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How to manage the mess

Published: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 11:51 a.m. CDT

Your Tupperware lids have gone missing. You can’t wear your favorite black dress because you can’t find your favorite black heels. And the cable was shut off because the bill got lost in the pile of paperwork on your desk.

You are in desperate need of organization.

Getting rid of the clutter may sound like an insurmountable task but, according to professional organizer Elisa Adams, it’s actually the key to living a less stressful life.

“If people are truly disorganized, getting organized can sound like a stressful endeavor,” she said. “That’s why I tell people you need to set goals and conquer organizational tasks one step at a time. If your desk is in chaos, tell yourself you’ll have the whole thing organized by the end of the month and then tackle one drawer every Saturday morning. Getting those first couple of drawers cleaned will motivate you to continue the job.”

Karen Roehl, clutter coach and owner of Kirkland, WA-based Clear Living Inc., says the key to getting organized is making mindful decisions about the things in your life.

“I try to get people to take that first step by physically moving things out of a space,” Roehl said. “Things tend to cycle into our lives — gifts, purchases, things we inherit — but a lot of people don’t have a system for cycling things out of their lives. I encourage people to take control by mindfully choosing everything in their lives. That’s the first step toward making a space that looks and functions the way they want it to look and function.”

Tame the paper trail

Roehl and Adams say getting control of paper is a common problem. Catalogs, newspapers, junk mail, personal correspondence, bank statements, bills, kids’ homework — it all comes into your house, but unless you have a good system for handling it, all that paper can become overwhelming.

To reduce the paper piles in your home, try one or more of these tips:

  • Carry junk mail straight from the mailbox to the recycling bin. Don’t even waste time opening it.
  • Keep only supplies you need on a daily basis on your desktop or work table.
  • Set up a file, basket or drawer for each member of your household. Sort mail, papers to sign, reading materials and notes into each container.
  • Set limits. Allow newspapers and magazines to remain in the house for a specific number of days. At the end of that period, dispose of them — read or not. Have a shelf or basket where you can store a set number of magazines and catalogs. In order to add one, you have to get rid of another.
  • Clip interesting articles from magazines to read later. Put them in a “to read” file or basket; dispose of the bulky magazines.
  • Open bills as soon as you get them and write the due date on the outside of the envelope. Store the bills in order due in a folder or file drawer. Then, set an evening or afternoon once a week when you pay bills. If you do it regularly, it won’t seem so overwhelming.

Take your time

“Getting organized isn’t generally something that happens overnight. The clutter certainly didn’t get there overnight,” Roehl said. “People need to understand that getting organized is a process. It involves making a lot of decisions and sometimes dealing with some emotional baggage.”

If dealing with the clutter is too much for you to take on yourself, hire a pro. Seek out a professional organizer who has the expertise, skill set and personality that best suit you and your goals. Some professional organizers offer a wide range of services, while others specialize in creating custom filing systems or organizing collections and memorabilia. The National Association of Professional Organizers may be able to direct you to a qualified organizer in your area.

Related:

Mary Boone is a freelance writer for Zillow Blog. Read more from her here.

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