Getting clutter under control | February 26, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - February 26, 2010

Getting clutter under control

A simple — and free — way to reclaim your space

by Kit Davey

Piles of papers on the kitchen counter, bookcases jammed with paperbacks, dusty knickknacks lining the mantel — clutter, clutter everywhere! All that visual static can obliterate whatever beauty and calm lies beneath.

A simple and free way to bring visual peace into your home is to eliminate clutter and get organized. Having a more beautiful home isn't the only benefit you'll reap from an anti-clutter crusade: You'll be able to find things, create more space, gain peace of mind and maybe even make money.

Here's a step-by-step guide to getting your clutter under control:

Commit. For most people the hardest part about getting organized is getting started. Decide to get organized and schedule a series of organizing dates on your calendar. Make a promise to a trusted friend and have her support you in keeping it. Consider trading time: three hours at her house, followed by three hours at your home. Establish milestones and give yourself a reward for reaching each one.

Realize that getting organized is a process, not a one-time event. If stuff has been accumulating in your home for years, you won't be able to get it organized in one session. It takes commitment over time to go through all your possessions. And once you've gone through everything, it's not over — things will pile up again.

Break the work into small chunks. Dividing the work into manageable portions will make it less daunting and you'll be more likely to continue. Try setting a timer for 30 minutes, working during TV commercials or 20 minutes after doing the dishes. You can also set space goals; attack one bookshelf, two drawers or the bathroom vanity.

Get started. Position bags or boxes marked "Charity," "Garbage," "To another Room," etc., near where you will be working. Set a time or space goal. Start at one side of the room and work your way around the perimeter, picking up each item and deciding if it stays or goes.

Be ruthless! If it is not functional, beautiful or personally meaningful, toss it! If you haven't used it in a year, ditch it! Do not skip around or leave the room. When your session is over note where you stopped and return to the same spot next time.

Re-place logically. Group like items together, for example, all the canned goods on one shelf and pastas on another. Cluster tools you use at the same time together: baking supplies in one drawer, coffee supplies near the coffee maker, etc. Place frequently used items in the most easily reached locations and store seldom used items in the least accessible spots.

Aim for beauty. Display only your choicest accessories and store the rest in a treasure box. Keep your collections together instead of sprinkling them throughout the room. Use decorative containers to hide essential but unattractive things, such as an antique box for the TV paraphernalia or a lidded basket for bills. Corral unread magazines in a sturdy basket by your reading chair.

Prevent buildup. Analyze how stuff enters your home and devise ways to prevent it from accumulating. Sort your mail at the recycling bin. Purge piles of magazines monthly — if you haven't read them in two years, you never will!

Make a rule: "Buy one thing, get rid of two." Set up a garage-sale or flea-market area — any time you find something in your home you're ready to let go of, put it there. Schedule twice-yearly sales and use them as motivation to go through your possessions.

Maintain. Schedule time to deal with clutter and create new habits. Spend two hours a week filing in your home office. Spend five minutes clearing off the kitchen counters before you go to work. Spend half an hour a week tidying the garage or your potting shed. Give your kids color-coded baskets and have them pick up their stuff on their way to bed at night. Confiscate anything they leave behind and hold it for ransom!


If it is not functional, beautiful or personally meaningful, toss it!

Kit Davey, Allied Member, ASID, specializes in re-design, staging, design consulting and professional organizing. E-mail her at, call her at 650-367-7370, or visit her website at


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