Decluttering and organizing rooms is a joyful rite of the spring season
BY SUSAN KELLY
Springtime: the return of an instinctual, almost visceral, need to clear out and clean up. Beyond a quick refresh, a seasonal decluttering can have far-reaching benefits, say professional organizers.
Business booms in the spring months for Anne Deliyannides and Debbie Bailey, co-owners of Free From Clutter in Vancouver, hinting that the urge to get organized may be a universal one. “By April, sunny weather has returned, and people begin to think about new life. There’s a sense of rebirth and renewal,” says Deliyannides. This prompts us to want out with the old, as in detritus from living indoors during the winter months, and in with the new.
Clients report feeling lighter and freer after a good clearout, she says. This is especially true if they have been living with chaos. And there can be financial benefits to reorganizing a garage or closet. One client found a Coach purse that had been lost for a year. Almost all clients turn up unused gift cards or duplicate items that later might be sold.
The easy part is putting away winter clothing, tires, and sports gear. When it comes to resistant clutter, the problem is usually all in the family, the pair finds. “An aging population means more people who are downsizing,” Deliyannides says. “They’re giving away their stuff to their kids – who don’t want it.”
It’s not that they want to disrespect the older generation; it’s just that they live a different lifestyle. Hardest to place are such heirlooms as an ornately carved silver epergne or a collection of Hummel figurines. With Vancouverites today tending to embrace a more contemporary aesthetic, such antiques look jarringly out of place.
For many people, it’s a case of having no room in the condo or small home to accommodate such items. Bailey, whose background includes a degree in psychology, often finds herself helping people overcome guilt. She suggests they keep memory boxes, small containers with a few select mementos of the family member, rather than, say, the full set of antique china they’ll never use.
“Grandma really wants you to be happy,” she says. “So sell it and use the money to take the kids to Disney World or top up their education funds.”
Learning to value our stuff can pay off in more meaningful ways, according to Ivanka Siolkowsky, owner of The Tidy Moose in Toronto. “Clutter holds us back from being our best selves,” she says. “Getting organized requires a shift of focus: placing less value on things and more on a higher quality of life.”
This is the philosophy behind the growing trend toward minimalistic, less consumption-driven living. Siolkowsky learned at the feet of a master, Marie Kondo, author of the bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The book teaches that the key to a sustainable clutter-free existence is to focus less on what to get rid of and more on surrounding yourself only with things that bring joy. Easy in theory, but more difficult in practice, which is where the select few consultants who, like Siolkowsky, are certified in the method come in.
Siolkowsky – organizer and former emotional shopper – sympathizes with clients who have things that hang in the closet for years. Well aware that difficult feelings can emerge during decluttering, she helps them focus positively on that which they really use and love.
Traditional organizing methods tackle clutter by problem area, such as a closet. The Kondo method teaches to approach by categories instead. “Clothes are the big one,” Siolkowsky says, “and we begin by gathering every item from every room.” The second biggest problem category she identifies is books and papers.
But can clearing some clutter really be life changing? Siolkowsky has seen some dramatic transformations. One client had a house that was “full of stuff and a very tense place to be.” After some instruction in the method, the client reported that things were better in her marriage and her children were taking accountability for their belongings. Gone was the need to shout or nag, and the constant tripping over or misplacing of things. “We have a system now and it’s made a drastic difference in the mood of the home,” the client reported.
Not everyone is ready or willing to pare their belongings down to the minimum. No matter how little or much stuff you choose to have, you need some place to put it, says Daniel Wilkinson, co-owner of Simply Closets of Toronto, which provides custom storage solutions. “There’s an emotional benefit to having a closet that is as beautiful as the rest of your home,” he says. “And well-designed storage also allows you to use space more efficiently.”
Greater attention is being paid to what goes on behind closed doors, he finds. There is a big move towards custom closet interiors that have a style on par with that in the rest of the home. If the star of the master bath is a contemporary high-gloss charcoal vanity, say, then the same look is carried over into the adjacent walk-in closet.
It also helps to think outside the closet to maximize space, Wilkinson says. Reserve the space inside it for things that need vertical room, such as dresses and coats. For anything that fits in a drawer, consider built-in cabinets on each side of the bed that can double as stylish night tables. Space under windows or odd nooks can also be utilized.
Within the closet, use gadgets judiciously to help reduce clutter that is both visual and actual. That tangle of belts and ties in one corner? Incorporate special racks for each category that slide out and then tuck discreetly away. If laundry winds up underfoot, built-in bins that tip out and then fold away solve the problem. And then there is the personal valet, an apparatus that swings out to accommodate scarf, keys, umbrella, dry cleaning, or anything else you aren’t quite ready to put away.
“It’s not so much out of sight, out of mind as out of sight bringing peace of mind,” Wilkinson says.
Decluttering Tip Sheet
Throw away the rule book if you want to get organized, says professional organizer Gayle Fransham, owner of Orderesque in Montreal. Over two decades of plying her trade, she has learned that what works for one person won’t for the other. “Take the one about ‘if you haven’t used it for a year, get rid of it,’ ” she says. “Just because I didn’t use my camping gear last year, doesn’t mean I won’t ever again.”
It’s important to understand your lifestyle and needs. But one thing is for certain: You must have a plan. Here are Fransham’s best tips, adapted from her client handout, for a successful clutter-clearing operation.
Prepare to act: Write down the scope of the project along with the tasks and steps required to get it done. Some people like to tackle the tough jobs first, others the small ones. Stock the refrigerator or have take-out menus on hand. Once you’re on a roll you won’t want to stop to prepare a meal.
Choose your charities: To make the process more meaningful, go with one that is close to your heart, and set a time for it to pick up your donation. That way, you’ll be strongly motivated to meet your personal deadline. If none of your choices provides pickup service, commit to drop the items off on the planned date and ask someone for help if need be (there are options, such as hiring a student, to help with tasks such as this).
Set up a sorting area: This is where you’ll put clearly marked boxes for the things you’ve separated. Divide the items into categories: donate, give to family and friends, sell online or at a garage sale, return, throw out, or recycle.
Target storage solutions: Clean the area and assess available shelf, hanging, and bin space. Determine whether you need such new solutions as built-in cabinetry. Hold off buying storage containers and gadgets until you’re sure how much stuff is going back and how you want it stored.
Take time with this final step and enjoy it because, once rid of items that are cluttering your life, you’ll probably find the actual organizing to be easy and fun.
“You can learn so much about yourself during the purging process,” says Fransham. “When you finally let go, there is a lightness, a sense of emotional freedom.”