Confession time: I've written dozens of articles about getting organized, but I've always found it hard to practice what my experts preach. But this year - between the influx of an insane number of holiday toys and the sheer amount of paperwork that my daughter drags home from kindergarten each day - even I reached my messy limit.
Desperate for help, I called Donna Smallin, author of The One Minute Organizer WWW.UNCLUTTER.COM
"You're not alone in feeling overwhelmed by so much stuff, especially at this time of year," she acknowledged. Luckily, Smallin had some easy, manageable tips for clearing the clutter, starting with making room for all the new loot coming my kids' way. "Don't ask your children what they want to get rid of - that'll just start a battle," she says. "Ask them instead what they love the most." As it gets harder for your kids to choose what they love, say you're going to set the rest of the toys aside in a box until they want them. "Put the box in your basement or attic for six months or a year - just long enough to make sure they don't ask for them - and then donate the toys to goodwill," she says. "Chances are your children will forget about the box as soon as it's out of sight."
In my house, toys usually just "disappear" during the bedtime hours. On the rare occasions that my kids actually ask for something, I usually just shrug and mutter something about finding them eventually. But Smallin says I'm missing out on a teachable moment. "Kids need to learn to be responsible for their stuff, and that includes knowing when it's time to give it away," she explains. "Try holding a yard sale, and offering to let your kids keep the proceeds from any of their stuff that sells." (Make sure they know that anything that doesn't go will be donated, so you don't wind up lugging a bunch of junk back into your house.)
Time to Donate
Smallin also suggests asking your kids to choose some of their toys to donate to less-fortunate children. "Kids can be quite empathetic," she says. With this in mind, I asked my 5-year-old daughter, Ella, whether she'd be willing to give away some of her stuffed animals to Loving Hugs, an organization that donates gently used animals to kids in war-torn countries. Ella loved the idea of helping others, and soon, nearly half of her stuffed animals were packed in a box and ready to ship.
Bring on the Bins
For everything that's left, the key is making clean-up easy and fun. "Organize toys into small, easily reached bins, instead of big toy boxes where things will get lost," Smallin says. "Put shoes in a bin, coats on low hooks, and keep the hamper in either their room or bathroom, depending on where their clothes usually come off." Smallin suggests putting a basketball hoop over the hamper to make tossing clothes in more fun for both little and big kids alike (not to mention some parents, too).
Get Rid of the Paper
That all sounded good for getting my kids to clean up their messes, but the paperwork is all my problem. "With paper it's deferred decision making," explains Smallin. "You don't know what to do with it so you just add it to an ever-growing pile." First, Smallin suggested that I limit what comes into the house. "Sign up to view and pay your bills online, and cut down on mail by signing up at CatalogChoice.org, which lets you opt out of advertising material that you don't want to receive," she says. "You'll cut the clutter while also helping the environment."
Since I can't opt-out of kindergarten artwork, Smallin advised me to hang up my daughter's artwork on the refrigerator or, since our fridge is not magnetic, clipped onto string hung across the family room. Another option is to scan artwork into the computer, and display it on a digital frame that constantly changes images. "Store just a few of the really great drawing or worksheets in a keepsake box, and recycle the rest," Smallin insists.
The Family Finder Binder
Smallin also suggested that I create a family "finder binder," for items that I need to keep handy, like class lists, sport schedules, or receipts. "That way everyone will know where to look for something," she explains. Things like birthday parties, and other events should all be organized on a family calendar like Cozi.com, a free online calendar and organizer that can be accessed by computer or mobile phone. As for the often-ignored bulletin board that hangs in my kitchen, Smallin told me to toss it. "After awhile it just becomes wallpaper," she explains.
One Area at a Time
Before we hung up, Smallin left me with one final piece of advice. "Focus on one area at a time, so you don't get overwhelmed," she advises. The weekend after we spoke, my kids came down with bad colds that kept us housebound for a few days. I used the break from our normally packed schedule to clear out all toys and clothes, pack boxes and boxes of items for Goodwill, and finally tackle The Pile. By Sunday night I was exhausted, but my house was clean, organized, and clutter-free. It was definitely worth it.