At JOYST, we are always trying to clean out our closets, straighten our mud rooms and organize our junk drawers. We contain the excess clothes and boots and office supplies and then try to set up a system to keep these problem areas looking neat and tidy. However, the junks drawers always return to their chaotic states, the closets fill up way too quickly and we can never find matching gloves and sports equipment when we need them. We need help. So we asked our network of friends for advice – who can get us organized? Amanda Sullivan was the name we heard the most often. Sullivan runs The Perfect Daughter: Chaos Control which is a business focused on helping New Yorkers get and stay organized.
Sullivan has a new book out called Organized Enough. The Anti-Perfectionist’s Guide To Getting And Staying Organized. We talked with her about setting up a system to keep things neat, how to organize kids’s toys and clothes and what to do about that dreaded junk drawer once and for all.
How do you define organization?
To me organizing isn’t about looking like a picture in Real Simple, it is about being able to find your keys, never pay late fees and not feel like you have to stay home Saturday to organize. I want people to have good systems so things just run and they don’t have to think about it. Organizing is a means to an end- not the end.
What is your advice for setting up a system to start getting organized?
There are as many systems as people, but you have to ask yourself questions: What am I trying to do here? When do I need to access this? Is it easy to access or is it too complicated? Do I have a reasonable amount of (whatever, camisoles, pencils, mixing bowls) or can I winnow. Start small. Don’t do the whole house. Do the desktop only. Do a single drawer. Be detail oriented and do another one tomorrow.
What are your top three habits for staying organized?
Take inventory. You need to have an inventory of what you have and then not exceed it. Whether it is only having 2 sets of sheets per bed or never having more that 3 boxes of pasta- every area of your home should have an inventory list so that you don’t over buy- but also so you don’t run out.
Less But Better. I want you to buy less stuff, but make it better stuff. If people just worked on that habit, and tried to get away from the quick-cheap-easy they would avoid so many problems with clutter. You don’t need ten pairs of cheap black pants. You just need one or two really good pairs that fit you well.
10 Minute Maintenance. In my book I talk about how you should spend 10 minutes every day on the area that is your weak spot. Whether it is papers, clothes, kids toys, whatever tends to get out of control- lean into organizing them every single day.
What is your advice for moms on keeping their toys, sports equipment and school work organized?
First, try to limit the influx. Just say “No” and ask grandma for tickets to the circus for Christmas. Labeling is great especially for young children, you can build literacy and good habits at the same time! Label bins: Action Figures, Vehicles and so forth. Label clothing shelves and drawers, label binder tabs and file folders. The key to school work and sports equipment is to weed regularly and have a system. It can be files or binders, but it has to be consistent. For sports equipment often some kind of tall canister or a bin can hold a lot. I’m also a fan of hooks inside the closet. Give kids bags for a each sport like swimming or martial arts. Put in their gear and hang the bag up and get it off the floor.
So what should we do with the junk drawer?
Some people think you should be allowed one junk drawer, but it comes down to: Can you find what you need? First you have to take it all out, purge stuff and sort what’s left. Then, even if your categories aren’t exact, make some kind of division: Maybe you have menus or manuals that could be put into a plastic envelope, or maybe tape, twine and rubber bands could be in a shallow box under the category of: “Things that stick things together.” The idea is that when you are looking for something you don’t have to rifle through the whole drawer, just that one section, which may be sort of random, because, hey- it’s your junk drawer, and you know that the Gorilla Glue is in the same jar as the Goo-be-gone.