As a little girl, I remember watching Mary Poppins and thinking that it would be so cool to be able to snap my fingers and have my toys put themselves away. As a surprise to no one, I was a fairly practical child and knew this wasn't likely to happen and would do my chores myself with little fuss but I always remember the ease and fun that tidying was in that movie. To this day, a good clean out brings out the warm fuzzies for me.
For some reason, the home I grew up in didn't stress a particularly rigorous cleaning schedule, and as the most-OCD prone individual in the family, I was usually the one that would organize the kitchen cabinets, possibly with paper labels taped to the inside of the doors to help my less than tidy loved ones. Our housekeeper loved it, but the rest of the family just allowed me my little craziness and went on about their day.
Fast forward to the early 2000s, when yours truly had a little business called Jayne of All Trades which was a Concierge Service. Though the company was short-lived, I helped all sorts of people with all types of odd jobs, but most frequently, getting organized. A closet, a garage, a kitchen, or whatever was needed.
More often than not, it wasn't that the client couldn't do it, it was they didn't know how to start. Bringing in a professional organizer or even just a neutral third party can help, but here are some tips when you're ready to start on your own:
1. Regardless of the area you're trying to sort, take everything out so you can see it. Everything. Yes, that too. Then clean the surfaces of the area you just cleaned out. Dust, vacuum, or maybe just a good wiping out will work. This helps you get a true sense of one, how big your storage area actually is and two, how much stuff you really have.
2. If possible, try to have light in the area you're trying to organize, even if temporarily while you're working. It will be easier to see what you're doing that way and the light keeps your spirits up. Trust me on that one. I also recommend music or some kind of background noise to keep you energized, though nothing so engaging that you get distracted by it!
3. Before you begin going through things, determine what categories you're likely to need and identify spots to make piles. The categories I use most often are keep, donate, and trash, but you could have any number of categories that make sense for you and your situation.
Let's pause here for a sec. If the actual sorting process is hard for you because you don't want to let go of things you know you should, don't worry. Come on over to my house and I'll show you all the things I have from people that are no longer with us that I'm not quite ready to let go of. I KNOW that I will need to at some time, but I'm not there yet. And that's okay.
Stuff can have emotional power, such as the power to remember, or the power to help us feel safe. However, when the emotion to hold on to a certain item is stronger than the original emotion that caused you to keep the item in the first place, that is a good point to reevaluate. Sometimes lack of organization is laziness, and to be fair, I find that the easiest to overcome. You can take some extra time, maybe bring in a professional to help, and you’re probably good.
When you keep things because you can’t bear to let go, those things can begin to block the life you have in front of you, sometimes literally, which can hurt you. In this type of case, you may not need help cleaning out as much as help thinking through. Don't be afraid to seek out a counselor to talk it out.
Back to my situation, where I'm not quite ready to let certain things go, I could make a separate pile for things I'm still connected to. Maybe they can be put into a box and put away for a future sorting. Depends on what it is, of course, but my point is that you can still greatly succeed at this process without being 100% perfect. Give yourself a break, and tackle what you can for now. Okay, now let's get back to it...
4. Sort everything before you start putting anything back. Commit to those decisions and go ahead and take the donations out to the car and put the trash in the garage before you put back the keeps. You will likely have more space than you did when you started, and if you stand firm with those decisions to let things go, you'll be happier with your overall results.
5. Use tubs, drawers, tins, bins, baskets, shoeboxes or whatever you can to give your items some clearly defined space. This lets you know exactly where something can be found and where it belongs, particularly smaller or unwieldy things. No need to go crazy with this, but it really helps.
6. Take a look at what you've accomplished! Great job! Celebrate your hard work!! Once you've tackled one space, it's easier to go tackle some of your other problem areas. This same process can work on a garage, kitchen cabinets, the pantry, really anything at all!
Before I wrap up, I have two more thoughts that fall into this topic: clothes and Marie Kondo.
So, for clothes, when you're ready to clean out your wardrobe, be realistic about what you're keeping. If you've just celebrated your twentieth year high school reunion, it's probably okay to let go of the jeans you still have from your senior year. They've given to you what they have to give, it's time! I could give many examples of why we all hold on to things that we shouldn't, but my recommendation is this: If you can't wear it right now because of the season of the year, that's a good reason to hold on to something, but other than that, try to let it go. And, even if it does fit, but you don't like it, let it go! You're not likely to change your mind all of a sudden. The fact of the matter is that someone, somewhere can probably use the clothes that you haven't touched in three years, and may even desperately need them. Load them up, donate them to your favorite spot, and live a simpler life. On those seasonal clothes, including your dressier clothes, it's better to put them in a tub or box and pull them down once you need them. Having sweaters handy when it's 105 degrees outside just doesn't make sense! But don't forget to pull them down in enough time to launder before you need to wear.
Marie Kondo makes me smile. If you're not familiar with her, she's a petite Japanese lady who makes organizing the most relaxing activity ever. Where most people get stressed by cleaning out, she goes the other direction and finds joy in the activity. I suspect I'm different than most in that I watch her because I find her so relaxing and my own personal methods somewhat parallel hers, so I feel like I'm watching a colleague (not that I compare myself to her exactly, I'm not a globally known expert, but I get her vibe). If you don't know who she is, go catch her show on Netflix, or probably YouTube. Her methods are sound, in my opinion, though I don't fold everything like she does, at least not yet. If you're just starting on an organizing goal, you may find her inspirational.
Rebecca is a Cypress, TX based Realtor who gets excited when everything is organized and cleaned out, and has been known to organize spaces that don't belong to her. If you're thinking about putting your house on the market, a good clean out is a GREAT idea and she's just the girl to give you her advice on organizing, staging your home, and getting it ready to list! Drop her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org