Out with the Old, In with Serenity — Everything in Its Place

Everything in Its PlaceSpring is the season of renewal and fresh beginnings so it makes sense that this would be a perfect time to tackle those parts of your home that are chaotic, so you can create some serenity for yourself in your surroundings. It can often be a painful process, especially for those who have some pack-rat tendencies. But the payoff is well worth the effort.

Debra Ostrus and I had a nice conversation about a passion we share: home organization. Debra is the owner of Spaces Streamlined Staging, Styling and Organization, a home-enhancement company based in Gig Harbor. I hope this gives you some great ideas to get started.

Abigail: So how do you even begin to tackle a project like home organizing for the do-it-yourselfers?

Debra: Well, you really want to choose one or two rooms, no more, for a start. The most commonly used spaces my clients need help with are the kitchen and master suite because that’s where they spend a lot of their time.

Everything in Its PlaceAbigail: We have our two rooms, now what?

Debra: First, gather whatever bins or boxes you have on hand. Start in one area at a time and begin by grouping like with like. Use the boxes and bins as sorting receptacles. Get rid of any excess, outdated, unused or unusable items.

Abigail: I like that concept a lot. When I do organizational projects, I make sure that there are boxes for three categories: absolutely must keep, donate and toss. And depending on the client, sometimes a “gifting” or “storage” box comes in handy.

Often, the clients who call me are paralyzed and don’t know where to start or how to decide what to keep. I’ve even served as an organizational therapist by mentally guiding them to reduce the fear of loss and attachment. I always have them pick a charity or church they have involvement or affinity for and then the mantra when putting something in the “donate” box is, “Think of how this will help the charity, make the person who buys it happy, provide you with more space and serenity and plus, it’s a tax write-off.” It’s such a win-win that it makes the process less painful.

Debra: Yes, that’s a great approach. I like the “when did you last use it” questions — if it’s been one to two years or two seasons for clothes, it’s time for it to go.

Abigail: What about people who keep a lot of mementos from past relatives? That’s always a tough one. I’ve yet to see anyone do this but I did read somewhere that by taking a picture of the inherited object, you can still appreciate it, just in a different way.

Everything in Its PlaceDebra: I often ask my clients to really think about what their relatives would want for them. Would they want their loved ones to be happy or to be stressed by belongings that no longer serve a purpose? Same with items, furniture and clothes that were really expensive. If you’re not enjoying them or they’re causing you stress, then it’s time to let them go.

Abigail: That’s a tough one even for me. I found a great solution for pieces or furniture or art that works beautifully. When I move or need to clear some things out, I adopt a “permanent loan” program. This works great for inherited items or pieces of value because the “program” usually applies to close friends and family. They may use the items in perpetuity but cannot give or sell them without my consent. That way it feels like these valuable pieces are still in the family. So what else, Debra?

Debra: Divide the rooms in activity zones. That may seem like a given but you’d be surprised by how often rooms are set up inefficiently. Keep those items you need while you cook neatly organized and close at hand. In your closet, put like items with like items. Think about how you live and use your rooms, and then set them up to fit that flow.

Abigail: That brings me to the Achilles’ heel most women have. Their bedroom/clothes/closet/dresser. What kind of advice do you have for us on that?

Debra: Decide that your closet/dresser will be your living container. Anything more is too much. Again sort like with like and get rid of anything that is unused, too small, too big, duplicated, too worn or older than two seasons. I like to use shelves for shoes and sweaters, plastic hanging organizers and hooks for accessories. You can buy beautiful decorative boxes online or at places like The Container Store. Off-season clothing goes in these boxes and on top of the closet when not in use. Out-of-season shoes also go on top of the closet in clear shoe boxes, or you can take a picture and tape it to a shoe box.

Abigail: And if you were going to make an investment in building something for the sake of storage, or even purchasing organizing items, what would it be? I know for myself, pull-out drawers in those terrible deep cabinets make all the difference. And closet shelving for shoes almost feels like luxury.

Debra: Lazy Susans in the kitchen are a must-have if you’re making improvements. So is a pantry if there’s any way to fit one in. For the bathroom, plastic bins make the most sense and are easy to keep organized. And each person in the family can have his or her own. A basket for mail; a label maker, invaluable for identifying items in opaque boxes; and laundry dividers, which make life so much easier. You can keep one in each bathroom or closet.

Abigail: My friend has a Lazy Susan in her bathroom. I’d never seen one there but it works great for her toiletries. My daughter uses decorative glasses filled with rice and that’s where her makeup brushes and pencils go. I thought it was really clever. I also really want to do a magnet wall for makeup. It’s a Pinterest idea, just buy or make a metal frame. You can even paint it with chalk paint and add a border to make it decorative. Add a magnet to the bottom of the makeup containers or items you use the most and, voila. Organized and at your fingertips. And a pretty cool project.

Short of hiring you or me to come in and make order out of chaos, what are some last-minute tips from an expert?

Debra: Don’t tackle the whole house at one time, set aside uninterrupted time and don’t stress — it’s just stuff.

Abigail: I’ve got a couple. Have way too many nice clothes and accessories but can’t keep them all? Host a swap party with your girlfriends. Everyone walks away happy and all the excess items can be donated to a worthy cause like the employment program at the women’s prison. If you have piles of toiletries from hotel stays, donate them to the local school nurses, homeless shelter or the prison. Also make sure everyone’s out of the house so you you’re not interrupted while organizing and enlist a good friend to help you get over those mental hurdles that you’ll have in making those hard decisions.


Some local worthy charities in the area that would love your good, usable donations:

Also check with your local church or school. Most have a yearly rummage sale to raise money for worthwhile programs.