By Dawn Klingensmith
Want to make a change to your messy home? You’ve got a workout plan and a diet plan for your physical health. But what about your house? An organization plan may be just the answer.
The key to getting started is to keep the tasks reasonable, professional organizers say. Save the big projects for an intensive spring cleaning. Meanwhile, reduce your everyday messes and stresses with a seven-day series of manageable tasks that target problem areas and can be completed in less than an hour.
“Cleaning out an office seems overwhelming, but cleaning out a drawer isn’t so intimidating,” says certified professional organizer Seana Turner. “Go for quick successes when you’re first getting started to gain momentum and a sense of accomplishment,”
At the designated time, set a timer for one hour. Knowing there’s a finite period of work time makes a task seem easier to tackle. A timer – especially one that actually ticks – also acts as a “focusing tool,” helping you block out distractions and work more efficiently, Turner says.
To begin, make sure you have the right tools. You’ll need six or seven storage boxes or laundry baskets with labels: trash, recycle, donate, relocate (for items that belong in another part of the house), storage and sell (optional). Each day, use this sorting system to divide and conquer clutter.
You also will need clear plastic bins for storage; a two-drawer file cabinet and folders; slim velvet clothing hangers; and hooks.
Then you’re ready to take the one-week challenge and repeat as necessary.
Resolving to de-clutter and organize your home is one thing. Sticking with a seven-day program is another. Success depends on “your to-do list meeting your calendar,” says productivity coach Sara Caputo. Block out a specific time for each hour-long task. “You need to decide on a time frame and mark it down on your calendar or everything else is going to gobble up that time,” Caputo says.
Day 1: Accounts Manageable
“Use technology to simplify your life,” suggests Monica Ricci, an organization expert and life coach.
She recommends several web-based and mobile applications, including Mint or Acorns, for household accounts like bills, subscriptions, and point-based reward programs; Grocery Pal, a virtual shopping list and recipe box; and Remember the Milk, an online to-do list and task management program that syncs to mobile devices.
Most importantly, sign up for cloud-based computer data backup.“It runs in the background, scanning your computer for new material, and automatically backs it up. You don’t need to remember to do it,” Ricci says, “so it’s one less thing to worry about.”
Tech-based organizers eliminate paperwork and make it easier to find and sort information, which saves a lot of time. A computer is searchable, while a file cabinet is not.
Day 2: News You Can Use
By definition, a bulletin is a summary of news or current events. Yet kitchen and home office bulletin boards tend to become burial sites for paperwork and repositories of ancient history.
Take down all the notifications, schedules, schoolwork, lists and clippings and toss everything that’s out-of-date or expired. Relocate papers to their proper places if you wish to file them for future reference or save them as keepsakes, Turner says. Only items pertaining to current or upcoming events belong on a bulletin board.
Day 3: Stack Attack
Do a 60-minute paper purge, starting on surfaces and in drawers where printed materials accumulate. Many printed materials are readily available online, including user manuals, takeout menus, catalogs, and reference books. In a 15-minute blitz, dispose of papers and books that are accessible online.
Spend the remaining 45 minutes dismantling as many stacks as you can. “Paper is hot, warm or cold. Hot papers require prompt action, like bills and RSVPs,” says productivity consultant Sara Caputo, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Use an inbox, wall pocket or bulletin board for hot papers, and file or dispose of them as they are dealt with.
Warm papers are documents used periodically, such as bank statements and health records. They belong in a two-drawer file cabinet.
Cold papers are files that are rarely needed but can’t be thrown away, such as tax returns, Caputo says. They can be boxed, labeled and stored in the attic, basement or on a high shelf.
Day 4: Bathroom Blitz
Expired medicines and cosmetics not only cause unnecessary clutter, but they also pose safety risks. “Cleaning out the medicine cabinet is a quick, easy, high-reward project,” Turner says because you can tell at a glance which medicines are expired. Empty everything out, sort the discards from the keepers and wipe down the cabinet inside and out before putting things back.
Time permitting, consider replacing the towel rack with a row of hooks. “Children, in particular, don’t do well with towel racks. They’ll use hooks so much sooner,” Turner says.
Hooks decrease the likelihood of a heap of damp towels on the floor and make it easier to remember whose towel belongs to whom.
Day 5: Wardrobe Reality Check
“Your closet is neither a hope chest nor a museum. If you haven’t fit into a size 6 for years, donate those clothes to someone who will actually use them,” Caputo says, adding that if you slim down, you’ll probably want fresher fashions anyway.
Without overthinking, do a quick wardrobe purge, parting ways with clothing that is worn out, dated or unflattering. Transfer the clothes to the slim anti-slip velvet hangers, which hog less closet space than thicker plastic hangers.
Caputo has a trick to deal with the “maybes” that are just too hard to get rid of: Hold on to them for now. The point of this exercise is to make quick and easy decisions, not tough ones. Hang all the hangers backward, with the hook facing outward. Switch the hanger to its proper position (hook facing inward) after an item of clothing is worn. In six months to a year, evaluate the items you haven’t worn and start paring down more decisively.
Day 6: Cups Runneth Over
“Cups and mugs somehow just automatically multiply,” says Ricci, founder of Catalyst Organizing Solutions. Pull out all the drinkware and organize it by type: juice glasses, plastic tumblers, water bottles, travel mugs. Downsize the collection to avoid precarious stacking.
Day 7: Reverse Santa
Start rotating toys to minimize clutter and keep children’s interest piqued. When children are away, gather the toys they haven’t played with in a while and put them in the basement or attic.
Unless they ask about specific toys, in which case you can give them back, wait a few weeks or months to reintroduce the purloined playthings and take away others. Younger kids will think they’ve gotten new toys with each rotation, Caputo says.
If your kids are older, give them a bin and a monetary incentive to get rid of clothing, books, toys, and games they no longer use. A payout of a quarter per item should be sufficient, Caputo says.