11 March 2011

Controlling Clutter

Dear Lissy,
Today's letter is about the bane of my existence:  STUFF!  I've got a double hit against me:  I love to sew and I educate at home.  Keeping all of our belongings corralled and our things neat sometimes feels like mission impossible.

Organize your storage areas and allow your living spaces to
be lived in!  Most people get this backwards, wanting a neat
living space and cramming their stuff out of sight.

The goal of organization for me is NOT a pin neat home, but a home where everyone can quickly and easily find what they need or want without my assistance.  It's also important that everyone in the house can consistently return things to their proper place.

As long as I have kids home all day, and a house that's a perpetual construction zone, our home is never going to look like a hotel, or even a magazine.  There will be projects, books, shoes, and papers about.  We live here. That said, Dad and I hate clutter, and we do our best to get things back to their designated homes by the end of the day.

The method I use for storage and organization is Julia Morgenstern's Organized From The Inside Out.  I've gotten a little more than halfway through our house, and hope to finish it up within the year.

Sort:  Gather all like things together.  I'll use my sewing supplies as an example.  I need to collect every scrap of fabric, every bobbin, needle, machine attachment and spool of thread into one location.

Purge:  Get rid of duplicates, things you no longer use or want, and anything that's broken or missing a piece.   I choose to donate anything I purge that's still in good condition, but you can also consign it or have a yard sale.  A note on clothes:  seriously consider how big a wardrobe you really need and have room for.  Most Americans have far more clothes than they need, wear, or have storage for.

Assign a Home:  Now that you've seen the monster in it's entirety, where are you going to store it?  The attic?  A closet?  Underbed storage?  It's best not to spread it out too much.  I have a section of the attic and a cabinet downstairs to store my sewing supplies.

Items that are used daily should be stored within reach of where they are used and should be "one motion" storage, that is, nothing else has to be moved or lifted to get them.

  • Place storage where the items are naturally dropped.  Your dad always drops his keys, phone, mail, and loose hardware in a pile on top of the dishwasher.  I stained a wooden tray and put it in that spot and simply ask that he empty the tray when it starts overflowing.
  • Seriously consider wall storage for frequently used items.  There are hundreds of solutions from country to modern that utilize wall space and make finding and putting away a snap.  You may remember the antique porcupine wall basket in the bathroom that held all of our hair brushes and combs while you were growing up or the mesh shoe organizer on the wall by the stove that held all of the mittens and hats.
  • When you purchase furniture, look for pieces that have storage areas. Something as simple as a small drawer in a coffee table can hold remotes and coasters and get them out of sight.
  • Don't forget the space at the top of closets or under the bed.  I kept a pantry in rolling under bed boxes the whole time our bedroom was downstairs. 

Containerize:  This is the single most important step of organization!!!!!!  After you have determined where you are going to store these things, you must divide that area up into smaller, labeled containers or it will never stay neat.  Be sure to write down the sizes you need before you shop for containers.

  • We don't have extra money, so most of my hidden organizers are cardboard reinforced with packing tape:  shoe boxes, shipping boxes, even a few cereal or cracker boxes make it into the mix.  
  • I've also purchased very inexpensive plastic drawer dividers for general storage in areas that get heavy or daily use like the drawer of kitchen utensils.  
  • I prefer shelves with baskets or totes that function as "drawers" to large cupboards or trunks.
  • For children's storage, I usually get clear plastic totes or carts with drawers.  Kids aren't gentle enough to keep cardboard from falling apart.  Labels can be thumbnail sized pictures for pre-readers.
  • Kids can take care of their own clothes from a very young age if you install a peg rack or hooks at their height.  Get over the "lid on the hamper" fetish.  Husbands and kids will put dirty laundry in open topped hampers, but you'll find laundry on top or beside the hamper if it has a lid.  This is a hang up most women have and you only make yourself irritable.
  • Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield has hundreds of ideas for family storage from puzzles to Legos to sports equipment.
  • Baskets and tote bags are cheap or free at most thrift stores and make great storage for one person's projects or reading.
  • If you have a crafter in the family, consider project boxes.  A project box (or basket or tote) holds all of the supplies for only one project.  When that project is complete, the extra supplies are put back into storage, and the tote is re-used for the next project.  Whether the passion is paper, beading, painting, or fabric, this allows for quick pick-up and neat storage in between work sessions.  Every project hits a stage where it is tedious or runs into a snag.  The temptation is to leave it and start a new project rather than working through the unpleasant part.  If you only have room for 2-3 project boxes, you mentally encourage yourself (or a child) to either finish up or discard the project and make room for a new one.  I learned this trick from the ladies in my quilting guild.
  • Don't "over containerize" unless you enjoy that level of organization.  It's ok to have all your kitchen utensils floating around in a drawer and take 10 seconds to find what you need. Save the ultra-organization for areas everyone in the family accesses like the office supply drawer or the first aid cabinet.
Equalize:  Take time every day to put everything back where it belongs.  Learning to pick up and clean up as you go is a habit that prevents hours of housework. Teach your kids to pick up one set of toys before they drag out the next set. We called our evening pick-up time "bangerang" when you were little.  We set the timer for 15 minutes right before bedtime and we all (except Dad who'd already worked all day!) ran around like crazy getting everything back where it belonged.

When you have a place for everything, and keep everything in its place the whole family is calmer and runs more smoothly.  I'm disgusted by the amount of stuff we have and keep trying to get rid of more.  Stuff will never bring happiness, and there are people who genuinely need what we never even use.

Loving you, Little One!

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