear them, you can’t return them, so you can get rid of the receipt right away.]

-- Bank Statements. If you are reading this post, you are on-line. At least consider going paperless. Instruct your bank to email your statements to you monthly. You can check them on the computer and you don’t have to worry about the papers building up. Plus, you don’t have to worry about how to dispose of papers with important account information, something that is a major stumbling block for many.

The above tips are simply geared to eliminating papers and I know you’re asking, ‘Okay, smarty-pants, what about the papers I do need?’ Fair enough.

After you toss the junk mail and after you dispose of your unnecessary receipts, you are still bringing paperwork into the house, probably daily. The papers you may need or want to keep fall into two really basic categories -- financial and personal.

You’ll need two boxes. You can get decorative bins made of canvas or wood or anything you like, but if you need something fast and cheap, use a cardboard box. [For this purpose, I often use cardboard bankers boxes, which can be purchased at any office supply store.] Dedicate one box for personal papers and one for financial.

-- Christmas cards, birthday cards, magazines, catalogs, recipes, etc. are dropped into the personal box. If you have kids, you may want to put their school paperwork here, as well as any drawings and paintings they bring home for you.

-- Then all of your household bills, car papers, insurance policies and forms, investment and 401k statements, medical bills and so on can be placed in the financial box.

This is a really basic first step using two very broad, simple categories. I’ve suggested these as a deliberately simple starting place, a place where you begin to have an idea of where things are if you need them. Once you get in this routine, you can think about fine-tuning your system, creating sub-systems (perhaps a box dedicated just to the kids, or one dedicated to auto papers, you get the idea.) As with anything, new habits are made in tiny, incremental steps.

If you’re already drowning in papers (as described above), these tips should help you keep those piles from growing, which is a huge step. First, we have to arrest the development of the overwhelming paper:  next time, I’ll tackle what to do with the paper which is already there.