Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Diane Phillips is the Technical Services Library at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin this week.

I came home from work the other night and was greeted by a stack of mail on the kitchen counter and various family members’ shoes, coats and bags strewn on the floor and chairs. It didn’t get much better when I stepped into the living room. Toys were scattered on the floor, the tables and the couch. Magazines, newspapers and books were in multiple piles around the room. I went to seek refuge in my bedroom. I turned on the light and saw clean clothes piled on the chair, waiting to be put away, and laundry piled on the floor, overflowing from the clothes hamper. I couldn’t relax. All of the stuff was not just cluttering my house, but it was also preventing my mind from relaxing. I had to take action, a different kind of action than what I’d pursued before. Usually, I run around picking up everything and putting it somewhere. I needed to solve this problem once and for all. I needed to get organized and stop the clutter from coming back.

I started thinking, “I’m a librarian. I organize and categorize things for a living. I can do this. I have the knowledge and the skills to make this happen. I just need to apply what I know from work to our lives at home.” However, it’s not just my stuff or myself in the house. My husband and son live, work and play there too. They also possess some impressive organization skills, having sorted their Lego bricks by size and color. We’ve established that we have what it takes and that we want to do this; but how do we get started?

We needed some fresh ideas for how we can turn this chaos into order. We’d much rather spend our time together doing fun things rather than wasting so much time straightening up the house. I decided to take a look at the resources available at the library. So much has been written on the subject of organizing.

I got so excited by looking through the books in the library, I checked out all of the ones listed below! My husband, son and I snuggled up with the books, with cups of coffee and hot chocolate and began to read about how we can work together to organize our stuff and enjoy more spare time.

While reading through the books, a common suggestion was for the reader to tackle different areas of clutter one at a time. Trying to tackle everything is overwhelming and makes it nearly impossible to achieve your goal. A few areas I needed to deal with were the kitchen, living room and bedrooms. I focused on specific issues in each of these rooms rather than attacking everything at once.

In the kitchen, I decided to address the mess of the daily mail and how it can occupy my entire kitchen table. In The Organized Life: Secrets of an expert organizer, Stephanie Denton suggests getting an inbox to store new mail so that it all goes in one compact space. The inbox should be in a convenient location when you walk in the door. When you open the mail, you should ‘move the papers in some way’ and don’t just put it back to deal with it later. You can create two piles: ‘keep’ and ‘discard.’ Immediately review the ‘keep’ pile of papers and file them.

Another tip I gathered from multiple sources, which helped address the coat, shoe and bag mess, was to assess our storage space and create storage where we needed it. For instance, our coat closet wasn’t doing us much good because it’s by the front door and we use the side door. I got a coat rack and a storage bench to use by the side door. Now, coats are hung up and bags and shoes are stored in a convenient spot.

I moved on to the living room. Toys were strewn about the floor and furniture. We assessed our toy storage and got a shelving unit with cubbies and different colored bins. Each bin now contains a particular type of toy: red for toy cars, blue for stuffed animals, yellow for games, etc. One suggestion I read about in Pretty Neat: the buttoned up way to get organized and let go of perfection was to make a game out of cleaning up the toys. We had a race to see who could pick up ten things the fastest. Once we had the ten things, we worked together to put each toy in its proper bin.

The bedroom was the next stop. Clothes were everywhere. In Unclutter Your Life In One Week, Erin Rooney Doland advises a complete review of your closet. Take everything out and look at each piece of clothing to determine if you should keep it. Does it fit? Is it flattering? Do you wear it? She also suggests asking a friend to help since a lot of us have an emotional attachment to clothes and it’s hard to make a decision. During the review, you create three piles: keep, purge and undecided, which you may take more time to think about whether or not you’ll keep those items. After reviewing the contents, look at the closet itself to see if you need to add lighting, shelves, hooks or other sorting solution. The hardest suggestion to follow is to only keep what you can store in the space you have. I’m still working on this one!

For some good tips and motivation to get started, take a look at some of the titles below:

  • Lighten Up: Love what you have, have what you need, be happier with less, by Peter Walsh
  • One Year to an Organized Life, by Regina Leeds
  • The Organized Life: Secrets of an expert organizer, by Stephanie Denton
  • Organizing for Life: Declutter your mind to declutter your world, by Sandra Felton
  • Pretty Neat: the buttoned up way to get organized and let go of perfection, by Alicia Rockmore & Sarah Welch
  • Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life: a four-step guide to getting unstuck, by Julie Morgenstern
  • Unclutter Your Life in One Week, by Erin Rooney Doland
  • Unstuff Your Life! Kick the clutter habit and completely organize your life for good, by Andrew J. Mellen

The library also has some great choices for children:

  • Clean Up, Grumpy Bunny! By Justine Korman Fontes
  • Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom, by Eric Wright
  • I Don’t Want to Clean My Room and Other Poems about Chores, by Hope Vestergard