Whether you are drowning in socks, consumed by crafts or just plain paralyzed with clutter, there is hope for home order. Professional organizer Ann Shenk, founder of Simple Spaces in Bay Village, offers tips to address parents’ most common complaints to get all hands on deck and help save our spaces.
Shenk is a member of the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO.net), which has over 3,500 members globally dedicated to helping people and organizations bring order and efficiency to their lives. They meet monthly to share best practices and advance industry research.
A lifelong organizer, she has been sharing her skills professionally for the past 12 years.
As a former teacher with a daughter and a son in college, she has experienced all ages and stages of family organization needs and runs a pretty tight ship when it comes to making sure everything has a place. She has seen the effect COVID-19 has had on home environments. While some families undertook renovations, many collected home school essentials and endless activities to occupy kids, creating chaos.
To help streamline our lives, Shenk addresses seven universal home organization concerns:
1. “There are so many socks!”
Small items can become big annoyances, so she suggests two things: First, wash socks in a mesh bag, so they are all in one place and not filtered through other clothing. Have different color-coded bags for each family member and either store the entire bag in a drawer or have each person dump and sort their own, if they can. For boys, especially, buy the same white short or long socks and dress socks in all the same color and style to simplify sorting. Depending on the size of a dresser, one drawer of socks is enough. Second, put any single socks into a small basket or bag kept near where laundry is done. Every few months, have your family look there, and if they can’t be matched, they are trash.
2. “I hardly wear/use it, but hate to throw it away.”
Shenk’s philosophy is “less is more.”
“We have too much and nowhere to put it,” she says. Fight the urge to buy more fancy baskets, and purge instead. For clothing you are unsure about, place the hangers backwards on the rod. If you see one hanging that way for a while, it is not being worn.
If an item is gently used and a brand name, you can sell it, but that takes time and effort. Shenk warns, “if you have time and enjoy that, great. Otherwise, it’s not worth the time and a couple bucks here and there.”
Consider Goodwill, Salvation Army, AMVETS and local donation centers. “Many clients want to keep the right thing for the right person, but the level of anxiety seeing it sitting there knowing ‘I have to do this,’ you get to a point when you need to get it off your plate,” she explains. “Our good intentions are giving us anxiety, and we become paralyzed because there are so many errands to run and things to do with the piles that nothing gets done. You are so overwhelmed. Isn’t it better to donate to a good cause so you no longer have the disorder and stress in your home? Start with a clean slate.”
3. “I don’t know where to start.”
Shenk tells clients, “show me the parts of the house you are avoiding because it causes anxiety, and asks, ‘Where are you the most?’ Do you spend the most time in the kitchen, for example?” Work to improve those areas. She suggests not starting with offices, because paperwork goes slowly, and you feel like you aren’t making any progress. Rather, start with smaller spaces, like a pantry or cupboard. Once one space looks really good, “it gets contagious.” Shenk also suggests organizing everything so you can see it. Don’t put items behind things in closets. Remember the adage, “out of sight, out of mind.” If you can’t see it, then it will not be found and used, and you will wind up buying more of what you already have.
Also, tackle clothes before toys, so the clothes are ready for the school year, then handle toys while kids are at school and not home. Rearrange the play room and regularly rotate toys by age and stage to keep them fresh, and more easily identify what kids still play with versus what they do not, to make room for new items before holidays and birthdays. Some parents, as a rule, have children donate one old toy for every new one they receive. When organizing, separate items by category (games from toys, instruments, etc.) Also think outside the box. Flat, clear ornament containers can be great for storing small dolls under beds, and clear craft or makeup organizers can double as Lego or doll accessory storage, for instance.
4. “I’ll buy it now and can always return it later.”
It can be tempting to buy multiple sizes and colors when you find a good deal on a favorite item, but Shenk warns that sizes and tastes change, and this easily leads to disarray. “Store it at the store,” is a favorite motto. When you need it, go out and buy it then.
5. “How do I best store clothes and shoes and rotate them seasonally?”
So much depends on storage options and space. For children, completely separate school clothes from play clothes, so they are all either folded or hanging together, and you don’t have to think about it in the morning. If you prefer hanging clothes, separate them on different racks, or use color coded-hangers, such as blue for school and green for play. If using shelves or drawers, label each of them. Next, sort by tops and bottoms and type of clothing. Shenk favors using dividers for underwear and socks in drawers.
For seasonal rotation, use clear bins with lids so you can see what is inside. First identify what still fits and works for the coming season, then you know what you need to supplement. Get a label maker or write on stickers, “Mom Winter Clothes,” for example. Craft and hobby stores sell labels in all colors and shapes. If you want to store larger sizes for children to grow into, try to do so sparingly, and label the container with boy or girl and the sizes inside. Large, deep tubs work well for basement or attic storage, and long shallow ones are good for under the bed.
As for footwear, Shenk shares, “If kids get new school and gym shoes, get rid of the old ones rather than stockpiling. If the old shoes are too nice to get rid of, then why are you getting new ones?” (The same goes for backpacks.) She only stores dress shoes in boxes and throws other shoe boxes away. Some people have a place for shoes right by the door in the garage (on a shelf, off the floor) or in a mud room. Have a basket or shelf for each family member.
“My pet peeve is looking for something,” Shenk asserts. “Everyone needs one junk drawer. If it becomes a junk room, get out the black garbage bags.” Some households use two colors to differentiate donations from trash. For seasonal items used regularly, keep a grab-and-go bag ready in the mud room or near the entryway. Have a summer pool bag stocked with towels, sunblock and goggles. In winter, fill bins of hats and gloves labeled for each family member. Where stickers will not adhere, Shenk likes attaching chalkboard tags using twine and white permanent marker, for example.
6. “My kids want me to keep everything they make.”
“I think this is a generational thing – taking kids’ input more,” Shenk says. “Don’t let your kids paralyze you on decisions. It’s your house.” She advises teaching children to let go of things. For example, we shouldn’t keep all our artwork. “They don’t know any difference. If children are young, I would not give them input. You know if it is their favorite dress or Lego set; otherwise, let it go.” Shenk finds crafts often pose issues. “The purpose of a craft is to give you 20 minutes. If they had fun and it gave you time, then make room for the next one.” If new, unused kits or half-finished projects are piling up, do not feel bad giving or throwing them away. Consider this: If someone wanted to finish it, it would already be done.
7. “I don’t know if I want this, and I’m too exhausted to think about it right now.”
It’s normal to think this way. Shenk says guilt is all too common and reminds parents not to be so hard on themselves. “When children are in preschool through, say, third grade, you don’t even know what you want to save yet, and that’s fine. You are in the middle of raising children.” She advises getting a bin for each child. If you think you might want it, put it in there. As time goes by, you will know better and can sift through a pile at a time in front of the TV. “Do you need proof they know their multiplication tables?” she asks. “When my kids were little, I would rotate their artwork in frames, but that changed. Now that my daughter is 21, I ask myself, ‘Is she going to want that?’ Ask yourself, ‘Am I saving this for them or me?’”
Ann Shenk’s Must-Haves for Simple Spaces:
3 Clear containers of various sizes
3 Label-maker or labels and marker
3 Leveled spice racks
3 Garbage bags
Find Simple Spaces on Facebook or Instagram or contact Ann Shenk at 440-915-7535 to schedule a consultation or discuss a project.