Getting organized is a top priority for Long Islanders in 2021. After all, accumulated clutter after hunkering down 24/7 for more than a year plus the prospect of hosting guests as COVID-19 vaccines roll out are compelling motivators.
Ask Chris and Melissa Long, who tamed the attached garage at their Port Washington home in the middle of March with help from local professionals. "We were embarrassed. We looked like an episode of ‘Hoarders,’" says Chris, 45, an internet company salesperson. "My garage is now my new Zen room."
That’s what can happen when you transform a chaotic catchall for firewood, shoes, tools, toys, hockey sticks, wrapping paper and other stuff into a spick-and-span, orderly, structured space.
In our latest guide, decluttering experts share steps for heavy-use areas. The overall process for organizing each area comes down to assessing, reducing, sorting and editing. How long projects take depends on your space, but the instant gratification is constant.
Roll up your sleeves, and brace for Zen.
Garage clutter-busting blooms like crazy in the spring, says Jane Abrahams, founder of Jane’s Addiction Organization, the firm that collaborated with the Longs to remedy their problem area. "The garage is always the room that seems to annoy families for months or years on end," notes the company’s newsletter.
- Empty the room. Once everything is off the floor and walls and out of the garage, it’s time to take stock.
- Organize, categorize, purge. Separate like items into distinct groupings — gardening, sporting equipment, decorations, tools and so on — and decide what to keep, sell or donate. On a recent project, Abrahams’ team learned that the family’s kids had outgrown baseball. "A whole category of things didn’t need to go back into the room," she says.
- Discard thoughtfully. Be sure to dispose of household and lawn care items that contain chemicals according to you your local town guidelines, advises Ann Axelrod, owner of the Port Washington-based Get OrgANNized Home Organizing Services.
- Strategize and prioritize. Storing like items together is key to organization. Rotating seasonal items (hello lawn mower, goodbye snowblower) to the front and back of the garage keeps what you need accessible.
- Use helpful holders and labels. Abrahams recommends clear plastic stackable storage bins, mesh bins on wheels that contain everything from pool toys to holiday decorations, and mobile shelving units that are as practical as they are versatile.
YOUR KITCHEN CABINETS
Efficiency and proximity matter. "Work around how your kitchen functions," advises Abrahams. A well-organized working cupboard — one filled with dishes you use every day — is one close to your dishwasher. Likewise, spices and oils will work best being well near your stove.
- Be counter intuitive. In a small kitchen, counter space is premium real estate. In a big kitchen (lucky you!), an overcrowded counter looks messy. Reserve space on the counter for appliances you use every day.
- Put tools of the trade to work. Drawer dividers and pantry bins are two go-to organizers that the Jane’s Addiction crew relies on. A Lazy Susan that can be tucked inside cabinets be used to store bottles, jars or cans is another home helper, so give it a spin.
Playrooms quickly become overrun with toys, art and school projects and birthday party goody bag stuff. "Who hasn’t stepped barefoot on a Lego piece at least once?," asks Axelrod, whose recent projects included organizing a playroom in a home in Nassau County.
- Indulge the urge to purge. Work your way around the room, and keep a garbage bag handy for tossing random game pieces and broken toys. As you go, designate items as what to keep, donate/pass along or toss.
- Get in the zone. Use Post-it notes around the room to label areas for arts and crafts supplies, books, cars and trucks, dolls, electronics and so on.
- Strategize storage. Axelrod recommends cube storage units with bins for blocks, dolls and figurines, three- or four-drawer rolling storage units for arts and crafts items, and shelving units for board games and puzzles that can reside in closets behind closed doors.
- ID, age-appropriately. For pre-readers, use images on labels on boxes and bins to identify contents. "The key to keeping the playroom clutter-free is to involve your children in daily clean ups," she says. "Make a game of it and a part of their daily routine."
Delayed decisions lead to basement clutter, says West Islip organizer Alice Price. "People think, ‘Yes, I have a new printer but my old one works, so why get rid of it?’" Because it frees up precious space — that’s why.
- Know your goal. Beyond storage, what’s the main purpose of the room? Will you use it for exercise, working from home, binge-watching TV? The answer will guide the layout in terms of lighting and available space.
- Do a reality check, then reduce. Clutter builds up from using the space as a catchall and from "abandoned dreams," says Price. If you’ve given up painting, toss.
- School everyone in where things go. When the Jane’s Addiction team works in a family’s basement, they set up systems to be somewhat a classroom. Kids learn to put toys and belongings away in their designated area.
- Store items with TLC. Basements can be damp, so trade cardboard boxes for waterproof bins.
"Closets are where people need the most work," says organizing ace Susan 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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."
- Empty everything out. Dump the contents onto your kitchen counter or table, sorting similar items together. Clean the drawer with a vacuum or cloth.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- Leave space. Fill the drawer to 70% capacity, so there’s room for when you need to put something that belongs there in it.
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.
- 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.
- Sort items. Put like things together, including shampoo and cosmetics. If you don’t need it, toss it.
- 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.
- 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.
"A cluttered desk means a cluttered mind," says Price. "It’s hard to focus with distractions around you." Getting organized offers a plus in terms of efficiency and a mental boost.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.