15 Sep 2014
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Tips from Professional Organizers: Decluttering Your Home

It's spring cleaning season! Before your attic gets too hot, here are tips on organizing your home from the pros.

Tips from Professional Organizers: Decluttering Your Home


Have a place for everything.

Get rid of what you don’t use.

Start small.

Professional organizers across Northern Virginia agreed on these tips and more in preparation for spring cleaning season.

Stephen Bok, an Arlington-based professional organizer, said he always urges his clients not to save the “headache”—the attic— for last, but rather to complete spring cleaning, well, in the spring.

By summer, the proverbial hot attic is often too hot to clean comfortably, Bok said. When you tackle the attic, bring down everything and only return to the attic items that actually belong there.

Don’t be Afraid to Part with Possessions

“You probably haven’t looked at that stuff in years,” Bok said. “And there are probably people who need that stuff. You could donate it or give it away or refurbish it."

Also, it may be time to get rid of items you don’t use.

“When you clear out your closet, really be honest with yourself,” Bok said. “Am I just keeping it because I’m keeping it and really can’t think of a purpose for it, but it has sentimental value or it was a gift? You really need to start questioning, why do I need to hold on to it? Am I holding onto it for this person and cluttering my life?”

People will hold on to objects as useless as candy wrappers when there’s an emotion or strong memory attached to the item, Bok said. He suggests taking photos of items that have sentimental value but can be discarded. Then, create an online or print photo book to help keep those memories alive.

Eileen LaGreca, owner of Sensational Spaces in Fairfax, said the greatest challenge in de-cluttering is for people to part with items that have sentimental value or were gifts. It’s OK to donate or otherwise part with these objects, she said.

“Usually I talk about donating it to a thrift store, where someone else will love it,” LaGreca said. A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used it in the past year, it’s time to get rid of it.

Start with Small Spaces

LaGreca said when tackling a large organization or de-cluttering project, start with small rooms and work your way up to cleaning larger spaces.

“We start with one room,” she said. “Pick a room that bothers you the most and picture what you want it to look like, what’s is its purpose, what is its function. … If it’s a bedroom, we start with cleaning out the closet, emptying it out and going through the clothes, figuring out what doesn’t fit and donating it.”

The bottom line is that everything needs a place to go, she said.

For Pam Magnani, owner of Golden Moves Organizing in Annandale, modern technology can help get rid of clutter including magazines. Many are free online, and she encourages clients to ditch the print version, which can clutter any room.

At the organization company Call 2 Sisters in Alexandria, co-owner Annabel Baer stressed the need to start small.

“(Try) taking small chunks at a time, not trying to do or think about an entire house or even an entire room,” she said. “Start with a drawer, or a cabinet, and work your way into it. People look at the whole thing, and they get overwhelmed and stop in their tracks.”

Take an Inventory Before Shopping

Also, knowing what you have at home prevents you from buying things you don’t need.

“People are visual,” Magnani said. “A lot of people end up getting houses cluttered because if they don’t see it, they don’t know they have it. So, we tell people to label things they use infrequently so they remember that they’re there.”

Taking an inventory of the pantry helps you remember what food you have so you won’t buy duplicates, she said. Also, if you receive a new household item—in this case, a towel set— get rid of an equal number of towels. Old towels can be donated to a animal rescue organization or shelter to use as bedding for pets. 

Also, when switching wardrobes for spring, Manani said, take the time to identify which clothes should be donated, dry-cleaned or mended.

In the end, less clutter not only looks better, but it can be a freeing experience, Baer said.

“It does take time,” she said. “The more stuff you have, the more time you have to have to deal with it, whether it’s cleaning or dusting. And you can kind of lighten up your life to do other things, so it doesn’t weigh you down.”

More tips on decluttering are available here.

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