News & Politics

Making Space

No need to knock down walls to create more space—getting rid of clutter can do the trick. Here are tips from a professional organizer.

>>Home Design 2010 

One cheap way to create more space in a home? Clean out clutter.

“Start in the area that drives you the most crazy,” says Scott Roewer of Solutions by Scott, a DC-based organizing service. For a lot of people, that’s the bedroom—a messy one can hinder sleep and cause stress. “If your closet is so cluttered that it’s taking you a lot of time to pick out an outfit in the morning, that’s a problem—especially if your boss notices you’re always late.” Other good starting points are cluttered kitchen counters and disorganized basements.

No matter which space you pick to declutter, start in one corner and work your way to the other side. “People get lost,” says Roewer. “They never see progress because they’re just scraping surfaces in different areas.”

What to Do With Mail

Roewer sees lots of clients who don’t open mail for months, creating clutter. He recommends opening mail daily and having a system for sorting it. Stand over a recycling bin or shredder to take care of junk mail—always shred credit-card offers and other mail that poses security risks—and use bins or in-boxes with folders to save mail, such as bills, that needs to be dealt with later. Set a designated time each week to pay bills, fill out forms, and respond to letters.

You can cut down on junk mail by opting out of unwanted catalogs, credit-card offers, and sweepstakes. Web sites such as,, and will do the work for you for a fee. Others—including and, for credit-card offers,—are free.

Cleaning Out Closets

Roewer says women tend to wear 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time: “Less is more when it comes to clothing.”

His advice? When you buy new clothes, put an empty shopping bag on the closet floor and, over time, fill it with unwanted clothes. Once the bag is full, donate it.

Another tip: When you flip your closet for a new season, turn all the hangers backward so the hooks face out. Any item on a backward hanger at the end of the season can be donated—you haven’t worn it.

If it’s a piece you don’t wear often but will again, such as a fancy black dress, don’t keep it in your main closet. “That’s prime real estate,” says Roewer. And don’t keep clothes in dry-cleaning bags; the plastic traps harsh chemicals that can damage clothes. Opt for bags made of canvas or another breathable material.

Too Many Keepsakes?

It’s natural to form attachments to things with sentimental value, but a space-saving way to save memories is to take photos.

“The macaroni art project that Johnny made isn’t going to last,” says Roewer. “Take a picture of Johnny holding the artwork and date it. He’ll remember it for years.”

For things you can’t part with, repurpose them into something more practical. Old baby clothes might be used to make a quilt. Postcards could be turned into a collage.

Organizing Kitchens

The kitchen is a common spot for clutter—it’s where parents cook, kids do homework, and Mom and Dad often pay bills.

Start in the messiest areas, often drawers, countertops, or below the sink. Use trays and bins to store loose items. “They help limit how far clutter can sprawl,” says Roewer.

“We often have utensils and supplies we don’t use,” he adds. “Pick your favorites and put the rest in a box for 30 or 60 days.” Anything still in the box after a month or two can be donated or tossed.

To free space in cupboards or pantries, swap bulky packaging such as cereal boxes for stackable containers. Back-of-the-cabinet-door organizers and hanging shelf baskets create more storage, and glide-out shelves make better use of deep spaces; nothing gets lost in back. A rolling crate on a pantry floor is handy for paper towels or other items.

Have a Junk Drawer

“I’m a believer in junk drawers—as long as they’re organized,” says Roewer. Keep them to only one layer of stuff, and use individual trays in different sizes rather than static, preformed drawer organizers; they’re customizable. Roewer likes the modular trays at the Container Store.

Helpful Tools

Ready to tackle clutter? Here are two books to provide more motivation.

  • Organizing From the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern addresses mental and physical obstacles to organization and helps develop a plan of action. It also includes tips for specific spaces, from home offices to closets.
  • Unclutter Your Life in One Week by Erin R. Doland offers a day-by-day plan for purging clutter.

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