It's spring, time to open the windows and let the fresh air in and tackle your rooms and closets to get winter's accumulation out. For a time-stretched working mom, this can be a daunting proposition. And if you and your family are prone to collecting mountains of stuff, well... Want to conquer clutter once and for all? Look inside—yourself. “To get organized and create a great system that’s will stay in place, you need to get to the root of what’s causing the clutter in the first place,” says June Saruwatari, self-proclaimed Organizing Maniac and author of Behind the Clutter: Truth, Love, Meaning, and Purpose. “There’s a real connection between clutter in your physical environment and the clutter that lives inside you.”
Saruwatari uses four words—truth, love, meaning and purpose—to help people figure out why they find it hard to part with their stuff, and whether or not something is truly needed. “What’s the truth of the situation and the space?” she asks. “Do you love the item? Does it have meaning for you? Does it have a purpose? Any person can understand those four words and apply it to their lives.” Her tips for spring cleaning:
Examine the root cause of your clutter. “Understanding why you’re holding onto something is extremely liberating and empowering,” Saruwatari says. “You realize why you’re holding on and you’re able to let go of just that one item, and then it opens up the doorway to letting go of more items.” The main reason for clutter is often fear, she notes. “The fear is ‘one day I may need it’ or ‘I paid a lot of money for it.’”
Don’t get too stuck on organizing tools. Put off that trip to the Container Store for the moment. “People think organizing tools are going to help them,” she says. “Really, it’s more about whether you can tackle one area and follow it through.” All of the boxes, bins and crates in the world aren’t going to help if you’re not ready to get organized—they’ll just create more clutter.
Start small. Work on just one area, like your sock drawer. Empty it completely, then create zones to group like items together (ankle socks, knee socks, athletic socks and so on). Then evaluate the space and each item going back into the space. For each one, ask yourself, "Is it still me? When’s the last time I used it? Do I absolutely love it? Does it have meaning for me? Does it serve a purpose?" Once you’ve tackled one small area, move on to the next. Don't take on too much at once, or you may quit altogether. “Set yourself up for success by setting aside proper time,” says Saruwatari. “It could be a few weekends over the course of a month—or even a year.”
Create “permanent paths.” These are designated spaces for items that are often in transit. For example, keep collapsible fabric totes in the car for kids’ toys; when you get home, you can return the items straight to the toy bin without having to think about it. Also, keep a box by the door for library books that need to be returned, so there’s no hunting around for them when it’s five minutes to storytime; or a bag near the garage for your dry cleaning, so you can pop it into the car as soon as it gets full.
Follow it through. “If you do create a system, set aside a time to return your items to the proper places you’ve created.” This means unpacking right when you get home from a trip, or cleaning out your purse of receipts and spare change as soon as you get home. The bit of extra time upfront saves you time in the long run (say, when you’re digging through thousands of papers in your bag scrambling for that one receipt). If something isn’t working, rethink your setup. “A great system stays organized,” Saruwatari asserts. “If it keeps on getting messed up, it means that you have to refine that system."
Get the kids involved. “Never say, ‘Clean up your room,’” Saruwatari warns, since it sounds like a punishment. Instead, coach kids on how to create their own systems of organization by showing them where to put laundry, homework, books and toys. Start small with them, too, by creating an inbox on your desk of for school notices and permission slips that you’re supposed review or sign, then teaching them to place their paperwork in it as soon as they come home from school.
Call for backup if you need it. There’s no shame in getting stuck. Simply walk away and come back to the clutter when you've got some energy. As with work tasks and kids activites, put cleaning times into your schedule so you don't let it slide. If you keep getting stuck and can’t get going, consider seeking professional help. “There’s an association called the National Association of Professional Organizers, and they’re a great resource,” says Saruwatari. “There are now organizers in every city in the world.”