The Confab: Get It Together

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Parents. We’re one busy lot. Seems like something’s always going on or about to start all over again.  As a result, some regular home care things get pushed to the side and soon starts stacking up to the point where we’re living in our own secret mess pile. Granted, it’s not as bad as Hoarders, but a mini-intervention wouldn’t hurt.

Many parents can’t even figure you how they inherited the clutter. It’s all about toys and diaper boxes strewn about. There’s just a lot of stuff shoved into already-packed closets and stacked on nearly every flat, hard surface. To get some answers — and non-finger-wagging help — we deferred to the experts …

Meet Jen M.R. Doman, founder and president of Get It Together!, a home, office and estate organization company out of Brooklyn, NY. She knows the way to a cleaner tomorrow. [Plus! You know how we do here in The Confab. Be sure to read to the end of the post for a fun surprise. Indeed … a giveaway!]

Q: There’s a lot of shame and judgment when it comes to folks trying to get their homes in order. What’s the first step towards getting a handle on the clutter?

Jen M.R. Doman: Pick a day of the week to handle the tough stuff.  Everyone has a day of the week they like the least. Use that day to go through just one stack of papers. You don’t have to move mountains –but molehills, you can do!  Initially spend no more than 30 minutes going through these items, deciding what should be filed and what should be tossed. After a few 30-minute sessions, start spending one hour of one day going through one stack. This is very manageable.

If you’re a parent of slightly older children:

  • Have a conversation with your children about why you think your home will be more harmonious if it was organized.
  • Ask your children for their organizational suggestions. This will help them to start thinking differently about their relationship to their things.

Other good ideas for parents:

  • Remove bedroom carpeting. With a bare floor, the kids can be more responsible by sweeping the room themselves which is a lot easier than pushing a vacuum around.
  • Use dressers in closets. For younger children, the majority of their clothes do not need to be hung. A dresser will allow for more storage and will free up floor space in the bedroom area.
  • Consider replacing closet doors with curtains. If the door is too heavy or the knob too high, children will become less independent re: accessing their things.
  • Artistically label drawers and bins. This will help your children become more organized.
  • Compliment your children when they’ve done a good job.

Also, create a central landing zone in one area of your home for all family members. Keys, incoming mail, stamps, gloves and hats, dog leashes … these are items that at some point every member of the family will need to use. It will save time if everyone knows where exactly to go to get these items versus searching in a general for where they “think” the items may be.

Q: Someone might read all of this from you and think that you were simply born this way — neat, organized, on point. Is that true? What’s your advice for the Messy Martha, the woman who can’t seem to get her stuff together no matter how many issues of Real Simple she collects?

JD: I am actually very organized, but — trust me — this is not rocket science. A anyone can learn to be organized. What’s the first step?  Strategize like an athlete. Using a stop watch or by setting the kitchen stove clock, time how long it takes you to get your children prepped for school, make dinner or complete an ongoing monthly project at work. Are you satisfied with the timing or is there a way to shave some valuable time off of these tasks?

Step two: Create an organizational timeline. Be specific about what must be done, and give yourself dates by which each task will be completed. Check off each completed duty. Over time you will see your progress.

Q: If you had to pick one, which room of the home should be at the top of the “Get it Together” list? Why?

The first room of the home that should be organized is the kitchen. A disorganized kitchen effects everything else. In a chaotic kitchen your nutritional intake is compromised, which means your health is compromised which means your daily behavior is compromised. Get the kitchen together first!

Q: What’s the first thing to do when trying to organize and de-clutter the kitchen?

JD: Declare your intention to get your space organized. Be clear with yourself about what you want to accomplish and why. Write a list outlining each task that must be fulfilled — from re-organizing your kitchen to transforming your desk area. Don’t consider any task too small to list. Create an organizational timeline. Be specific about what must be done, and give yourself dates by which each task will be completed. Check off each completed duty.

Q: Is there a way to fake it ’til you make it when it comes to home organization?

JD: In a word …  no. I’m not into faking anything.

Q: What are your five Dos for de-cluttering, clearing out and cleaning up?

JD: Do realize that your space did not become disorganized overnight, so unless you call in a professional, it’s going to take some time to get it organized.

Do know that your space is going to look worse before it will look better.

Do have an in box and an out box for incoming and outgoing mail. All junk mail and catalogues you don’t need/want should immediately make their way to the recycling bin.

Do stay focused on one area and work in that area for 20 minutes and then stop for a short break.

Do not go out to purchase bins upon bins and tons of “supplies” until you’re done with the organizational process and can accurately access exactly what you need in terms of storage.

Q: So, basically, back away from the local Container Store?

JD: I’d strongly suggest that we all stay away from buying items until after the organizational process is over. Most Americans already have what they need, sometimes they have duplicates! The problem is that the items are in excess or they’re not being used properly.

There are just three things that you need to get organized: time, garbage bags and a label maker. That’s it! Really.

Remember, you wouldn’t run a marathon without first seeing if you could handle a run around your block. So don’t overwhelm yourselves with the task when you start the organizational process. You will get it together.

Definitely holler at Jen M.R. Doman, over at Get It Together! for more tips to help you get organized.

Giveaway! This time you’ve got a choice. One reader will win either a one-year subscription to Real Simple magazine OR a $25 gift card for The Container Store (just make sure, as Jen recommends, you hit the store after the organizational process is over). And all you have to do is share your best cleaning tip or trick.

I’ll start: Consider using vinegar and water as a general household cleaner. It saves you moola and it’s greener than any Mr. Clean product you’ll find on the shelves. Now, it’s your turn! Tell us what you know in the comments below and you’ll be entered to win a Container Store gift card or a Real Simple subscription. Pretty neat deal, yes?

  • 1
    sharon says:

    Great post! And Jen really is a whiz at whipping it all into shape.

  • 2
    Franchell Mack Brown says:

    In a pinch I have two “secret weapons” that I keep handy. 1. Baby wipes. They clean most any spill and get most food stains out of fabric. 2. Windex. Cleans greasy messes and can be used on linoleum
    (does any one still have linoleum floors besides me?)for a quick mop up.

  • 3
    Kristin says:

    This is a little embarrassing, but my hair gets all over the house. I use double-sided tape or a “donut” of masking tape to pick up hair from the rugs/carpets. Vacuuming doesn’t always get the longer hair, and somehow it all bunches up into the most unfriendly dust bunnies in the most hidden corners. The tape method helps to keep it in check.

  • 4
    Eliana says:

    When cleaning up I try to tackle one room at a time. Not only is it easy to compartmentalize organizing but it’s a great sense of accomplishment when one full room/area is done, especially when you get to cross it
    off a checklist.

  • 5
    Dee Dee says:

    My best tip is for the car. While I’m getting gas, I clean out the garbage left over from a week of carpooling & running back & forth to games & practices for the kids. If the car is already clean (I think that’s happened once) I clean out my purse instead.

  • 6
    Steph says:

    always keep a rag in each room to wipe up, and a bag for thrift store stuff – so you can toss something once you realize it is too small/faded/etc. and not put it back in your closet!