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Most Americans are spending far more quiet time at home this spring, trying to make the best of what may feel like one endless weekend. We are watching more movies, doing more puzzles, and heroically trying to homeschool our children. All this time spent within the confines of our homes means we are confronted once, if not multiple times, a day with the organizing projects that have been successfully put off, perhaps for years. Or we are in a perpetual state of disarray; we have overstuffed drawers that don’t open, and now more clutter is accumulating by the minute.

There are those among us who are habitually organized, purging their belongings regularly, and who have a “place for everything.” While they are admirable in their organized life and approach to living, most of us have never found the time, or feel overwhelmed at the prospect of decluttering. It may be true that quarantine has given us that elusive expanse of time but getting started and staying organized isn’t simple.

Before photo of disorganized play area

Help is on the way!

We’ve asked Emily Cherin, certified professional organizer and owner of Room To Breathe Organizing to answer some of the more nagging questions about organizing your home. Emily has years (some might say a lifetime!) of experience systematizing, arranging, classifying, categorizing, and cleaning out her own and others’ spaces, and she’s happy to share her insights here.

Clean and organized play area

Q: There is so much clutter in my house! Where do I start?

A:  Pick one spot. I always ask my clients before we begin: What’s the thing that makes you the craziest; your biggest pain point? Or put another way: What will bring you the most relief right now if it’s cleared and ordered?

Maybe it’s your office, your closet, your junk drawer, your kid’s room, the playroom, the basement, the attic. And if reading this list begins to make you feel anxious, start smaller; small is not a fail.

Q: Really? Is clearing out one file folder enough?

A: Yes! It’s a start! Remember, everyone is different. Try not to judge yourself in the act or before you even begin. Take one step at a time.

Step 1: Again, you can start small. Pick a pile of papers, one shelf in your closet, a box or container of something that’s been nagging at you.

Q: It is so easy to get distracted. How do I stay on task?

A: Step 2: Set a timer, start with 20 or 30 minutes; a small amount of time you can reasonably commit to. If you’re feeling bold, try an hour.  This doesn’t have to be an all-day project.

cluttered office space

Q: I’ve picked my spot, how do I begin?

A: Step 3: Pull everything out of that drawer or closet, or if you are looking at an entire room, move through it section by section.

Step 4: Begin to sort everything into three piles: trash, donation, keep.

Step 5: Put the “keep” items back in an order that works best for you. Consider the space you have and what you use most frequently. Don’t be afraid to use organizing tools, most of which you may already own. You can be creative. I’m guessing you have clear containers, not in use, or a tray, dish or bowl that is decorative but may have been untouched for years. It will feel good to give these items a new life (a bit like us right now!). Try this before adding more stuff to your stuff.

If you choose to “donate” be sure to check with donations centers for special hours or drop off guidelines.

Step 6: Take a moment to appreciate your work. If you feel better, and I am guessing you will try another spot of contention.

clean and tidy office space

Q: Do I have to part with everything that has gone unused? I’m afraid I’ll regret parting with some of my belongings.

A: While it’s important to let go of the things that are no longer useful to you, don’t ever feel pressure to discard something you’re on the fence about. When I feel unsure, I put the item away, knowing I may feel differently in a month, or a year. Not everything that is unused needs to be discarded. Sometimes there are things you may never wear or use but you like to look at them or they bring you comfort in some way. Keep them! That may sound unorthodox but the point of de-cluttering and organizing is not to stress yourself, but to create clearer pathways for you physically and emotionally.

Q: With the whole family at home, is this really the right time to get organized?

A: The idea right now is to soothe your soul a bit, distract yourself, let go of the outside world for a short period of time. You do not have to tackle the universe or be perfect or even amazing, so begin with that mindset. Remember, organizing your home means gaining control when everything else feels so uncertain. When you let go of the excess you truly do feel lighter, less stressed, more relaxed, more easily able to enjoy your physical space. And then, an entirely new world of possibilities can come to fruition.

Some of Emily’s favorite organizing tools: label maker, clear containers, decorative bowls and trays for jewelry, and glass wear for pens. She uses empty checkbook boxes for desk drawer organizers, and if it’s a receptacle meant to be left out, remember it should be something you enjoy looking at.

For more about Emily and Room To Breath Organizing, visit her website or call her at 603-834-1618. She is happy to schedule remote organizing sessions to help you get started. In an effort to support everyone right now, all sessions are 50% off.

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