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Get Organized


Clutter is contagious. It starts innocently enough with a bank statement carelessly tossed on a coffee table, Christmas wrapping paper stuffed in the back of a closet, or a dress from twenty pounds and one husband ago that you simply can’t throw out. Then, it spreads.

Pretty soon, your house is sprouting “junk” drawers, closets are more tightly packed than I-95 at rush hour, and you have at least one room (attic, basement, garage, den) that is more dangerous to enter than Kabul after dark.

At this point, you have a choice. Post a sign on the front door, stating, “Management is not responsible for lost items,” or hire a professional organizer.

“Purging your house of things you no longer need can be very liberating,” says Sue Frost, owner of Organize My Life in Wilmington. “It can also save time and money.” Digging through clients” drawers, Frost has discovered uncashed checks, an envelope containing more than a thousand dollars cash, and valuable jewelry. The financial savings isn’t just in the rare coins hiding between the sofa cushions, it’s realizing that you own seven pairs of black slacks (including one that still has a price tag) and you don’t need another pair. It’s also never incurring another late fee because you won’t misplace bills. You can even save on the cost of meals. “People eat out more when a kitchen is disorganized,” says Frost. More importantly, getting rid of clutter restores a sense of calm and allows you to get dressed in the morning or find your fondue set without going on a treasure hunt.

Frost, who serves as Vice President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers, warns clients not to “put things in order” or make any attempt to camouflage the way they really live for her first visit—which can be scary. “There’s a lot of emotional involvement with disorder,” she explains.

She begins by talking with clients about the purpose of each room. What do you do here? What needs to go? What stays?” Frost’s motto is “Anything that doesn’t help you achieve your goal, hinders you.” Or, as British designer and craftsman William Morris elegantly said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

No need to feel guilty about the mountain of unwanted clothing, furniture, and bric-a-brac you no longer need. Part of Frost’s service is carting it off to a woman’s shelter or nonprofit charity. In return, you get a tax deduction. Or, if you prefer, she”ll take your goodies to a resale shop such as Designer Consigner in Hockessin. With the proceeds, you can invest in organizing systems for every room in your house. But not until after you’ve separated the “keepers” from the “out” pile.

“Because there are stores specializing in organizing, there’s a misconception that you should buy a system first,” says Frost, who advises clients to “Purge first, buy storage units later.”

Robin Mandel believed the answer to her closet clutter was re-designing her closet and purchasing an “organizing system.” After working with Frost she discovered her closets are fine as they are, it was what was inside them that was creating the problem. “It was life altering,” Mandel gushes. “Sue helped me pare down. My clothes aren’t crushed together anymore.”

Professional organizer Janice Bernstein of Newtown Square is a closet maven. “Getting the right type of hanger is key,” she says and recommends wooden clamps for pants and clear plastic for dresses and shirts. To update your closet, Bernstein suggests a visit to Home Depot. All thumbs? Try Closet by Design. They”ll plan and install your new closet system for you.

Sue Frost also helped Robin Mandel de-clutter her home office and kitchen. “Why do I need all these cookbooks?” Mandel asks; “I can go online whenever I need a recipe.” Her goal was to eliminate the Paper Trail. “When mail comes in, instead of leaving it on the kitchen table, I now have a place for bank statements, credit card statements, insurance information, etc.” She also made the switch to pay her bills online. “Now when I come home, it’s such a relief and it’s much easier to keep clean,” says Mandel.

There’s no law that says you can’t de-clutter your home on your own. But if you don’t want to spend over an hour deciding the fate of each and every cookie tin, enlist a friend to help you decide what stays and what goes. Start with the room where you spend the most time. Chances are, it’s the kitchen.

Sort things into three piles: items to keep, to donate or sell, and to throw out. Remember, don’t buy storage containers until after you get rid of things you don’t need. Then, divide the items you are keeping into two categories: things you want at your fingertips and things you don’t use as often.

Identify storage spaces for things you want within easy reach. Put less-used items on higher shelves and farther from your base of operations. If it’s something you use rarely, think about storing it in the basement or attic. Frost takes a tough love approach. “Scrutinize everything in your kitchen. If you haven’t used an item in a year, considering donating it or having a tag sale.” The same goes for your clothes. “Unless it’s a special-occasion outfit, if you haven’t worn it in over a year pass it on.”

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