Everyone with a large family and a big house can relate to Joyce Butler and her husband, Ron. At one time or another, each of their four children, two of their four grandchildren, and her parents have lived with them in the Lexington residence they’ve called home since 1986.
A lifelong Kentuckian, Joyce found that “people moved in and when they moved out, they took only what they wanted. Being left with everyone’s stuff made it hard to function. I had to work constantly to make the space presentable.”
Joyce sought input from professional organizer Sue McMillin, owner of With Time To Spare Inc. in Georgetown. An organizing consultant working with corporations, churches, and individuals since 1982, Sue’s motto is, “You shouldn’t have to go through your work to get to your work.” Together they are reorganizing Joyce’s space, and to date have uncluttered and reordered the walk-in pantry, china cabinet, and china closet.
“It has been such a blessing,” says Joyce. “When I entertained, I used to use only the few pieces of china that were accessible. But the last time I had a big get-together, I used all my china and serving pieces. By the next morning, everything was back in its place. It didn’t even look like I had a party. I called Sue and told her how wonderful it was, for it to be 10:30 the next morning and have everything back the way it was.”
Sue has heard many such reports over the years. “When you can access, retrieve, and put things away quickly, you gain time to focus on what matters most,” she says. “You must invest time up front to deal with clutter and set up systems, but that time and more is returned to you on the back end.”
How can you reap the same time-saving and stress-relieving benefits? As past president of the National Association of Professional Organizers and an organizing consultant for more than a decade, I’ve seen the following ideas work well for many:
In the garage
The garage, meant to hold the cars, often contains everything but vehicles. The key here is maximizing use of vertical space. Hang storage units on the walls or use tall sets of shelves and you can double your usable space. Suspend tools, ladders, and bicycles from heavy hooks.
Stacking bins and clear plastic drawers are great for guarding sports gear. Label each unit clearly. Soccer and basketballs can be corralled in a clean garbage can or sport-specific organizer.
In the closet
The fastest way to order a closet is to switch to one hanger style and turn all clothes facing the same direction. Next, group similar clothing together to make it easier to find desired garments.
Maximize use of space between the bottom of short garments (shirts, jackets) and the floor by placing a shoe cubby here. If you have an excess of items on hangers, you might prefer to use this space for a second hanging rod.
Install shelves close together so you don’t waste space. Use vertical shelf dividers to prevent sweater piles from toppling over.
Toss garments needing dry-cleaning into a bag hooked to the back of the door so it’s ready when you’re running errands.
In the kitchen
Traffic patterns are important here, so store items near where they’re used. Keep coffee supplies near the coffee maker and cutting boards near the knives. Place dishes in a cabinet near the dishwasher to facilitate unloading. Keep the garbage can near the food prep area; large kitchens may require two garbage cans.
Within each drawer or cabinet, strive for “one-motion storage,” a concept meaning you can retrieve and replace frequently used items without having to move anything out of the way.
Use drawer dividers to separate gadgets. Dividers come pre-formed or as plastic strips that can be cut to fit your space exactly. Under-the-shelf baskets make use of otherwise wasted space and hold flat items such as napkins and placemats. Plate racks and cup hooks in cabinets create extra room for dishes.
In the kids’ room
If you want young children to keep their rooms picked up, storage systems need to be within reach. Lower the rod in the closet or purchase a non-permanent one that hangs from the upper rod. Choose short bookcases, no more than three shelves high.
Pay attention to the size of containers. If a tote is too small for its contents, it will be a lot of work for a small child to fit everything in. An oversized container isn’t great either, because other items will likely be tossed in on top of the intended contents.
Under-the-bed boxes are good for blocks and heavy toys. Clear-pocket shoe bags make organized homes for Beanie Babies and hair ornaments. Zip-top bags are appropriate for puzzle pieces and small parts from board games.
In addition to storage being convenient, the systems must be easy to understand. If your children can’t read yet, tape a picture of the contents to the box instead of labeling it by name.
In the home office
A home office can be set up in a spare room or an unused corner of another room. Avoid using the kitchen table for your paper management center: you’ll have to clear it every day to eat.
An L-shaped desk is ideal. Use one leg of the L as your work surface and the other to lay out the projects you’ll tackle later in the day.
To keep your desk clear, use an inbox for holding incoming mail. Later, when you process it, use these parameters:
Information you don’t need belongs in the wastebasket, recycling bin, or shredder. (The larger your garbage can, the more likely you are to use it!) Papers you want to keep for potential future reference go into a file cabinet. Choose a full suspension cabinet, one whose drawers pull all the way out. Papers you need to do something with belong in action files. Store these within easy reach in a desktop file rack.
The beauty of an organized home comes from living in an environment that supports you. Once you’ve established what you need and designate a place for everything, it will be simple for you to enjoy this benefit now and in the future.
And the future for Joyce Butler? “I am going to have Sue help me some more. We have started in on my closets and I have a huge attic that needs attention. Organizing is ongoing for me and I’m looking forward to it.”
5 STEPS TO ORGANIZATION
Professional organizer Sue McMillin has five steps for organizing any space:
1. Remove: Take the contents out of the drawer, cabinet, or closet and place on a clear surface, such as a desk or table.
2. Sort: Organize the contents into individual piles of like items.
3. Eliminate: Get rid of items you don’t want to keep.
4. Contain: Identify containers to hold what’s left; each container should hold only one type of item.
5. Return: Assign a place for everything and return contents to their designated place.
THE RIGHT TOOLS
Half the battle to good organization is having the right tools. Fantastic organizing products can be found in a variety of styles to match your personal taste or décor. Some of the most popular retail stores and catalogs:
Hangers Direct: all types of hangers, www.hangersdirect.com
Hold Everything: catalog for home organizing products, www.holdeverything.com
Jeffco: plastic filing products, www.jeffco.com
Levenger: products for reading, writing, and other pursuits, www.levenger.com
Lizell: office tools, furniture, and accessories, www.lizell.com
Office Depot: catalog, online, and office supply stores, www.officedepot.com
Organized Living: home organization stores across the country, www.organizedliving.com
A professional organizer for more than 10 years, Stephanie Denton is the owner of Denton & Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, and can be reached at (513) 871-8800 or www.123sortit.com/stephaniedenton.