For me, the term “spring cleaning” is a misnomer because my urge to purge and scrub always comes in the fall.
Maybe it’s a hibernation instinct — I want to make a cozy nest for my family to weather the winter. Or maybe it’s a subconscious attempt to reduce the stress in our house before the hectic holiday season hits.
Whatever the reason, right around now my spare time finds me cleaning out closets, filling bags with items destined for Goodwill and looking around the house for projects that need to be completed (of which there’s never a shortage).
As a design junkie, part of my fall cleaning routine inevitably involves editing. Cleaning a shelf and moving a vase to another shelf. Then changing my mind and moving it back. Shifting a painting from the living room to the foyer. Finding a new home for that big blue bowl that’s rested on surfaces ranging from the kitchen counter to the coffee table to the top of the fridge.
In other words, I’m easily distracted.
Professional organizer Sarah Lewis has great advice for the likes of me: “Spend 30 minutes, and jump in.”
“Jump in, and just start de-cluttering,” said Lewis, owner of Organized by Sarah. “If it’s hanging over your head and you keep putting it off and putting it off, schedule 30 minutes on your calendar and just do it.”
It’s a simple idea, and I’ve generally found that simple ideas are the best ones. I can spare 30 minutes on any given day. And in that half-hour I might have spent surfing Facebook or watching TV, I can toss out the junk in our junk drawer, eliminate the shred pile or sort through my mound of clipped coupons that date back (embarrassingly) to 2011.
By giving myself that 30-minute deadline, I have a goal. A challenge. I’m less likely to get distracted. And I can start tackling Lewis’ second rule, which is to purge.
“That’s the first part of getting organized, and it’s also the hardest part,” she said. “You’ve got to purge what you aren’t using. A lot of people don’t want to part with something because it’s sentimental or because they may need it. You’ve got to start thinking, ‘What’s it worth to you?’ Is it worth paying for storage?”
That’s another compelling argument, though I’ll admit I’m already in Lewis’ camp on this issue. I purge stuff we don’t use on a regular basis.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is by William Morris, a 19th century artist, writer and leader of the English Arts & Crafts movement: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
Try telling that to a 7-year-old boy, though. And to said boy’s father, for that matter. Luckily, Lewis had some advice for me in that arena too.
“I tell a lot of clients if they’re unsure whether they’re willing to part with something, pack it up,” she said. “Put it in the attic or the closet for six months. If you haven’t missed it, it may be a good time to consider getting rid of it. I especially tell that to clients about children’s toys. If you put it up and they haven’t asked for it, they won’t miss it.”
I’ve learned the hard way to sneak stuff out of the house when my husband and son aren’t looking. I say this unapologetically (unless either of them reads this, in which case I’m very sorry).
But even though I can’t claim to be a natural organizer, I do like to keep my house as clutter-free as I can. Especially this time of year, when we’re hosting guests, trimming trees and preparing for the arrival of a certain sleigh bearing gifts.
And this leads to my favorite piece of advice Lewis had to offer: Make room for holiday gifts before they arrive.
“I encourage clients when kids get a little bit older to have them get involved,” Lewis said. “To pick out toys they no longer play with that they’ve outgrown and let them help pick a charity and donate the toys. It’s a great thing to do around the holidays. Make room for the new toys before Christmas and Hanukkah.”
An important life lesson and a little fall cleaning in one fell swoop? Point me to the closet.
This article was written by Stacey Wiedower who is a Memphis-based freelance interior design writer.