Don't Try To Tackle It All At Once, Just Get Started

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

May 2, 2008 5 min read


Don't try to tackle it all at once, just get started

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

Copley News Service

If you're drowning in a sea of clutter, you're not alone. But that doesn't mean you can't rid yourself of the things you don't need.

Clutter expert Donna Smallin suggests starting with an easy project, taking 15 minutes to clean up a small area such as a drawer or cabinet, tossing out what you don't use and organizing what's left.

"You'll see what is possible and gain control of your space," says Smallin, author of a series of best-selling guides to uncluttering your life, including "Unclutter Your Home" (Storey Publishing, $9.95), "Organizing Plain And Simple" (Storey Publishing, $16.95) and "The One-Minute Organizer" (Storey Publishing, $9.95).

Cluttered homes are on the rise, she says, a reflection of how we live and shop. "In the last 50 years, the size of the average home has nearly doubled," she points out. That means we have more space for things, whether we use them or not.

We also have more discretionary income and places to spend it, Smallin adds. "Years ago, stores closed at 6 p.m. Today, you can shop around the clock at big-box stores."

Completing a simple project will inspire you to unclutter larger areas, Smallin says, underscoring the advice she gives as part of the seven simple steps and 700 tips and ideas she offers in "Unclutter Your Home."

"There's no right way to unclutter and no one way that works for everyone," she says. "What's important to remember is that getting started is far more important than how you get started."

Among her tips:

- Store things where you need them: pots near the stove, dishes near the table, extra trash bags at the bottom of the trash can.

- Before going to bed, spend 15 minutes straightening up the house.

- Toss out expired coupons, expired medicine, makeup that's more than a year old, and odd socks.

- To organize gloves and mittens, put them in a shoe bag with clear plastic pockets. Hang the shoe bag in your coat closet or on the back of a closet door.

In addition to Smallin's series, you can get lots of advice on how to declutter your house at online at sites such as,, and

You can also tap the knowledge of local, regional and national organizing experts like Rita Emmet and Laura Leist. Emmet, an author and lecturer who has appeared on the Today Show, wrote "The Clutter Busting Handbook" (Walker & Co., $10.95), a witty work laced with anecdotes and observations about having a cluttered life and what to do about it. A self-described "recovered pack rat," she says that anyone can be clutter free if they systematically rid themselves of things they "never need, use or think about."

To Emmet, every home has spots that attract rummaging, like a draw full of kitchen accessories and utensils. Put the whisks, wooden spoons and other utensils in a pitcher, jar or vase next to the stove, she recommends, and hang up the measuring cups and spoons on cup hooks inside a kitchen cabinet door.

Leist, who heads one of the nation's largest professional organizer businesses, also produced a guide to decluttering. Her 212-page book, "Eliminate Chaos" (Sasquatch Books, $19.95), provides real-life case studies and photos of how clutter can be removed. It also breaks out the amount of time needed for each project and has plenty of sorting, purging and organizing tips. Leist is the newly elected president of the fast-growing National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).

That the clutter-busting business is booming doesn't surprise Smallin, who sees a future in which hiring a professional organizer to get rid of the clutter you have accumulated will be "like hiring a housekeeper."

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