From the October/November 2014 Issue:

Less Mess, Less Stress

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge | Illustrations: Peter Bono |

Get organized, stay organized and chill out inside your organized home

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enlarge | Set aside space near an entryway for shoe shelves at floor level, hooks for coats and backpacks at eye level, and cupboards above for off-season outerwear.
Home is no haven if it’s also a major stress trigger, as a Huffington Post survey found last year: Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents said that “worrying my home isn’t clean or organized enough” had caused them stress within the previous month.

Even folks who aren’t stressed—“Clutter? What’s the big deal?”—pay the price in other ways. A report says clutter overloads our minds with stimuli, distracting us from important tasks and interfering with problem-solving; signals our brains that our work is never done, spawning fatigue; and frustrates us when we need something and can’t find it among the piles.

And there are more tangible costs of being disorganized:
• Wasted money.If you misplace a bill—utilities, credit cards, taxes—you pay late and pay more. Or you might purchase a second something-or-other (tool, remote control, medication, ticket) because you can’t find what you already own.
• Lost time. The American Demographics Society says Americans squander 9 million hours each day searching for mislaid items.
• Safety. In heavily cluttered rooms, falls are more likely and cleaning is more challenging—leading to unsanitary conditions.
“A place for everything and everything in its place is key,” says certified professional organizer Ellen Tozzi of Natural Order in Hamilton. “Assign a ‘home’ for everything and put it back in its home when you’re done with it. It’s so much easier to keep up than it is to catch up. If you put it away instead of putting it down, you’re keeping up.”
Tozzi and author-speaker-organizer Mary Carlo­magno, owner of Order in New Providence, suggest many ways to permanently conquer six typical clutter challenges inside the average home.

1. Paper Pile-Up
Problem: Both experts cite mail- and paper-handling as whole-house issues often affecting entry points such as the kitchen, but also offices and even the formal dining room, with its tempting tabletop. “People tend to pull the bills and fun stuff like greeting cards out of the mail and set the rest aside, sometimes for years,” Tozzi says.

Solutions: Touch papers only once (read, shred, recycle). Immediately store the keepers—such as legal documents and medical records—in file cabinets but don’t save what you can easily access online should the need arise. Place magazines in a rack. Pay bills online and opt out of most paper catalogs. Set up bins in the garage, including a shredder, so most mail never even comes indoors, Tozzi says.

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enlarge | We wear only 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time because that’s what we see, so fold T-shirts into eighths and stand them on end so your full selection is visible. This also works for jeans, pajamas, bras and socks.
2. Apparel Accumulations
Problem: “People don’t put dirty clothes in the hamper or return clean clothes to drawers and hangers,” Tozzi says, instead pulling the daily wardrobe directly out of laundry baskets littering bedrooms. In addition, people hang on to clothes that don’t fit.

Solutions: Do seasonal purges, Carlomagno says. The test should be: “Do you actually wear it?” Tozzi says. A try-on may remind you the garment makes you feel fat or it’s itchy. She also suggests inviting a friend over to help you evaluate.

“We wear 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time because that’s what we see,” Tozzi says, so make sure you’re seeing more. Fold T-shirts into eighths and stand them on end so you see the narrow edges of more clothes in your drawers, Tozzi advises. This approach also works with jeans, pajamas, bras and socks.

Custom closet systems definitely help with organization; Carlomagno says the cheaper modular cubbies and shelves from big-box stores can work as well. Drawer dividers available at Bed Bath & Beyond and similar stores are good for “slinky items” such as lingerie and scarves, Tozzi says. See-through bins also work for scarves and hosiery, Carlomagno says.

Reduce closet congestion by putting seasonal apparel and formal wear in secondary closets, Carlomagno advises.

Review closets often to keep them organized. Carlomagno says to hang clothes by color and avoid the trap of “wishful wearing. If you buy an item and don’t wear it within two weeks, return it.”

3. Basement Buildup
Problem: Clutter is a delayed decision, Tozzi says, and the results of procrastination frequently land in the basement. “When people aren’t sure what to do with something, they stick it there.”

Solutions: Zone basement storage by category: kids’ items, Christmas decorations, Halloween decorations and off-season items (such as barbecue and beach gear), Carlomagno says. For the best aesthetics and to keep things viewable, use the same clear bins for everything. Tozzi says see-through bins with everything labeled work well. Pare down, Carlomagno says, and move seldom-used items to the garage or attic.

4. Dining Room Disarray
Problem: The dining room gets drafted for homework or other projects (taxes, crafts, paperwork) and stays messy, Carlomagno says.

Solutions: Use nice-looking bins or baskets, one project per container, so you can put it all away nicely when the project isn’t in progress. Choose your storage based on your décor, Carlomagno says.

5. Kitchen Litter
Problem: Plastic containers filled with leftovers multiply, and people tend to overbuy items such as potato chips, with everything ending up stacked in the refrigerator, pantry or on the countertop, Tozzi says. Also if the kitchen is an entry point, backpacks and jackets litter the room.

Solutions: Evaluate leftover containers and purge. Toss expired pantry foods. When shopping—especially at wholesale clubs—Tozzi says to ask yourself, “What’s more important: feeling comfortable in my home or saving 50 cents?” To boost storage, consider in-cabinet rollouts.

Provide hooks and racks for backpacks and coats.

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enlarge | Store detergents, dryer sheets and other laundry products on a narrow rolling cart instead of cluttering the tops of the washer and dryer.
6. Overloaded Laundries
Problem: These rooms usually lack space to hold accumulations of laundry, a situation compounded if you let it stack up. Detergents, dryer sheets and other products sit atop the dryer.

Solutions: For families with kids, throw in a load in the morning and fold it at night, Tozzi recommends. Empty-nesters probably can stay caught up with one load during the week and a couple on weekends. Use wall space above the appliances for two shelves. Add a 6-to-8-inch-wide rolling storage cart between the washer and dryer.

Clear Forecast
To eliminate clutter and keep it at bay:

• Ellen Tozzi of Natural Order in Hamilton ( suggests three methods for evaluating what to keep: Use a “joy scale” in which 1 is least loved and 5 is most-loved; keep only the 4s and 5s. Also ask yourself, “If I didn’t already own this, would I buy it?” or “What’s the worst that will happen if I get rid of this?”

• Innovate to reduce clutter, says Mary Carlomagno of Order in New Providence ( For instance, in the family room, buy ottomans with storage (for remote controls, Wii gear, etc.). Instead of a traditional end table, use a bookcase. Place bookshelves for shoe storage in closets and in or near entryways.

• To counter sentimentality, take a picture of the item—Grandma’s punch-bowl set, for example—and give the item to a relative, Tozzi says. “I also tell people not to feel guilty about giving away something they received as a gift,” a reassurance that can be liberating.

• If clutter is out of hand, clear it in stages. Carlomagno recommends doing one room per weekend. Tozzi’s technique: Do no more than a four-hour session, possibly beginning with something easy—a medicine cabinet, tossing expired drugs—to jump-start your momentum. Then put another four hours on your calendar; writing it down makes it more likely that you’ll honor the commitment.

• For daily clear-aways, set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes, Tozzi says. “The countdown of the clock motivates you. When the timer goes off, you can stop or keep going.” Remind yourself that staying decluttered during the week frees up your weekends for fun, Carlomagno says.

• If you’re overwhelmed, consider hiring a professional organizer. The National Association of Professional Organizers ( offers referrals.

Next Stop
Making money or making a difference with your purged items?
Mary Carlomagno of Order ( likes to give away or sell via:
• for furniture.
• EBay for high-end designer goods.
• Local Yahoo groups and Facebook groups.
• Consignment shops.
• Lupus Foundation, Vietnam Veterans of American and Big Brothers Big Sisters, which will pick up and give you a tax deduction.
• Local churches; you drop off; eligible for a tax deduction.

Mary Vinnedge tries to fight clutter a little each day, but her desk is a mess. Contact her at or