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Advice For Cleaning, Decluttering & Organizing

A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZER’S ADVICE

AAA Member Sue Frost of Wilmington, Delaware, a Certified Professional Organizer, shares her experience and advice.

AAA World: Professional organizer and author Marie Kondo has kicked off a wave of decluttering in the u.s. but what if her method doesn’t resonate with you?

Sue Frost: I agree with Kondo’s mantra, ‘If it sparks joy,’ but I’m also focused on utility. If it’s not useful
to you, let it go. The more you have, the easier it is to become disorganized.

Kondo separates items in the home into categories. Let’s see all of your clothing, and we’ll sort through it all at once. That method can feel overwhelming, and if you’re working in shorter sessions, there simply isn’t time to work that way. I tell my clients to work methodically room by room. You can even do chunks at a time, so while it’s great to get the whole kitchen done, how about just a couple of drawers? When people get started, they realize that it’s not that big hairy monster.

Amanda Vick Closet

AAAW: Why do our homes get so disorganized in the first place?

Frost: People are often embarrassed about their disorganization, but there’s always a reason. Some people have had a major life change—merged households, had a baby—and their old systems no longer work. Other families might be having some kind of crisis, and they’re just doing the best they can. They’re getting the kids fed, going to work, getting their parents to the doctor, and order in the home falls by the wayside.

Chronic disorganization can be caused by anxiety, depression, or a variety of other reasons. It could be something as simple as not wanting to let go of things because of what they represent to us. A retired teacher who has memorabilia from her students might feel like if she lets go of those items, she’s letting go of who she was as a teacher. 

Or the problem could simply be that you never learned organizing skills.

AAAW: What other barriers keep people from successfully cleaning out and organizing their homes?

Frost: Perfectionism. Who would think a perfectionist is disorganized? But the mentality is you want to wait until you have time to do the entire project. That time rarely comes. Remember this mantra: Done is better than perfect. Unless you’re doing brain surgery, everything can be tweaked later.

Caleb Lucas Closet

AAAW: You’ve compared staying organized after decluttering to maintaining weight loss after a diet. What are some tips for keeping things neat?

Frost: Everything has a start-to-finish process. If you’re scrambling eggs, you need time to assemble the ingredients, to cook and to clean up. But in our busy lives, we just rush to the next thing. Do that with three or four tasks, and before you know it, we’re surrounded by disarray.

To maintain order, everyone in the home needs to know where things go and be given responsibility for two or three specific tasks. The 10-minute pickup is great for families. Make it a routine, so it’s what you’re going to do every night at six o’clock. Maybe postpone dessert or a favorite show until it’s completed. 

And, I love rewards after organizing—as long as it’s not going out and buying something.