A Plan To Declutter

A How-To Guide to clean up and get organized.

Marie Kondo, a 34-year-old Japanese organization guru and author of the bestseller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” took the world by storm last year with her Netflix show, “Tidying up with Marie Kondo.”

Using what she has dubbed the KonMari Method, Kondo emphasizes surrounding yourself only with items that “spark joy” in your home, and discarding the items that don’t.

Professional local organizers abide by similar guidelines to achieve an organized life. Here are their tips for sparking joy.


Getting Started

Lawrenceville resident Nikki Orsborn, the owner of NEAT Method Pittsburgh, has helped clients from bachelors to big families organize their homes and lives. According to Orsborn, the first step is committing yourself to the tidying process.

“I’m a big fan of small rewards,” Orsborn says. “Take it one step at a time and set small, incremental goals for yourself.”

Working step-by-step is effective even in extreme cases. Vickie Dellaquila, owner of Pittsburgh-based Organization Rules, has been a professional organizer for more than 15 years. She has helped families struggling with hoarding, chronic disorganization and inability to declutter due to serious illness. Dellaquila says that, along with a commitment to tidying, it’s important to define a vision and goal.

“Define what [decluttering] means. Does that mean I want to go through my whole house? Does it mean I want to go through my bedroom? My closet? My time?” Dellaquila says. “It’s making sure you want to do that, and have the energy to do it … It’s about really scheduling time with yourself, to make a commitment to do something.”


The Big Sort

The experts agree the next step in the process is sorting by category. Dellaquila calls this the “big sort.”

“Basically you’re putting all financial items together. All healthcare items together. Big categories,” she says. “You have to make a big mess before you get there.”

Amelia Meena, owner of New York-based Apple Shine, Organization+Design, which partners with The Container Store to create custom design solutions, recommends clients start organizing in one of three areas — the hardest, the easiest or the biggest impact.

She defines the hardest as the most tasking area, physically or emotionally, to organize, such as going through a loved one’s former belongings or decluttering a place that has become so disorganized you don’t know where to start.

The easiest is an area, such as your desk or your closet, where you know what needs to be done to organize it, the issue is finding the time to do it.

The biggest impact involves organizing an area that would benefit you or your entire household. Examples include a kitchen counter or table that has become a dumping ground or a playroom strewn with toys.

“People need to recognize organization is not a cookie-cutter task,” Meena says. “You have to approach it based on your views and life habits and needs and how you or your family reacts to that.”


A popular category Orsborn and Dellaquila recommend going through is clothes. Kondo’s show takes place in California, where there are less seasonal changes, and thus less seasonal clothes than in Pittsburgh. Orsborn says utilizing weather-tight bins in garages and basements can expand storage options for Pittsburghers living in tight spaces.

“You really only have to do the swap every six months, so it actually works kind of well to help purge things too,” Orsborn says. “You’re not going to want to put back things that no longer fit or aren’t your style or you know you haven’t worn for a long time.”

For those without basements or garages, the same effect can be achieved by employing high shelves and space under the bed. Orsborn also recommends swapping out mismatched hangers for slim velvet-lined hangers to create more horizontal space.

Meena particularly loves Our Clear storage boxes. Sold at The Container Store, the transparent, stackable boxes come in a variety of sizes (Meena’s favorite is the “Deep Sweater” size) — and they’re cheap. Depending on size, the price per box ranges from $1.99 to $23.99.

“The height and weight of them fit on almost all shelving and they’re just super affordable,” Meena says.

Orsborn also suggests organizing everything “like with like” — tank tops with tank tops, dresses with dresses or color coding items. To create cohesiveness in dressers and double-rod closets, shirts should go on the top and pants should go on the bottom. Orsborn likes using so-called file folding, which allows clothes to “stand on end” so everything is able to been seen in a drawer.


Letting GoAnother one of the more disorganized categories is paper and bills, according to Dellaquila. Similarly to the “big sort,” Dellaquila recommends categorizing bills and papers into like types. From there, she utilizes an accountant or IRS.gov, which offers advice on how long certain bills and documents should be kept and when they’re safe to throw away.

“You can go through and start sorting that financial category, down into bank statements, retirement information, savings, anything like that,” Dellaquila says. “Then you can decide, based on either IRS.gov … or if you have somebody who does your taxes, asking them … how much to keep of those items.”

For miscellaneous items, Orsborn says using labeled bins of consistent textures or color palettes can be a motivator. She adds that form — in addition to function — is an important aspect of organization. This is especially helpful in the kitchen with hard-to-organize snacks.

“Finding something that looks good and clean and fits, and then adding that label, it almost makes it so you kind of … can’t mess it up,” Orsborn says. “If you have all of these categories set, and they’re labeled, you’re going to want to put the chips in the snacks and chip bin, and you’re going to want to put the granola bars with the granola bars.”

Sentimental items can be particularly difficult to store and even harder to let go of. For mementos, Orsborn recommends digitizing the item through photography, scrapbooking or even designating a beautiful box for particularly special mementos.

For anything that people are having particular trouble letting go of, Orsborn uses a technique with her phone calendar.

“If you’re not quite ready to let it go, you’re still a little bit weary that you might use it, you do put it in a box, and you set an alarm on your phone … for three months down the line,” Orsborn says. “Then if you haven’t noticed the need for it in that time period, then you know, OK, I can let it go.”


Key For Keeping It Decluttered

Maintenance of organizational habits are an imperative part of keeping a home decluttered, according to Dellaquila. She recommends creating a quarterly or biannual schedule for sorting and purging.

“You have to maintain it. So you’ve got to go in every few months. I think it’s good to either do it quarterly or maybe every six months, and let go of some of these things that are older,” she says.

As a mom with a young daughter, Orsborn advocates for getting family members, especially young children, involved with the organizing process to build habits and maintain order.

“Getting other members of the family to participate can help … because it can be super overwhelming and if you don’t do it properly … it’s not sustainable,” Orsborn says. “I definitely think that starting kids off at a young age and letting them see an organize space can only be helpful for the future.”

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