Text by Nicole Anzia, Special to The Washington Post
Every organizational challenge is different, but the causes of clutter in each room of a house are often similar: People have either too much stuff or inadequate storage spaces - or both. Here's a room-by-room rundown of the biggest clutter culprits and what to do about them.
A bedroom should feel like a sanctuary. Not a magazine-style refuge, but at least a space that is calming. In many homes, however, the master bedroom is messy at best and overcrowded at worst. Clothes are often not put away neatly - or at all - and books and magazines sit stacked on the floor or piled on nightstands.
If clothing is cluttering your master bedroom, the first step is to eliminate items that don't fit or that you don't wear. Then find or create storage solutions that will adequately fit your belongings. Try to think through whether you need more shelving, a larger dresser or more hanging space. If you have a designated space for everything, it will be easy to put items away.
Give yourself a month to read a magazine and then recycle it or give it to a friend. Only books you are currently reading should be bedside; all others should be on shelves, either in your bedroom or elsewhere in the house. If you don't have enough space on your bookshelves, it's time to cull your collection to make room.
Our kitchens are the most-used room in our homes, making them particularly prone to clutter and disorganization. The biggest culprits in kitchens are too many plastic storage containers and water bottles, mugs and glassware. Whether your kitchen is big or small, maximizing the most accessible storage areas is vital. But too often, people's primary cabinets and drawers are overcrowded. Every six months, go through your water bottles and plastic containers and donate or recycle any surplus. Because, let's be honest, a family of four does not need 16 water bottles. Nor do we need to save every Chinese food delivery container just in case it might be useful someday. Try to make do with less.
There's typically not a lot of storage space in bathrooms, but people still try to cram a ton of beauty products, medicine, first-aid supplies and toiletries into tiny vanities. Resist the temptation to bring home shampoo, conditioner and soaps from hotels, and don't accept free samples at stores. You don't need them and will likely never use them. Assess what you really need to have in your bathroom and maximize cabinet, drawer and wall spaces with dividers and shelving. And find another location to store medications, if possible. It's better to have them in a place where temperatures and humidity levels don't fluctuate, anyway.
In many homes, the dining room is rarely used for dining, but the abundance of flat surfaces makes it an appealing place to set items down to deal with later - incoming and outgoing mail and boxes, gifts you've received or plan to give, school projects, newspapers and magazines, completed Lego sets. I actually think it's OK to take advantage of an underused first-floor room for transitional items. The key is to keep up with it. Objects cannot "live" in your dining room for months, or years, and if you're using the room for long-term storage, it's time to reassess what - and how much - you're bringing into your home, as well as changes that may be needed to other storage spaces.
Family members should feel comfortable spending time together in this casual room, so don't aim for absolute organizational perfection. However, comfortable and casual doesn't equal messy. Maybe even more than in other rooms, it's vital to designate a specific place for everything so everyone knows how to clean up. Newspapers can go in a basket, games and toys should be stored in cabinets or bins, and books should live on bookshelves. At least once a year, go through games, toys and books and determine what can be donated. While kids are school-age, there will be a constant churn of items coming in and going out, and it's optimal to purge frequently.
Entry hall and mudroom
The most frequent clutter issue in entry areas and mudrooms are unpacked bags. Whether the bags are filled with sports gear or school papers, they should be gone through weekly, their contents properly stored. When there are multiple unpacked bags on the floor, it's harder for people to find what they're looking for. And when they can't locate their water bottle, socks, jacket or pencil box, they go out and buy more, which means there is more to organize and store.
Garages were primarily used for parking cars in decades past, but more recently they've become overflow storage space for almost everything - except cars. Why? Mostly because people continue to buy more stuff than they can store inside. Whether you would like to park your car in the garage or not, establish some guidelines for what can and cannot be stored in the garage. If you decide that sports gear and bikes, camping and garden supplies, tools and holiday decorations are allowed, buy some heavy-duty shelving to maximize wall space, and create sections for each category. But the only way this works is if everyone adheres to the rules, which is often a challenge. The best way to avoid having your garage become a dumping ground may be to go back to the basics and use it to park your car.
With very few exceptions, kids' rooms are difficult to keep organized, primarily because so much stuff makes it into their rooms - toys, trinkets, crafts, stuffed animals, awards, pictures and more. And that's in addition to what actually needs to be in there, such as clothing, books and schoolwork. Keep a child's room organized by making sure there is adequate and accessible storage space and to spend time cleaning or purging items every few weeks. Depending on the age and disposition of the child, you can spend time purging by yourself or with your child's help. Even though the process takes longer with a child, engaging them in the process is important so they can eventually make their own decisions about their belongings. Clothes and books can be culled each season to keep up with their growth.
Not surprisingly, the biggest clutter offender in offices is often paper. Even if a home office is primarily used for someone's job, it's also often where papers related to house maintenance are stored, as well as bills, financial documents and school papers. All of this paper requires sufficient storage and time to organize. Unfortunately, many households are in short supply of both. Setting up a proper filing system and managing papers on a daily or weekly basis should be a priority. Time spent setting up a functional filing system and designating a space for incoming papers will save you that time and frustration later. No one has ever regretted creating an efficient paper-flow process.
Feature Image: Katherine Frey