Clutter buster boot camp

As a loft-dweller, I am faced every day with the challenges of keeping my downsized urban space tidy.  Moving from a sprawling suburban home to my downtown nest two years ago gave me a tremendous opportunity to simplify. I set up house in a modern, minimalistic style and circulated the mantra, “a place for everything and everything in its place” through my mind like a hamster wheel. For the most part it has worked. My house is a well oiled machine with labeled containers, upon shelves, within cabinets.  With one exception.

In February of 2012 I launched a new business that I ran from home. Or, to be more exact, from my dining room table. Computer, file folders, Post-It notes, and pens migrated from tabletop during the day, to a nearby pile during dinner or when receiving guests. This vicious cycle continued for almost a year.  For whatever reason, my strict rules of order and simplicity didn’t translate to the dining office. The irony of the mounting mess grew as quickly as my new business, a home management company through which I offer my services … as a professional organizer.

I am happy to say that I’m writing this article from my sleek new corner office. OK, technically it’s an office carved out of a corner of a room within my home. Since the bricks and mortar didn’t magically expand to make room for the accumulation of all the new business-related needs, the key to making the transition was managing the clutter. 

Whether you have a closet that needs a make-over, a kitchen that needs an overhaul, or an entire home that needs attention, the steps to de-cluttering are the same.  

Step 1: Only bite off what you can chew. Make a list of small spaces that need attention: a cupboard, a drawer, a set of book shelves, etcetera, and prioritize your list. Work on each of these small areas from start to finish and you will have several mini reasons to celebrate.

Step 2: Gather your supplies. You will need a tape measure, garbage bags, a box or bin, a notepad and a pen.

Step 3: Attack. Take everything out of the space you’re working on. Dump the drawers or clear the cupboard. Take a moment to appreciate the empty space and see it as a blank canvas. 

Step 4: Sort the stack. Pick up every item and put it into one of four piles

  • Trash Pile: Use a garbage bag for this pile.  Have another bag on hand for recycling.  Use this pile liberally. It costs an average of $10/square foot to store items in your home!
  • Get-Rid-Of Pile: Items that could still be useful to others but are no longer useful to you should go into a garbage bag to be donated or sold. In most cases, if you haven’t used an item for a year or more you should send it on its way. Among the exceptions are heirlooms and art. If you don’t either love it or use it, it’s officially clutter. 
  • Keep Pile: Items you will keep and eventually return to the space that you just purged go here. If this is your smallest pile, you’re doing something right!
  • Elsewhere Pile: Put items that you want to keep but that don’t belong in the space you’re working on right now into the box or bin. 

Step 5: Get rid of all those damn piles!

  • Trash Pile: Kick it to the curb. Now!  
  • Get-Rid-Of Pile: I highly recommend going the donation route. I’ve seen so many clients hang on to things with the intention of handing them off to acquaintances or selling them only to never follow through. Unless you know you can get these items out of your house soon (I give myself two weeks), take the bags to your car right away with a plan of dropping them off at ARC, Goodwill, Salvation Army or one of the myriads of other second hand stores. Put them in your passenger seat so that #1) you won’t forget, and #2) you’re so annoyed and embarrassed driving around with a loaded trash bag passenger that you just do it and get it over with.
  • Keep Pile: When returning these items to the space, note whether a box, bin, bag or other organizing accessory would make sense. If necessary, measure the items and the space and note what kind of organizer you need. Make sure the most-used items are also the most accessible.
  • Elsewhere Pile: Walk from room to room and return these random items to their proper places. You might just stumble upon your next clutter buster project!

Heather Renne is the owner of Mint Household Services —