Clearing clutter clears the mind

By Victoria Hecht
Virginian-Pilot correspondent

The holidays came and went, and with them, so did your resolve to get organized in the new year.

And let’s not mention all those magazines you hoarded for advice on how to de-clutter your home. Now they’re just part of those nagging piles, aren’t they?

Don’t worry. It happens.

But it’s not too late to take control. And there’s no better season to do this than winter, when you’re stuck inside – or maybe enjoying a snow day from work – surrounded by oh-so-much stuff.

Tackle the clutter now, and it will pay immediate dividends – in time saved searching for household items, among other things, says feng shui consultant Bonnie Primm of Norfolk. Feng shui is the ancient Chinese art of positioning objects, including buildings and furniture, based on yin and yang and the flow of chi, which can have positive or negative effects depending on placement.

“Clutter around you is clutter in you,” Primm says. “It takes space in your mind as well as your energy.”

We turned to Primm as well as local professional organizers Katherine Crawley, Connie Keller and Nancy Watson for room-by-room tips on sweeping out the bad stuff to welcome the good: a more efficient home and, with it, less time tending to things. Here’s what they said:

FOYER/ENTRYWAY

A clean and clear entry isn’t just welcoming; it also sets the tone for your home and provides an identifiable boundary for visitors.

“Whether you have a real foyer or not, what happens is that when the door is opened into your space, people need to be grounded,” Primm says.

Just inside, you need a table, a lamp and a mirror to create a landing spot that’s suited for last-minute primping, she advises. If you don’t have a true foyer, and the front door opens directly into the living space, try carving out a welcoming area with separate flooring. It’ll save wear and tear on rugs and carpets and establish a boundary to guests.

“Your home is a sacred space,” Primm says. “Somehow, you must define the area you walk into.”

And that definition, the organizers said, should not include a “disaster area.” Yet that’s what many entries become with errant backpacks, shoes, coats, sports equipment and other day-to-day items.

Start by addressing the coat closet, says Watson of Virginia Beach-based Harmony at Home Organizing LLC, who specializes in working with those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and others “overwhelmed by too much stuff that it negatively impacts their lives.”

The coldest season, Watson says, is prime time “to get rid of the excess winter wear to help those who can really use it. Sharing this clothing is a gift.”

For a de-cluttering effort to be successful, everyone in the home must be on board with maintaining it – starting at the front door, says Crawley, of AssistPro Professional Organizing in Hampton.

“You want to establish what’s going to work for your family – for example, hanging up your coat so it’s where it belongs,” she says.

If sports equipment is a problem, and you have no closet for it, get an armoire or wardrobe for that purpose. And don’t forget the mail, which frequently piles up near the front door.

“You’d be surprised at how many people have difficulty dealing with incoming mail,” Crawley says. “I’ve had people have their utilities turned off because of it, because they didn’t go through it. You need a routine.”

Her suggestion: On Sundays, when no mail is delivered, go through it all at once, dealing with each item. Pay bills, throw out or recycle the junk and clip the coupons.

“You’re talking about 15 minutes to deal with it,” she says.

More tips from the experts: Consider hooks and pegs, either inside a closet or in the foyer itself, for coats and backpacks; a basket or rack for shoes; and baskets or bins for hats, scarves and gloves.

Don’t forget a designated spot by the front door – a tray by the lamp, perhaps – where keys should stay.

Adds Keller, with Organized Ways in Newport News, “If you’re lucky enough to have a wide entry space, there are ideas on Pinterest for building cubbies to hold everything.”

As for backpacks, she thinks they belong in kids’ rooms.

LIVING/FAMILY ROOM

This is where the family gathers to let it all hang out and, because of its multiple purposes – TV watching, reading, napping, listening to music, gaming and playroom – this is where clutter mounts.

It’s not unusual to find a tangle of books and magazines, blankets, pillows, multiple remote controls, video-gaming equipment, toys and the random dirty dish.

Crawley advocates a divide-and-conquer method.

“We’re not going to have everything thrown together,” she says.

Specifically, she addresses shelving. Each shelf should have its own purpose: books, movies, CDs or toys. It also makes sense, she says, to have lower shelves designated for children’s easier access.

One component of de-cluttering the living/family room is recognizing what doesn’t go there and returning those possessions to their proper places. A laundry basket comes in handy to collect those items and make a room-by-room return trip, the experts say.

While de-cluttering this room, purge stacks of old magazines, corral remote controls in a basket on the coffee table and go through books – really go through books, says Keller, a retired librarian who admits that things can get out of hand for those with a passion for the printed word.

She found a solution that made her comfortable: She gives away books to a woman who, in turn, sells them and donates the money to a church. The method frees up space in Keller’s home and helps a good cause.

Magazines can be donated to doctors’ offices, senior centers and schools, Watson suggests.

Toys can quickly take over a house, so give each child a bag and instruct him or her to put in two items a week for giveaway.

“Typical American kids have so many toys they don’t know what to do with them,” Keller says.

She advises against saving items for yard sales.

It all boils down to this: “How much of your life’s energy do you want to give up to things just to take care of them? Life is too short to be owned by your possessions.”

KITCHEN

So many trouble spots, so little time. The cabinets, the pantry, the refrigerator and freezer, the junk drawer, the space under the sink, the message center – where to start?

Watson knows.

Dig deep in your cabinets and take out everything in the back.

“There’s a reason it’s in the back; it’s never used,” she says.

Pitch it after you’ve fished it out.

Next stop: the junk drawer.

“Do not bring home straws, plastic spoons, napkins and sauces from Wendy’s,” Watson admonishes. “How many of those things do you really need?”

In fact, you need less in the kitchen than you realize, especially gadgets designed for one – and only one – purpose.

More suggestions from the experts: Match lids and containers, and toss anything that doesn’t have a mate. Go through food cabinets and the fridge, discarding expired items and things you bought on a whim but that your family won’t eat. Clean out utensil drawers, sorting and organizing as you go, and eliminate items you use infrequently or have multiples of.

Get down and dirty under the sink, weeding out duplicate cleaning supplies or ones that don’t do the job well. Allot a space, perhaps on a garage shelf, for infrequently used cleaning products.

Finally, ruthlessly address the message center, which may be a desk or a counter that’s become the collection spot for bills, coupons to be clipped, photos, recipes clipped from magazines and newspapers, schoolwork – you name it.

Ask yourself, “Do I need every picture my child has colored or that coupon for the free window-replacement estimate I keep meaning to get?”

“The big challenge is paper,” Keller says, “which can take on a life of its own.”

Don’t look to slapping it all on the refrigerator with magnets. That’s just moving clutter.

“Every piece of paper should be filed and labeled and not in a big pile, no matter how ‘organized’ the pile,” Primm says. “Clutter will take away your energy and the good that can be done.”

BATHROOMS

As a professional organizer, Crawley has seen it many times: people unwilling to part with beauty products they don’t like because they spent money on them.

“If you’re not going to use that curling iron, bless someone else with it,” she says.

One client had so many hair products, and her bathroom surfaces were so cluttered, that Crawley told the woman not to purchase any more.

“You just have to get rid of the products you won’t use,” Crawley says. “Just let it go. Stick to the things you like.”

The linen closet is prime territory for paring down, according to Watson, and winter is a great time to do so.

If towels and blankets “are old and ratty, donate them to an animal shelter or vet’s office, and send the good stuff to Goodwill,” Watson says.

Once you’ve weeded out the old linens, take everything else out, wipe down the shelves and return items one by one, she says.

BEDROOMS

When working with new clients, Crawley first asks them, “What’s going to give you the greatest satisfaction, the best refuge?” she said. “For more people, that’s the bedroom.”

And yet, that’s where people typically “hide” their messes and take a slack approach to housekeeping, letting piles of clothes, shoes and papers accumulate.

“Think about it: It’s where you go to rest, and you can’t when you have a lot of disorder,” Crawley says.

Start with clearing the floor, especially around the bed, then the dresser and, if you have time, consider the closet.

Start with what’s visible for the greatest mental return.

“You open your eyes first thing and see disorganization. Who wants to start the day like that?” she asks.

Take a minimalist approach to the nightstand – a glass or bottle of water, a small lamp and something pleasant to read, Crawley says. And never put bills or papers for work there.

“That’s going to cause you stress,” she says. “Put it in another room.”

The experts recommend looking at stuff not in terms of material possessions or monetary cost but in ways that are more valuable than that.

“Life is too short to spend your time moving around stuff that isn’t important,” Keller says. “Your time is a priority – precious and limited. You have to ask, ‘Which is more important, me or stuff?'”

 

Victoria Hecht, victoriahecht1@gmail.com

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