Cleaning Up the Clutter
January 18, 2004

Well here we are, the second addition to my cleaning column. I received several emails asking for suggestions for organizing and decluttering so I thought Iíd run with those suggestions for this column. Thanks so much to all of you who offered cleaning suggestions and ideas. I have added them all to my cleaning file (yes, I have one. Scary, I know!) and Iím sure theyíll appear on this site at some point with credit to each of you!

Okay, now onto the mess!

All the emails I got about organizing and clutter were generally the same. ďHow can I get my kids toys organized?Ē ďWhat can I do with my cabinets in my kitchen?Ē ďWhat can I do with all the stuff that accumulates throughout the week?Ē You get the idea. I have to confess, I am not entirely organized. Iíve got a storage room full of stuff Iíve yet to tackle, but thankfully itís in lovely plastic containers just waiting for some help. Right now Iím staring at my dresser topped with my four year old sonís art work from Pre-kindergarten. I eventually plan to make it to the basement to store it in his special box. Thatís my first organizing hint.

But before that, I have a great solution to organizing the kids room: CLOSE THE DOOR! Honestly, it doesnít matter what you do, how you store things or what you throw away, thereís always going to be clutter in a kids room.
Until they move out and you make it a den, of course! Okay, now that that is settled, on to the real first hint...

Special boxes: As a child I made the same things all of you made. Ashtrays, uncountable amounts of painted and drawn artwork, holiday ornaments and other things my teachers knew my family would love. The problem is, I donít
have any of that stuff anymore. Iím sure my parents have a thing or two stored away somewhere, safe for time of reflection. But I have none of it. What Iíve done for each of my three kids is buy one of the plastic containers I mentioned above and labeled one for each kid with the starting year. I put all of their artwork and special things worth saving in these containers. Holiday gifts that are mementos; report cards; school pictures; cheerleading outfits, etc. All of this, mementos they MIGHT want when theyíre older but if left in their hands will likely be destroyed or lost. Each of my daughters had a special blanket as a toddler - those blankets are stored in their special boxes for their own kids someday. This is a great way to keep things out of your living area or closets while keeping them organized for your children. Make sure to label the boxes so thereís no confusion. Your children will appreciate your efforts to save their childhood memories. Bonus points to mom for being thoughtful!

Baskets: Yes, baskets are everywhere and most people think theyíre overrated. I disagree. Iíve got ten baskets throughout my house. Theyíre great decorating pieces along with excellent storage solutions. Two baskets for example, are under my coffee table in the living room and store books and magazines. I have baskets of videos for the kids because they never put them back in the entertainment center. I use a basket in each room to hold the collection of toys that always seem to gather outside of the kids rooms. At the end of each week the kids and I go through those baskets and return everything to where it belongs. Itís much easier to pick up and put a toy or twenty in a basket everyday than to cart them to each room, making several trips. I have a step basket on the stairs to collect whatever isnít a toy or magazine but needs to go upstairs. Of course the stuff usually sits in that basket until either I take it up or I nag enough that someone finally does it just to get me off their back!

Use Unused Space: Something weíve done at our house thatís been really helpful and adds decor is the use of shelves. My husband Mr. Handy, handmade shelves and put them about 1 1/2 feet below the ceiling in our loft. We have great storage here for books, magazines and even a few knick knacks. It looks fantastic and more people have complimented us on those shelves than any other part of the house! Using the space close to the ceiling is a great way to add a bit of decor while storing things you donít need often. Another great idea is to buy those decorative picture boxes for storage and put them on the shelves.

Speaking of storage, my kitchen doesnít have a pantry. This is a HUGE bone of contention for me. Each time we look at model homes I want to sit in the pantry and soak up its space and organizational opportunities. Mr. Handy
felt my frustration and made me a wonderful pantry/shelving area in my basement storage room. He bought metal shelves and hung them from the ceiling on chains above freezer. This way Iíve got all of the food in one section of the storage room and all the bulk items have a place to live. These shelves are excellent and can be used in any room of the house as long as no one can walk into them! A great idea for a kids room as for toys you rotate for play.. Theyíre out of reach but when they want them, theyíre accessible to the parents. Weíll talk toys more in a later paragraph.

In our vanity bathroom where my husband tends to spend large amounts of time, I became very frustrated stepping on the he left magazines all over the floor. Funny, I never read when Iím on the toilet! I get my business done and get out! Though honestly, thereís been a time or two when a room with a locking door didnít sound like such a bad thing! What I did to maintain neatness, not use up any floor space (itís a very small bathroom) and still go with my decorating theme was to purchase a metal mailbox meant for a door of a house. These are available at antique stores and Target or Walmart. A few nails later itís up and a perfect place to store those magazines my husband requires for a good poop. (Oh, heís really going to love that one when he reads it!)

Creative Storage Solutions: Now you see it, now you donít. All that stuff youíve likely read on-line or in some magazine about covering up a filing cabinet with a table cloth and using it as a table may sound stupid but let me tell you, it works. A perfect place is either a living room where no one sits too often because the kids will likely go on an exploration (and pull out those naked pictures your husband took when the kids were at Grandmas house right when youíre in there with the new Pastor from your church!) Purchase those tablecloths meant for the round pressed wood tables and toss it over the filing cabinet, put the glass top on and youíve got a great table and storage space.

Bed Raisers: These things cost about $14 at Bed, Bath and Beyond but are truly priceless. They raise the bed a few inches so you can store plastic containers with out of season clothes or whatever under the bed without taking away the look of the bedskirt or whatever decor youíve got going. Theyíre great in a kids room too because the raised bed is exciting for the kids. If you have an old dresser that youíre not using, take the drawers out and attach rolling cart wheels to them and youíve got instant under bed storage containers thatíll fit under the raised bed.

A couple of other things I do may not seem like a big deal or anything Ďnewí. Itís more about how often theyíre done, not that theyíre especially creative.

1. I do a major decluttering of each kids room and closet at every change of season. Out with the old clothes that are stained or too small - they go to the garbage or to Goodwill. Toys that are broken or missing pieces are trashed. Toys they donít play with anymore are donated. Clothes that they can use next year are stored in labeled storage containers. We hang up all sweaters, long sleeved shirts and pants. The only items in their drawers are underwear, pjs, socks and short sleeve shirts. They each get six stuffed animals in their room at one time. If they get a new one, they have to exchange it for an old one. Iíve got containers full of stuffed animals (mostly the dreaded waste of money Beanie Babies) for them to do with as they please when they move out! We also go through their books. Anything that isnít age appropriate is donated unless itís beat up and abused. If itís a book with an inscription from a family member itís stored in the special box mentioned above. Each season we usually have three or four of those big green garbage bags of donations and trash per kid. They participate and get to make decisions and feel good because theyíre donating stuff. My daughter Morgan often wants to give her newest stuff to charity so the kids can have newer toys to play with. Sheís got a heart of gold!

2. I toss all magazines and catalogs after theyíre read. Yes, I know I mentioned magazines above. My husband has a fear of getting rid of his Business 2.0 and other industry related mags, so we keep those in baskets. I used to save articles from mine but not anymore. I read them for their entertainment value and then either trash them or give them to my doctors office. Whichever comes first. Saving the articles is useless to me. I never did anything with them anyway!

3. This is sort of mean, but Iíve been known to do it a time or fifty. I have a saying, ďIf itís yours and you want it youíd better put it away or Iím throwing it away.Ē If they donít put it away, itís trashed. Itís sort of like that ďthe fear of GodĒ thing. It works. And it usually only has to be done once, maybe twice.

4. I pay my bills on-line so I open them all immediately, toss the ads and the envelopes and put them in the Ďto be paidí basket in my computer desk. Yes, Iíve got a mail basket in the kitchen too. This is for the collection of junk I need to go through but wonít get a chance to until the end of the week.

5. My husband has a bowl on his dresser. Because garbage cans are against his religion I go through that each week and I decide what to keep and what to trash..

6. If there is something that belongs to another family member sitting somewhere it shouldnít and they havenít put it away when asked, but itís not something you can threaten to throw away, I simply take them away from whatever theyíre doing and make them put it away right then and there. Sure it annoys them, but it gets the stuff out of the room. Hey, Iím here to be a mother and teach accountability and responsibility, Iím not a maid!

7. If my kids rooms arenít cleaned up by bedtime, the next night they go to bed 1/2 hour earlier. This is a great consequence. Also, throughout the day I may take their shoes from by the front door, their sweaters off the table or whatever and toss them on their floor so they have to put them away. This is why closing their doors when theyíre not home is a great thing to do! You donít see the mess you may Ďaccidentallyí be making when you put their stuff away. You see, my theory is that this is their stuff and they are responsible for it.

As I said, I believe itís my job to teach my children responsibility. Thatís why they do chores, just like I did. Yes, most often I go in after them and redo the things theyíve cleaned, but itís the lesson thatís important. They have specific daily and weekly chores. My kids are required to set the table for dinner; clean the kitchen after dinner every night; vacuum the stairs once a week; clean their bathroom (which includes the toilet) every week; make their beds and clean up their rooms; separate and fold their laundry (no touching the washer and dryer though!) each week; washing the baseboards and kitchen table and chairs with vinegar and water once a month; organizing their dresser drawers and closet once a month and going around the house to pick things up and put them away. Do I sound harsh? Maybe to some, but I donít think so. These are all things my mother had me do and I think itís important that my kids take part in maintaining a nice living environment for all of us. It teaches them responsibility and respect - The necessary evils of growing up.

All in all yes, I am anal and I do spend a lot of time cleaning. Probably more time than I should. I should lighten up a bit and just enjoy life more. But the fact is, Iím just not going to. I like a clean, clutter free environment because it makes me feel secure and satisfied. And I want my kids to be respectful and appreciative of their home. We all take part in making it look like it does which is a miraculous feat for this family because of five with a cat and a dog! Of course, when it comes to their room and bathroom, their cleanliness abilities are lost. But I can close those doors, which I do every single day!

Enjoy your cleaning!


The One Where She Introduces Herself