Publish date:

Tame Your Clutter

Spring into cleaning with this indispensible guide to getting your home, office and life organized.

Every January, "getting organized" is one of the most common New Year's resolutions people make.

Unfortunately, like those other promises to lose weight and quit smoking, getting organized usually ends up being something of a flop.

One look at toys strewn across the kids' room, or the garage filled with so much junk your car barely fits in it, and you're finished before you start. It's just too overwhelming.

But don't punish yourself if you'd rather head out to a movie than rummage through an unruly closet.

It's normal to feel overwhelmed at the mere thought of starting a project, according to organization expert Donna Smallin.

"You need to get your brain in gear. Organizing is a learnable and practicable skill, and you can get better at it," explains Smallin, whose easy-to-follow advice is featured on her

Web site and in her book

The One-Minute Organizer


So take heart -- with help from organizing pros such as Smallin and retailers such as

The Container Store,

Office Max



California Closets, whipping your home into shape in 2007 will be a resolution you can keep.

Clean Me

Seeking help may be step one. "Hiring a professional can be one the best things you'll ever do, even if they only work with you for a few hours," Smallin says.

In 2003, Robert and Yolanda Finley bought a home in South Orange, N.J., and planned to renovate the large unfinished basement. But by the time they were ready to start the project, the basement had become home to a large and disorganized collection of family belongings.

"With our busy work schedules and other responsibilities, it had become easy to go down there and dump things," says Yolanda, a PR consultant and sales associate with Coldwell Banker real estate.

TheStreet Recommends

But with contractors scheduled to begin demolition, the room needed to be cleared out.

The Finleys hired professional organizers Barbara Nemery and Margaret Post of

Just Consider It Done, who came to their home, assessed their needs and created plans to maximize storage space in the basement's side rooms. "They told us what type of shelves to buy at Ikea, as well as bins and baskets for smaller items," recalls Yolanda.

The organizers then helped the Finleys tackle that big pile in the basement.

Clothes, books and housewares were tagged for donation and taken by the company to the local Salvation Army. Old bedding was brought to the Humane Society, and trash was thrown in a rented 40-yard dumpster.

Everything the Finleys wanted to keep was stowed in the newly configured storage space.

The entire project took two days and cost approximately $1,500, which includes the fee charged by Just Consider It Done, as well as the cost to rent the dumpster and purchase new shelves.

"It was worth every penny," Yolanda says. "We could have purchased shelves and done all of this work, but we needed that extra push. They got us focused on the task and got the basement ready for renovation."

The revamped basement is now her family's preferred space to relax and play, and ithe successful cleanup has inspired the Finleys to take on other home projects.

To view Anne McDarby's video take of today's Good Life segment, click here.

If you need a hand getting a project started, the nonprofit

National Association of Professional Organizers is a welcome resource.

It can help find what best meets your needs, whether it's a housewide reorganization or a more focused project such as designing a storage system for family photos.

NAPO also provides access to professional organizers in specialty areas including information (paper and electronic) management, as well as help for special clientele, including people with physical disabilities and senior citizens.

Help Yourself

Prefer to take matters into your own hands? Smallin and industry retailers offer the following advice and design solutions to make your job easier:

  • Work in layers.Using the bedroom closet as an example, start with your shoes. "Go through them and sort the pairs you want to keep, those you need to have repaired and those you haven't worn in a long time (to donate or discard). In just 10 minutes, you've accomplished one step toward a completed project," Smallin says. The next day, move on to belts and bags.
  • Prepare to make tough decisions. "What's the value of a $500 suit if it's just hanging in your closet?" Smallin asks. If you haven't worn it in a year or two, donate it to a worthy nonprofit program such as Dress for Success, which provides disadvantaged women with professional attire.
  • Reconfigure existing closets and open spaces to maximize storage. California Closets creates custom home-storage systems for virtually any room. Serving the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia, the company provides complimentary in-home consultations to prospective customers and will create, deliver and install your storage system. If you're the hands-on type, create your own closet using a Web-based design process through Browse this retailer's online showroom that displays walk-in closets, laundry rooms and other storage spaces, as well as its range of finishes and features like corner shelves and hampers.
  • Look for wasted space/utilize vertical space.If you think you've maxed out existing storage space, take another look. "Over doors and underneath beds is valuable real estate in your home and are often overlooked," says Olescia Anderson, PR coordinator for The Container Store. The Container Store's under-bed options include clear plastic containers in large and small sizes and an under-bed storage tote for soft items such as blankets and sweaters. Vertical space is ideal for storing everything from kids' toys to your media collection. The Container Store's over-door CD holder holds 48 CDs or DVDs. From Target, the a soft 15-pocket organizer can hang from any interior door, is height-adjustable so kids can reach it, and has slots big enough to hold toys.
  • Consider what needs to be in your living space.Smallin recommends completely clearing the kitchen countertop, then putting back only the items you use every day, or at least once a week. "Take the rest and store it," she says. Important paperwork such as deeds, titles and tax documents can be stored high on a shelf someplace in your house, where they are readily available but not in the way. Both Office Max and Staples (SPLS) offer a wide selection of storage solutions including clear legal file totes, vertical files and binders, as well as paper shredders to help you free up space and keep valuable personal information from falling into the wrong hands.
  • If you're having trouble getting others onboard, draw them into the solution.With a spouse or partner, Smallin recommends negotiation. "It's easier to say to your husband or wife, 'If you can keep your stuff out of the family room, I'll do something for you,'" she explains. With children, opt for a trial separation. "Box up old toys and put them in the attic, saying, 'We need to put some things away,'" advises Smallin. Date the boxes; six months later, if you haven't used or looked for any of their contents, you don't need them. Sterilite storage bins available at Target come in a 70-quart size, are made of clear plastic and are stackable, perfect for putting away toys and games.

Start organizing and you'll experience immediate benefits. "You'll see right away how nice it is to find things when you need them," Smallin says.

Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Anne McDarby is a freelance writer living in New Jersey. Her professional experience includes work as a newspaper reporter and editor in northern New Jersey and more than 15 years in health care public relations and marketing.