Organizing Ideas

Home organization: Organizing tips 'n' tricks

Home organization: Organizing tips 'n' tricks

Home organization: Organizing tips 'n' tricks Author: Style At Home

Organizing Ideas

Home organization: Organizing tips 'n' tricks

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In most environments –- our homes, cars, even purses –- there's just too much stuff, so most of us have a cyclone of chaos, our personal circle of hell, somewhere around us.

Maybe you've got your desk under control, but your front hall is always a mess or you can never find your keys; both are signs that you could use an organizational overhaul and are in need of some home organization.

So we talked to the experts. Here are secrets from pros across the country.

Alex Fayle is president of the Professional Organizers in Canada and owner of Toronto-based FayleSafe Solutions ( which creates organizing systems for entrepreneurs and busy professionals.

Alex believes many of us struggle with clutter because we're over-programmed. "Our culture demands that every moment of our day be scheduled or we are going to miss out on something," he says. Why does this matter? "Just by being in your space, you will tidy it up." And if you're never home, you're too frazzled and rushed when you walk in the door to keep on top of it all. Fayle recommends creating a schedule with all the things you have to do "and leave time open for doing absolutely nothing." Then read the book How to Change Your Life by Doing Absolutely Nothing (Reed Business Information, Inc., 2002) by Karen Salmansohn, he suggests.

But there are other issues. "People think that if something is printed there is value to it and therefore they should keep it –- all of it," says Alex. "That means flyers, magazines, handouts and bills all get the same level of importance, so no streamlining happens. That means it becomes an overwhelming mess and often mail isn't even opened for months at a time." To deal with this, Fayle suggests opening your mail above the blue box or shredder so the bulk of it is taken care of right away.

(Get more container ideas here!)

When Alex visits his clients, he finds that gifts are another common hindrance to the organizing process. "People really feel guilty about them and hold on to stuff they don't like," he says. He's got an answer for that, too.

Let everyone in your circle know what you like and be specific so they don't give you gifts you don't want. "Implement a no-gift rule or a donate-to-charity rule instead of gifts. And if you get a gift you don't like," says Alex. "thank the person, then after a suitable amount of time to make sure you don't like it, re-gift it or donate it charity." Alex suggests a similar approach to children's toys, another trouble spot.

When it comes to choosing a system that works for you, Alex's advice is to make sure you can stick with it. "Don't create elaborate systems with computer programmer-like "if/then" statements," he says. "If it's not easy to maintain you won't do it, especially if more than one person is involved. For example, create a house rule that says nothing stays on the kitchen island overnight. Before going to bed, everyone needs to take away their stuff or it's gone –- if it's a toy, it's taken away for a period of time; if it's papers, they're dropped in a bin with the person's name."

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Kim Anstey is the only member of Professional Organizers in Canada based in Newfoundland. She started Finally Organized ( in 2005 and offers her services to both residential and business clients "but I really thrive in home offices and kids' rooms," she says.

In Kim's experience, front closets are a clutter danger-zone. "They're overstuffed because people don't remove seasonal items," she says. Inexpensive solution: a simple box labeled "seasonal items" placed on the top shelf for smaller items (gloves and scarves, for example). "At the change of each season, remove items from the box and replace with the out of season items that are hanging in the closet," says Kim. Create a "seasonal items" box for each member of your household.

Another problem for families is paper. For this oft-quoted problem, Kim recommends a table-top file holder with hanging folders on the kitchen table. "It works great because people can customize this system to fit their needs," she says. Create folders for unpaid bills, coupons, kids homework/permission slips, receipts, etc.

And Kim has some advice for up-keep as well. Purge on a regular basis. "This doesn't mean spend hours at a time doing it," she explains. "But while doing the laundry, look for ripped or worn clothes and toss them right away, while picking up toys, look for broken or unsafe items and discard them."

Clutter is just delayed decision-making -- get in the habit of making choices about all your stuff right away.

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Sandy Jacobson, coach and seminar leader, started Victoria-based Simplicity By Design Organizing ( four years ago.

Sandy focuses on workplace productivity for people who "realize they're losing time by shuffling stuff around," she says. According to Sandy, the average person loses about an hour a day doing just that. Besides inefficiency, there's waste to think about. "Since the advent of e-mail, paper use has increased by over 50%, and the average person uses about 250 pounds of paper a year."

Sandy's act-now tip: Get rid of your in-tray. "It just becomes a clutter collector," she says. The problem is that things that need attention now get jumbled with things that need attention later.

The solution? A three-tiered basket. Label the top tier "out," the middle one "in -- sort" and the bottom "file." Sandy's business is based on a system she calls the Magic Six; six steps to get you from simply orderly to truly organized. "If your readers do that alone, that will be an important step towards getting control of paper and information," she says of the in-tray swap. "That's one small piece of the Magic Six. If they're interested in the rest, they can call me. I guarantee they'll be rid of paper chaos for good, be able to find what they filed in five seconds or less and they will have a simple system to maintain it."

(Want to be organized AND stylish? Learn how here!)

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Wendy Hollick is chair of the Halton-Peel Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada and through her company, Neat Spaces ( she offers organizing services across the GTA.

Wendy believes that consumerism explains the overwhelming clutter most of us live with. "We are the generation of the spenders," she says "we like stuff and we have too much. When you look at these stats, for example, most of us wear only 20% of our clothing, 80% of the time -- you know we have too much!"

Wendy's a big fan of clear plastic storage containers for dealing with much of our belongings. And since children (bless them!) generate so much extra stuff, she has a few pointers for them specifically. "Rather than a large toy box, where certain toys get buried and forgotten about, it's better to store toys by categories, e.g. dolls, trucks, colouring books." Look for similar sized, clear, stackable containers.

Plastic storage drawers are Wendy's choice for bathroom supplies, "because you can give each family member their own drawer to hold personal items such as deodorant, make-up, and hair care products, and the unit can be stored under the sink." But she recognizes you may not have room for even that. "If storage space is really limited, put each person's supplies into a tote bag that they can carry back and forth from their bedroom to the bathroom when needed."

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Anne Gideon, started Just Get Organized ( five years ago, focusing on organizing and staging individual homes. She also gives seminars at home shows, Loblaws and the Pickering, Ontario Recreational Centre.

Anne encounters all manner of clutter hot-spots in her work and close to the top of her list of hot-spots are closets and cabinets and any storage with a door, she says. The reason is simple: with the door closed, you can't see what you've got. "You forget how much clutter you bought on impulse because you can take everything off the floor and shove it behind a door when company comes over," Anne adds.

It doesn't have to stay that way, though. First, face it all. "Take everything out and look at what you have," Anne suggests. Then purge what doesn't fit, hasn't been used in a year or you no longer like. Then install a light in these spaces. "A lot of times, it's because it's dark and people don't see what's in there, that they ignore it and then feel too anxious to look at their own clutter," Anne says. Buy self-adhering lights from your hardware store if re-wiring your home isn't on the agenda. "Having a well-lit space means that maintaining order is easier," she says.

As any woman knows, clothes can also be a clutter landmine –- it's so hard to give anything away. "Why do we keep clothes we no longer love or wear?" asks Anne. "Out of habit. We don't like to change. We are delusional about losing four dress sizes in six months. Realistically, we won't wear those clothes again even if we do go back to that size because our tastes in clothes have changed."

What to do? Toss clothes that don't fit but don't give them to friends and family. "They second guess you," Anne warns. "They'll say things like ‘You're getting rid of this? Why? You don't like it anymore? It's so pretty! Who gave it to you?" Not only that, when they declutter their house, they'll give you bags of their stuff." And replace those ugly wire hangers with nice wood or plastic ones.

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen and clutter can really derail our efficiency. The big culprit is gadgets and Anne is ruthless about them. "If someone gives you a kitchen gadget as a gift, give it to Goodwill," she says. "If you didn't need it enough to buy it for yourself, you just don't need it."

"Cappuccino this, orange grater that, cheese slicer, juicer, peelers… on and on and on," says Anne. "The appeal of kitchen gadgets is that they are fun, but, only for a second maybe. We buy things that will save time, but having too much means our kitchen drawers won't even open."

The kitchen, she says, should be an efficient working space, full only for the tools that you are going to use. Once you've established order, you've got to maintain it with the "one-in one-out" rule. "You buy a new black t-shirt, out goes one. You buy a new kitchen gadget, out goes one," says Anne. "Moderation is good. It keeps life manageable."

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Organizing Ideas

Home organization: Organizing tips 'n' tricks