Organizational skills come naturally to Katherine Lawrence, certified professional organizer for Space Matters in Richmond.
“I did have a very organized sticker collection as a kid and I was the only college student with a filing system,” she says.
Lawrence is also very sentimental. She keeps old t-shirts, vacation brochures and souvenir glasses. “One day I decided it was just too much and I could no longer keep it all organized and have a functional, peaceful space,” she says. “I started de-cluttering and created a new profession [for myself].”
Each January as the calendar flips to the New Year, families resolve to have less clutter in their lives. They make plans to become more organized, to keep everything straight. Their intentions are good but, in many cases, their focus on de-cluttering and organizing begins to wane after a few weeks.
Lawrence believes one reason families have trouble being organized and clutter-free is the emotional power they give to their stuff. “If you let go of something with sentimental value, it does not change how you feel about that person,” she says. “For example, if your child draws a picture and writes ‘I love you mommy’ in the corner, there is no less love if the picture is thrown out in a month to make way for something else.”
Mindy Godding, one of the owners of Abundance Organizing in Richmond, agrees with Lawrence that parents tend to save items for their emotional importance rather than their practical use. “Emotions and time are the two biggest factors impeding organization,” she says.“When parents are viewing items belonging to their children, there can be high sentimental attachment. They represent memories.”
Godding suggests to her clients that they keep one item that represents a time in their child’s life and toss the rest Of the items they have been holding on to. “It makes the items they save more important,” she says.
She advises parents to select a particular spot to house the school projects their children bring home. At the end of the nine weeks, sit with your child and make decisions about what to keep and what to toss. “One of the biggest mistakes parents make is not involving their children in the organizing process. It’s a great learning tool,” Godding says.“Kids are good at recognizing what they have outgrown and what clothes they don’t need.”
She believes that disorganization mirrors a person’s life at the moment. “Whatever is going on is reflected in your space,” Godding says. “If you are always running around, there is more chance for clutter.”
Godding would like to see all families using a calendar as an organizing tool. “It’s about managing a project, carving out the right amount of time for projects,” she explains. “I recommend that clients treat organizing tasks and routines like they would other appointments. We always have a tendency to prioritize what’s going on in the outside world before we do our space.”
Build in seasonal routines. For example, work on making decisions about clothing when the seasons change.“Make decisions about what no longer fits properly and what is damaged,” Godding says. “Get rid of those items to make room for new items.”
In addition to closets, kitchens, dining rooms and home Offices can become organizing disasters. “It’s anywhere that paper lands,” Lawrence says, adding that she hears the question, “Do I need to keep this?” all the time. “In the information age you have access to so many documents online or you can store documents electronically.I encourage folks to not keep years and years of utility bills [for example].”
One thing that Lawrence suggests is to not keep things “just in case” unless the item costs over $100 to replace. “By the time you may need it, you will be unable to find it in a cluttered home,” she says. “Less stuff equals less to organize.”
Steve Dash, owner of Method ORG and the father of three, helps customers create a space that is designed around their organizing needs. Two of the most frequent areas that he addresses are closets and garages. “People tend to use a garage as a dumping ground – out of sight, out of mind,” he says. “It’s easy to zone off the garage and get like items in certain areas.”
Items that are used frequently should be accessible. For example, bikes should be stored in an organized manner on the ground and garden tools should be stored close to the front of the garage. “People are starting to recognize that the garage is the largest under-utilized space in the house,” Dash says, noting that it can be used like a basement for family activities if it is clean and uncluttered.
When it comes to closets, Dash suggests putting like colors and items together. “Twenty-five percent of your wardrobe is worn and 75 percent is not worn,” he says. He suggests hanging up everything in the closet in the reverse direction. When you use the item, put the hanger in the opposite direction. “Look at the hangers that are untouched,” he says. “Twice a year when you change batteries in the smoke alarm, commit to the number of articles of clothing that you take out.”
He believes that many people avoid cleaning up because they view it as a negative chore. “If you view it as a chore, you are less likely to start,” he says. “Always have someone with you as an accountability partner.”
If you get into a routine such as going through your closets every April it will make it feel less of a chore and more of refreshing your space, Godding says. “Clutter breeds more clutter.”