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How to Clean Out / Organize Anything!

July 26, 2010

I’ve read more nerdy books on organizing than I can count. Some from the library, some I bought, some from the library that I couldn’t live without then I bought them. There are several on my bookshelves that I still go to, now and then, for inspiration.

So I’ll save you some reading time and money. Here are a handful of tips for organizing almost anything. Cleaning out any mess, straightening up any pile or room.

The last house we lived in, we had a very organized basement, but it was organized CLUTTER. I learned that when we moved 1300 miles. It looked great and you could find anything, but nobody needs 30 extension cords (left over from two houses before that when we didn’t have enough outlets in any room.) So the first rule is – get rid of whatever doesn’t go there.  Don’t worry about what to do with it for now – if it shouldn’t be there, get it out of the room. (My husband, who was raised by Depression era parents, tends to be neat but a pack rat so we have to keep working at this. He’d keep all thirty cords, telling me ‘you never know when you’ll need….”)

The second rule is make several piles of the stuff that doesn’t go in there – not one. If you end the day with one horrible pile to go through you’ll be so overwhelmed you’ll never attempt to organize / clean up anything again. So make several piles – #1 is ‘throw away’. #2 is ‘give away’, #3 is put away (somewhere else). I bring in large laundry baskets, a box marked ‘Salvation Army’ (or charity of your choice), and a large 30 gallon trash bag. Preferably the piles are not in the room you’re working on, but maybe right next to it. Everything that comes out of the room should go in one of the three piles, and never gets to come back in!

#3 – empty a room as much as possible so you can see it with fresh eyes. It’s amazing how much difference rearranging things can make. A metal tape measure will be a big help in figuring out where everything should go. Think outside the box!

#4 – go for a balance between practical and pretty. Anne Ortlund (a favorite author of mine) said, ‘if it’s  not beautiful or useful get rid of it.” I read that 25 years ago and still abide by it. As you sort through things in the room (or car or garage) consider whether you need it or maybe it could bless someone else. We bought a house that came furnished, down to the toilet bowl brush, fly swatter, paper plates – I mean furnished! So we ended up with five rakes. Nobody needs five rakes, so some went to the kids, and some went to Goodwill. We kept two because there are two of us. Don’t just put stuff back – think about what you need and what somebody else could use. Having less clutter will be a blessing!

#5 – deal with it! Take the Goodwill stuff to Goodwill ASAP. Put the trash in the can immediately, and if you doubt your resolve, dump coffee grounds or used cat litter or something else equally awful on it. Call your girlfriend and tell her you’re bringing over all your jeans because you’ve gained weight and she’s so skinny (do NOT give your girlfriends jeans after you lose weight – give those to Goodwill so you’ll still have friends.) Don’t hesitate or this stuff tends to seep back into the house.

This really should go before the very first step. Step #1A – If I’m going to spend the day organizing or cleaning out a room, at the end of the day I’m going to be tired, likely dirty, and absolutely not in the mood to cook. I always, always have either a frozen pizza and bag salad on hand for supper, or I pull out the crockpot in the morning and throw something in it. At the end of the day, after I’ve conquered that room and showered, I can have dinner on the table in minutes. I put everything from meatloaf, to lasagna, to barbeque ribs to salsa chicken, to chili in my crockpot.

One last tip – eat breakfast first. Something that will stick with you. And take breaks. Breaks for diet coke or ice tea, breaks for a snickers (you’ll burn enough calories so go for it!), breaks for a popsicle on the porch. You’ll have fresh energy after you stop for a bit. Today we began the big project of straightening out the garage, which was never really unpacked when we moved. It held office supplies, fabric, toys, gift wrap, sprinkler system parts, gardening tools, paint, insecticide, broken things, maps, supplies to care for the dog we don’t have, maps to tour Washington D.C. and that’s just the beginning. This project is going to take us all week, but every single day, we’ll begin with a good breakfast, stop for a decent lunch and have a snack or two throughout the day.

This project is going to have about four steps by the time we’re done. We got the boathouse closet cleaned out today – that involved emptying the entire closet, vacuuming it out with the shop vac, spraying it down with bug spray, caulking the cracks so the crickets and scorpions and spiders can’t get in. Then we moved one shelf another direction and it opened up the entire closet. We made piles all over the boathouse – filled a trash bag, took some supplies to a neighbor who could use them, some stuff went to the garage, and the rest was put back on shelves. Now we know what’s in there, and the next time we’re out there getting eaten alive by mosquitos I’ll be able to light the citronella lamps and find the bug spray. I even rearranged the bench on the boathouse, where we sit to watch the sunset. A much better view now! Next is the garage, then the shop. None of them will be a real blast but when they’re done it’ll be very nice to be able to find what we need and know we’re traveling a little lighter than we were.

Fixing a kid, or a husband, you’re on your own, but I promise this is a surefire bet for a messy countertop or bedroom or closet or garage or car. Promise!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2010 7:35 am

    I needed this today! We are settling in after a year here (I blame the delay on a life with crazy kids schedules- ha! A little denial never hurts, right?)
    and last week Rusty emptied the storage room into the family room, so he could put up another wall and make his man cave. So now we have boxes and bags to sort through sitting everywhere. Ugh!
    Seriously, I was explaining to the exterminator yesterday that we are renovating, not hoarders, and realized he doesn’t care, he was just crawling under our porch with bugs and snakes. A messy family room can’t be as bad as that, right?
    Thanks for the tips- you have such a great way of breaking things down so they seem manageable.

    • July 27, 2010 9:36 am

      Kelly, I’m so glad to hear it was timely. Can you hear me cheering you on across the miles? xoxo

  2. July 27, 2010 7:55 am

    You know what you’re talking about in this area! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Kathy permalink
    July 27, 2010 8:38 am

    Thanks for the organized plan for organizing.

    I’ve never read Anne Ortlund (Anne Ortlund (a favorite author of mine) said, ‘if it’s not beautiful or useful get rid of it.”), but I’ve followed her advice for 30 some years now. The only thing I add to that is “if it has sentimental value”, keep it. 😉

    • July 27, 2010 9:38 am

      and of course ‘beautiful’ can mean something beyond what something looks like on the surface. I was thinking, as I was typing that quote, that our deerhead we bought on Ebay for $26 and named ‘Rudy’ (Rudy 11 months of the year, and Rudolph one month when he dons a red felt nose) is beautiful to our family, in spite of the bald spot on the top of his head. Sentimental absolutely equals beautiful. That would cover those lumpy clay things our kids made in art school and brought home to be dishes to hold our earrings, or that puzzle piece painted bright pink with a pin attached to the back that my son gave me for Mother’s Day over 20 years ago. Some things are sacred regardless of what they look like on the surface!

      • Kathy permalink
        July 27, 2010 9:48 am

        Bev, you are SO right! I never thought of it in that way … but I should have! After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

  4. July 27, 2010 8:52 am

    Love Anne Ortlund and Emilie Barnes, but their books are buried in boxes from when we moved the bookshelves around…lol. Thanks for the refresher course; I needed it. Badly!

    • July 27, 2010 9:40 am

      I was privileged to hear Anne Ortlund speak in Bismarck, North Dakota about 20 years ago with a dear friend who I recently reconnected with on Facebook. She was to me the epitome of a godly woman, I’ve read several of her books and still have the one she autographed for me. I still have files set up according to the guidelines she gave in her book ‘Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman’. Several EB books tucked onto my shelves too.

  5. July 27, 2010 9:44 am

    All really great tips, Bev and will definitely come in handy for me this summer as we tackle a few major projects. My dayhome craft room being one of them. It’s so easy to build up junk there thinking I might need it one day. Our shed is also due for a good clearing out as is our storage room. Sigh. How do we let so much stuff accumulate.

  6. July 27, 2010 2:30 pm

    I loved this advice and do very much the same stuff …. yesterday we cleaned out one of our out-buildings did lots of throwing, organizing and gave a bunch of stuff away! After moving Mom & Dad we are “uncluttering” both our farm house and in CO. It is a eye opener to move parents with 60 years of STUFF!!! Happy decluttering………

  7. July 27, 2010 5:30 pm

    I saved this to read when I had time to read it over and over and learn. I am pretty good at purging. In fact, I often purge, then wish I had it back 🙂

    But our last move taught me a lot. We moved stuff here we have not looked at since we unpacked it. And we are not moving it again.

    The suitcase full of clothes 2 sizes too small, that I have not worn for 6 years … gone. I figure if I lose 15 lbs I deserve to buy new clothes 🙂

    GREAT advice here. Thank you .

  8. July 27, 2010 9:26 pm

    Great info! Thanks!

  9. Cindy permalink
    July 30, 2010 9:05 pm

    I just love reading about your life and what you are doing. You have great advice, good ideas and a down to earth approach to whatever you do! Thanks for being willing to share yourself.

    • July 30, 2010 10:44 pm

      Thank you, Cindy, for such sweet words of encouragement!

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