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Getting Organized in the New Year: A Clutter Fairy Perspective

Baby New Year makes a resolution

How are you doing so far on the New Year’s resolutions? I get the impression that at this time of year, we’re all trying to become better, more-together versions of ourselves. We believe somehow that all we have to do is draw a line in the sand—“starting January 1”—and a better person will emerge all of a sudden. I think that one reason people don’t accomplish their resolutions is that expecting monumental, fundamental changes in yourself just because you’ve started using a new calendar is not a recipe for success.

“Get organized” is a popular New Year’s resolution. Having let their spaces dissolve into disaster areas over the holidays, people wake up with a hangover on January 1, walk around with coffee in hand, and say, “I have GOT to get this place organized!” It’s certainly a laudable goal, but it’s too broad a mandate to be useful as a resolution. The objective doesn’t contain the steps you’ll need to get there.

The best way to accomplish any job is to take it step by step. So if “get organized” is on your list for 2009, I propose that you apply a step-by-step approach. Instead of a New Year’s resolution, how about creating “new month resolutions” this year instead? Break out the steps it’ll take to get your space organized, and set each step as a monthly goal. A month’s worth of organizing is manageable, and more likely to actually get accomplished! Stick to all—or even just most—of your new month resolutions, and by the end of the year, your place will be in great shape. Your resolution to get organized will be achieved.

Want some help breaking it down? Here’s a template you can modify to your specific situation.

The Clutter Fairy’s 2009 New Month Resolutions

  • January: Handle the mail. The most basic headache that afflicts all households is incoming mail. Ignoring it creates piles that multiply every day as the new mail comes. Without systems to handle mail, you’re guaranteed to find yourself buried under piles in short order. Spend January creating and refining your customized process for handling the mail and preventing piles instead of creating them. Then you’ll have no piles to deal with in 2009!
  • February: Clear out the closets. The dead of winter is a perfect time to dig through your closets. You’re looking for those coats, hats and gloves anyway, so why not sort through everything now? Get rid of the clothes that don’t fit or that you haven’t worn during the year, throw out shoes that look the worse for wear, and put things back in an organized way.
  • March: Tackle those paper piles. The tax-filing deadline is six weeks away, so why not spend March sorting out all the paper in your home office (and elsewhere!) so you’ll be ready to prepare your tax return. Go through any neglected stacks of mail and paper around the house, sorting and throwing out as you go. File away what you need to keep, including the items that support your tax return.
  • April: Organize the home office. Since you just finished clearing all the paper piles, the majority of which were probably in your office, wrapping up your home office should be a breeze! Now’s the time to go through the existing files and throw out outdated material, rearrange the desktop and its contents, maybe try a new arrangement of the furniture. Perhaps you need to create a filing system because you don’t have one! Whatever it’ll take to make the office more functional and efficient, that’s your resolution for this month.
  • May: Deal with the garage. Just in time for garage sale season! If you can’t park at least one car in the garage, you have too much stuff in there, and you’re probably just postponing giving it away. Empty out the garage and have a garage sale at the end of the month. This project has the bonus of generating some vacation cash for you.
  • June: Clean up the master bedroom. Where do you spend one third of your life? In your bedroom, of course. You cleaned the closet in February, so now you can tackle the room itself. Consider the amount and size of the furniture compared to the size of the room, and get rid of things that don’t fit the space well. Create a floor plan with space to move around in and a way to contain all the objects that need to be in your inner sanctum.
  • July: Sort out the bathrooms. Tried 42 different hair products during the year? Bathrooms usually have a small amount of storage that’s quickly filled up. Go through all the storage in the bathrooms, sort, purge, and reorganize what you really need to keep. Toiletries are a great donation to homeless shelters and other similar facilities.
  • August: Dive into the kitchen next. You’ve tried another year’s worth of recipes, and it’s time to go through the fridge and pantry again. The only way to know what you have is to organize the cabinets and closets in the kitchen. Now you can finally try those recipes you forgot you bought ingredients for!
  • September: Dump the storage unit. Now that the weather is not so steamy hot, you can get into your storage unit and clear it out! You cleaned up your garage, so maybe you don’t even need a storage unit anymore. Most of that stuff can go away—I promise—and what you want to keep might now fit in the garage. Do yourself a favor—get rid of that monthly fee.
  • October: Organize the decorations. Fall is the season when all the decorating starts up. First Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas—each with its own set of decorations to put up and take down. Since you have to get them out anyway, why not sort, purge, and store them together? Then it will be easy to take down Halloween, store it, and pull out the stuff for Thanksgiving, and so on. Put the decorations in an out-of-the-way place, so when the season is over, they can hide away until next year.
  • November: Prepare the guest/multipurpose room. Guests are coming any day now. This is the perfect time to get into that multipurpose room that’s part guest room and part craft room, or part office and part junk room. Clear out the year’s worth of accumulated stuff and create an inviting space for your guests, with room to hang up or put away clothes and a place to store the luggage.
  • December: Stage the kids’ rooms. The kids are about to get a fresh crop of gifts, so why not make room by getting rid of some old ones? You’ll be just in time to donate items to a Toys-for-Tots campaign. Besides, the kids are out of school for three weeks, so it’s a great time to teach them about being organized, too. What they learn now about getting organized will serve them all their lives.

This article was featured in our January 2009 e-mail newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter, please use the “Subscribe” form, above right.

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