Follow these simple tips to keep clutter at bay and keep your home looking effortlessly organized.
Piles of bills on the kitchen counter, DVDs strewn about the living room and a beautiful antique dining room tabletop that's buried under piles of paper. Oh, and you can't find your gym pass either.
Can you relate to the above scenario? If so, you and your loved ones may slowly be drowning in a giant pile of clutter.
Clutter can be a big weight on the state of your mental health. "Clutter is like pollution. It's all-pervasive: It's in your thoughts, in your way, in your space. It robs you of peace of mind and that feeling of being at home," says Kristie Demke, President of Professional Organizers in Canada. "It can also rob you of time," she adds, "because you spend a lot more time moving things to dust, sweep and vacuum around. And, you spend more time looking for things."
Many of us dream of neat and tidy rooms like those showcased in our favourite design magazines like Style at Home. Here are 10 quick and easy ways to start clearing out the clutter in your home.
Credits: Stacey Brandford
1 Identify clutter hot spots
Kitchens attract mail pile-ups, home offices store endless piles of bills. Books and hand cream samples seem to love night tables and the weekend's newspaper becomes a permanent fixture on your living room floor. Once you identify your clutter hot spots, consider purchasing an attractive basket to house items you like to have at your fingertips. But remember, a basket can organize chaos for a while, but will also need a frequent purge a few times a month to avoid pile up.
Purge and do it often. Why are you using up valuable space storing that mixing bowl set you think your niece might want when she leaves for university in a few years? Go through your stuff and think about the last time you used it, why you're keeping it around and if it would be more useful somewhere else. After your first few big purging sessions, you won't need to go at your storage closet so frequently (and ruthlessly).
We all have important keepsakes we don't know what to do with and purging these can be difficult, but don't keep these things buried in the bottom of a box in your garage. Find a space in your home where you can show off its beauty and take good, constant care of it. "There's really no point in owning something if you can't use it," Kristie says.
3 Deal with a little every day
This may be the hardest tip to follow, but it's by far the best. Focusing a mere 15 minutes of your day on clearing clutter will make your life a whole lot easier (and your house a whole lot tidier)! When you're finished your bowl of cereal, put the dish in the dishwasher right away, rather than placing it in the sink. When you get home from work, deal with your mail immediately. File away bills and recycle junk mail then and there. If you have the luxury of half an hour, says Kristie, you can manage to sort through a closet of clothing, determining what you don't need anymore. If you don't let things pile up, your home will be a lot tidier and cleaning up much less of a daunting task.
4 Stay focused
When you're taking on a clutter-busting task, it's important to be energized and focused. Even if you're just spending 15 minutes on cleaning off your desk, ignore the buzz of your Blackberry and the ping of your e-mail inbox. Just focus on the task at hand so you can be done with it once and for all.
5 Look at the big picture
It's hard to decide on the fate of a beloved old sweater when you're looking at it on its own, but when you put it beside all your new ones, you may notice that it's stretched out of shape, faded and really, you wouldn't be caught dead in it in public. Conundrum solved!
6 Make use of unused space
You can add hooks over your bedroom and bathroom doors, bins and baskets on closet floors, storage bins under your bed, and bulletin boards and file pockets to your office walls. Be creative when looking at unused space and it can become a great new place to store items out of the way.
7 Get your kids involved
"Kids come with a lot of accessories," Kristie says, "so you have to be pretty vigilant to make sure you stay on top of it." Kristie recommends sitting down with your kids for an hour every month to sort through what they have, then storing or donating what is no longer being played with. "And make sure whatever storage you have is at their height and within their ability [to use]," she adds. "Even a toddler can put away soft toys into a bin if it's at the right height."
8 Identify a place for things
So you knit, sew, run, bike ride, cook and have two dogs. Your hobbies require you to actually own stuff, and therefore have created a good deal of clutter. "You really have to identify an amount of space - a place - for things. If you have a dog, make sure the leash and bags are all kept in one area," Kristie advises. In finding a home for your hobbies, you may discover you don't have room for all of them, helping you to identify which ones should be a priority.
9 File things ... now
Kristie says that one of the best organizing investments is a filing cabinet. Just think: All of those piles of papers in your home office can be put away in mere moments. And you won't spend hours of your precious time trying to locate your donation receipts come tax time. Don't worry, not all filing cabinets are of the old, stacked metal variety. You can find ones with classy design elements at places like West Elm, Ikea and Pottery Barn.
10 Give away
Dedicate a specific spot in your house or garage for giveaway items, and place a box there. When you come across something you no longer need or want, you can discard it to the giveaway spot immediately, rather than setting it back down and forgetting about it. Plan a monthly trip to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army drop-off location to get rid of the goods you no longer have room for.
Tour this lovely cottage on Lake Simcoe!
A designer lends her expertise to help a couple resolve a colourful debate over the scheme for their family cottage.
"He wanted dark tones and a woodsy Aspen vibe. I wanted everything white with clean lines." The “he” referred to is the husband, the “I” speaking is the wife, and in terms of their decor preferences for this new-build 4,900-square-foot cottage overlooking Lake Simcoe in Innisfil, Ont., they were clearly at odds. But the Toronto-based couple, who has a seven-year-old daughter, a five-year-old son and a Samoyed puppy, did agree on one thing: The design had to be practical. And after many reassurances on the wife’s part that her vision could be inviting and relaxing, she says, “My husband eventually gave me free rein. I wanted a gorgeous unfussy space that was easy to maintain.”
To get the look, she turned to Lidia van Zyl, a designer based in Barrie, Ont., who’s well known for decorating waterfront properties in the area. “When I was hired in 2014, the cottage was in its planning stage,” says Lidia. “This allowed us to pore over the plans and confirm almost every detail before the walls went up.” The walls themselves played a crucial role in setting the tone for the space. “Honouring the husband’s preference for a traditional look, I incorporated shiplap into the mix,” says Lidia. The wooden boards, which were most often used in the construction of homes, were applied horizontally in the kitchen, powder room, foyer and master bedroom. “Shiplap, even when painted white, provides a rustic contrast to drywall and has an informal feel that really adds to the casual cottage vibe,” says the designer.
While the scheme may be all white, it’s anything but stark. “The key to decorating with white is to use different shades of it,” says Lidia. “If you look closely, you’ll see the walls are a crisp white, while the beams are coated with a warmer shade.” Wide-plank pale hickory flooring completes the airy backdrop, which Lidia chose to punctuate with bold hits of black. “I love contrast, so I added black accessories to almost every room,” she says. Lidia extended this theme to the furniture as well and, with the kids and puppy in mind, paid specific attention to practicality. “The grey sofas in the living room are covered with indoor-outdoor fabric, so they’re stain resistant and easy to clean,” she says. “And some of the pieces, such as the living room coffee table and foyer console, are crafted from steel, so they’re pretty much damage-proof.” She also introduced a few well-placed antiques throughout the cottage to create interesting tension between old and new.
The 18-month process of building and decorating netted a year-round family retreat that Lidia describes as “refined but rustic.” And even though the wife had total control, she did make an effort to include her husband – sort of. She says: “He really wanted dark floors, but even he conceded the light ones looked better. So I let him think he helped with that decision in a roundabout way. Now we’re all happy!”
Accessories like the rope-hung mirrors and the lantern-style pendant lights make this practical space feel decorated. “I don’t like to take risks when decorating,” says one of the homeowners, “but I did want to mix things up in the kitchen so it didn’t read as plain.”
Designer Lidia van Zyl played the natural tones of wood and stone against sleek black accents to create character in the living room. The tall armoire holds things like games, books and blankets, while the bare floor, a practical option, is easy to clean. A trio of metal sculptures above the reclaimed wood mantel is a departure from the expected mirror or artwork.
In the foyer, the staircase’s natural wood handrail and treads were a purposeful choice. “If we had painted them black, it would have drawn the eye up the stairs as opposed to straight through the cottage to the lake,” says Lidia.
A mix of neutral tones creates subtle depth in the dining area. “The table and chairs appear white at first glance, but they’re actually a soft shade of grey,” says Lidia. the chandelier, painted white to downplay its ornate shape, illuminates everything from meals to crafts.
“This cottage always makes me smile,” says one of the homeowners. “It’s an amazing feeling to open the front door to beautiful surroundings.” the stone skirting – a concession to the aspen look the husband wanted – ties in nicely with the herringbone brick walkway.
The artful arrangement of dark-hued antiques in an all-white area of the living room makes a graphic statement. the antlers are a family heirloom.
“I love a white kitchen because I don’t like distractions when I’m cooking,” says one of the homeowners, “and I can also see what needs to be cleaned.” low-maintenance Caesarstone countertops and a glossy tiled backsplash on the range wall make cleanup even easier. the massive island is outfitted with cupboards that hold cottage necessities, such as candles, batteries and a tool kit.
While the silhouette of the chandelier in the master bedroom is traditional, its wooden beads give it an earthy appeal that suits a cottage. the wicker basket, sisal rug and rustic artwork (it’s made of wood and says “I Love Us”) echo that earthiness, which is tempered by the black furniture.
Hooks and baskets are enough to keep the mud room in order since the basement has ample storage. The built-in bench always comes in handy.
Like the rest of the cottage, the powder room is energized with hits of black. “I love the graphic mosaic-look floor here,” says Lidia. “It’s actually 24-by-24-inch tiles, and they have just the right amount of pattern for a small space.” Vintage racquets used as informal artwork perfectly fit the laid- back vibe of this family retreat.
Buying guide: The truth about thread count
Is there anything better than sliding into a bed laden with good quality sheets? At the end of the day, I can't wait to stretch out under my fresh, soft covers and nestle my face into a good cotton-covered pillow. We spend a third of our lives in bed so quality sheets are key, but how do you get quality for your money? There's no doubt that most consumers believe the higher the thread count, the better the quality, but this isn't entirely true. With the help and expertise of Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens, we expose the truth about thread count and what it takes to find quality bed sheets.
What is thread count, really?
Simply put, thread count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. This number is based on the threads woven horizontally ("weft") and vertically ("warp"). Extra threads can also be woven into the weft threads to increase the thread count. These added threads are called "picks" and are added in the overall count, which is how some sheets end up having thread counts in the thousands. This is why the idea that high counts equal better quality isn't really accurate. Consider this: Joanna says most weavers will say the maximum number of threads that can be woven into one square inch of fabric is 500 to 600. Though the number is arguable and, according to Joanna, "depends on the mill you deal with," it gives you an idea of where the line is between single-ply, unpicked weaves and ones that add threads here and there to bump up the count.
What to look for when buying sheets
Joanna lists three things to look for on the label: if it's Egyptian cotton, where it's woven and, lastly, the thread count. While thread count is a bit misunderstood, the buzz around Egyptian cotton is true. "The very best cotton in the world is grown in Egypt. So Egyptian cotton will be of a better quality," Joanna says. She also recommends pima cotton, which is grown in America, "though not quite as exceptional as Egyptian." When it comes to weaving, however, she swears by the Italians as being the "master weavers of the world" due to their "long tradition of weaving" and use of the best Egyptian cotton. Be sure the label says 100% or pure Egyptian cotton though, otherwise it may only contain a small percentage of the good stuff. As for the thread count, look for a minimum of 200. From there, it's all about preference!
What to avoid when buying sheets
Joanna's one key piece of advice is to watch out for extremely low priced, high thread count sheet sets. A complete sheet set with a high thread count for $100 or less is probably not the dream bargain you think it is. As Joanna believes, "you always get what you pay for." The price tag for bed linens will vary depending on the sheet size and what items you're buying, such as a duvet cover, sheet sets, or pillowcases. "A superior quality 200 thread count queen set (including flat, fitted, two pillowcases), made of Egyptian cotton and woven in Europe, could retail reasonably for about $150-$250," says Joanna.
What do you prefer?
After going through the quality checklist, go with what feels best for you. If you're looking for a durable linen, Joanna recommends any percale from thread count 200 to 800. Percale is any cotton woven with a 200 thread count or higher and will be more durable than a cotton satin of the same thread count. It's also less likely to pill than cotton satin because it has a denser weave. Love the feel of a cotton button down shirt? Joanna advises a crisp, dense 200 thread count percale. Prefer a silkier sheet? Go for a 300 to 600 cotton satin. If you want lighter sheets, Joanna says, a 400 thread count sheet can be soft and light, while an 800 percale would be soft and dense. The higher the thread count, the more likely multiple-ply thread is used or picks are added, making the fabric denser and heavier.
Now you know that quality is not just about the number, so don't let numbers rule your bed! Remember what to look for on the label and be wary of too-low prices for supposedly high quality items. Beyond that, go with what you prefer. Get a good feel of the sheets before buying. Whether you're unzipping the packaging or lying down on a display bed, make sure the fabric feels good against your skin and soon you'll be having sweet dreams!
Find out how to keep your new linens crisp and clean with our tips to whiter-than-white sheets.
Expert fall home organizing tips
Professional organizer Estelle Gee gives her best home organizing tips for fall.
Blending style with practicality, Estelle Gee, director of Orderly Lives, has made a career out of helping others get organized. Here she shares some of her best home organizing tips and tricks to help you get your house ready for fall.
Simple home organizing solutions
Back-to-school home organizing
If you have children, then fall is extra busy -- not only do you have to get yourself organized and your home prepared for the oncoming cold, but you also have to get ready for back-to-school. Here are Estelle Gee's best home organizing tips to help get you and your family ready for school.
Outdoor fall home organizing ideas
With the lazy days of summer coming to a close, it's time to concentrate on organizing the outdoor living space and exterior of your home. Get your house winter ready before the cold rolls in with these simple outdoor organizing ideas.
Fall home organizing accessories
A few of Estelle Gee's favourite home organizing accessories: