Creating your own graceful spaces

Take the angst and boredom out of organizing your home

Get organized? Easier said than done, right? With everything out of place, seeming hay-wired, most anyone can become overwhelmed with the notion of creating an organized space. With some inspiration, a few guidelines and self-reward, however, you can create that beautiful, orderly space you have been craving.

It is often believed that becoming organized is a dry, deathly-boring chore. But it doesn't have to be. Try looking at your task as being more akin to planting a low maintenance wild flower garden, rather than a high maintenance lawn: it requires more time and effort up-front, but, once planted, the majority of your work is done. Also, simply knowing you are creating a haven for you and your family can alleviate the tedium of the task.

If you're interested in having not only a more organized home, but one that synchs with your aesthetic sensibilities, these guidelines are here to help. Pick one room or area to work with and work through the following steps.

1. Take a step back and see what you own. Take a mental or physical inventory, whichever works for you. Ask yourself why you have each item. Have you decided to keep it because it is functional? Or does it have sentimental value? Do you feel obligated, for whatever reason, to keep it? Or are you afraid to get rid of it because you may need it some day? (Many people who lived through the Great Depression and scarce times are overwhelmed by possessions for this very reason.)

2. Ask yourself why you have it? How do you use it? How does it work for you? Does it make your life more manageable? Is it a convenience? If so, is it worth the space it takes up and/or the maintenance it may require? How often do you use it? Is it within easy reach or do you have to stumble through and over other belongings to get to it each time you want to use it? Does it have real (or perceived) value? Did you get swallowed up by some clever commercial jingle and now, after having run out to buy it, you realize it doesn't wave the magic wand they told you it would?

3. Now that you know what you have and why you have it, start looking at how you use your space. How much of this area do you want to organize and/or redesign? Is this a realistic goal? Do you have the time, energy and money to do this? If yes, then it is time to move forward. If not, then you will have to prioritize and adjust your first goal to meet your schedule and budget. The other areas you wish to reestablish will be handled at a later date following these same guidelines.

4. Now, pull out your calendar and block off some time for the project you have just chosen. Treat this time as one of your more critical appointments. It is. You are embarking on a project that, once completed, will bring sanity to your life, thus allowing you to function more freely and fully. You can set time-blocks in minutes or hours, depending on how lofty your goals are and your endurance for such projects.

It is OK to do a little at a time; just be sure not to create so much chaos during the project that you become crazed from tripping over things between organizing sessions.

5. There is one last thing you want to do before digging in. Prepare yourself mentally to "release" some of your belongings. "Releasing" is necessary in order to accomplish your goals. Some of your possessions, regardless of the reasons you have chosen to keep them, hold you down and claim some of your physical and mental energy. This release may result not only in a "free box" or a trip to the thrift shop, it can be emotionally upsetting for many. If you need support, lean on a friend, hire a professional organizer, or find solace in the old adage, "one man's garbage is another mans gold."

Before you dig in, consider yourself warned: you may get addicted to getting rid of stuff.

6. You now have an idea of what you will be getting rid of. Set aside a temporary holding place for the smaller objects that will be moved in this process. Use large, clearly marked boxes to separate them into these categories: replace (in this room/area), save (for another location), thrift store, give away (friends), garbage and whatever other category works for you.

As you are handling your possessions ask yourself the questions from step 2. The answer will determine what box they should go in.

Hold off on allocating the contents of the boxes. Don't get sidetracked and stagger around trying to find a new location for the objects that no longer go in that room/area.

7. If you're feeling really ambitious, do a thorough cleaning in this room/area. Dust, vacuum, mop, wash windows, wipe walls, whatever feels necessary, comfortable and do-able.

If this step feels overwhelming, you have the right to pass. But do not let it prevent you from pursuing this project.

If you like the idea of starting from the freshest place possible, you can try a "space clearing," a Feng Shui way or tool for clearing the energy of a room. Information on this can be found on the web by entering "space clearing" into a search engine. Many books address this subject, such as "Sacred Space" by Denise Linn and "Creating Sacred Space With Feng Shui" by Karen Kingston.

8. Next, rearrange the furniture/equipment to meet your needs. Keep traffic flow, ergonomics and movement patterns in mind. Place the physically larger (dresser, tables, couch, desk) and functionally dominant (lights, computer, phone) pieces first, to establish the flow and use of the room/area.

For each piece you are placing, ask yourself: Does this piece need to go here? If so, does it help to determine room usage or work with the objects that are already here? If not, where does it best fit?

Be sure to place appropriate objects in their respective rooms. Computers belong in the office, not on the kitchen table.

9. Now, basically do the same with the smaller objects from step 6 (books, pictures, bowls, staplers, calendars, etc.) and ask yourself the same questions as you did in step 8. Also, be sure to ask yourself what you need and want. This is where your creativity comes in. What colors, shapes and textures are enticing?

Don't be afraid of being frivolous -- beauty is an essential element to humans, so indulge. Once you have set these smaller essential pieces in their places, fill in the gaps with those pretty or quirky little knick-knacks you just didn't have the heart to give away. Be sure to include some plants here and there.

10. Now tend to the remaining boxes from step 6. Don't let these sit around and detract from the work you just did. Get them out the door and out of your life.

For the items you have chosen to give to friends, create a place (maybe permanent) for give-aways. Some of them may work wonders for those gifts you unexpectedly need to bring to, say, a housewarming. It's like having a little store in your home. Be sure it is where you will remember it so you don't have to deal with it in another organizing session down the line.

11. Ahhh, job well done. However, you can expect this to be an ongoing process. Now that you are learning how to work and move within your space, you will manage to help things nestle themselves into the place that is most appropriate, functional and attractive.

You may find that this newly found beauty and order helps you be more efficient in your daily life as well as happier. You now have a space that is your castle, your sanctuary and your refuge. Your wild flower garden has been planted and now only needs occasional attention, rather than a daily pulling of the weeds to maintain that lawn.

12. Treat yourself to some reward for your hard and dedicated work. If you did this work for someone else they would surely thank you in some way. Treat yourself to a hot bath, a walk in the woods, a dinner out, a massage. Anything that leaves you feeling pampered and special. This reward, or another one like it, can be your incentive to embark on your next task.

For more tips on creating your own graceful space, see page 14.

Amy Barankovich is the owner of Graceful Spaces: Organizing by Design. Her organizing service helps people feel inspired rather than overwhelmed as they create spaces that incorporate their aesthetic and organizational needs. For more information, contact 722-3370 or e-mail [email protected]