5/2/2013 - Often, when life gets hectic, your home follows suit.
Your closets become an array of wrinkled shirts, sweaters, jackets and coats, many of which you don’t wear anymore because they date back to 1995. Your bedroom turns into a dumping ground of miscellaneous items (because it’s the quickest way to clean when you have company), and your kitchen cabinets become stuffed with As-Seen-On-TV appliances you never use. The counter space is nonexistent, coated with magazines, mail, bills and fliers.
Before you know it, you’re eating out all the time because you can’t stand the idea of working in your kitchen. You’re wearing the same clothes over and over again because you’re afraid of what you’ll find at the back of your closet. You’re stressed and you’re tired, and it’s hard to justify spending time tackling the mess. There’s work to be done and bills to pay.
But, as DeAnna Coleman of Nashua will attest, taking time to get organized can change your life.
Coleman was an overwhelmed mom juggling a small business, foster care and a move, but, she said, organizing the space she lived in has improved her life in surprising ways.
Cooking, for instance, doesn’t take her as long. She has more guests over now — inviting people over for dinner used to be too stressful. Coleman also finds it easier to be creative in her at-home job in a clean space.
Her family has noticed the difference, too.
“I’m a lot nicer to be around at home,” she said, laughing. “I’m easier going, laughing more and having more fun.”
Organizing is the answer. The trick is just figuring out how to get there.
Clean your kitchen for better health
The obvious benefits: You’ll be able to find your cutting board, paprika, placemats and favorite Tupperware — including the matching lid.
The surprising benefits: The benefits of having a clean kitchen are endless. It can help you clean up your diet, save money, save time and improve your social life.
Cooking in an unpleasant space is a nightmare.
“Cooking isn’t easy if the kitchen doesn’t flow, if the bins or utensils you need to use aren’t accessible, if the ingredients aren’t there. The whole experience becomes unpleasant and stressful, which doesn’t inspire motivation for you to continue to do it,” said Hilary Warner, a registered dietitian and health/fitness specialist who owns Nutrition Works! in Concord.
Creating a kitchen that flows and has everything you need — and nothing you don’t — makes you more likely to cook and less likely to eat out or order in high-calorie, high-fat pizza or Chinese food.
Coleman, for one, found that to be true. She had just moved to a smaller house when she decided to call Lorraine Falcone, founder of Naturally Organized, which serves the greater Manchester area. She now calls Falcone for advice on a regular basis.
“I’m eating more at home than I was, and for sure, I’m spending less money,” Coleman said. “I’m not buying as much stuff now. When I’m shopping, I think about whether or not I actually have room for these things at home ... It’s more fun to be in the kitchen now that it’s more organized and easier to find things.”
By giving everything a place and by planning your meals in advance, you’re less likely to forget about those wilted heads of lettuce you bought three weeks ago that are stashed at the back of your refrigerator.
“This will keep you from buying stuff that you don’t end up using,” Warner said.
Making more space in your kitchen could also improve your social life. The more you can cook, the more likely you might be to welcome friends and family over for dinner.
Four easy steps to a clutter-free kitchen
1. Free up your counter/table space
In many kitchens today, this is where part of the problem lies — the space is crammed with papers, mail, toast crumbs, cookbooks, you name it.
“Kids’ backpacks, papers, the mail, before it’s all handled, it all goes on the kitchen counter,” Lesley “Jazz” Barnette of Jazz Professional Organizing Services said. “A lot of what lands on those surfaces doesn’t even belong in the kitchen.”
Take these items and send them to where they belong: kids’ bedrooms, a filing cabinet, in the cupboard. You’re not going to want to cook if you have to clean first.
2. Purge: Empty your cupboards, throw away old food and useless appliances
Do you really need a “smoothie maker” when you have a blender? A bread maker when you have an oven, a toaster oven when you have a toaster?
“So many people are purchasing items that are single-use instead of multi-purpose,” said Erin Plunkett, a professional organizer and feng shui consultant.
Many homeowners might want to reevaluate some of their bulkier items that serve only one function and keep the items that are multi-purpose. They’re likely just as good and will take up less room in your kitchen.
3. Come up with a better space plan.
The idea is to come up with a better, more logical way of storing things, Barnette said. Things that are used more often, such as everyday plates, cups, mugs and silverware, should be stored in an accessible place. Usually, this is near the stove or dishwasher. (The idea here, Barnette said, is that if it’s convenient, the dishwasher will get emptied.) The entertaining pieces that aren’t used as often can go in the cabinet doors above the fridge, in a pantry or stored in the basement.
Pots, pans and dishware that you use on a regular basis should also be in an accessible place. However, where everything goes is dependent on the household itself. For instance, when determining where to store snacks, Barnette says that if you have kids, consider whether or not you want them to be able to reach them.
Health and fitness coach Melissa Koerner of Friend Your Body in the Manchester/Merrimack area emphasizes the same thing that organizers do when helping her clients eat healthy: keeping like foods with like foods.
“Keeping fruits in one drawer, veggies in another and meat in another makes foods easy to access and meal planning/cooking more efficient,” she said.
She recommends storing items in clear glass containers because they’re safer than plastic and you can see when you’re running low on a food item.
4. Make a grocery list.
“One of the things I always recommend is to create a standard grocery list,” Koerner said.
This can be anything from an iPhone app to a sheet of white lined paper on the fridge. Or, if you typically purchase the same grocery items each week, print out your standard items — milk, eggs, orange juice, bread — and have family members/housemates circle that item when you run low.
“Oftentimes, when you don’t have a plan, you buy yucky foods or spend too much money. It’s easier and you’re more apt to make healthier choices this way,” Koerner said.
This may also mean that you’ll have to plan meals days in advance of when you cook them, but essentially, you’re spending less time in the grocery store, too.
Organize your bedroom for better sleep, less stress and ... more romance?
The obvious benefit: Your bedroom will look like a bedroom instead of a dumping ground. “For some reason or another, things often get taken from other rooms when people visit and get stored upstairs in the bedroom,” Barnette said.
The surprising benefits: Many organizers attest that you’ll get better sleep when you organize and personalize your bedroom space — and you could improve your love life too.
“I think most people want their bedroom to be a calm oasis, a place where they can go, relax and let the stress of the day melt away,” Falcone said.
So if you walk into a bedroom and find clutter, you’ll also find stress.
“The more clutter, the less clear[ly] most people think,” she said.
And if you’re not thinking clearly and feeling stressed out, it’s likely going to take longer to fall asleep, and that sleep might not be as restful as it would be if you were sleeping in a cocoon of serenity.
“When you go to bed at night, you want to be able to rest and rejuvenate so you wake up in the morning refreshed. Whether there’s clutter or electronic devices in the room, they’re disturbing our sleep physically and subconsciously,” Plunkett said.
Less stress could lead to a better sex life too.
“People want that serenity, the calm away from the hustle of daily life, the place they can just be themselves,” said Sue West of Space 4U organizing out of Amherst. “I’d imagine this fits well with establishing greater intimacy between two people.”
Display it or store it?
Not everything should be sorted in clear bins from the container store. On the contrary, many organizers feel that clear containers aren’t such a great idea. West says that for some people, being able to see the stuff inside a clear container can be just as overwhelming as having it on a shelf or stuffed into a closet. People prefer to see clean lines and pleasant displays.
So instead of throwing your hats in a bin or your jewelry in a box, hang them, drape them, arrange them like artwork. Doing this looks good, but it also makes these items more accessible than if they were in a plastic bin.
“Yeah, you want it to be clean and simple, but you also want it to be highly efficient,” said Meredith Bohn, an interior designer out of Hollis.
Bohn was one of West’s clients, too; she helped Bohn downsize her house after her father passed away and her children moved out. Bohn was left with what she called “a mixture of trash and personal mementos.”
“If you make it part of a display, you can see what’s there, and it’s part of the landscape of your room,” Bohn said.
On the other hand, when you live in New Hampshire, you have the issue of winter clothes and summer clothes. When it’s summer, store your winter clothes out of sight, and vice versa. There’s no need to make these items easily accessible, and having them in piles in the corner of your room isn’t going to add a sense of calm to the room.
Look better faster by tackling your closet
The obvious benefits: You’ll know what clothes you have, you’ll be able to find them in the morning and you’ll wear them. All of them.
The surprising benefits: Your clothes will be less wrinkled if you have an organized system because they won’t be stuffed together or in a pile on the floor, so you’ll look more polished. You’ll also save time you might have spent in the morning ironing clothes or looking for items. “Your clothes will also last longer,” Falcone said, because they’ll stay dust-free and remain in good shape.
How to do it:
“There’s a 20/80 rule when it comes to clothing,” Falcone said. “We wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time.”
The unused clothes often fall into a few categories. One is the doesn’t-fit category. (To which she points out: if you ever do lose that weight, you’re going to want to go shopping.) The next category is clothes that are out of fashion. “What if bell bottoms come back in style?” a clothes-hoarder might ask. Then there’s the nostalgic category: that T-shirt you wore when the Patriots won the Super Bowl or the dress you wore to your sister’s wedding.
West advises clients to ask themselves: Where are you in your life? Where do you see yourself going? This will help you determine what you need, but more importantly, what you’ll use.
“If you’re looking to do something like start a business, then you probably won’t be going back to corporate,” West said.
Thus, you won’t need a power suit for every day of the week. She also advises people to look at their clothes.
“Realistically, four to five years from now, will you like these clothes?” she asks her clients.
It’s time to face the facts: Mom jeans will never be back.
As you sort through your closet, organize clothes into “keep,” “give away,” “donate” and “throw away” piles.
“I have two questions that I ask clients. Do you love this? Do you need this? If the answer is no to both, you can let it go,” said Barnette.
“Some clients just aren’t aware of why they pass by clothes day after day. It’s a matter of making them aware by asking the right questions,” Falcone said.
Her questions include: How long has it been since you’ve worn it? What do you like about it? What don’t you like about?
A few of these answers: “It’s itchy” and “It makes me look old.”
“Is there ever a morning you’re going to wake up and want to wear an itchy sweater? Are you ever going to want to put anything on that makes you look old?” Falcone said.
West advises folks to turn it into something fun, like a fashion show. A few glasses of wine and a few honest friends or family members can make this process go by much faster.
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to keep and what you’re going to get rid of, the next step is laying it out.
Falcone advises “double hanging” your clothes. Often, closets with drawers or bureaus inside aren’t the most effective in terms of using space. If you keep clothes on shelves, it’s more likely they’ll become disorderly.
It’s also helpful to organize your closet in sections (back to keeping like things together). For instance, keep your work clothes on the top rack, your weekend clothes on the bottom.
“Most people can’t put all of their seasonal clothes in one closet,” Falcone said.
She advises folks to switch out their clothes and keep just the current season readily available. Airtight bags and under-the-bed storage units are helpful, but be wary; airtight bags are often flimsier than they look.
Shoes are best kept on door racks or shelves, not on the floor of your closet, where you won’t see them as easily.
Make room to live in your living room
The obvious benefits: You’ll have room to sit on your couch, and you’ll always know where the remote is.
The fun benefits: You’ll have more space to host movie nights or Super Bowl parties, and you’ll be more inclined to have people over for any occasion since your living space will look so much better.
What should this room to be?
Early on, you need to determine exactly what the room will be used for. Is it going to be a formal living room or will it be more of a family room, with a TV focal point?
Once you decide this, you’re going to take some of these same concepts that you’ve used in other rooms. Sort through your items — stick like items together, transport items that don’t belong here to other rooms and make a new space plan. For instance, Bohn said, if you want to make this space a conversation area, you need to design the space so that it’s a living room you can actually sit in, where you can talk to people — i.e., don’t put couches and other seating on opposite sides of the room.
Living rooms also tend to accrue miscellaneous stuff, because they’re usually the most used rooms in the house (hence the name). Stacks of papers, especially for those who don’t have an extra room for office-type stuff, can accumulate. It starts small, with perhaps some mail on the coffee table and a notebook next to the couch, but it can grow fast, Hoskyns said.
She advises clients to use the Internet instead, for things like paying bills or looking at catalogs. You won’t lose anything and you won’t be swimming in a sea of papers.
Be more productive by organizing your office space
The expected benefits: You’ll be able to find your papers and have room to work.
The surprising benefits: You’ll get more work done, increase your productivity, and, as a result, have more time for yourself.
“Decide what’s going to happen here and where the supplies will go in this space,” West said.
This is important to determine, especially for people who own their own business and work out of their homes.
It seems that offices often become multi-functioning rooms — they become part of a guest room or a rec room, and so for rooms like these, it’s important to create spaces designated for specific activities.
For something like an office, or any room really, Hoskyns says that people often forget about vertical storage. Some organizers might argue that this is bad Feng Shui, that creating shelving units on all four walls will affect the calming feel of a space; however, utilizing, perhaps, at least one wall for this will get things off the floor.
“A lot of people don’t realize the vertical storage they have. Everyone thinks horizontally, they look horizontally,” Hoskyns said. “Think library instead. ... People have piles of stuff up to eye level, but they haven’t used any of the vertical space that’s available.”
What’s important here, as is true with all rooms, is to not purchase shelving units or decorative boxes until you’ve narrowed it down to exactly what you need. If you have too many shelves or boxes, chances are, you’ll fill them back up again — and then you’re stuck with messy shelves and overflowing boxes.