Make the most of your space at home with helpful advice and organization tips from an expert.

The spring season is the perfect time of year to clean out the old and bring in the new. Traditionally, this spring cleaning heralds in a fresh start, when people purge their homes of the dust and clutter of the winter. However, many find it a difficult task and have trouble knowing where to begin.

As a professional organizer, one of the classic problems I come across when assisting my clients is the feeling of being overwhelmed. They don’t know where to begin — instead of dividing things up into small tasks, the client only sees the big, messy picture, which can be discouraging. This leads to delayed decision-making due to frustration.

Fix your mess

The very first thing I tell my clients when tackling a project of any size is to let stuff go. Before you can decide where to put items, you have to decide if you need it, can use it or love it. If you can’t say yes to any of these parameters, then it needs to leave. Leaving doesn’t necessarily mean being thrown out — this can mean being donated, returned to the person it belongs to or recycled. Most importantly, you just need to examine what you really need to keep. That’s the essential first step.

After losing what is unnecessary, you must designate homes for the things you wish to keep. Knowing they have a place to go once they are no longer in use puts the mind at ease. Also, it’s essential to stay disciplined in returning things to where they belong. The same thing applies to new items or purchases that you bring in to your home or workspace — it’s imperative to have a system in place for when something new comes in. Having a fluid routine when clearing things out is just as important as bringing in your new additions.

Build new habits

Continuing to remain organized is a two-part process: First, practice returning items to their respectful homes. For example, keep a bowl or basket on the coffee table or side table for remote controls. Once you finish watching TV, train yourself to place the remotes back in their home so that, in the future, everyone will know where they are. Secondly, practice elimination. When you don’t need it, let it go. These simple yet effective steps can ensure continued organization once the initial purge is over.

Create new space

One of the things people don’t think about often is vertical space. Picture a coat closet: You have the empty space on the floor, a rack for coats and usually a shelf above for storage. The trick is utilizing all the available space, yet keeping it tidy. Place bins and boxes on the floor, stacked neatly out of the way, yet where you can still see everything. Adding another shelf to the closet can also help create an extra level of organization — otherwise that three feet of space above your coats is wasted.

Desks and offices are also oftentimes cluttered. To some extent you have another opportunity to use vertical space to your advantage. Get stacking trays, vertical file holders and bins to hold papers and other documents. This keeps them out of the way, but readily available when the need for them arises. The footprint on your desk isn’t very large, but vertical file holders allow you to see everything without them being spread out on your workspace.

If my client has children, I always tell them to do anything they can to make it easy for the children to clean up. Something as simple as a basket without a lid works wonders — a lot of the time a lid acts as a barrier that prevents them from putting their toys away. I also recommend medium-sized toy boxes; large toy boxes tend to eat little knickknacks, making it impossible to find the toys on the bottom without emptying the large box.


Enjoy your home

Being organized can really make things a lot easier and more pleasant, not just emotionally and physically, but financially as well. If you can’t use all the rooms in your house to the fullest, you are essentially losing money on your home. If you can’t park in the garage due to clutter, then you risk damage to your car from the elements. A study done by the University of California-Los Angeles concluded that three out of four American families can’t park their cars in the garage due to clutter. That’s losing money, and can also create a dangerous fire hazard, as a potential escape route is taken up by mess.

Above all, organization can help you enjoy your space safely. From staying organized in the kitchen with turntables under cabinets to installing racks in your garage, a clean, organized home turns dead space into a useful place. You want to enjoy everything you have, and everything you’ve bought.

Jennifer Lava began professionally organizing people’s spaces in 2006, and earned her bachelor’s degree in History from St. Edwards University. She is currently the President of the Austin Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), and was presented with the NAPO-Austin President’s award for Exemplary Service. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and their four-legged “children,” Bella and Josie.