5 Disorder Disasters: Organized!

Lean how to confront clutter fearlessly with five strategies for staying organized.

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  1. Organization

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You've overcome the biggest obstacle to organization: getting started. But despite your tidiest intentions, life — and clutter — is bound to get in the way. How do you fit staying organized into your schedule without getting stressed?

Betsy Peterson, a professional organizer and the owner of Space and Time, in Oak Ridge, Tenn., says discipline and time management are key. Taking time to stay organized will help calm your nerves, even when dealing with stressful situations, such as party preparations, garage organization, messy kids' rooms and out-of-control keepsake collections.

Here are five simple strategies to keep you organized — and involve your family — without crumbling in the face of clutter.

1. A Family Affair

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This colorful tween room designed by Lauren Jacobson is also full of functional space. For example, the bright ottomans serve as seats and storage. Photo by Anthony Nex Photography

Your house was clean and organized at one point but has reverted to its cluttered ways. Clothes cover the floor, dishes dirty the sink and toys teeter at the top of the stairs. Either your house has been hit by a tornado or your family is less than tidy. How can you make cleaning a family focus?

Solution: Family meetings are a great way to establish a housekeeping routine. Sherrie LeMasurier, a professional organizer and the co-owner of Keeping Kids Organized, suggests you add tasks one at a time. Start a new system for the grocery list one week and allocate time every week for family clean-up the next.

The meetings can double as problem-solving time. Ask kids why they're not cleaning up after themselves and brainstorm solutions. Do they always leave their clothes out? Solving the problem might be as easy as buying more hangers or a larger dresser.

Whatever chores you choose, be consistent. "Make cleaning a priority for everyone, even if it's only for five minutes a day," says Betsy. A star chart is an effective incentive for kids to do their work daily, especially if there's a prize (like a fun family activity) when the chart is full.

For uncooperative spouses, professional organizer Cyndi Seidler, the owner of Handy Girl Organizers, says the best solution is a heart-to-heart discussion. "Don't ask them to help maintain order for the sake of order," she advises. "Ask them to help you."

Trying to do all the work yourself is maddening. Enlisting your family members makes cleaning more fun — and kids learn valuable life lessons.

2. Holiday Switcheroo

Holiday gifts have overstuffed your child's already small room. A pile of toys that would overwhelm Santa Claus litters the floor, but you don't own a sleigh to store it all in. Why didn't Grandma give you some extra storage space along with that enormous stuffed bear?

Solution: Holidays and birthdays usually mean an influx of new toys and clothing, so they're good times to get rid of toys that your children have outgrown. Sherrie recommends a "one in, two out" rule.

"You can't constantly add more storage," she says. "For every new toy, try to get rid of one or two old ones." Encourage your kids to banish anything that's not useful or sentimental — it will teach them how to stay organized. Remind them: If it's not useful to them, it could be to one of their peers.

If the pile of keepers still rivals the one in the North Pole, Betsy recommends rotating. Store a few toys in your child's room, then stash the rest in an out-of-the way closet. You'll save your storage system, and your child will feel like he's getting new toys all year.

3. Container Cleaning

You're having a dinner party for 10, including your mother-in-law, tomorrow. The busy week has taken its toll on your home, and your dining table is barely visible under a pile of mail, homework and school projects. With everything you have left to do, a turkey is not the only thing you plan on stuffing.

Solution: Betsy says the key to staying organized is in the Cs: categorizing and containers. Give each person in the family a container with his or her name on it. You can quickly gather things up, pitch them in the appropriate box and give it to that person to put away. You can also use this concept with mail, toys or laundry. Do this on a daily basis to avoid pile-up, or pick up the baskets in crunch time to curb clutter.

Stuffing everything in one basket takes a comparable amount of time and will leave you frazzled after your guests leave. You'll waste time later, says Betsy, searching for things you chose to cram.

4. Condensing Keepsakes

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Display keepsakes as conversations pieces in a public place, such as the living room. Design by Randy Weinstein

You want to send clutter packing, but every closet you open houses a memory: that killer pair of jeans that actually fit you in college; the backpack your child used in fifth grade; flip-flops from your first beach vacation. You also have another fond recollection: a time when you had open storage space. How can you salvage your closets without sacrificing your keepsakes?

Solution: Instead of agonizing over every ancient item, think about why you are so attached to it. "It is often not an item but a memory that you want to keep," explains Sherrie. She recommends you take pictures or videos of keepsakes you find you can't bear to part with. This compact reminder preserves your memory — and valuable space in your home.

Can't part with your '60s bell-bottoms but know you'll never wear them again? Think about who would — perhaps a budding fashionista or a friend who's always admired them. You'll find it easier to part with something sentimental if someone else is thrilled to have it.

Free up even more of your storage space by displaying the items you choose to keep. They'll add character to your home and spark fond memories every time you walk by.

5. Use It or Lose It

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Create a space that serves your interests and needs. This attic area is much more useful as a family room than a place to chuck clutter. Design by Randy Weinstein

You cleaned out your garage — a year ago. Your gargantuan home workout system is parked where your car used to go, and that bread machine you swore you would use is taking up valuable shelf space. You want to use the room, but you're sure you'll need these things. Someday.

Solution: Garages are notoriously the messiest parts of the house, because items can be placed there and forgotten. For Cyndi Seidler, a Los Angeles-based professional organizer and the owner of Handy Girl Organizers, the garage serves as a "final resting place" for items she isn't quite ready to get rid of. She goes through the items every few months, tossing things she can live without.

"If you have gone six months to a year without using or referring to an item, chances are you don't need it," says Cyndi. Stopped drinking coffee? Sell your espresso machine. That garden hose that sprung a leak last spring? Toss it. Come up with a purging system that works for you and stick to it.

If you still can't part with rarely used items, think of the space you'll gain rather than the things you lose. Eliminating clutter, Cyndi says, is like gaining real estate inside your home. Always wanted a craft area? Go through your boxes on a regular basis and you'll have the space. Using the room for something you enjoy is a great motivator to keep it organized.

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