From Cluttered to Clean How to create spaces that are easy to organize

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Photo courtesy of Lesley Drane

Our two-story foyer had become a dumping ground for the shoes and coats of our family of six. An outerwear obstacle course littered our entryway floors. The coat and shoe closets were bursting, ready to bury unfortunate souls who were brave enough to attempt the daring feat of actually hanging up their coats. In fact, I’m pretty sure I used to have five kids. One of them tried to hang up a raincoat in 2013 and hasn’t been seen since. I’m only kidding, of course! Seriously, for the safety of us all, I decided it was time to declutter our foyer closets.

Photo courtesy of Lesley Drane

The ‘How’ of Decluttering

For help, I turned to an expert. Lesley Drane is the owner and operator of Clean Lines Organizing and Design. She’s the no-nonsense kind of gal I needed to inspire me to realize that no preschooler needs six pairs of boots. Did I think a grown woman needed to hang on to a hat with a giant pink puff ball on top? (I did.)

“Most people don’t have an organizing problem,” says Drane. “They have a ‘too much stuff’ problem. When you close your eyes and envision your dream home, it’s probably not filled with clutter. Instead of thinking about what you will lose when you declutter, think of what you might gain.”

The coronavirus pandemic has made homebodies of most of us over the last year. Perhaps you, like me, have been staring at your own clutter far too much lately. If you’re ready to tackle an overflowing corner in your own home, follow Drane’s road map to help you get from cluttered to clean.

Step 1: Empty and fully clean the space.

Until you see all of the objects you own, you won’t realize what—and how much—you have.

Step 2: Categorize and consolidate all like items.

“When you have the same types of items scattered in various places, you won’t have a clear sense of what you own. You tend to buy more, which increases your clutter,” she explains.

Photo by David Stuck

Step 3: Decision time: purge it, donate it or keep it?

Consider each item individually and decide whether to purge it, donate it or keep it. For the “keep-it” items that you decide are worthy of continuing to occupy real estate in your home, make sure you’re keeping them for the right reasons. Guilt is never a reason to hang onto something. It doesn’t matter how much you paid for it or who gave it to you. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to keep it.

Nostalgia, too, can be a powerful sentimental tie that binds us to our clutter—sometimes that’s OK. We hang onto items that are meaningful to us because of the feelings they evoke. The entire goal of this decluttering and organizing marathon is to help us cross the finish line with only the items we treasure and none of the excess we don’t.

You should ask yourself several important questions to determine whether a memento is worth keeping. First, do you have a spot to store it? If something is buried in a bin, then what’s the point of keeping it? Second, can you consolidate it or transform it into something more functional? For example, if you’re reluctant to part with your children’s works of art, consider taking a picture of them, rather than storing them in a box of glitter-glue creations. Third, ask yourself just one more time: “Is it nostalgia or guilt?” Nostalgia for an item should fill you with joy at the thought of keeping it close, not guilt over getting rid of it.

Finally, many people hang onto stuff because they can’t discard an item that is still perfectly functional. Just because an item still works is not a reason to keep it if you don’t plan to use it in the next year or if you have several others just like it.

In making these hard choices, Drane explains, “it becomes a choice between having stuff or having space and an environment that is more functional and relaxing. You can’t have both.”

Photo by David Stuck

Step 4: Contain.

You’ll find a dizzying array of storage options, and some of these units may not fit your needs exactly. I would never have invested in the system that worked so well for our closets had I not had a professional’s guidance to lean on.

To find the right containers for your space, measure all of the dimensions. Compare a variety of systems.

Read the reviews and price shop. Then purchase your system and organize your possessions in a way that makes sense to you. Drane also swears by labeling everything. What may be obvious to you about items belonging in a certain container doesn’t mean that it will be apparent to your family. Spell it out for them, literally.

Photo by David Stuck

Step 5: Maintain.

A system only works if you use it. As your family’s needs grow and change, expect that your organization system needs to adapt to suit the new storage demands.

The “Why” of Clutter

For some people, decluttering their home is far more complicated than simply following the above five steps. In fact, according to Dr. Elspeth Bell, licensed psychologist and founding director of the Bell Center for Anxiety and Depression, as much as 3% of the general population suffers from hoarding disorder, a mental illness characterized by someone’s persistent difficulty in getting rid of their things.

“Hoarding disorder is on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum and is characterized by a number of
anxiety-related features,” explains Bell. “Features of this disorder include poor decision-making skills, difficulty following through on intended tasks and engaging in excessive acquisition of items.”

If you’re seeing yourself in any of the symptoms, that’s OK. “Hoarding disorder falls on a continuum of behaviors that we all engage in as we relate to the items in our possession,” Bell says. “We all have stuff in our lives, but it becomes a disorder when the accumulation of stuff causes emotional distress or interferes with the ability to do things.”

In those cases, individuals may need to seek professional help to understand the underlying emotional reasons behind being resistant to decluttering.

From Cluttered Chaos to Fab Foyer!

Photo by Laura Farmer

I don’t know where exactly I fall on that continuum, but I do know that my foyer closets needed a major makeover. And I’m super proud of the results. My little darlings can now hang up their coats on their very own pegs.

Photo by David Stuck

I can’t guarantee it will always look picture-perfect. But as Drane wisely notes: “The goal is not to have a perfectly organized house all the time, but a house that is easily organized.

 

Makeover Details

Photo by Laura Farmer

Discover how Lesley Drane transformed our writer’s closets from fiasco to fabulous.

In the Shoe Closet:
• Purged two bags of shoes and other items.
• Removed top shelf, hanging shelves and shoe rack.
• Painted closet (Drane used Benjamin Moore Brittany Blue 1633).
• Installed Elfa custom shelving.
• Hung 24-bag mesh over-door shoe bag.
• Added labels.

 

Photo by David Stuck

In the Coat Closet:
• Purged three bags of coats
and other items.
• Removed existing shelf.
• Painted interior (Benjamin
Moore Brittany Blue 1633).
• Moved existing shelf higher.
• Installed Elfa custom bar
with six hooks.
• Added baskets to top shelf.
• Added labels.

 

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