As we spring into April, community-wide cleanup efforts return along with the urge to get our own homes back in order. Professional organizer Jen Bartelt of Reclaim Your Space walked us through the most common trouble spots when it comes to in-home organization.
Mail and paperwork are high on the list of problems. Bartelt says a designated drop zone for mail is a must. She recommends a nice tray or bowl on a side table or even the kitchen counter. Keep a letter opener in the tray, and spend a few minutes every night sorting. Use a simple file folder or box to organize items into categories like 'to pay', 'recycle', 'pending', or 'to read'. Items like party invitations or school functions would go in the 'pending' folder.
To make sense of all the paperwork kids accumulate, get each child their own file box. Have individual folders for ages 0-5 then additional folders for each grade of school. Everything from birthday cards to medical records and school work can find a home in the file box.
Bartelt already started a box for her 6-week-old daughter, Ava. "This is going to be so easy for her to transport from one place to the next," she said, looking ahead toward college. "Let's face it, when you're 40 years old you don't need 20 tubs of paperwork from when you were 5, 6, 7 years old. Condense it for them now, they'll thank you for it later."
When it comes to the garage, most of them have too much clutter and too much on the ground. Bartelt says they should always be able to serve their intended purpose of being a place to park the car and should not be overtaken by storage.
"If you own something it should be those items that bring joy into your life," Bartelt said from the garage. "If you can't see them and you don't know that you have them, how are they bringing joy to your life? They're just simply not."
She recommends making the most of garage space by installing wall slats where removable hooks can hold everything from golf clubs to toy cars. Old cabinets and counters also offer a good storage option for smaller items like car cleaning supplies or gardening essentials.
Moving into a new season, Bartelt suggests putting all hangers in the closet backwards. As items are worn, hang them back up the traditional way. Ditch anything left hanging backwards at the end of the season.
Instead of doing one big purge of your closet, keep a donation box in the bottom so you can collect items throughout the year. That way, ill-fitting sweaters or out-of-style pants can be taken out of your regular wardrobe right away without having to take frequent trips to the thrift store.
Other ideas from Bartelt include organizing clothes by color and style to keep a constant inventory of what you own, stacking sweaters only three high to avoid making a mess when digging through them, and investing in non-slip, thin hangers to make more space in the closet and to keep clothes in better shape.
In the kitchen, Bartelt recommends keeping similar foods together so things like snacks are easy to see and baking supplies are all in one spot. Keep bulk items in clear containers so you always know what you have and how much is left. Switching out shelves for sliding pullouts makes the most of even small kitchen spaces.
As for finding additional storage, Bartelt says the backs of doors and cabinets are the most underutilized space in any home. Shelves can be installed on the inside of a pantry door. Children's toys or shoes should fit well into a canvas organizers. Even inexpensive plastic hooks create an extra spot to hang coats or towels.
Finally, Bartelt says everything we own should be something we either want, need, or love. If it doesn't fit into one of those, Bartelt says, "It's time to let it go."