If you've resigned yourself to a life of clutter because you think your home can't look like the sleek, ultra-organized scenes in catalogs and magazines, keep two things in mind. First, catalogs don't show lived-in interiors and magazines photograph residences at an assisted peak of perfection. Second, setting up perfection as an organizing goal cripples your ability to achieve realistic objectives. Instead, work your way along the continuum between chaos and order toward a goal you can maintain.
The road toward order starts with a commitment to get there and an assessment of the ways you fall short of your goal. Look at your home as a stranger would view it. Photograph or take footage of every room and examine the scenes you've captured on your digital camera, smartphone or camcorder. Study your clutter, looking for patterns that explain what you don't put away, why you don't get rid of things you don't need and where your belongings actually belong. Share your images or footage with the rest of the family so all of you can confront your individual contributions to the problem. Rather than setting yourself up for failure by trying to organize your entire home in a day, start small, with daily increments targeting one room at a time. Your good example helps justify your call for equivalent action by others.
Study Your Stuff
Rather than rush out to the mall and buy a batch of organizing bins and modules, drawer inserts, hangers or storage boxes, first figure out what you need to organize. Otherwise, you run the risk of turning your would-be organizers into still more clutter. To help render the task to a manageable level, set up four boxes—Keep, Discard, Give Away and Recycle. To help make better use of the space you have, look for ways to "verticalize" your storage, adding shelving, racks, over-the-door organizers and other units that manage your belongings and get them off the floor. Sort your clothes to weed out what doesn't fit, no longer suits your style, belongs in seasonal storage or looks too worn to keep wearing.
Kitchens that harbor collections of broken or malfunctioning small appliances aren’t making the best use of valuable counter or cabinet space. If you can't use or fix it, delegate it to the donation box or recycle bin, depending on its condition. Once you reduce your roster of mechanical helpers, set up functional zones that keep related items together, associating tools, equipment, utensils and appliances so the gear you need for a specific task remains in easy reach without running around the kitchen to pull it together. Check your spice rack for stale supplies and your refrigerator for too-old condiments. To avoid wasting food, set up a computerized inventory or use a smartphone or tablet app to track what you have and where you stored it. If your refrigerator includes a built-in touchscreen with apps and storage tracking, you can monitor your food supply without ever leaving the kitchen.
Get in the Habit
To get rid of junk mail without compromising your privacy, open the mail while you stand next to your shredder and feed it your junk before you create a pile of deal-with-it-later clutter. If you always put something in the "wrong" place, either make it the right place or become conscious of the habit so you begin putting things away when you finish using them. What starts off as work becomes second nature more quickly than you think. If you finish each small step, you avoid creating big messes, which in turn reduces the amount of ongoing de-cluttering labor you have to perform. Designate daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal and annual organizational chores, and delegate everything as someone's responsibility, with some chores, such as vacuuming, rotating among the family roster. A who-does-what chart helps remind everyone of their part in getting your house in order and keeping it that way.
Photo Credits: Anne Dale/Demand Media
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