Edmonton's masters of organization on how you can control the clutter in your home.
By Marliss Weber | April 2, 2011
You’re searching for that elusive three-hole punch. Or the medium-sized rubber spatula, or the red shirt you haven’t worn since September. As you rifle through your bottom desk drawer or kitchen cabinet or bedroom closet, you’re once again overwhelmed by the detritus of your life.
But if you’re like the majority of the population, there’s never enough time to clear out the cobwebs and the recycling. And so it builds, multiplying in dark corners in a weird frenzy of asexual reproduction, until you fear you might smother under the mounds of your own stuff.
A trifle dramatic, perhaps?
Dianne Gillespie can relate. When her husband passed away suddenly, her life, and her house, were left in chaos. “I found I had a lot of things I didn’t need anymore,” she says. “In particular, I had my husband’s huge science-fiction book collection. I didn’t want it anymore, but I didn’t want to split it up. I had no idea what to do.”
So she called Nicki Parsons of Neat Organizers Inc. “Working with Nicki gave me some peace of mind,” Gillespie says. “It was such an emotional time, and Nicki really helped me stay on track.” Which, as a professional organizer, is very much her job.
“It’s amazing how emotional an experience it is to cut your clutter and to put your house in order,” Parsons says. “It’s easy to get distracted and to lose focus while you organize, so that’s one of the key roles a professional can play. I guide my clients through the whole process and, while they are the ones who make the decisions about what stays and what goes, I direct them and make sure the job gets done.”
Gillespie called for professional household help during a time of stress and upheaval. But, Parsons says, you certainly don’t need to wait until you face a crisis to do a household purge.
The annual tradition of spring cleaning helps keep both the dirt and the clutter in control, so it’s no surprise that it’s a busy time for professionals like Parsons.
“Spring is a great time of renewal,” Parsons says. “It feels so refreshing to have an orderly home, and it’s a great way to start the new season.”
But where to start? According to Parsons, the household office is the first place many people need tackle in a big purge. “Paper is huge,” she says. “We get bombarded with it every day, so I recommend making it as easy as possible to manage.” A three-tiered system works well, and she suggests labelling the trays “Important,” “Things to file,” and “Things to read,” as a means of keeping the paper in order, and making it easy to find. “And if it doesn’t fit one of these categories, chances are good it can immediately go into your recycling bag.”
Categorizing is the key to good organization, Parsons says. “Like goes with like. You may find that you actually have three staplers, or 12 black sweaters, which makes it much easier to pare things down when you recognize how many multiples you have.” Indeed, a common-sense key to a well-organized house is only keeping what you need and use. “I know it’s hard to get rid of stuff, and you may be passionate about all 12 black sweaters, but you need to ask yourself if you really use them all. If the answer is yes, then keep them, but if it’s no, don’t be afraid to purge.” And, particularly in the case of multiples in clothing, it’s important to follow the “one in, one out” rule.
Too much stuff is a major cause of disorganization, but of course it’s also about how we store it. “There are fantastic closet organization systems out there,” Parsons says, “so install a system that really maximizes your space.” Try a double-hang system in your clothes closet, as well as shelves for lesser-used items that make use of high spaces. And, in desk and cabinet drawers, she advises breaking up the space with containers and bins that help keep everything orderly. “You want to create homes for everything, so that there’s never any need to leave anything out.”
As for getting the spring reorganization on its feet, Parsons says to take baby steps if you’re overwhelmed by the job. “Lots of people feel they don’t have the time it takes to do a major reorganization – and that’s a reality for a lot of folks. But I suggest taking just 10 minutes a day, or whatever you can spare. It’s amazing how much you can do in a short amount of time and, when you see results, it’s easier to keep at it.”
Parsons says that spring cleaning is not just about organization. It’s also the perfect time to do a thorough deep clean and to reach those nooks and crannies many of us forget about during the rest of the year. Cleaning expert Tammie Fontaine has a number of tips to get the best results from your spring cleaning efforts.
“Make sure to clean from top to bottom,” Fontaine says. “Start by dusting your ceiling fans and high shelves, and work your way down. And save your floors for last.” And if you were to spill something like pop and catch it right away, Fontaine recommends using a salt paste to lift the stains. “It sounds like an old wives’ tale,” she says with a smile, “but it really works.”
The kitchen is the room that requires the most heavy-duty cleaning, says Fontaine. “One thing I always do is line the tops of cabinets with wax paper,” she says. “That way, the paper collects the grease and dust, and it’s easy to keep clean.” Also, don’t forget to pull appliances away from walls and to clean behind them, as well as to wash baseboards and heating vents throughout your whole home.
And of course, if you want a professional to tackle your spring cleaning for you, you can hire Tammie or any of the cleaning services in the city for around $25 per person, per hour.
On the organizing front, home organizers can be found. Budget for a rate around $60 per hour. “I prefer for my clients to be a part of the process,” Parsons says, “as it’s hard to make decisions for other people about the way they live and use their homes. But if you want me to do it on my own, I can do that too.”
As for Gillespie, she couldn’t be more relieved to have called on a professional in her time of need. “Nicki helped me look at my space in a new way,” she says. “And, through her network, we were able to find a new home for my husband’s book collection at the U of A. So the books stayed together, and I was able to turn the book room into a new bedroom. It helped me move on, little by little.”