Expert Advice to Tame Clutter

Can you create more storage and be creative? We asked designers and organization experts for their inventive tips.

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Overwhelmed No More
Overwhelmed No More

    Problem: There's just too much to tackle.

    Solution: Come up with a plan and timeline for taking it one step at a time.

    Examine the room you want to organize and visually break it into small areas that you can tackle in increments. Set achievable deadlines to give yourself a goal to work toward. Make a list of what stays and what could go to reduce clutter. Focus on the reason you need to reorganize, such as creating a clutter-free area for family gatherings or cleaning out a guest room so there's space for visitors. Prioritize your tasks, starting in an area where you can quickly see progress. Schedule time to work on a project when you're most energetic and least likely to be distracted. Set a timer and quit when the timer rings.
    -- Kathy Jenkins, professional organizer

Sentimental Journey

    Problem: I can't get rid of these things. They belonged to a loved one, or I might need them in the future.

    Solution: Keep only things that really matter to you, that you use, and that you have room for.

    Ask a trusted friend to help you go through memorabilia. It's easy to get lost in the past while reading old letters or looking through old photos, but a friend will keep you on track. Ask your friend to help presort items. Dealing with sorted piles makes it easier to make decisions. Be kind to yourself and give yourself more time to tackle objects that have feelings attached to them. But don't let grief or guilt bully you into keeping things you don't really need. Keep only a few strong sentimental reminders.
    -- Lori Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet

Do Your Best

    Problem: "If I can't do it right, I won't do it at all."

    Solution: Get started, do the best you can in the time you have, and accept that everything may not be perfect.

    Come up with an organizational plan that works for now, knowing that you can tweak the plan later. The important thing is getting started. Begin with a small, manageable project, such as a sock drawer. Every morning when you find a pair of matched socks, you'll be inspired to tackle organizing additional drawers and other spaces. Experiencing the benefits of organization breeds motivation.

    Choose progress, not perfection. Repeat to yourself that almost perfect is good enough, and keep moving forward. Don't get bogged down in details that don't really matter.
    -- A.J. Miller, professional organizer, motivational speaker, and columnist

Make Time for Organization

    Problem: Time is not on my side. I'm so busy.

    Solution: Know how to find time to commit to organization.

    Play beat the clock and schedule 15 to 30 minutes of daily catch-up time and see how many organizational tasks -- sorting the mail, reorganizing a cupboard, putting laundry away -- you can complete. Knowing that an end is in sight will make it easier for you to get going. Sound an alert. If time is always getting away from you, set an alarm on your cell phone or computer to remind you to do a specific organizational task. Make time fly and multitask. Minutes will pass more quickly if you do a task while watching TV, listening to music, or conversing with a spouse, child, or friend.
    -- Connie Johnson, professional organizer

Eliminate Procrastination

    Problem: I don't have the time or energy today, so I'll handle it later.

    Solution: Make yourself accountable by setting deadlines, and reward yourself when you achieve your goals.

    Find a motivation partner. Set a day and time each week to talk about what you want to get done and how you plan to do it. Being accountable to someone else is a powerful motivator. Reward and/or discipline yourself depending on what motivates you most. You might reward yourself by eating out at a favorite restaurant or getting a spa treatment. Or you might give yourself a reality check by getting up early for a few days to achieve your goal. Throw a party. Do you shift into organizational overdrive when company's coming? Schedule more at-home happenings. When you know people are coming over, you're more likely to straighten up.
    -- Lori Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet

Get a Move On

    Problem: You waste precious time every morning running around the house looking for the items you need for the day.

    Solution: Use a "transfer basket" to gather everything that needs to go out the door the next day -- library books, bills to mail, schoolwork, etc. Haul the basket to your car every morning and bring it back into the house when errands are done.

    -- Amanda Catalanotto, professional organizer

Good Looks

    Problem: No matter how hard you try, you just can't get rid of clutter around your house.

    Solution: You can't hide all clutter, but you can contain it. Look at where it collects and set up attractive ways to deal with it. Place a large bowl on the kitchen counter to collect keys. Leave a big basket by the door for shoes. Check discount stores and office supply houses for patterned folders for storing bills -- or wicker, fabric, and leather boxes to match your decor.

    -- Donna Smallin, author of The One-Minute Organizer: A to Z Storage Solutions

Take Inventory

    Problem: Your closet is overflowing, yet you still can't find anything to wear.

    Solution: You should have only three types of clothes in your closet -- clothes that fit you, clothes you love, and clothes that always bring you compliments.

    -- Peter Walsh, author of Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?

Tackle Tough Closets

    Problem: Your closets are overflowing with an unorganized mixture of household items.

    Solution: Take a close look at how you're using the top shelf in all your closets. Store yearbooks, kids' memorabilia, or once-a-year dishes on these out-of-reach shelves.

    -- Marcia Ramsland, author and professional organizer

Book It

    Problem: You need wall storage but don't know where to start.

    Solution: Create an instant room divider by placing bookshelves back to back as storage for collections, dishes, and, of course, books.

    -- Nancy Peham, professional organizer

Open Areas

    Problem: The dinner table is so cluttered, it's hard to find room for a dinner plate.

    Solution: The dining table is often the place where family members spread out projects. With the right organization, it can still be ready for dining at a moment's notice. Designate a bin for whatever tends to find a temporary home on the table. This can be permanent storage or a way to move things to their rightful room.

    -- Meryl Starr, author of The Home Organizing Workbook

Hide and Seek

    Problem: You have furniture, but you don't know how to optimize its storage capacity.

    Solution: When you shop for furniture, look for pieces with built-in storage, preferably with doors. A nightstand can conceal bed and bath supplies. A dining room console table can stow holiday dishes or seldom-used china.

    -- Andrew Flesher, designer

Open and Shut

    Problem: You don't have any extra drawers to allocate for a "junk" drawer.

    Solution: The backs of many doors can be hidden storage gems. Attach shallow wire shelving to closet, pantry, and basement doors. If there's space, line the adjoining interior wall with narrow shelves and hooks for items such as cleaning supplies, handy tools, or pantry goods.

    -- Julie Morgenstern, author and organizing expert

Double Time

    Problem: You're working with limited space.

    Solution: Think dual-purpose. Look for furniture that works hard: beds and coffee tables with drawers, ottomans with lift-off tops for out-of-sight storage, chests that can stow linens and tableware and also serve as buffets.

    -- Betsy Bruce, design consultant

Step Up for Space

    Problem: You have limited space in your bathroom, but desperately need storage.

    Solution: Use an old wooden ladder as decorative shelves. In the bath, stack it with hand towels and potions. Keep CDs and DVDs at your fingertips in the media room. Or rest small wire baskets for fresh fruit in the kitchen. For added stability on A-frame ladders, drill holes in the side opposite the steps and add dowel rods -- they also make great display bars for hanging objects.

    -- Susan Jeffery Lepper, designer

Make Your Mark

    Problem: Little people equal big messes.

    Solution: Drawers and bins make it easy for kids to put away musical instruments, art supplies, and toys. Baskets and jars for socks, hats, and coins keep the closet tidy. Label everything to help kids stay organized.

    -- Amanda Catalanotto, professional organizer

Cut Crafts Clutter

    Problem: Your scissors and hole punches are taking over your craft room table.

    Solution: Keep scissors handy by looping a cord through the handle and hanging the pair on a cup hook attached to a shelf. Store wrapping paper rolls upright in an umbrella stand or wastebasket. Use fishing-tackle boxes to organize small sundry items such as threads, buttons, beads, and scrapbook embellishments.

    -- Sy John Iverson, designer

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