Nicole Anzia, professional organiser and founder of Neatnik, joined staff writer Jura Koncius for The Washington Post's Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
What are the main reasons that resolutions to get organised are derailed?
Trying to do it all in January and then stopping. People work really hard at decluttering and purging at the beginning of the year and then think they're done. But organising isn't really something you're ever done with. As long as things are coming into and leaving your home, it's a continual process. Do a little bit here and there, but schedule some regular time weekly or monthly to continue the work.
What are your favourite organising and storage products for those on a budget?
I love clear shoe boxes. They're great for so many things: batteries, craft supplies, office supplies, as drawer dividers, to stack shoes, etc. The Container Store sells them at a reduced rate when you buy in bulk. At Ikea, I love the Kallax shelves. They're great for books or customized with doors or drawers. They can hold bins and baskets and can be situated upright or horizontally. Generally speaking, though, clear bins from anywhere are great because you can clearly see the contents. Whatever storage containers you decide to purchase, I would suggest buying a few extra so you have some on hand in case you can no longer find them later.
I'm overwhelmed by the clutter in my house. How do I find time to exercise, work, clean the house and declutter? Is there a way to do this that isn't overwhelming?
Clutter is overwhelming and exhausting. You're not alone in feeling this way, and studies have proved that clutter affects your mental health. You're also right that it's very hard to find time to focus on decluttering and organizing. A couple of thoughts: Set a timer for 30 minutes and try to conquer one space. If you finish before the time is up, move on to the next spot. Don't try to do it all at once. You can have a friend come over to help if you can't do it on your own or schedule time with an organizer. Putting the work on your calendar also helps.
I often cut out interesting articles from newspapers or magazines, but then I wind up with boxes of yellowing articles. I'm at a loss for how to organize these for later retrieval - or if I should even try. How do I decide what to keep and what to toss?
Do you ever go back and look at the articles you've cut out? If not, I would try to stop cutting them out. If there are a few categories of articles that you like in particular, create file folders and label them (i.e., travel ideas, home decor, books). Once every couple of months, go through the files and get rid of any that no longer interest you. I would toss any article that is more than a year old.
I have the exciting task of preparing my finished basement for a long-overdue paint job. I have two large walk-in closets that I'm emptying so we can paint the interior shelving and walls. After 16 years in this home, I'm trying to declutter as I go, but it is overwhelming. Do you have any thoughts and tips?
Having a room painted is always good motivation to declutter and organise. Don't try to tackle it all in one day or even in one week. Instead, set aside an hour or two every other day, and when you start to feel overwhelmed, just stop. And have a friend come to help!
I'm fantastic at purging old, broken and useless items from my home, but when it comes to clothing, I struggle. I don't change size, I'm very careful when I wash things, and my style is very simple, so most of my clothes remain in good/wearable condition for years and years. I worry that I'll get rid of something and then realize I shouldn't have. Obviously, I'll hang onto those special-occasion clothing items that I truly treasure, but when it comes to the everyday stuff, picking what to keep or toss is way harder than it should be. Is there a good rule of thumb here?
One thing that may help is to consider that because you have taken such good care of your things, someone else could probably use the things you're no longer wearing. People will generally say that if you haven't worn it in a year, you can get rid of it, but you need to use your own metric. Just as with all the other items you've managed to purge, clothing is just stuff, too.
I'd love to hire an organizer, but no website clearly states hourly rates, and I'm wondering if I can afford it. Can you give us any clues?
The reason most organizers don't publish their rates is because every job is a little different and may require more or less time than a client thinks it will. We don't want to intimidate people by costs; it's better to talk through what we can do within your given budget. That said, most organizers charge $75 to $200 per hour, and the best way to find out is to send a quick note.
How do I deal with a spouse who likes clutter and leaving his things out and loves piles of papers? I am a bit of a neatnik and do not keep things I do not use, so it makes me a bit frustrated. We've been married for 50 years, so no luck trying to change his habits.
Many people hire me because of this exact issue. Unfortunately, if you've been married for 50 years, your spouse is probably not going to change his behaviours. The best you can do is to contain his stuff to his spaces where you don't need to see it. And if you really want him to start getting rid of some stuff, it may be worth bringing in a third party to help.
My husband resells items that have been minimally used on eBay. His business has taken over not only most of our garage but also many areas of the house. How do we manage storage for a business and having a house that is not so cluttered as to be unfit to have guests over?
I am not a fan of storage units, but for this purpose, it may be something to consider. Or could he find an office space where he could work and store some of the items? It is a lot to ask to run a business like that out of your home, especially if there is a lot of inventory. If an outside area isn't a possibility, I would try to designate one space for the things he is selling, such as one room in the basement or half of the garage or a spare bedroom, and try to limit it that way. Make sure he's taking advantage of the space and using shelves so that not everything is scattered on the floor.
I have a huge pile of paperwork to organize. Some is remodel stuff that I need to save, some are old bills that I maybe don't need to save, and who knows what else. How do I get started, and in what do I put all of the stuff to save?
As with all organizing tasks, you just have to start. I know a huge pile of paperwork is intimidating, but once you get started, you'll find it's much easier than you imagined, and you'll be motivated to continue. Remodelling papers can be sorted and kept in a plastic bin with dividers for the various categories. Old bills? Unless they are for valuable items or are related to a business, do you really need to keep them? Files can be stored in portable file boxes or in a filing cabinet. Most people can keep their current files in just two drawers. Anything that isn't current - and definitely needs to be kept - can be kept in plastic file boxes.
I inherited generations of memorabilia from both sides of my parental tree; both sets of grandparents and great-grandparents took copious amounts of photographs and saved every last thing. I have my father's kindergarten notebooks, locks of his hair and his baby toys. I have marching band programs from events in 1936 that my mother participated in, and I have lots of business transactions that my grandfather kept at the turn of the 19th century. Right now, I have probably three dozen bankers boxes filled with photographs and other stuff, and I don't know how to deal. Help!
This is a very common scenario and one that is especially challenging. First, is there anyone else in your family who would be willing and able to help? If so, get them on board, stat. Regardless, I would separate the items by person or category and then cull through each group. For instance, put all the business transaction logs together and then get rid of all but two. Take photos of things such as locks of hair, baby toys and kindergarten notebooks and then discard. For the photos, which I'm sure are the most overwhelming, I would just try to look through a box a week. If you and/or your family members can't identify the people in the pictures, it's probably OK to toss, even though I know that's very hard to do. Once you have the keepers, send them to get digitized so you have a permanent record of them and are better able to share with family and friends. This is not a one-month project, and it's probably not even a one-year project, so pace yourself.
Many of my female friends say they want to declutter but that their husbands hate parting with their things and get grumpy when they are presented with a plea to purge their sock drawer. Is there something about women wanting to be more organized or is that sexist on my part? What can you do to get someone to get on board to let go of stuff?
This is a very common challenge and something I suggest a third-party help with. Your spouse may be more likely to listen to someone who isn't you and be open to purging things when someone else is helping. Someone outside the relationship is likely to be less judgmental and may be able to make suggestions for where to donate things or how to use them differently. And typically, once people get over their initial resistance and start seeing progress, they see that it's less difficult than they think and feel motivated to do more. P.S. I see resistance to organising being almost even between men and women.
I have a ton of blank walls in my house and a great need for storage. I would love to put up some shelving and picture rails in each room, but I'm intimidated to put a bunch of holes in the wall. What shelving products and picture rails do you like that would be easy for a novice?
Don't be scared to put holes in your walls. It's no big deal to patch and paint if you make a mistake. Also, do you want to do picture rails, or could you just hang the photos? The latter is much easier. If you feel intimidated by hanging things on your own, ask someone for help. Not many of us can hang shelves or rails on our own, but you can purchase them and give direction on where you want them installed. This is one of those things you don't want to overthink. You'll be thrilled to have the photos and art you love up on your walls, so go for it.
What are the philosophical differences and methods between KonMari and Neatnik?
I like Marie Kondo's philosophy about only having things in your home that are useful and things you love, but it is unrealistic for most of us to systematically go through every one of our belongings and make those decisions. You have to do your best and focus on the areas where you tend to be the most challenged. I also think that some things are just worth keeping.
I want to get rid of my bed skirts, but I use underbed boxes for storage of out-of-season clothes. (I have very small closets, so this is necessary.) Any suggestions on how to make visible underbed storage look good?
You should be able to find some decorative boxes and/or canvas under-the-bed bins that will at least hide the contents of clear under-the-bed bins.
I am preparing for a kitchen remodel that will include refinishing floors and moving our furniture and china to accommodate the floor refinishing. We have begun purging unused kitchen items and other household items. Could you recommend a plan of attack for this endeavour? We have lived in this house for 25 years.
I would go drawer by drawer or cabinet by cabinet. Start early enough so that you're not rushed. Do a little bit each day, and things you haven't seen in a decade can go. Give some real thought to what you use most, and set the things you're undecided on aside to consider the following week. There are many good places to donate kitchen and household items where they will be put to good use by someone who needs them.