By Smith Banfield
School's out and the kids have left for sleepaway camp. But before you know it, it will be back-to-school time. Blink and you'll miss the opportunity an empty nest provides for creating new solutions and systems for some of your most challenging areas of clutter, because honestly, who wants to organize when you'e got whiny kids underfoot, trying to negotiate every scrap of paper you try to throw away?
The hardest part of this (or any) project is getting started. But with the easy steps I've outlined below (and more inspiration on my website), you can have your household running like a well-oiled machine come September.
1. Visualize. Take a walk around your home and identify the problems: mail, shoes, toys. Then make a list of these problems and the rooms in which they exist. Is the mail strewn about in the entry hall, the dining room, your bedroom, and the kitchen ? Are shoes spilling out in every bedroom? This is valuable information; write it all down. Once you have collected your data, sit quietly and contemplate: "Wouldn't it be nice if..." and fill in the blank by putting a positive spin on the problem. For example: "Wouldn't it be nice if everyone knew where to find their shoes and had a place to put them when they're not in use." If this exercise makes you roll your eyes, find the language that works to help you start seeing solutions instead of problems. I often log on to Pinterest to find practical ideas that get me closer to my vision.
2. Sort. Pick one of the problems from above. Gather every single item from this category and bring into an area where you have space to work. (Note: If you have more than one child, you may want to work on each child's belongings separately.)
3. Containerize. Once you know the amount of space that's needed to store the items in your category, it becomes a lot easier to find the right containers to hold them. To estimate this, I like to start with temporary storage solutions I've already got lying around the house or in the recycling bin, like shoe boxes. Dumping your items in these containers will help you visualize the appropriate size and number of permanent containers you'll need to store these items.
4. Create a "home." Now's the time to reassess where these items live, in order to create maximum efficiency. This is especially important for kids, who need a "home base" for all their shoes, backpacks, coats, sports gear—not only so they have a place to put all this stuff when they walk in the door, but also so they can find it on their way out. An easy solution can often be created by moving otherwise-unused furniture into your entryway or hallway to act as a catch-all; even clearing off a shelf in the kitchen can be a great solution that doesn't cost a dime. Label the space with your child's name, to make it inviting for her to use.
5. Box it up. Be very cautious about getting rid of your childrens' possessions without their permission, which can be extremely traumatic. The golden rule I share with all of my clients is: You can only rid your home of YOUR objects; throwing away things that belong to your kids may create trust issues between you. Box up any item you believe your child no longer uses or has outgrown. If they come home from camp and ask for it, you can simply retrieve it from the box. If they don't, store the box, setting a reminder on your calendar for six months in the future, at which point you'll go through the box with your child and talk about passing along any items they really don't want anymore. This is a great way to teach your children to share, and also learn about how generosity can change another, less-fortunate, child's life.