In Search of Stuff

Kill clutter by giving everything in your house its own home

Susan Hall
Special to The Courier-Journal

In our quest to make peace with our stuff, we tend to think that Zen moment is just a few more plastic containers away.

But before you buy more, professional organizer Linda Reichert Sadlo recommends you read "Organizing From the Inside Out" by Julia Morgenstern (Henry Holt, 2004).

Morgenstern maintains that organization has less to do with how a space looks than how well it works for you and how it feels. She says no organization system will work unless it reflects who you are and what's important to you.

It's not about throwing out everything you can, then storing the rest. It's about determining what your stuff means to you and setting up a system to reflect that - within the limits of your space.

But many of us just buy more containers, without assessing the space we have and how much we're trying to store. Or why.

That's why Morgenstern advocates that first you assess why your previous attempts at organization didn't work and what, if anything, disorganization brings to your life.

Having so much stuff, for instance, might provide a sense of abundance. Continually trying to get organized might distract you from other troubling issues, such as aging parents.

"Messy and disorganized aren't the same thing," Sadlo said. "If you can easily find stuff you're looking for, then you're organized."

When your belongings bring you chaos and anxiety, though, it's time to create new habits, said Sadlo, who lists working with the chronically disorganized among her specialties.

We asked several professional organizers to share some of their organizing tips. One thing they agreed on was that everything you bring into your house should have a home.

For example, the tape and scissors will always be put back in the same drawer after use, period!

(If your children thwart your efforts, charge a fine each time they don't return items, Sadlo suggested.)

Here are some other suggestions:


Invest in sturdy clothes hampers. Children should be able to tote theirs to the laundry.

Keep a mesh lingerie bag on a doorknob for each family member's dirty socks. They can be washed in the bag, making sorting easier.

Store only clothing and accessories in bedroom closets. Keep clothing worn daily in the most accessible area. Clothing worn weekly can be less accessible, and formal wear, costumes, etc., should be the least accessible.

Donate anything you haven't worn in two seasons.

Donate clothing that does not make you look or feel good.

Keep clothing only one size smaller. If you lose more weight, you deserve an updated wardrobe!

Keep socks in drawers folded with mates, separated by color for quick access. Shoeboxes can be used in larger/deeper drawers, or dividers are available for around $14 a pair.

Keep short-sleeved T-shirts separate from long-sleeved ones to eliminate unfolding each one to see the sleeve length.

-- Amy Lee, Organize It of Louisville

Kids' rooms

Sort and purge items a child no longer needs at least once a year.

Use containers that are durable, easy for kids to carry and in colors they like.

Add shelves in closets for sweaters, toys or games. Kids usually need less hanging space.

Colorful hooks are good for belts, hats, coats and ties. They can be placed in closets and behind doors .

Use clear, shallow containers under the bed to store off-season clothes, toys or stuffed animals.

Over-the-door plastic shoe bags are a creative way to add storage; they hold more than shoes.

-- Lynn Medeiros, LM Home Services


For first aid, keep a small plastic container handy with bandages, anti-bacterial cream, burn cream, itch cream and hydrogen peroxide. Make sure everyone knows where it is.

Keep only one bottle of items such as shampoo and conditioner in the shower.

Group like items in containers in the vanity, such as one for hair gel, leave-in conditioner, etc. Simply remove the container and replace when finished.

For small children, keep a plastic container with a handle and drain hole to store bath toys.

Keep only makeup that makes you look and feel good. Store like items that you use daily together in drawers with dividers or in containers on the vanity. Store unopened items elsewhere.

Keep one extra set of towels in the bathroom; store extras in a linen closet.

Keep prescriptions separate from over-the-counter medicines. Keep like items together and bottles separated by family member.

-- Amy Lee

Family rooms

Use furniture with storage, such as ottomans and benches that open or tables with shelves or drawers.

Contain your newspapers and magazines in attractive wicker baskets or magazine fileholders.

Keep your DVDs and CDs in containers in cabinets or on shelves. CD/DVD towers store a lot in a small space.

Keep remotes in an easy-to-find place, such as a caddy, basket or box.

Decide what this room is used for, and use furniture to break it up into zones, such as TV viewing, reading, games and conversation.

On a daily basis, put things where they belong. Take out old newspapers when you bring in the current issue.

-- Lynn Medeiros

Home office

Set up your office as a happy place with color and light to help you produce your best. Controlling clutter will feel empowering.

An adequate-size desk should contain everything at your fingertips. A comfortable swivel chair will save time. Files, phone, fax and office supplies should be just a swivel away.

Keep filing simple. Major categories are easy to keep in order. Purge as you go.

Create a "hot file" for projects to be completed by day's end and a "hot week" file for projects due by week's end.

Throw away junk mail immediately, along with outdated bank statements and catalogs.

Save shredding for the end of the day. Getting a shredder that can handle five or more papers at a time will be worth it.

Keep one tax file. On check stubs, write a red "T" for tax attention at year's end.

Keep supplies on your desk at a minimum.

Label everything.

Save 20 minutes at the end of the day to clean up.

-- Carol Marlowe, Super Organized Services for Home and Office


Use metal shelves to get items off the floor.

Store chemicals on high shelves to prevent a toxic soup should your basement flood.

Keep areas around the furnace and other mechanical systems clear for repairmen and also to prevent fires.

Keep a battery-powered flashlight near the fuse box.

Things you use most often should be most accessible.

Keep only a few of your children's beloved toys as mementoes. Donate the rest.

Ask yourself hard questions about why you're keeping the things you store there.

Set up separate areas such as workshop, craft area, exercise room.

Use the "one in, one out" rule. If you want to buy something, ask yourself what you will get rid of? If you buy new shoes, then toss a pair.

Be mindful of need versus want. Sometimes less truly IS more!

To control clutter, set a timer for 10 minutes and spend the time tidying up one room or area. When the bell rings, you can stop.

Keep a basket or crate near the exit of a cluttered room, or on the stairs, to keep items that belong in other rooms. When you walk by, grab items out of the basket and return them to their home.

Basement basics

Organizer Linda Reichert Sadlo offers these tips for tackling your basement:

Have a plan for the space. Decide how much space is necessary for storage, living, etc.

Start in one corner and work your way around the space. Seeing progress will help you stick with the job.

Don't get sidetracked by going through memorabilia, such as pictures, greeting cards and children's art. Put these in the "keep" pile and tackle them later.

Ask for help if the job is too overwhelming.

When it's time to ask for help

Does keeping too much stuff prevent you from living the life you want? That's one question that professional organizer Linda Reichert Sadlo suggests you ask yourself.

Some people need help, she said, and that might mean hiring a professional organizer or talking with a counselor who specializes in chronic disorganization.

Professional organizers perform an array of functions, from helping people pay their bills to bringing order to a basement you can't walk through.

And asking for help doesn't mean you're a slob, she said. Clients may simply be busy people going through a traumatic event in their lives whose living space just got out of control.

Organizing for people is all about building relationships with them, said another pro, Carol Marlowe.

Rather than forcing people to throw things out, "we try to show them a better way," she said.

"If you've got 50 plastic UofL cups and at most you might invite 10 people for a party, we urge you to keep what you need and give the rest away," she said.

Lee stores only clothing and accessories in bedroom closets, keeping clothing worn daily in the most accessible area.

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