Operation Spring Cleaning: Clearing the Clutter

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Spring is in the air! So much for New Year’s Day when everyone promised to make changes to improve their lives. You know the drill: lose weight, quit smoking, and be nicer to people, blah, blah, blah. Truth is, not many resolutions last beyond the first week. Many promises we make to ourselves are hollow words, like the time we swear to go to church every Sunday if a turbulent flight lands safely, or the promise to visit Grandma more if the world could just deliver us the love of our life.


But hooray! It’s spring! And we can really make some improvements now that the mental storm (and guilt) of new years has graciously passed.


This year, there is one resolution I must keep in order to get a grip on my sanity. Clear the clutter. As I was moving for the third time in five years, I decided to clear the clutter before packing boxes so my new abode would be a place of joy and contentment! Of course, to keep it that way will be the greater challenge! The interim solution appeared easy at first: move piles into “like things” and clear some space. Then figure out what to do with the “like things” and toss in a heap in the closet. NO! No, no, no! Ugh. Although I was quite capable of doing it myself, I gave myself my first gift of Christmas—I sought out help from a professional!


I sought out web sites of professional organizers with photos of messy kitchens and children’s rooms with too many toys, many of which I’m sad to reveal, looked exactly like mine—piles and piles of stuff. Finally, I chose the two areas, which give me the biggest problems: my kitchen and my two boys’ rooms. To be honest, the garage was number one, but I didn’t have the time, energy, or money to tackle that one; maybe next year. Out of several organizers, I chose two. I also found out that many are members of a National Organization of Professional Organizers, and I would have been better off to start there.


First, I met with an organizing expert based in San Francisco who met with me at the home I was moving from. I immediately felt like I made a new friend! He explained that although the first step to clearing the clutter may be daunting, it was important to do a basic inventory of everything I had. That was entirely too much! He talked with me about what my main goals were and discussed the importance of understanding why we get ourselves back into a mess, literally.


“Everything must have a home,” he said. And unless I put those things back where they lived, they would meet other stuff, multiply, and become gremlins in my kitchen universe. No, he didn’t say that, but that’s what I imagined would happen. He literally went through everything in the kitchen with me, sleeves up, throwing away, recycling, and dodging my two-year old and ten-year old, who managed to perform knockdown, drag-outs for his entertainment. After figuring out (and admitting to) all the things I had, he helped me purge (guess I didn’t need twenty spatulas, just a couple—and I was living in Tupperware hell), and organized similar items into boxes. “It’s good that you’re doing this now,” he said, “It will make your move much easier.” I needed the confidence he had in me and was conjuring up how much it would cost if I could just have him do the whole house by himself. But then I wouldn’t learn anything, would I?


So in came the vans! The professional workers loaded, pulled, and hauled my many labeled boxes and possessions from my “old place” to my new home–I felt like I stepped into the middle of a Cinderella flick–they smiled and sang while they worked. Cool.


After the exhaustion of the move itself, (do they have unpacking-and put-away-everything-where- it-belongs professionals?) I ran to the ring of the doorbell when Mr. Organization arrived again, ready to help me. I flung my arms around him and kissed him furiously. Nooo, I didn’t do that, but I wanted to. It was time to start establishing a place to store all my kitchen items. Notice I didn’t say “stash,” I said, “store” stashing them is what led to the problem in the first place.


He had given me homework to get some large lazy susan’s to help with the smaller spaces, but just as a slacker student, I failed to complete the task. The lazy susans I bought from Home Depot were too large. Guess I should have measured the space instead of guessing. I suggested we make a trip to a well known container store to get something else. Storage options are readily available and I was able to choose from see-through plastic carts and containers to shelving and professional art-storage systems. Instead, Josh insisted on working with what we had to make the most of the time we had. (See, that IS why a professional is important … no indulgence in my procrastinating habits.) We did find a space for everything and divided areas into “food prep,” where my mixing bowls, etc. were stored below, to “snack areas” high in the cabinet where my sons would have to ask for them first. Ahhh, the peace of looking around in my new, organized, “everything has a place” kitchen was indescribable. Fear set in. Can I keep it this way?


The next professional organizer I consulted, on the other hand, had a little different approach when tackling my kids’ bedrooms. “You need to purge everything at your old house first, and then I’ll meet you at your new house.” She felt like it was necessary for me to do that alone since she wasn’t able to determine what my kids needed or what I felt was disposable. So I did that when the kids weren’t home. Then with the remainder of items, I had both boys pick toys they would be willing to give away. I purged at least 50% of what was in their rooms, from the multitude of stuffed animals that went to Goodwill to the hundreds of books and toys donated to Books for the Barrios, a charity where books and toys are sent to children in the Philippines that need them. Upon arrival at my house, the organizer looked like a cowboy in an old western, only instead of a gun she had her labeler in hand and labeled boxes with rapid firing action “action figures,” “balls,” and “legos.” With lightening speed and within hours, both rooms looked functional and inviting.


To fellow divas, worldwide … I wish you clearer thinking and an organized space to come home to after your travels!


A few tips to all disorganized divas:


  • Don’t think of uncluttering as getting rid of stuff. Think of it as giving it to someone who needs it more than you, or as recycling.
  • Recognize that you are not the same person you were ten years ago. Your interests, tastes, and styles have changed. Aim to surround yourself with the things that are a part of you today.
  • When you move, ask yourself if this item worth packing up and unpacking? If not, give it away.
  • If you have trouble letting go, think of it as “things you want to keep.” Make a decision to surround yourself only with things you love and use. Remove the rest.
  • Unsure of what to do. Put in a box and label. If after six months, you don’t use, donate the whole box.
  • Commit to spend a little time each day to unclutter and organize activities.
  • Tie your organizing goals into a larger life goal. Think about how getting organized will help you to save time or create space so that you can pursue your dreams or simply enjoy a more peaceful life!


Originally published on TangoDiva

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