Cleaning Up the
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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!