I love a hot mess of a closet. Well, not the hot mess itself, but I do love taking on a hot mess of a closet. Once, when my sister was moving, I tackled her closet with particular zeal. In the midst of making my sister whittle her coat pile down to 15 and her flip flop collection down to 10, she quit talking to me. For me, those numbers felt generous. My sister, however, only forgave me when it came time to move her possessions into her new closet, and she saw that the pruning we had painfully gone through had made it so much easier.
Perhaps because it so powerfully symbolizes shedding the old and beginning anew, a new year always entices me to work my way through our house, room by room, to purge and organize items.
Have you been hoarding cardigans, dishes, and pantry goods for years and now are wondering what to do with the overflowing result? Are you ready to tackle the excess so you can revel in the flow and free time that having less clutter creates? Then here is my primer for tackling excess at home while embracing organization.
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Survey the scene and set a schedule. Look around your home and honestly assess what needs to be done in terms of organization. Write a list of the areas you want to tackle and then schedule when you want to tackle each project. For me, I find it easier and more satisfying to take on a project a day if I have a string of days off from work or one a weekend if I am working on it during my free time.
Have a system. For every space, you will likely sort your possessions into these categories: Keep, Fix Then Keep, Donate, Give Away (this pile is for items that you want to give to a specific person. For example, when cleaning out your daughter’s closet, you might have clothes earmarked for your niece), or Trash. Have boxes or bins ready for the fix, donate, give away, and trash piles to help you quickly make a decision and keep moving through the space.
Consider how you want the space to be laid out when you are done. For example, I organize clothing by the type of item it is. Long sleeve shirts are together as are pants. I also organize items by color. You might organize your clothing by type or even by occasion (work clothes vs. casual clothes). Know what will work for you before you start the sort so you can directly move things into the right space as you work.
Begin by quickly going through everything. Give each item a space in the keep, fix (or tailor if it’s clothing), donate, give away, and trash piles. If you are hung up on indecision, put the item aside and keep going. Return to all the items that you set aside at the end, when you have a different perspective after going through everything.
Bring in an unemotional party. If you are working on an area where you really have a hard time giving something up, even if you might need to, invite a friend over who can be more objective.
Ask yourself the delight question. If you are on the fence about an item and whether or not you should keep it, consider whether or not it still delights you. Don’t hold onto something because it delighted you 30 years ago. Hold onto something because it still brings you that rush of good feelings today. That goes for knick-knacks, gifts, and clothes.
Set up your space. After everything has been sorted, take the time to set up the space in a way that really works for how you are going to use it. My pantry, for example, is divided up by food types so I quickly grab what I need. When the space really compliments how you use it, it is easier to maintain it in that condition.
Educate others. If you have set up a space or system that will be commonly used by other family members, tell them how you want them to use it. For example, one family member might come up with a system for how to tackle the mail but that systems fails if several family members collect the mail and don’t follow the system.
Practice one in, one out. My fundamental rule of thumb—especially with clothes and shoes but this can also be true for toys, books, movies, cds, and other things we tend to hoard—is that if I want to bring anything into the house, at least one item in that category has to leave the house. So new shoes mean I have to find some clothing article to give up.
Enjoy the fruits of your labor! Not to mention the peace of mind and free time.