Cas Aarssen From 'Hot Mess House' Shares Her Top Tip for Hopeful Organizers

Plus, the organizing expert shares the four key areas to put the tip to work first.

Have you ever watched a home organizing show or followed professional organizers on social media and felt inspired to tidy up your house? Only when you do, it turns out nothing like what inspired you? Such is the reality of trying to become an organized person under the guise that there’s only a micro approach to organization.

As seen on Hot Mess House, professional organizer Cas Aarseen and her co-host Wendell Holland worked to build a combination home office, play area and entertainment room in the basement of Chris and Christine Ziobro's New Jersey home. Wendell was installing the play room roof as Cas organized storage.

Photo by: Stephanie Diani

Stephanie Diani

According to organizing expert Cassandra Aarssen, the founder of Clutterbug and the host of HGTV’s Hot Mess House, micro-organizing utilizes incredibly detail-oriented methods that focus on a lot of small categories. While this might seem like a good idea in theory, in practice, it can be difficult to sustain, depending on your organizing style. That’s why Cas created the four categories of Clutterbugs: butterflies, bees, ladybugs and crickets. Where crickets and bees can manage micro-organizing—though, they approach it differently, either from a hidden (cricket) or visual (bee) perspective—ladybugs and butterflies need more of a macro approach, or a system that employs larger categories to make organization more accessible.

While Cas has quite the handle on organization, it hasn’t always been that way.

“I was really chronically disorganized for probably the first 30 years of my life, maybe even more than that,” she tells HGTV. “I tried and failed so many times to get organized that I think I gave up. I told myself that I was naturally messy.”

The lightbulb moment? Watching professional organizer Peter Walsh’s show, Clean Sweep on TLC.

“His words just ... resonated with me and I decided to try again,” she says. “I tried different methods this time. I went to the dollar store and got dishpans and tried organizing in a less organized way. Instead of doing the detailed way that we see when we look in magazines or on TV, I tried a less organized approach—I call it a macro approach. And it worked. My house started staying really organized and tidy all the time. I was saving so much time. It was life-changing and for the first time in my life felt like there wasn’t something wrong with me; I wasn’t chronically messy.”

It was with this realization that Cas went on to help her family and friends get organized, eventually creating a YouTube channel and bringing Clutterbug to life. Now that she’s helped hundreds of people become more organized, she can say with confidence that there are four main areas of clutter, and one universal decluttering tip to keep in mind for hopeful organizers.

The Four Main Clutter Zones

Landing Zone

This is the first place you interact with when you walk inside your home. It’s where you set down your keys and bag, and in some cases, where you hang up your coat and take off your shoes. According to Cas, the landing zone is typically one of the most cluttered areas of the home because a set zone isn’t actually established.

“Having a place to catch the things when you first come into the home is really critical,” she says. With that in mind, think about what you do when you first walk in the door. Then, think about which Clutterbug you are (she has a quick quiz to help you find out). From there, let your organization style inform how you set up your landing zone.

Command Center

While the command center, which is where important papers (like mail and permission slips) go, and the landing zone can often go hand in hand, Cas recommends keeping them separate.

“There’s always a lot of paper coming in,” she says, relating to those of us who struggle with keeping it all organized. The trick to tidying up? Set up a command center to catch the paper clutter before it has a chance to pile up elsewhere.

“Ideally, you may think ‘I should keep my paper in my entranceway,’ but if you’re naturally putting it on your kitchen counter, that’s where your paper system should be,” she shares, again noting that it’s all about what works best and feels most natural to you.

Clothing Clutter

Whether your laundry is piling up, your closets are overstuffed, your drawers are full to the brim or you simply don’t have a system in place that works for you, Cas says that your clothes can actually become clutter. Thankfully, knowing your Clutterbug organizational style can help make sense of the clothing chaos.

“When it comes to clothing, I think the big thing is: Does it fit you today, and does it look good on you,” she says. “We all say, all the time, ‘I’m going to lose 10, 15 pounds and when I do, I’ll be so glad I kept these clothes.’ But what’s happening every time you open your closet—if there are things that don’t fit and don’t make you feel good about yourself today—it’s like toxic negative clutter, making you feel bad about yourself every morning.” Her advice? Those toxic pieces have to go.

Toy Clutter

It’s as simple as this: If you have kids, Cas says toy clutter is bound to add up.

“If you’re working with your style, you can solve a lot of those problems,” Cas assures us.

The #1 Thing to Keep in Mind When Trying to Become More Organized

While Cas focuses much of her time deciphering her clients’ unique organization styles, she says that there’s one universal tip, though most people don’t want to hear it.

“Unfortunately, organizing does not create more space—decluttering does,” she says. “Everyone always thinks, ‘If only I got more organized, then I’d be able to have a room for all this stuff.’”

The problem is, Cas says that buying organization products—say, plastic containers, label makers and storage systems—never fully solves a problem of too much stuff. It only adds to the problem.

“So before you can even attempt to get organized, you have to declutter,” she says. “I classify clutter as things you don’t use or love. It doesn’t mean the pile on top of your dresser or the stuff on your kitchen counter. That’s what you’re actually using, that’s why it’s out. The reason it’s out is because there’s not an easy space for that to go because every other space is so filled. And it’s usually the kitchen cabinets, dresser drawers, the closets, that are stuffed with things that you’re not using and loving. So decluttering is always first. It means you’re moving things from your home. It doesn’t mean tidying or JENGA stacking your closet. That isn’t a long-term solution. It’s getting things out.”

As for what to ditch (or donate), she says to ask yourself one very important question: “If I didn’t own this, would I buy it again?” If the answer is no, then she says that you don’t need it in your home.

And that goes for sentimental clutter—your kids’ artwork and your grandma’s china, or whatever other items you’re holding onto that you don’t really need (or want)—too.

“If it isn’t sentimental to you, you shouldn’t be keeping it. I think the hardest thing for people to let go of is when loved ones pass away and they’re left with things from their grandmother or great-grandmother, but if they’re not using it and loving it, they’re not honoring that memory by keeping it in a box in the basement. The way to truly honor that person is to let it go to someone who could love and use it.”

Tune in to Season 2 of Hot Mess House on Thurs., June 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

As a refresher, 'Hot Mess House' follows the organizing efforts of two families per episode. Oftentimes, members of each family have differing views on how to approach organization. With Cas’ help, though, they’re able to identify their organizing styles and create a system that works for them individually and as a family.

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