October 6, 1997 in Features

Get Organized Control The Clutter, Manage The Mayhem By Following A Few Simple Rules

Nancy Janzen Special To Families

To say we have an organized home would be a stretch. We keep a path cleared to the bedrooms. I’ve only lost my keys once this year. OK, twice. Last week my daughter asked where her barrettes were and hardly seemed surprised when I said, “Check in the piano bench, honey.”

After a desperate search that same morning for a pair of matching socks, I decided to seek professional help. “Therapy,” I remember thinking. “I need clutter therapy.” And for a change, I acted on the impulse and contacted two organizing specialists.

The first was Sue Swanson, a local professional organizer from Pullman who regularly works with people in the Spokane area. In addition to having private clients, she is a regular guest on local talk radio.

Q: Sue, this seems to be a good time of year to get organized. How can you help me?

A: You need to make some organizing decisions about your clutter and implement changes that are kid-and-adult-friendly. Initially, you probably need to do a fair amount of sorting and passing along. You are trying to create a system that everyone agrees on and is easy to maintain. Once your organizing decisions are made, cleaning and staying picked up will be much easier.

Q: How about organizing the kid clutter for families with younger children?

A: Store children’s toys in clear plastic bins that are on low, accessible shelves. If possible, label the bins with a word and picture. This makes clean-up easier for younger children and pre-readers. Instead of a jumbled mess, the toys stay more organized, which actually encourages kids to play with them.

Also, toy rotation works well for organizing toys and cutting down on boredom. Place several toys in a box and hide it in storage for a month. Later, bring the toys back out and put new ones in storage. Kids get very excited to see their “new” old toys.

Q: One of the biggest organizing obstacles for me is my perfectionist tendencies. When our house is chaotic, I tend to feel overwhelmed by my desire to fix everything at once: clean, paint, carpet, wallpaper …

A: Remember, organizing is not the same as decorating or cleaning. If your biggest desire is to free up space and eliminate clutter, you need to organize first, not clean. Start small; use shoe boxes if necessary just to get items sorted and organized. Don’t wait to find coordinating storage bins and curtains. You can do that later as well as clean and decorate.

Q: How about involving older children in the organizing process?

A: Organizing with your children, at any age, is an opportunity to teach them about being responsible. A big part of organization is regularly sorting through clothes and toys and passing things along. Take a Saturday morning with your child and spend time sorting through their belongings. Encourage them to give items to charity, save and store sentimental items, and organize what they keep.

Q: I’ve heard the phrase, “one item in, one item out.” Can kids use this concept in organizing their belongings as well?

A: Certainly, and it is an excellent way to keep clutter down for the whole household. When a new item is purchased, find something to donate and pass along. Try this during school shopping, birthdays, and holidays when new items are guaranteed to be coming into your home.

Q: What about yard sales as a means of passing along our “junque”?

A: Yard sales require significant amounts of work and are often poor money-makers. I encourage people to donate to charity and take a deduction on their taxes. I sell a book called, “Cash For Your Used Clothing” that gives the IRS-recommended guidelines of assigned values for used clothes and household goods. You can save money on your taxes as well as help a worthy charity.

I’ve also wanted to organize my children’s daily school papers. For more information, I spoke with another organizer, Rachael Fredrick, who works in Tacoma and has her own organizing business, “Orchestrators of Organization.” She specializes in organizing paperwork for middle-school children.

Q: Rachael, what are some tips for organizing the papers my children bring home from school?

A: For younger children, create an accessible “in box” that all papers initially go into. This is especially helpful for working parents who might arrive home after their children do. Each day go through the papers with your child and choose what to save, display and discard. Create a file somewhere for the work they choose to save.

Q: What about papers that need to be returned to school?

A: For younger children, it’s best to put papers right back into their backpacks or school bags. For older children, an “out box” works well for papers, lunch money, and notes that need to be returned to school. Help your kids develop the habit of checking the box before they leave for school each day.

Q: You mentioned specializing with middle-school age children. How can parents of these kids keep track of papers from so many subject areas?

A: Have a file at home for each subject area they have at school as well as that one file for the papers they’ve already decided to save. Put all the papers that are finished and graded (tests, essays, reports, etc.) into those files. At the end of each quarter or semester, empty the files, choosing again what to save and discard.

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