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Room-by-room decluttering tips from Long Island experts

Ann Axelrod, who runs the Port Washington-based decluttering service Get OrgANNized, shows us how to declutter that messy junk drawer you've been avoiding in four easy steps.

If you’ve ever vowed to organize your out-of-control closet and scary junk drawer when you had a chunk of free time (and who hasn’t?), now is your chance.

“Organization creates tranquility. It makes you feel good and is empowering, and that’s important, especially in times like these,” says organizing ace Susan Cotugno. How to begin? “I always tell people to start with their biggest headache, whatever’s the most glaring area.”

In our practical guide, Long Island experts who bring spaces to order share tips to tackle four of the trickiest areas of your house. Time varies from person to person on how long each project will take. Pick your favorite playlist and get busy.

YOUR CLOSET

“Closets are where people need the most work,” says Cotugno, who divides her time between Port Washington and East Hampton and is co-owner of the organizing business Perfect Order (@perfectorderhome on Instagram). “The number one problem is that they get attached to things they don’t want to say goodbye to that are taking up valuable space.”

  1. Start with a clean slate. Empty everything out of the closet and arrange all of the items into piles — dresses, skirts, blouses, shoes, bags, belts and accessories.
  2. Categorize clothes three ways: keep, donate, trash. “As you sort, eliminate duplicates,” says Cotugno. You don’t really need three dark blue suit jackets. Consider giving one to a friend, or selling one at a consignment shop (once it reopens) or giving it to an organization like Dress for Success in Brookhaven, which helps clients look their best for job interviews.
  3. Purge. “In my experience, I’ve noticed that people tend to wear the same 10 outfits,” says Cotugno. As you sort through belongings, if it’s an item you haven’t worn in the past year — maybe two — then “it’s obviously not something that you really need.” (Tip: Hang clothes so that hangers are all in the same direction. When you wear something, put it back in the closet with the hanger in the opposite direction. If, after a year, it’s still hanging in the opposite direction, you can see that it’s not something you wear often.)
  4. Organize. Arrange by color — light to dark — preferably on hangers that match. Compared to wooden ones, velvet hangers take up less space, says Cotugno. Find a home for shoes and bags on shelves. Sneakers and flip-flops can go into a large bin or basket on the floor.
  5. Corral items. This is where bins and containers come in handy. Tip: A shoe bag that hangs on the back of a door isn’t just for shoes. Use it for belts, scarves and more small items.
  6. Take a snap. Before you close the door on your work, take a picture of your finished closet, advises Port Washington organizing expert Linda Cohen. “You have done something incredible for yourself. You have gone shopping in your own closet for items you have forgotten about, haven’t worn in a while, haven’t thought about in a while.” The picture is a motivator: It will remind you how great the closet can look.

YOUR JUNK DRAWER

“Even organizers have a drawer that becomes a messy catchall,” says clutter-proofing pro Ann Axelrod. “The problem is too much stuff. We throw things in there that don’t belong.” When you need a pen, scissors, a tape measure, batteries for the smoke alarm, they’re at your fingertips. “With all this uncertainty out there,” she says, “this gives you control over your space.”

  1. Empty everything out. Dump the contents onto your kitchen counter or table, sorting similar items together. Clean the drawer with a vacuum or cloth.
  2. Start tossing. “A garbage bag is your best friend here,” says Alexrod. Throw away pencil nubs, dried-up pens, out-of-date batteries, keys that you don’t know what lock they open, and ancient soy sauce packages.
  3. Sort out things that don’t belong. Spools of thread, screwdrivers and light bulbs, and instruction manuals belong, respectively, in a sewing box, tool shelf, or a file folder. “Don’t get distracted by putting these items in the proper spot until you’re finished organizing the drawer,” says Alexrod. “Don’t get distracted while you’re in the middle of the job.”
  4. Organize contents. A drawer divider or a silverware caddy at most home stores makes a place for everything so everything can be in its place.
  5. Leave space. Fill the drawer to 70% capacity, so there’s room for when you need to put something that belongs there in it.

YOUR BATHROOM

If you can’t find your toothbrush because it’s hidden by hairbrushes, bottles, hygiene essentials and who knows what, you’re not alone. Start by setting up a card table outside the bathroom door from which to work. “When you see all of the contents it will be a reckoning,” says Axelrod, who calls her Port Washington service Get OrgANNized.

  1. Clear off the top of your vanity. Place everything onto the workspace table. Throw away out-of-date items. “If you can’t remember when you bought that crusty tube of mascara, toss it,” says Axelrod, adding that same goes for makeup samples you’ll never use like that lipstick shade you’ve never liked.
  2. Sort items. Put like things together, including shampoo and cosmetics. If you don’t need it, toss it.
  3. Get up to date. Expired medicines — prescription and over-the-counter — don’t belong in your home, so discard them. But don’t flush them down the toilet or throw them in the trash, which pose potential health and safety hazards. Police HQ in Port Washington is one station that has a prescription drug box solely for this purpose.
  4. Use containers. The bathroom is an area where containers really help to free up space and make the most of what you’ve got, says Alexrod. Plastic organizers, bowls or baskets hold nail polish, tweezers and more. Space-saving organizers for under the sink or alongside it can hold everything from Q-Tips and cotton balls to your favorite bath bombs.

YOUR OFFICE

“A cluttered desk means a cluttered mind,” says Alice Price, a certified professional organizer based in West Islip. “It’s hard to focus with distractions around you.” Getting organized offers a plus in terms of efficiency and a mental boost.

  1. Reduce items. “Outdated paperwork, bank statements, neighborhood newsletters and other documents pile up because you feel like you should keep them,” says Price. “Most of this stuff we don’t need to keep.” So get rid of old printers and the broken paper shredder you’ve been meaning to take care of for years. Now is the time.
  2. Free up the desk. The only thing that should be on the desk is what you use regularly — such as your laptop and phone. A stapler, calculator, paper clips, rubber bands go into trays in drawers in the desk. “I prefer those things to be out of sight,” says Price. Current work projects on paper can be stored in a handy step file — available at home stores — placed on a table or the side of the desk.
  3. Store things digitally. Ask yourself: Do you need to save everything on paper? And how hard would this be to replace. A passport is one thing. A monthly bank statement is something else entirely.

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