Photography by Chris Malacarne
OK, we're going to go there. Yes, you would be completely embarrassed if we looked inside your bedroom drawers or opened your kitchen pantry. Yes, you're one of those people who won't open the door completely when the doorbell rings. Need we say that your garage door stays down at all times? You've gone down the plastic bin aisle and overdosed on file sorters and stackable trays, yet they're empty and now collecting dust.
If you have been embarrassed about being disorganized, we're here to tell you there's hope. We've gathered some simple advice from four local organization gurus who promise that they can turn the messiest Marvins into streamlined, well-functioning machines. So take a deep, cleansing breath and remember: there is life after the mess.
1. Don't compare yourself to others; think of how the space should work for you.
"Organization is as individualized as the person attempting to be that way," says Mary Kutheis of Open Spaces. "It's a matter of the person assessing the damage and saying, 'I don't function well in this chaos; it's time to change.' Once you get that mindset and you're willing to change, you are on your way to a cleaner and more effective lifestyle."
One of the first things that Kutheis has her clients do is "take in some A.I.R.: Assess what works and doesn't work in the room, whether it's toys everywhere or papers stacked high, and decide what's important to keep in the room to make it function well or save you valuable time. Then be realistic about what you're willing to do to become—and live—organized."
Kutheis says it's important to start in small areas and focus on transforming that space into an area that functions exactly the way you need it to. "I tell my clients that the process of getting organized is not about perfection, but progress. Stop comparing yourself to pictures or others who we think have it all together. Remember, this is about you and how you want to function in your home."
2. Organization involves a lifestyle change—which is usually living more simply.
Another way to help you remember that organization is a personal achievement is to "visualize how you see the space," says Trish Martin of Clutter Consultants, LLC. "It is motivating to see things looking good, so that you keep your focus on the end result, which is whatever you need it to be."
Martin says that a good way to tackle your projects is to sort the items first into like things, then make different piles. "I use get-rid-of, donate, maybe and trash piles." she says. "From these piles, you can determine what is keepable and then find the appropriate space for it."
Martin warns that getting organized involves a lifestyle change, which can really help you assess the amount of "things" you need. "I believe that being organized, whatever your definition is, really helps you live with what you have," she says. "Many times, we acquire so many of the same things because our systems at home aren't working, and because of that, we go out and buy more. Getting everything sorted and finding a proper place for it where you can see or access it quickly can help keep your life simple and clutter-free."
She believes that you have to set some rules and know your weaknesses. "If you know that you have a weakness for shoes and your closet is already overflowing, stay out of the shoe store, or at least ask yourself, 'Do I really need another pair of shoes? Where will I put them?'" she says. "Start using what you have before you acquire more, so that this becomes a way of life for you."
3. Weigh the pros and cons of organizing your life and use the pros to keep yourself motivated.
How do you actually stay organized once you've sorted everything? Janine Adams of Peace of Mind Organizing advises her clients to "return things to their home right away. Staying organized is a decision. For day-to-day living, you should develop systems that are as natural to you as brushing your teeth."
Adams says that there are all kinds of great organizing tools out there and integrating even one or two of them into your day will make life easier. "Maybe it's a matter of keeping sanitation wipes in the bathroom for a quick daily touch-up," she says, "or using a timer to help keep you focused on an organizing task. You'd be amazed at what you can accomplish in 15 focused minutes."
Adams says that deciding to get organized should be fun and energizing. "You should think about why it's important for you to have a clean space that functions well," she says. "Is it necessary because it will free up some time when you get home so you can play with the kids or take the dog for a walk? Is it just a matter of having the peace of mind of knowing that if things get out of place, a few quick steps can restore some order?" Use goals to keep yourself motivated, she says, and to deal with the sometimes emotional process of letting things go. "We have a sense of guilt if we throw something away or give something away. So things just keep piling up."
4. Purge your unneeded stuff and don't look back. You won't regret it.
If you still feel overwhelmed and don't know where to begin, don't feel bad. Margery Miller of Margery Miller and Associates says it's not an unusual response. "In today's times, people are overwhelmed, and it's important to have as much time as possible."
After getting your space sorted and deciding what to keep, you will know where things will go. Then, Miller says, go shopping for organizational tools. "Aesthetics play a major role in continuing to help you feel better about your new, tailored space," she says. "A bin or a new cabinet is only good when it's being used correctly. Buying the organizing tools that fit in with your new systems is the best investment, but only after you've purged everything that needs to be purged. They make everything look good and make you feel better by knowing that everything has its proper place."
Whether you're trying to organize a room or the entire house, the support of your family or whomever is living in that space is crucial. "The daily routine of keeping the space intact needs to be recognized by everyone," says Miller, who also understands the emotional attachments people develop to things. A professional, she says, can help make objective decisions about "what you're just hanging on to and what you really need to live and function well within your space."
All of our experts agree: No matter how big the mountain looks, or how long you've been putting organizing off, just start. Soon you'll be on your way to seeing the bottom of your cabinets again.