Bathroom Bliss

Bathrooms. Too small with too much stuff. That’s how most people would describe the space. The problem is that people tend to try to stuff stuff (lol) in their bathrooms that perhaps doesn’t really belong in there. If it takes you more than 15 seconds to find something, it is time to re-plan and reorganize the space. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. We are here to help.

1. Consider what you actually use in the bathroom. Make a list of items and assign them to categories. This would probably include: shower and bath products, toilet paper, feminine products, BATHROOM cleaners, toiletries, make-up(?), towels…

2. Grab a box and a trash bag and head in.

3. Empty out the drawers and cabinets and sort in to the categories you identified. Throw away expired or damaged products. Put those you either don’t like or won’t use in the box to give to the local food pantry, woman’s shelter or to post on Freecycle.

4. Wipe out the drawers and cabinets.

5. Do you have too much stuff? It is generally a good rule to buy so that you have the one product you are using and one back up for when it runs out. Sales come in cycles. When the first one runs out, place it on your shopping list, and start to look for a sale to replace the back up. No one needs 14 bottles of shampoo in their cabinets. It is a waste of valuable space and the stress of clutter and disorganization isn’t worth the fifty cents you may have saved. Seriously.

6. Group the items in baskets or small bins and put them away. Hair products, toothpaste/floss/mouthwash, shaving, etc. Label them if it helps family members find them and put them back away. If you have multiple products for multiple people, consider assigning one basket per person and fill it with their personal care items. They can store it in their room and bring it back and forth when they use the bathroom, like a dorm room or summer camp. Buy travel toothbrush holders, and toss in their deodorant, hair products, shampoos, lotions, etc. That way, only common use products are stored in the actual bathroom freeing up a lot of space.

7. Consider your morning routine and set-up your own bin accordingly. If you use the same products and make-up every day, store them together. Keep special occasion make-up separate. The rule is, keep the everyday handy, store the special event stuff together, and toss the rest.

8. If you don’t have a great deal of room for towels, you can consider assigning towels to family members in the same way. Two per person usually works if you or they keep up on the laundry. It is a good idea to keep a set or two stored away for the overnight guest, too. If you have a linen closet, keep them there or get creative and store them in a trunk or basket.

9. Keep only cleaning products that are used in the bathroom in the bathroom. Likewise, keep kitchen cleaners in the kitchen and things like dusting spray in your utility closet.

10. If you store over the counter medications and first aid supplies in your bathroom, separate those in to at least two categories and subsequently, bins as well. One for first aid- Band-Aids, first-aid cream, burn cream, thermometer, tweezers, etc. The second for cough medicine, Tylenol, Benadryl, etc. If you have small children in the home, store the second on a high shelf in bathroom to keep it out of their reach.

Bins work well because they are easy to see in, grab from, and put stuff back into. If you measure your space, chances are you can find some cheap plastic bins that will fit perfectly in your cabinets. Little “disposable” plastic food containers like those made by Ziploc, can be a cheap way to keep your drawers neat and the little things like hair accessories organized. You can even sort your make-up by group like lipsticks, eyeliners, blush, etc. and write on the tops! If you give it a little effort and discipline, you can have the most organized, clutter-free bathroom imaginable!

Posted in Bathroom, Clean-out, Cleaning, Clutter, Declutter, Family, Hoarding, home, Organizing, storage | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Books, books, books, oh, and magazines.

What is it about books, magazines, and other reading materials that compel us to keep them indefinitely? If they are autographed, rare or otherwise valuable beyond their cover price, one can certainly justify saving them. But what about the decades worth of entertainment or fashion magazines? Does anyone really go back and read them multiple times? How about romances, suspense thrillers, or political satires? You may have a favorite book or two that you could read several times over, but every book you have ever owned? Sure, some books are for reference. Nevertheless, how many times in your career have you actually pulled out the college text books to look something up? I think most people keep them because they cost so much, and they represent an accomplishment of which the owner is quite proud. If the books are still relevant, sell them. Otherwise, reclaim the space and recycle them.

Likewise, some may hold on to all their books to impress others with their literary prowess. Lining all the walls with bookshelves tells guests, “I am well-read. If we need a conversation starter, let’s talk books.” Others still may keep them for sentimental reasons, each book representing a single feat, a finished story, a memory. Nonetheless, there are those that like the aesthetics of walls lined with books, but they are difficult to keep clean and certainly take up a lot of room. Unless you have space dedicated specifically for them, you may find it hard to know what to do with your ever-growing collection.

If books are taking over your house, give yourself permission to let them go. If you don’t have the space for them all, it isn’t going to grow itself. That doesn’t mean you have to purge your space of them all, just reevaluate why you want them there and which books meet that “need.”

1. Decide how much space you have to dedicate to your books and reduce your collection to fit that space.

2. Answer the questions: Why do I want to keep books? What types of books do I want to keep? Will I use these books? Will these books add joy to my space and life? Is there any other way to capture the memories, feelings, accomplishments, etc. that these books bring me?

3. Sort the books. Start by pulling out those with which you cannot part. A favorite novel, a first edition, an often used reference. Place those books in the designated space and evaluate how much room you have left.

4. Donate, sell, or recycle the books that you didn’t particularly enjoy or that are no longer relevant.

5. Get realistic with the rest. Are you really going to re-read the remaining books? If the answer is yes and they fit in the space, save them. If you were to get rid of them and decide you wanted to re-read one, could you get it again? Could you borrow it from a friend, relative, or the library?

6. If you really just want to look like an accomplished reader, you would save a lot of space by cataloging the books you have read in a list and placing it on your coffee table. LOL People are not going to think more or less of you by the number of books you have crammed in your living space. On the contrary, if your house is cluttered with stuff because you refuse to get rid of anything, you won’t have any guests over to discuss the books with anyway!

7. Consider converting to an e-reader. Save the space and buy digital. You can join book discussion groups online and keep track of those you have read, liked, and disliked.

8. If you have a ton of magazines, consider scanning specific pages you like and tossing the rest or donating them to a local cancer treatment center or women’s shelter. If you haven’t read them yet, ask yourself how long it would take to read one, multiply that by the number of magazines you have, and decide if you are really going to prioritize that much time to reading old magazines. Nowadays, most of the articles you get in magazines is readily available online. Consider cancelling your subscriptions and reading articles online.

9. Go through the kid’s books and donate all the books they have outgrown or are not interested in reading. Parents tend to hold on to all the kids’ books to impress other parents, too. “Look at what a good parent I am providing my children with such an extensive library!” If they aren’t reading the books, they are just wasting valuable storage space. It isn’t the quantity that counts here, people. It is the actual time spent reading the books the kids enjoy, even if it is the same three books over and over again. Weekly visits to the library can also provide variety without the cost and space issues.

10. Finally, when was the last time you pulled out a cookbook? You may have one that is your go-to in a pinch, but if your kitchen is like many in America you have two dozen cookbooks that do nothing more than rob the kitchen of shelf space. Trust me, there isn’t a recipe on Earth that you cannot get online these days. Cookbooks do not make the cook. If there is a recipe that you have been dying to try for the last ten years you have owned one of those books, copy it, and then get rid of the cookbooks. Your kitchen will thank you.

Posted in books, Clean-out, Cleaning, Clutter, Declutter, Hoarding, home, storage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Moments That Make My Life Worthwhile: Second Anniversary Edition.

It is my birthday week again. Back in 2011 and 2012, I celebrated with posts sharing my favorite moments of the previous year.

Once again, I was blessed with another year of doing what I love and loving what I do. 2012 offered me the opportunity to reach so many more people through this blog, social media, and seminars I was invited to speak at throughout the Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts area. Education and advocacy are so important to furthering the recovery efforts of those suffering from hoarding and acquiring disorders, and comorbid mental illnesses. First responders, community members, and even family and friends who do not understand the complexities of these diagnosis can react in ways that are deleterious to those affected. I am so grateful for the every chance I have to spread my knowledge and help others to be in a position of bettering the lives of hoarders and acquirers.

Unfortunately, this past year brought us more clients due to municipal intervention. Unfortunate because you always hope that people will be able to seek help on their own before it reaches that point; but fortunate in that we were able to work with the town and city officials to forgo any court action and work with our clients at a pace that was comfortable for them. These cases are always so personally rewarding for me. A desperate call from an often-reluctant person, thrust in to the arduous process of confronting their hoard and all it means, sends shivers down my spine. The chance to change a life. The chance to restore self-esteem. Perhaps, even, the chance to reunite a family forced apart by walls of objects and years of misunderstanding. Such was the case in 2012 when a client had family in from out-of-state to stay at her house for the first time, ever, after successfully completing her recovery.

Long time readers of this blog will recall my chronicling the story of Miss H. One of my favorite stories from this past year involves her calling us when she wasn’t feeling well to help with some small household tasks so she wouldn’t fall behind. Two of our team members visited to take out the trash and such, but grew increasingly concerned during their visit with her health. She was dismissive, but they eventually convinced her to let them bring her to the hospital. Their instincts were right. She was having a heart attack. This story is a beautiful example of the relationship we build with our clients. They know they can call us when they need us and we will be there. We know them better than most anyone else, and this intimate knowledge and understanding saved our client’s life. Our clients really are our family- it isn’t just a cliché.

One of the other highlights of this last year was going to dinner with Jonathan, our client with whom we were featured on TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive. He is doing so well and looks amazing! It has been two years since we worked on his home and watching him with his son, Robbie, still enjoying that gorgeous playroom is the best feeling in the world. Robbie is growing so much! Jonathan remains committed to his recovery by attending a clutter support group in his local area which helps him stay focused and avoid recidivism.

Perhaps the best call I received was from a client who we worked with 8 years ago who was looking to re-hire our team. No, she didn’t fill her house up again! She bought another house and wanted us to go do a pre-move in cleaning. When you can see a client still living clutter free eight years after you take her through the recovery process, it is truly a testament to all the hard work you have ever done. You look back at the sacrifices that you and your family have made to work with a population who cannot often afford to pay. At the 120 degree temperatures in attics filled with mouse droppings and meat trays. The 20 degree winters in homes with no heat or electricity. The cockroaches, the rats, the rotted foods, the feces, and you know that it is all worth every minute. The homes, the lives, the families restored to functionality. The lives that go on long after you leave, better now that you have been there to help them through one of the harder points in their lives. I am truly one of the lucky ones. I have lived the dream for yet another year of my life. Here is to my 41st year and to all the clients that have trusted me with their recovery and to those I have yet to meet- thank you!

Posted in business, Clean-out, Cleaning, Clutter, Hoarders, Hoarding, Hoarding: Buried Alive!, work | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A picture is worth a thousand words.

If your collection is like that of most of our clients, the words that come to mind first are overwhelming, disorganized, colossal, and guilt. Massive amounts of pictures are bunched together in bins and boxes, in no particular order, and stored in a closet awaiting “The Great Album and Scrapbooking Marathon” the owner intends to hold at some point in the future. Taking on the photos in your house will require commitment to A PROJECT. For most of you, it won’t be done in an hour or two. For a lot of you, it won’t even be completed in one weekend. But, if you really want to tackle it once and for all, we have some tips to help you through it.

1. First of all, you need to gather all the photos in one place. Search high and low and pull them all out. Drawers, cabinets, boxes, bins, basements, attics…. all of them.

2. Sort. Broadly at first. You are going to start with empty bins and label them. Keep, Give, Toss. Are you breathing? Good. Here are the rules.

    Keep: Everything you want to keep. That was easy.

Give: Pictures that are not something you would display in your home, scrap books, etc. These may be picture of people that attended your children’s baby shower that you haven’t seen in 20 years, old neighbors, acquaintances children, etc. If you have a way of contacting them, you can offer to send them the pictures. If not, they go in…..

Toss: Now, people feel really guilty about throwing away pictures. It is okay, though, trust me. You are not throwing away the person, just a picture. If you don’t know who the person is, toss it. If the image is blurry, toss it. If there is half a head, toss it. If you have no idea why you ever took a picture of that in the first place, toss it. If you have doubles, toss the second. Just ask yourself- “Will I use this picture in an album or display?” if the answer is no- toss it.

Although this is a fun activity and will jog many memories, it is meant to go quickly. Don’t get lost in every image or you will be sorting for weeks, rather than hours.

3. Micro-sort.

Give: Sort the give bin by who the pictures will go to and get them out of the house. Toss any that are not wanted or cannot be sent. Bet your stash is looking smaller already, huh?

Keep: This takes planning. What do you intend to do with the photos you are keeping? Scan them? Store then? Put them in albums? Scrapbooks? Sit down with a notebook and plan the categories out for sorting. By person? By trip? By year? By occasion? A mixture of all the above? Next, line up shoeboxes and label them for all the categories. Ready, set, sort.

If you need to add a category, that is okay, but if you find that you have a bunch left over that don’t fit in any of the above, reevaluate whether or not you actually need to save them. If so, maybe you need a miscellaneous bin.

4. Execute the strategy. Depending on how many categories you have and what you intend to do with them, schedule in one per week or month as your calendar allows. If you are just planning to scan them in to your computer, scan one group per month, for example, and toss them when done. Or, make one album or scrapbook per month. Don’t get bogged down in categories. If you have three children ages 16, 13, and 9 and you want to make birthday scrapbooks but haven’t made any- try making one chronological scrapbook per child that includes all birthdays, rather than one per birthday year. Think GOOD ENOUGH rather than PERFECT. You can always go back and add improvements. You only have one lifetime to get this stuff done, so get moving!

If you have any questions, please feel free to post them below! Happy picture organizing!

Posted in Clean-out, Cleaning, Hoarding, Organizing, photography, Photos, storage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year Challenge!

Whether your clutter fills entire rooms or just a few closets, we are challenging you to clean out your space this coming year. Only, you don’t have to do it alone. We want you to join our new discussion group to:

  • report in with your starting point
  • receive advice on how to get and stay motivated
  • learn strategies for success
  • be held accountable to your goals

We find that having the empathetic support of those who share struggles and successes helps people to stay on track and reach goals faster. Likewise, having accountability to others is an outstanding motivator to accomplishing tasks. Since we cannot travel to help each of you in your homes throughout the country, we would like to share our strategies, encouragement, and knowledge in a more personal, direct way than just in blog posts. By offering these discussion groups, we can interact with you frequently, and address the obstacles and issues you face in your recovery process as they arise.

Our discussion boards are not just for those in clutter recovery! We have a separate board for those who are struggling with a loved one suffering from hoarding and acquiring disorders. Additionally, they are open for cleaning and organizing tips, suggestions, and questions, or any other topics our visitors wish to discuss. However, we require that guests create an account to view the forums and request anonymity.

Please feel free to share this with everyone and anyone you know who will benefit from this new service. We look forward to a year filled with success stories from our friends all over the world!

Discussion Boards

PS: They can also be accessed through our website at: and finding the tab on the left that says “Discussion Boards.”

P.P.S:  We fixed the registration issue of yesterday!  Thanks for reporting it!

Posted in Clean-out, Cleaning, Clutter, COH, Compulsive Shopping, Declutter, Hoarders, Hoarding, New Year, Organizing, Recovery, Resolution | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The method to our madness

Do you ever buy something and have no idea where you put it when you get home? Or, know you own something but can’t find it so you go out and buy another one? Multiply that hundreds of times and you have our typical client. When we begin working in a client home, we sort the entire house by category. All books go together, electronics, kitchenware, crafts…. you get the point. It may seem that we are creating “more of a mess,” but there is a method to our madness. Trust me.

Let’s consider that we were to work room by room. In the first room, we come across a couple extension cords. The client says they are in good condition and that he can always use extension cords. We consider that two extension cords are not excessive, so we keep them. In the next room, we come across another extension cord and the client says the same. In the next room, after we have now looked at hundreds of individual items, we come across another extension cord. The client thinks it is in good condition and that he can always use extension cords, so he keeps it. We now have four extension cords. As we continue through the house, we will come across several more and repeat the same evaluation. They are in good condition. They are useful. We should keep them. Understand that in each room we are looking at hundreds, if not thousands of objects over the course of days, weeks, even months. It is nearly impossible to remember what we have seen and kept from the rooms we have already sorted through. By the time we complete all the rooms, we have kept 20 extension cords. Does the client need 20 extension cords? Have we really helped him to purge his property to reasonable levels? No, although our assessment was not incorrect. They are in good condition and useful. Our methodology was incorrect.

Now we will do our way. We sort everything in the home by category. Believe me, no matter how “full” a house is, we can do it. We start with general categories and micro-sort from there. For example, we will put all craft items together and then break them into smaller categories like beads, yarn, embroidery floss, etc., as necessary. Next, we work with our clients to consider each group of items based on the client’s individual hoarding profile. We begin with types of property that are “easier” for them as we teach them new decision-making strategies. Using the example above, since we sorted the whole house, we can now see that there are 20 extension cords, so the client can decide how many he actually needs rather than evaluating them one at a time. Unlike the above scenario, he will purge more because he can use logic to decide what is practical.

When using this method with a client, we discovered that she had 56 short-sleeved black t-shirts. Although she liked black t-shirts, how many did she really need? We settled on two. One and a back-up for when the other was in the laundry. Allowing our clients to see each category of items as a whole is a powerful decluttering tool. For example, when a single person has 40+ mugs and rarely has company over for coffee, she decides the space they take up in the cabinet can be better used on things she does use and need. Likewise, 15 boxes of 1000 staples in a home office where the homeowner says she staples maybe twice per year is another example of wasted space. After donating most of the staples and other excess office supplies, she has an organized, clutter-free workspace space conducive to productivity.

By breaking things down into categories we ask questions like, “What is the maximum number of X that you will use at one time?” , “How often do you partake in that activity?”, “Which of these is in the best condition?”, “Do I already own something that has the same purpose?”, etc. to reduce the contents of the home. Below are some examples of how these questions work.

What is the maximum number of x that you will use at one time?

How many pie plates do you use at one time? How many place settings? Spatulas? Mugs? Hair dryers? Radios? Extension cords? Tools? The numbers will be different for everyone, but the point is that we usually have more than we need, especially when things are portable and when things are washable! By having too many, we let things pile up in the sink and laundry room!

How often do you partake in that activity?

How often do you knit? If you only knit once per month, but have enough supplies for 10 years, you have too many. Make homemade donuts? Time to get rid of the 30 extra small appliances? Read magazines? If you have 15 subscriptions that take 45 minutes each to read, but you only read them while you get your nails done once a month, it is time to cancel them and use those provided by the manicurist!

Which of these is in the best condition?

You may like your 13 brown sweaters, but how many do you need? Which is in the best condition? Which do you actually wear? This category works well for old linens crowding the closet. Which are in the best condition? Ditch the rest. When you buy a replacement for something, donate the old one. Don’t keep it just because it still works or functions. If you are not using it, it is just taking up space.

Do I already own something that has the same purpose?

Love this question for the kitchen gadgets! Do I really need a strawberry husker? A tomato slicer? Will a knife do? Five different types of coffee makers if I only use my Keurig? Do I need the CD if I have the MP3s? Datebooks if I have Google Calendar?

In summary, when we can see how much of each item we have all at once, it is easier to decide what we will keep. We can evaluate categories by asking practical questions, and purge items based on needs. See, we aren’t mad after all.

Posted in Clean-out, Cleaning, Clutter, COH, Declutter, Hoarders, Hoarding, Mental Illness, Organizing, Recovery, storage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ten things you can do reduce the clutter in your life.

1. When you bring in your mail, don’t put it down! Immediately sort it. Shred the junk; put the bills and such in a “to-do” file, and file away “keepers,” like car titles, right away, so you never have to go looking for important papers.

2. Wash dishes as you use them. If you have a dishwasher, get in the habit of rinsing and loading rather than putting dirty dishes on the counter or in the sink. Run the dishwasher at the end of the day, and unload it in the morning while the coffee is brewing.

3. Store things where you use them so you don’t have to put them away. If you take your meds in the kitchen, keep them in the kitchen. If you do your nails in the living room, stash your manicure set in a little basket on an end table. Rather than walking around picking things up and returning them to another room, figure out a way to keep them neatly in the room where you typically use them.

4. Don’t overbook your time. Plan your projects and appointments to account for travel and wait time. Schedule in tasks that you need to do before those you want to do, and literally, SCHEDULE THEM IN. That includes meal preparation, laundry, work projects, personal errands, etc.

5. Value objects cluttering your environment by the time they will take from your life. If you have 25 unread magazines, consider how long it would take to read one and decide if the cumulative time is worth it. For example, if it typically takes you 45 minutes to get through one magazine, then the whole pile will take nearly 19 hours to read. Is that really how you want to spend your time? If there are other priorities in your life, donate them to a cancer treatment center, your local library, or elsewhere. Use this method to make decisions about fix-it, mending, craft, and other projects taking up space around your home.

6. Follow through. If you keep all the plastic bags from the grocery store because you want to be environmentally conscious, take them out to your car and recycle them during your weekly shopping trip. Good intentions are just that- good intentions. Turning those intentions into actions keeps the house and mind less cluttered. It is better to drop off several small batches of clothing to the local thrift store throughout the year, than to pile up a room full of stuff and do it only once.

7. If you don’t like it, pass it on. Guilty keeping isn’t going to change your opinion of a product. Toiletries, food products, clothing- we often buy them on a whim and decide we don’t actually like them but keep them anyway because we feel badly about having spent the money. Bring them to the office, list them on Freecycle, Craigslist, or a local Facebook yard sale page- you will find someone who will be happy to take the item off your hands and put it to good use.

8. Take 10 minutes each night to go through the kids’ backpacks and/or your attaché. Shred those things that you don’t need, scan keepers, complete any quick to-dos, and schedule in upcoming projects.

9. Keep a box in the bottom of your closet and those of family members. Whenever you try on an article of clothing and it doesn’t fit right, feel good, or look nice, throw it in the box for the thrift store or consignment. Don’t toss it on the floor, the chair, the treadmill, or back in the closet. Wasted time and waste space.

10. Institute OHIO. Only Handle It Once. Before you release anything from your hand, ask yourself if that is where it ultimately belongs. If not, go put it away. The extra 30 seconds it will take to walk to the next room to put the coat on a hanger or the book on a shelf will save you hours of clean up time on the weekend.

Posted in Cleaning, Clutter, Declutter, Hoarding, Organizing, storage, Tips | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Combating Kitchen Clutter…. Our way!

When it comes to organization, the room people complain most about is the kitchen. There never seems to be enough storage space to accommodate all the dishes, pots, pans, utensils, small appliances, spices, and food. With retailers like Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Pampered Chef, and Christmas Tree Shops, there are gadgets for everything! So, how do you make sense of it and create an organized, functional space? Below, we share some of the strategies we use in client homes to provide easily maintained, efficient kitchens the whole family can enjoy.

1. Start by taking out all the dishes. That’s right, all of them! Now, consider the maximum number of people you have eating at your house on a given day, excluding the occasional huge party. Put aside that many full place settings. If you use a dishwasher, you can add the number of meals. For example, let’s say you have a family of four but often have your in-laws over for dinner. 4 breakfast, 4 lunch, 6 dinner= 14 place settings. If you hand wash the dishes, you should do them immediately after they are used, and therefore, can store even less. For large parties, use high quality disposables (they can be recycled!), or keep your larger set of dishes in storage outside the kitchen for use only on those special occasions. Likewise, although they are “cute,” “decorative,” and “pretty,” having multiple dish sets for every occasion is not practical when you do not have the space. Keep one solid colored dish set and look online for ways to add decorative touches for each holiday. Placemats, napkins and napkin rings, centerpieces, and table clothes take up much less space, or can be disposable and just as festive.

2. How many mugs, cups, and glasses can one family really use? Like the example above, take into consideration the needs of your household when evaluating the drink-ware in your cabinets. If you have a favorite mug or two that you use every day, why keep the other 75 that take up two shelves? If the kids use cups, why do you have a set of 40 glasses? Keep a few for the occasional guests, and drop off the rest at your local thrift store. When hosting a large party, again, get the disposables. Who wants to clean 100 glasses anyway? Also, teach your family to rinse and reuse cups and glasses throughout the day. If they are a thirsty crew who pop in and out of the kitchen for drinks every hour or so, there is no reason to get a new cup every time. In homes with a few young children, we reduce the cups to the number of children and assign a color to each for use throughout the day. The child is then responsible to wash and reuse the cup. Extra cups in another color are stored on a higher shelf for visiting friends.

3. I don’t think I have ever been in a kitchen that did not have way too many kitchen utensils. Empty out those drawers, pull them off the hooks, and dump them out of the canisters that stuffed to the breaking point! Next, sort them by type and/or function. Spatulas with spatulas, ladles with ladles, whisks with whisks. Bet you didn’t realize you had THAT many, huh? Now, start to purge. Begin with the categories you use the most and go back to the “what is the maximum number of these I will use in a day?” question, and keep those that are in the best condition. How many bottle openers do you need? Sets of measuring spoons? Once you get through the things you use, it is time to be honest with yourself. Just because you have a gadget, doesn’t mean you need a gadget. Keep in mind that you are trying to save space. Consider how often, if ever, you have actually used the item and whether you already own something that can do the same thing. For example, do you need to keep that banana slicer or will a knife slice a banana just as well? This can be tough because you may feel guilty for having spent $20.00 on that fancy egg slicer that you never took out of the package, but trust me- you will survive. When the utensils are sorted, separate them in to two categories- one for cooking and one for baking, and put them away in two drawers. Place a label at the bottom of the drawer and cover it with shipping tape to protect it. If you have a small drawer, put you can opener, bottle opener, and your best “few” pot holders in that drawer. In addition, keep one good knife set and store it in a block if you have one.

4. For some reason, even when people get new pans, they don’t get rid of the old ones. Why is that? The same steps apply here. Take out all the pots, pans, baking pans, cooking racks, broiler pans, and even your glass baking dishes. Sort them by use. Evaluate the maximum you would use on a given day to cook and keep the best. If you would only make two dozen muffins at a time, you do not need 12 muffin pans. Unfortunately, this is another category where we often find novelty items, like heart and teddy bear shaped bakeware that was used once or never. Like the holiday dishes, get rid of them. Use frostings, candy, and other decorations to personalize baked goods for special occasions. If you tend to use glass baking dishes, you don’t need all the metal or vice versa. Like silicone? Get rid of the glass and metal. What do I really use? How many do I need? Do I have something else that I can use the same way? How often do I use this? If I find that I need this on a rare occasion, sometime in the future, can I borrow one from a friend or relative? Think with rationality and practicality, not emotion. If you use your microwave more than your stovetop, how many little pans do you need to keep? If you have only four burners, you cannot use more than four at a time! One big stock pot, a medium pot, two smaller pots, a large and small skillet or frying pan… what else do you need? Try to think of ways to get more than one use out of items you keep. Can you use a non-stick pot to sauté onions?

5. Casserole dishes, mixing bowls, serving dishes, and all the other stuff cluttering up the cabinets take some serious consideration. We’ve all had those cute little condiment cups or individual butter warmers with tea candle holders or individual casserole dishes, but really? Who are we kidding? With today’s busy schedules, our kids squirt the ketchup on the edge of the plate, we melt the butter in a glass-measuring cup, and cook the casserole in one huge dish. Put the wishful thinking aside and pass those things off to aspiring Martha Stewarts with giant kitchens and no kids. Keep the dishes you use in the quantity you will use on your busiest cooking day, and don’t forget about the trusty disposables for serving at parties! The Dollar Tree stores and others like it have sufficiently decent pieces for entertaining that are cheap enough to toss (or recycle) after the guests have gone.

6. Put everything away near where you use it. I find it best to store the dishes above the dishwasher. It makes putting them away all that much easier and quicker, encouraging family members to do it. Pots and pans work well near the stove, with mixing bowls and such near your prep area. I take it a step further by printing and taping maps , protected by sheet protectors, to the inside of cabinet doors to let the entire family know where everything goes. This helps to put away dishes efficiently and saves us from searching the kitchen when we want to use something. It is simple enough to draw one or prepare on a computer. See a sample here.

7. Small appliances are another toughie! Americans love their small appliances! The houses I work in average 17 small kitchen appliances ranging from juicers to mixers to novelty toasters and waffle makers. It isn’t unusual for someone to have bought a Keurig and to have kept the drip coffee maker in the 12-cup size, individual cup size, French press, and the percolator. With the advent of microwave popcorn, the air popper is now collecting dust in kitchens throughout the country, while we shelve fad purchases like donut, cupcake, quesadilla, and sandwich makers after the fun wears off. Alas, these items tend to take up the most wasted space in our kitchens. If you find it hard to purge them, give them one last test-drive for old time’s sake and then… out they go. Again, keep only those you use regularly like your mixer, and use a frying pan to make your grilled cheese. With all the space you saved purging in the above steps, you should be able to store your small appliances in the cabinets now! (I hope.)

8. Spices can be expensive. If you have ever been to a Tastefully Simple party, you have probably spent way too much on some concoction that you will never use but keep in your pantry anyway because you feel guilt-ridden, again. We all get caught up in Food Network shows that tempt us with divine recipes featuring exotic seasonings and when we see them on the shelves, we impulsively buy them. Sometimes, we may even try the recipe only to hear protests from our family members who prefer the traditional fare we usually prepare. Take it all out. (See a theme here!) First, check the dates and get rid of everything expired. That is the easy part. Next, if you do not cook with it at least once per month, toss it. If you happen to come across a recipe that calls for a spice you do not have, see if you can borrow a bit from a friend, or check out the spice section at the grocery, as many now offer tiny bubble packets of individual spices. Better yet, see if you can find it in the produce section and buy only what you need fresh! If you take this approach to your spices, you should only have a spice rack’s worth of seasonings or one little section of a cabinet. The other part of the shelf can keep your bottled seasonings like vinegar, Worcestershire, or Soy Sauce. Again, if it is expired or you don’t particularly use or like it, get rid of it!!!

9. The rest of the food in your kitchen should get the same once over. Expiration dates, probability of you using it, and then you can begin the organizing of what is remaining. Think of your home as a grocery store. Arrange items by category. Baking, Sides, Canned Goods, Prepared foods, etc. Organize like products together- canned goods front to back in order of expiration date, boxed goods side-by-side in order of expiration, left to right. If you have a Lazy Susan you can still apply this method. Just place a post-it note stating, “use first” on the top of the most recently expiring and move it to the next product when you take the first one out. If you organize your household staples this way, you can quickly make a shopping list and avoid over shopping for things of which you already have abundance. It is important to keep in mind that sales go in cycles. No household needs 30 cans of Spaghettios! Coupons always come back again, too, despite what those silly women on those reality TV shows try to teach you. There is no reason you cannot shop sales and coupons, but there is also no reason to buy enough product to supply your entire town. If you can’t fit it in your pantry, then you have too much. Wait until things run out, and go back to the store again. Is that so hard? The map is a great tool in the food cabinets too. That way, everyone puts everything back where it belongs!

10. Now that you have everything purged and put away, it is important to keep it that way. Create a plan of maintenance and be firm and consistent until it becomes habit. Make the entire family get involved.

  • Clean dishes immediately after use. Make it a rule that no one can leave anything in the kitchen sink- ever!
  • Start the dishwasher at night, empty in the morning, and fill it throughout the day.
  • Keep a roll of paper towels and disinfectant spray handy. Encourage everyone to clean up after snacks, meals, and spills.
  • If they take it out, they put it back, exactly where it belongs. This includes small appliances. Wipe them down and put them away after every use.
  • If you allow snacking outside the kitchen, ensure that everyone returns all food and dishes upon completion and the same rules are applied.

Having trouble making decisions? Too much stuff to apply the techniques by yourself? Give us a call, email, visit our website, or post a message here or on Facebook! We’d love to help!

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Fall Decluttering- Our Top 5 Projects for the Season

Autumn is a great time to declutter! The cooler temperatures make the physical labor more tolerable, and you can open the windows to help filter the air, as the dust is unsettled. The days aren’t quite as “short” as the winter to keep you motivated a bit longer, too. If you try to concentrate on some particular categories, you can stay focused on an objective and see your progress.

Here are a few suggestions for Fall declutter projects:

1. Start with the clothing– Bag up and donate anything you did not wear over the summer. If you managed to get through this entire year without wearing it, you do not need it. The only exception to this rule would be the ONE go-to outfit for special occasions if you happened to not have any this year; although, unless it is truly a classic design that never goes out of style, you may consider donating it and purchasing a new piece for the next big event. Do not forget shoes and other accessories that are cluttering up your space, no matter how much they cost and how much you like them, if you don’t use them, why keep them? When taking out the fall and winter clothes, consider whether or not you love each piece, have coordinating items, fit, comfort, condition, and practicality. Purge as you go.

2. Liquidate seasonal items– Take the above rule and apply it to all the other seasonal items you have stashed in the house, shed, garage, and yard. You may have good intentions but intentions but let’s be honest with ourselves. The collection of Pink Flamingo dishes that you bought at Christmas Tree Shops because you thought they would be cute for a summer shindig will never get used. Year after year, they take up valuable space in the kitchen cabinets forcing you to store the things you really need on the counters. If you ever do host a summer party, pick-up cute paper plates, or search online for creative ways to decorate without having to keep all that stuff in storage. Consider things that you can borrow or rent for use on that one-day-every-five-years when you may need that thingamabob that is taking up space in the garage or shed. The longer things are stored, the more they deteriorate anyway. Badminton equipment, gardening knick-knacks, specialty outdoor cooking contraptions, etc.

3. Clear the toiletries– The summer stuff can go! The sunblock and bug repellants, seasonal allergy medications (if they only bother you in the spring/summer), sunburn creams, poison ivy/oak treatments, and all the others that have or will expire before next year. This is a good time to take stock of what you may need to have on-hand for the winter months so you don’t have to run out in the snow for cold medicine. Throw out or donate all the other useful products that you do not use or do not like. If you received a gift basket of bath products but only take showers, you have permission to purge. Keeping things out of guilt is unhealthy and counterproductive to living a clutter-free lifestyle. As a rule, have one back-up for each of the products that you regularly use. When the first runs out, add it to your shopping list. “But, I shop sales!” Sales go in cycles. The product will go on sale before the back-up runs out. Keeping too many wastes money because they often expire before you use them.

4. Clean out the car– Take out the beach towels and toys, and replace them with anti-freeze and an ice scraper. One of life’s more unpleasant experiences is getting a flat tire in a snow storm and having to dig through a trunk full of junk to get to the spare. Take advantage of the nice autumn air and clean out that car! If whatever is in there has been there for over a month, donate or toss it. You obviously can live without it. Keep only emergency items in the car, and be sure to remove acquired items on a daily basis.

5. Downsize the office clutter– Get out of the “I may need it someday” mentality and get down to business in that home office or desk area. Take the stack of unopened (or opened) mail and apply the problems with paperwork process we posted previously. If it is a bill older than one month, shred it. You will have received a newer copy by now. Junk mail? Toss it. Your life will go on without it. In fact, there are probably not more than one or two items in that ginormous pile that you really need to keep. Perhaps your car registration or a court document or an uncashed check, but everything else is certainly replaceable. If you know that you have a specific document there, look for it and toss the rest. Start from scratch the next month. If you have ongoing difficulty managing your paperwork, consider outsourcing the task. The cost for a bookkeeper is minimal compared to the anxiety of tracking bills and mail. From there, test all the writing tools and toss those that have dried out. Reduce your supplies to that of a household and not that of corporation and donate the excess to a local school or other charity. Throw out obsolete technology like old floppy disks, Windows 98 software, ink cartridges to the printer you owned 6 years ago, misc. cords, rolodex, etc. Organize remaining items in categories in and easy to maintain system.

Use all the same size envelopes- they are torn upon receipt anyway- and store with stamps and return address labels.

Binding stuff- tape, staples & stapler, binder clips, paper clips, elastics- store in cups or dividers

Office tools- scissors, ruler, hole punch, magnifier, calculator (if the cellphone and computer aren’t enough!), etc.

Computer- backup software, USB drives, accessories

If you tackle these five projects and need more to do, contact us by email, phone, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or carrier pigeon for more suggestions. We never run out!

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Goldmine in the attic

One of the most common and difficult obstacles we encounter with clients attempting to purge their clutter is financial guilt. We frequently discover countless unopened, unused, brand new purchases throughout their homes. Some are easy to discard like expired toiletries, food products, and cosmetics. It’s the rest of the stuff that is challenging.

Whether you suffer from a hoarding and acquiring disorder or not, most people have experienced buyer remorse at one time or another. Clever marketing, salesperson pressure, deep discounts, a moment of weakness… whatever the reason, we buy something that we don’t really need and because we have made the investment, we keep it indefinitely out of guilt. Multiply that times tens of thousands and you have entered the world of our clients.

Thanks to shows like Antiques Roadshow, Storage Wars, Pawn Stars, and American Pickers even if the things in the house are not new, everyone thinks their junk is worth millions. One of my favorite quotes from Pawn Stars, “Just because it is old, doesn’t mean it’s worth money.” One of my favorite quotes from me, “It is only worth what someone is willing to pay.” Something may be quite valuable to you, but not to anyone else in the world. Likewise, the jacket you spent $100 on six years ago is not worth $100 anymore, even with the tags still on it. It’s no longer in style; trust me.

The problem in hoarder homes is the magnitude of items to purge. Once we sort the house, our clients find that they have purchased multiples of everything. Clients learn to adjust quantities to meet their actual needs, rather than to keep things just because they are new. Although it would be nice to recover the cost for those excess purchases, we donate most of them to local charities. It isn’t easy to find a buyer for 24 can openers, 100 packs of tealight candles, or 300 assorted mugs. Even harder to sell are dozens of pairs of the same-size shoes, no matter the brand name. Economically, it is just not feasible to research the potential value of every tchotchke before it is donated. It would cost more in labor than a client could ever hope to recover in sales.

Unfortunately, many fall for marketing tricks that convince them they are investing in collector’s items, limited editions, celebrity designs, and such. What they don’t understand is that it will take centuries for these items actually to increase in value, if ever, and in an internet world the other 20 million sold are just accessible to potential interested buyers as theirs. Imagine the disappointment when you realize that you wasted thousands of dollars collecting Kirks Folly jewelry from QVC because there is no resale value and it is made of worthless materials. Sadly, people get caught up in a name without really doing any research. If you buy a Boyd’s Bear on clearance for $8.00, why would you think it could sell for $100.00? Fact: The chance of finding gold in your attic is rare.

Does that mean we donate or discard everything that comes out of the clients’ homes? No. There are always items that should be researched first, and some that should be sold. The point is that impulse buying leads to financial loss. We must accept that, learn from it, and let go of the guilty keeping. We need to distinguish between those objects of true value, and those that we value just because we paid for them. In our experience, real jewelry and metals can be cashed in for market value. Genuine, atypical antiques in good condition can be sold, as can some artwork. Authentic, current high fashion labels (e.g. Coach bags) may be worth consigning if they have not been damaged by improper storage as is often the case in a hoarded home. In my professional opinion, the true wealth comes in overcoming the problematic thinking that filled your home in the first place. Embracing your recovery makes you feel like the richest person in the world.

Posted in A & E, Clean-out, Clutter, Compulsive Shopping, Hoarders, Hoarding | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments