Decluttering Demystified - The Best Organization Tips from a Certified Professional

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By Ani Mouradian May 26, 2021

Arrest me, because giving out gold for free must be a crime. We attended certified professional organizer C. Lee Cawley’s masterclass on professional home organization and are sharing all her decluttering tips with you. This article will walk you through a professional home organization with actionable items you can take on right now — if you have a day or two to spare, that is.

C. Lee is one of 365 Certified Professional Organizers in the world, with 18 years of experience in bringing joy and peace of mind to her customers through organization and lifestyle efficiency planning. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, when it comes to getting organized, 54% of Americans are in fact dealing with clutter and chaos and 78% are not sure how to tackle it. If you are part of the 78%, please read on.

How to Start

Decluttering your life requires just as much gumption and mental strength as it does label-making tape. C. Lee recommends her own copyrighted system to get you in the right state of mind and prepare for the journey: the RITE System.

Reason and resolve equal results.
The reason you’ve decided to embark on this journey should be your main motivator. If it is to undo the sectionalization of your home caused by Covid and bring everyone together at the dinner table more often, then you must resolve to always have your kitchen table clear and ready for use.

Imagine.
Truly picture the end results and it will become more real. Once you get a taste of what your life could be like if you didn’t have to fumble around through a mess, it will be hard to live without it.

Time.
Acknowledge that a better life will take time to establish and maintain. It may be faster to realize with a professional organizer at your side, but you still need to commit to maintaining it.

Effort.
You will be exercising your decision-making muscle just as much as your biceps.

“Clutter is postponed decision,”


C. Lee says, so you will need the effort to get rid of the habit of postponing even the little clean-ups.

An Organized Home Is a Happy Home

An Organized Home Is a Happy Home

Where to Start

If you don’t know exactly where to begin, C. Lee recommends asking yourself what you need or crave in your home life. If you want to focus on changing the way you nourish yourself, then start in the kitchen and pantry. If you’re constantly late to work and need help getting ready on time, then start with the bathroom and closet.

How to Start Decluttering Your Life

How to Start Decluttering Your Life

It also works if you ask yourself: what’s driving you most crazy? If it’s the kid’s mess, then start in the playroom. If simply arriving home causes you discontent, then your starting point is the entryway. If you’ve inherited too much stuff and the dust it’s collecting is bothering you, then start in the attic or basement. Paper everywhere? Then the first thing you need to do is create a command center.

What Tools Do You Need

Below is a list of items that C. Lee makes sure her clients have at hand before they start making magic.

  • Large bags of different colors to distinguish between garbage, donations, and recycling. Use small boxes for breakable items.
  • Donation solutions. Figure out where your ‘donation’ items will be going beforehand. It’s best to book donation pick-up services because dropping them off yourself is just a hazardous chore filled with postponement potential.
  • Other must-haves: clear containers, round turntables, POP containers, a label maker, and undershelf baskets (for any tall cabinets that waste a lot of space in the top half).
What You Need to Start Organizing Your Life

What You Need to Start Organizing Your Life

Let’s head into some of the most important rooms in your house.

The Pantry

1. Rules of thumb: lighter goes higher, heavier goes lower.

Naturally, lighter items should be stored on higher shelves and heavier items on lower shelves. This not only helps to prevent accidents but is also ergonomically more efficient to utilize.

2. Rule number two: round in round and square in square.

Round containers, like spices, are great on a round turntable. If it has a right angle (or no shape) then it will go great in bins.

3. Rule number three: remove packaging, place like with like, and label well.

You’d be surprised how much space you can gain when you remove items like Rice Krispies from their boxes.

4. Don't overlook corners.

Whether in a cabinet or on a countertop surface, corners are really good places to use a turntable, so you don’t lose that space or break your back reaching for items far away. Turntables are perfect for displaying and conveying spices, oils, and other ingredients.

How to Organize Your Pantry Right

How to Organize Your Pantry Right

Kitchen Drawers

5. Deep drawers (especially) should have drawer dividers.

C. Lee recommends the Linus deep drawer divider.

Kitchen Drawer Organization Tips

Kitchen Drawer Organization Tips

6. If spices are not finding their home in a cabinet, you can use spice-liners in drawers.

7. Fine china is designed to be stackable: saucer then cup, saucer then cup.

Organization Tips for Your Fine China

Organization Tips for Your Fine China

Paper Management

Sorting through and creating a system for all your paper happens to be the most time-consuming of all organizing projects. If you’re doing it right, each piece of paper needs to be looked at and categorized. This will help you determine whether you’re really going to need it.

8. Launch system KARMA.

At this stage of an organization project, C. Lee deploys KARMA, her copyrighted paper management system. Just follow these steps to reach sanity.

Krud (deliberately misspelled for the cool acronym). Get rid of the crud.

Action Items and Active Projects. Group together all the paperwork that requires immediate attention. You can even divide them into “to call”, “to do”, or “to pay”. Use verbs to help push you to do them. 85% of the paper you’re left with should be in this category.

Reference. These are documents meant to be filed that you should only keep if you’re really going to refer to them later.

Memorabilia. Try to minimize this as much as possible; you don’t need to keep Valentine’s Day cards from the 3rd grade. Begin to adopt the belief that you don’t need to touch it to remember it.

Archive. This is the “just in case” pile. “Just in case I get audited” or “just in case I have a medical emergency”.

Categorizing is one of the kindest gifts you can give yourself; you’ll avoid accruing mess so easily on your desk and every new piece of paper will have its (hopefully vertically standing) home that’s easy to access. To lighten the load, place memorabilia and archive items separately from the day-to-day paperwork which should stay in your home office. Send them to the attic or basement, but make sure they are protected from moisture in plastic bins.

The Lifechanging Art of Organizing Your Paper Stuffs

The Lifechanging Art of Organizing Your Paper Stuffs

Closets

9. Take it ALL out.

You must lay out everything you own (shoes, belts, and hats too), otherwise, you won’t be able to properly sift through them.

10. Purge, curate, edit, dump, or declutter.

Call it whatever you like, but this step is unavoidable. Keep only what you will wear and don’t keep more than two versions of the same thing. You don’t need 7 colors of pointed-toe flats; two will do.

11. Take your shoes out of their boxes.

If they are collecting dust then you don’t wear them often enough —, group like with like, and store them heel to toe to save space.

12. Consider using bins to hold stacked clothing for a tidier look on shelves.

A nicely folded stack only lasts until you need something from it.

13. File folding: it keeps things beautiful and organized.

14. Create zones for everything.

Shirts, jackets, polo shirts, jeans, and workout clothes should be clearly separated. It will look better and save you precious minutes finding exactly what you need.

Decluttering Tips for the Closet

Decluttering Tips for the Closet

Kids Stuff and Toys

15. Keep children’s toys and crafts categorized in separate clear containers.

For best results make sure the bins have lids, labels, and are at a height that is accessible for their intended users.

Decluttering Tips for the Kid's Room

Decluttering Tips for the Kid's Room

16. Implement behavioral cues to help adopt healthy habits for cleanliness.

For example, one of C. Lee’s clients had a fun system: if the kids leave anything on the floor, it gets confiscated for 24 hours. Not exactly a one-size-fits-all approach but definitely effective.

17. Attach pegs in coat closets at child height for kids to hang their own coats.

They’re definitely not going to get a hanger and hang it themselves (let’s be real, some adults don’t do it either), and they won’t end up slung over chairs.

Quick Tips of the Ultra Organized

18. Every room needs three things: 1) a wastebasket, 2) bright light, and 3) an analog clock.

Adopting “the art of waste basketry” (having one in every room; even if it’s a small one in your closet) will offset accumulating trash in coat pockets or coffee tables. Bright lights keep you energized and help you see what you’re dealing with. An analog clock helps you better feel time passing.

19. Always measure the space you’ve got and the organization items you intend to purchase to avoid return trips.

20. If you have fixed shelves that create a lot of wasted space because of their height, get hanging undershelf baskets.

21. Use the walls by utilizing hooks and racks. Make it a rule that the floor is not an option.

22. Make your hangers consistent.

C. Lee prefers black or clear with a bar across, warning that if you do decide to get hangers in fashion colors, it’s not always easy to find the exact same color later when you need more.

Decluttering Is in the Details

Decluttering Is in the Details

23. Never walk into a room empty-handed.

Always take a look around and pinpoint anything that needs to go to another room and take it with you.

24. Everything in your home should have its own home.

Create a clear place for everything.

25. Pedestal sinks hack:

Most are designed with hollow space behind the leg where you can discreetly store two rolls of toilet paper out of sight.

26. Label.

Reading a word on a bin is neurologically processed faster than looking to see what’s in it.

Lifechanging Habits for the Ultra Organized

Lifechanging Habits for the Ultra Organized

27. Take advantage of “tiny times”.

This is when we usually insert tiny ‘screen times’. Instead, while you wait for your toast to toast, put dishes in the washer or complete other quick chores. When this becomes a habit, you will have a lot more free time at the end of the day and a much cleaner home more often.

28. Horizontal is hidden, vertical is visible.

When it comes to storing papers, books, or even clothes, organizing horizontally makes it harder to find what you’re looking for. Filing or folding vertically takes up less space, is prettier, and more accessible.

Horizontal is hidden, vertical is visible

Horizontal is hidden, vertical is visible

29. Live in the present, not in the past or future.

This will help you minimize your possessions and declutter.

30. Don’t be afraid to readjust shelves.

Moving them up or down in your cabinets can better accommodate what you have to put in them.

31. Get rid of cardboard boxes (especially in storage space).

Sturdy plastic totes will have your things visible and are immune to water damage. Investing in shelving and bins which are consistent both in type and size can transform a space like you wouldn’t believe.

Garage Decluttering Best Practices

Garage Decluttering Best Practices

32. Chrome shelves with wheels are the way to go.

The shelves will be adjustable and if there is a leak, you can just move your shelves.

We’ll leave you with one of the most practical tips C. Lee shared that will help to evolve your lifestyle into a more organized and efficient one:

33. “Good and done is better than perfect and none.”

Getting to it and making do with what you have to organize can make just as big a difference in clarity in your life as spending money on new systems.

Written by
Ani Mouradian

Written by Ani Mouradian