Betsy Fein found herself in the middle of a spring fling in Fairfax recently. She wasn’t at a festival or involved in a new romance, but in the midst of organizing a cluttered bedroom that was littered with piles of shirts, pants, shoes and books.
Spring often means renewal and local organizers like Fein are offering suggestions for clearing out winter clutter. From closets that are overstuffed with wool sweaters and down coats to kitchen drawers overflowing with batteries and appliance manuals, they offer suggestions for getting organized without getting overwhelmed.
"Spring is a time when you have all the winter stuff in your closet and you want to change it out for summer, so you’re flinging it out," said Fein, of Clutterbusters!! (www.clutterbusters.com) in Rockville, Md.
"Because this child was younger, we suggested that they hang a lot of things," said Fein of her recent project. She also advised the parents to install a second rod in the closet. "They could have shirts on top and pants on bottom."
Fein recommended using photographs to help with organization. "They can take a picture of a pair of socks, for example, and put it on the drawer so the child can see that socks go in that drawer."
She even included an idea for outgrown clothes. "Keep a colorful bin on the bottom of the closet, so when you realize that clothes don’t fit any more you can toss them in the bin and donate them."
The idea would work for adults, too. "Pack away all your winter clothing and unpack your spring and summer items," said Susan Unger, of ClutterSOS (www.cluttersos.com) in Vienna. "Be sure to evaluate each item and ask yourself … ‘Does it fit? Do I love it? Is it in good shape? Do I feel good in it?’ If all these answers are ‘yes’ and it is a keeper, then place it in your closet or drawers.
"Be sure to group like items together such as skirts, dresses, t-shirts, [and] shorts. Decide if the discards should be tossed or donated depending on the condition," she said. "Be sure to keep a list of new items to buy."
When you store those bulky winter clothes, make sure you use sealed containers. "Store them in bins and make use of vertical space that is hard to reach or other rooms [like the] basement," said Jody Al-Saigh of Picture Perfect Organizing (www.pictureperfectorganizing.com) in Arlington. "Before storing clothes for next winter, be sure they are laundered first. A little-known fact [is that] moths don’t actually go after the clothing fibers but rather the human perspiration and dander that build on clothes."
An easy place to start spring cleaning is your file (or pile or drawer) of appliance manuals and instruction booklets. "Store them all in an accordion file, by brands, by type of appliance, by room or area," said Al-Saigh. "Or look up the manual online, download and toss the paper one."
Be sure to purge often or when new items are purchased. "Don’t toss warranties or receipts for warranties or rebates. Keep those in your file," said Al-Saigh. "Keep the accordion file somewhere handy like the garage shelf [or on] top of fridge."
NOW THAT THE END of the school year is growing closer, piles of children’s artwork are growing taller. "We did a family room that had a bookshelf and toys, kids’ artwork and stuff all over the place," said Fein. "We had to help the parents make decisions about what to keep. We used a method called the three Fs: Frame-worthy, flush (or toss) and file. With kids’ art, you have to be ruthless and realize that it is not all a Picasso."
Tips for Spring Cleaning
"After a long winter such as this most recent one, it feels good to give a house a good, thorough cleaning. Start by walking through your home room by room and making a list of items to be completed.
"When you are finished, you may think the list in its entirety looks overwhelming and … impossible to complete. Take one room at a time and then break the tasks for that room down into smaller tasks and estimate the time to complete the task. Determine how much time daily you can commit to the tasks and schedule it on your calendar. By doing it this way the project shouldn’t feel so overwhelming. Be sure to finish each room before going on to the next."
— Susan Unger
For frame-worthy artwork, Fein suggests tape frames or inexpensive acrylic frames. "Tape frames are sticky on the back, but they look like real frames. You can swap out the artwork and reuse them."
For artwork that can be filed, Fein suggests using a keepsake box or creating a photo book. "You can take digital photos of the art work and put together a book on Snapfish or Shutterfly. … Your child will be proud and you won’t have stuff all over the place."
Spring’s mild weather also makes it an ideal time to clean out a garage. "It’s not too hot and not too cold," said Al-Saigh. "Wait for nice weather, take everything out and sort it in the driveway."
Al-Saigh suggests using sidewalk chalk. "Section off areas for piles for items to keep, donate and trash," she said. "When putting back the keep stuff, group items together and create zones such as tools, gardening, sports equipment, camping, bicycles. The more you can hang on hooks on the walls or from the ceiling the better. Floor to ceiling shelving is good to maximize the vertical space.
"Get creative. Use old barrels to store hockey sticks upright, hang a mesh bag full of soccer balls," she added. "Remove things that don’t belong in your garage like photos, paperwork, fragile memorabilia."
Fein points to a Potomac, Md., garage that she recently helped a client reorganize. "It was a normal looking garage where stuff was everywhere," she said. "Bikes and sports stuff were all over the place, so it was a matter of putting like things together."
It helps, Fein said, to make organizing fun. "Don’t think of it as a chore. … Play music and get the whole family involved. Play games with your children, like beat the clock or beat the time."
Start small. "A lot of times people think ‘I have to organize my whole basement and I have 40 years of stuff,’ said Fein. "If you have decided to spend the whole weekend, three hours in you say this is too much and you quit. Maybe start with a drawer."
Keep it simple. "With filing papers, sometimes a person’s filing system is so detailed that it is impossible to organize and maintain," said Fein. "Let’s take bills. A simple system may be a file that says bills. It doesn’t need to be in alphabetical order. A lot of clients are disorganized because they are perfectionists. If they can’t maintain a complicated system perfectly, they’d rather just have it in a pile."
Once a home is finally organized, keeping it that way can be challenging. "You have to be disciplined about maintaining it," said Fein. "Even if you set aside 10 minutes a day to make sure you do a little maintenance in your kitchen, bedroom, office or wherever. Doing a little each day keeps it organized rather than letting it build up."
Once a person develops such a routine, it becomes natural for even the messiest among us, said Fein. "It takes 21 days to change a habit," she said. "For 21 days, put a reminder in your calendar phone, or leave yourself a voice message reminding yourself to do a little maintenance."