Thursday, April 16, 2009

Straigten Up!

My article on refreshing your home through a thorough reorganization appears in this week's WE.

Straighten Up!

By Andrea Warner

Most urban Vancouverites know the day-to-day reality of living in a small space that quickly becomes cramped with “prized” possessions. Looking at closets full of clothes or a living room that has slowly lapsed into a second storage locker can be downright debilitating. To help you embark on a spring de-cluttering makeover that’s affordable and effective, we reached out to a triumvirate of home-organization experts who make their livelihoods from creating order out of chaos.


There are plenty of reasons why people allow their personal possessions to take over their homes and their lives. According to Shelley Davies of Details Modern Order (604-868-2112,, getting to the bottom of that mystery is key. “I find out the story of the ‘whys’ of how their space has become disorganized,” she says. “What just isn’t working: too much stuff? Too little space? Need for organizational tools? No systems in place? Boyfriend just moved in?”

Letting clutter pile up adds unnecessary stress to your life, says Susan Broax of Good Riddance (604-421-5952, “People are overwhelmed and often feel defeated by the clutter around them, resulting in loss of energy and self-esteem,” she says. “And clutter is the source of a good deal of the conflict between spouses, parents and children, and roommates.”

Paul Talbot (604-684-5059, has been leading Clear Your Clutter workshops for the past 15 years, and has even written several books on the subject. He believes in asking the tough questions to assess clutter conundrums, using four key words to help people evaluate their mess: love (Do I really love this?); value (sentimental/emotional/financial); purpose (What purpose does this item serve me?); and ruthless (which you should be prepared to be when determining the true usefulness of an item).


Davies, Broax and Talbot all agree that the key to a successful de-cluttering is to start small, no matter how large the end goal. “Start on one area at a time,” Talbot says. “Work on the visible clutter first — not the stuff that’s in the closets or under the bed — so you actually can see the benefits.”

Broax suggests starting with storage areas. “There are fewer attachment issues [there], as household items located in these areas are often not a feature of daily life,” she says. “It will go more quickly.”

Davies advises people to pick a space — drawer, closet, or a whole room. “Make sure you are realistic about the time required to do the task,” she says. “A drawer can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on its contents. A clothes closet, four hours plus. A room, sometimes all weekend.”


Broax’s strategy is twofold. First, have an objective and a deadline. (Are you expecting guests or doing a renovation? Each requires a different strategy and level of commitment.) Secondly, you can’t organize for anyone but yourself. If you share your space with others, their belongings are their responsibility.

Davies’s advice comes down to that “space” word again, offering that by first defining the space and deciding what you want it to accomplish, you can better decide how to organize. Next, minimize the space and stay focused. Touch everything once and make a decision. Get some bins and mark them: ‘Toss,’ ‘Donate/Consign/Sell,’ ‘Repair,’ and ‘Relocate.’ Finally, organize and maximize your space: Group like items with like, then decide if you need to introduce any organizational tools (like baskets, hooks, etc.) that will maximize your space. Be creative — go up, go under, look for great ways to multi-purpose furniture and space. During this step, it’s also important to introduce systems that will keep the ‘flow.’ Love magazines? When a new issue comes in the door, go through last month’s and tear out anything you want to keep and file, then recycle the remainder.


Broax says paper is one of the biggest villains in the daily battle against mess. “Less stuff means less time,” she says. “Taking control over paper must be practiced on a daily basis. It means being vigilant about what we bring into the home in the form of advertising, mail and periodicals, and what we generate ourselves through our printers and faxes.”

For Davies, time is the primary factor in maintaining a clutter-free home. “Set aside 15 to 30 minutes that you must schedule into your day, just like you do a business appointment, personal trainer, or hair cut,” she says. “It can be with a coffee in the morning or a glass of wine at night. Commit to that time and walk through your home, picking everything up and putting it all back where it belongs. Deal with the mail and paperwork, do the dishes. Make a rule that you won’t go to bed until you’ve done your daily ‘walkabout’,’ Waking up to an uncluttered home is the best and freshest way to start the day.”

Paul Talbot hosts a free springtime Clean Your Clutter workshop on Thursday, April 23, at Kitsilano Library (2425 Macdonald Street), 7 p.m. Registration required: 604-665-3976.

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