Does Your Home Never Feel Organized Enough for Guests?

Regina Leeds, author of "The 8 Minute Organizer" has tips on how to eliminate, categorize and organize so your home inspires you--and is ready for company!

Regina Leeds, professional organizer and author of The 8 Minute Organizer: Easy Solutions To Simplify Your Life In Your Spare Time has advice on how to make your home guest-ready and how to start creating a home that inspires you.
For many of us, our homes are cluttered and not at all what we wish they would be. How do we begin to get organized when we have no time?

Regina Leeds: Make it a game. Think of it as a creative endeavor.  You've got to shake up how you view the process otherwise it will be one more thing on your already overwhelming 'To Do' list. 

 Remember too that the whole of any project is overwhelming. You need to break your project down into manageable chunks. I may not be able to organize my entire home in one weekend. But in one weekend I could spend a few minutes creating a plan of attack that would give me an organized home in six months or whatever time frame works for you. Is there a way to know when the clutter has grown too much and needs to go?

Too much clutter is like too much noise.  You can't think clearly.  

You lose time searching for items. You waste money buying things you already have. 

And you certainly expend energy sifting through ‘debris’ when that same energy could be applied to creative/productive endeavors that move your life forward.

Sit quietly one day and review the previous day.  Pretend you are a cultural anthropologist. Leave all judgment out of it.  

  • Did you waste time searching for items like your keys, glasses and the remote?
  • Did you pay a bill late because you 'forgot' it was due?
  • Were you in the middle of a recipe when you it dawned on you that you were out of a key ingredient?
  • Do you leap over stacks of books to get into your perpetually unmade bed at night?  

These are some of the tell tale signs that clutter is taking over! How can one create a home that is not only beautiful, but functional so that it serves to inspire and energize?

First you have to define your terms.  What will ‘a beautiful home’ look like to you? And what does ‘function’ mean to you? For example I like to alphabetize my spices and yet many of my clients think that’s ‘too much.’  There is no one size fits all when it comes to getting organized.  That’s what makes it so creative! You need to be specific about what you wish to create and how much you are willing to learn/change in the process.

I can say: “I’m going to learn how to play the piano.” But what is my goal?  Do I want to play chopsticks at parties or make it to Carnegie Hall?  Will I practice every day or ‘when the mood strikes.’ Getting organized is a skill like learning a musical instrument or a sport.  Think in those terms and you will have your own personal  definition of success.

If you don't have immediate answers try creating a Dream Board. I did that years ago and discovered that I was drawn to the exotic colors and look of Moroccan and Indian design.  I was raised with parents who loved early American Colonial furniture.  I knew I didn’t want to live with that as an adult but I wasn’t sure what style reflected who I am.  My quest was a journey of discovery and it brought me to a place I never imagined.

It's really fun to create one of these boards as part of a group endeavor so invite friends to join you.  If everyone brings at least 10 magazines you'll have lots of images to choose from. You'll need glue, poster board and your imagination.

You might also be interested in the 'Spiritual design' elements from the East namely Feng Shui (China), Vastu Shastra (India) and Wabi Sabi (Japan).  It can be fun to incorporate elements that bless your home and build positive energy. You don’t have to adopt a new philosophy but you might incorporate some elements. How do the three steps of eliminate, categorize and organize, serve to change the energy in a home?

The first three years that I worked with people (I just celebrated my 23rd year as an organizer) I would not be able to sleep the night before I met a new client.  I was convinced that someone would ask me to work on a project I had no clue how to organize.  Around the three-year mark I realized that all organizing was the same!  What changed were the items I had in my hands. But whether it was paper, clothing, tools or toys I followed the same three steps.  And they were so reliable I called them The Magic Formula.

First you eliminate what you don’t need, don’t want, aren’t going to use, doesn’t fit etc.  This is a very creative step.  You might also be moving items to a different room.  My favorite example is the coffee cups just about everyone leaves in the bedroom! You may be recycling to a blue can or you may be calling a friend or relative who wants the item. By the time you are done the space feels lighter.  You can now begin to see the trees in the forest.

As you eliminate you come across items you wish to keep.  And those get put together. Categories make you powerful as they give you immediate inventory control.  They also make you more creative because you are reminded of all the parts of the whole you are examining.  For example let’s say you are doing a remodel.  Instead of having all the folders with information related to the remodel in alphabetical order in your general file system, why not create a section just for the remodel and put all the related files in alphabetical order in that area.  Now if you need to find some information from your contractor you may be reminded that you also have to contact a plumber.  You get the idea.

I suggest organizing as the last step because by then you have your categories and you have whittled down to exactly what you need.  I can go to the store and score a deal on 100 hangars before I begin organizing my closet but if I only need 35 I’ve wasted my money and now I have the ‘new clutter” of excess hangars I have no use for. What should be done if a person never feel their home looks good enough to have guests over?

Regina: Ask a close friend or relative whom you respect and trust to come over and give you an honest opinion.  It's either an organizing issue or one of self-esteem. The former requires the willingness to learn the skill of organizing and the latter may take some therapy. What advice do you have for pet owners who have the added challenge of fur and accidents by pets who don't always use the litter box?

Regina: I'm a devoted animal person.  My Golden Retrievers are gone now and I miss the water splashed on the floor, the tumbleweeds of hair in the bathrooms and cookie crumbs in the carpet. It's all a sign of life to me so perhaps I'm not the right person to respond.  LOL.  Seriously when you have animals you have to be a bit more vigilant than those without furry companions.  You have to wipe, vacuum and sweep more often.  Keep your critters regularly brushed and bathed.  You may want to look into furniture that’s stain resistant. If you can’t sit down without being covered in animal fur you know you need to be a wee bit more vigilant. What is a life tweak and can you share a few with us? How does making your bed every morning and emptying all trash cans daily begin to tweak a life?

A Life Tweak is an action that’s easy to do and yet makes a huge impact on the environment.  They help build your self-esteem especially if getting organized is new to you or seems difficult. If you repeat the action for 21 consecutive days you’ll have a new habit.  You’ll also be influencing those with whom you live by the power of your example.  Here are my all time favorites:

  • Make your bed every day
  • Check all trash cans daily and empty when necessary
  • Place your keys (glasses or remote!) in the same spot every day.
  • Never let dirty dishes sit in the sink or clean ones languish on the drain board or in the dishwasher
  • Complete every action you start.  If you take 20 garments out of the closet in your quest to get dressed, 19 have to be re-gung or re-folded before you leave for the day. If you open a cupboard and take out food items or cooking tools, they need to be put away when you’re done.  This is a critical step because once completion becomes an integral part of your life you’ll find you complete everything you start including projects!

A home with dishes piled high, a perpetually unmade bed and house keys constantly lost in the sofa will have an unsettled feeling.  Your best efforts to live a more productive life will always be thwarted by a physical space that causes you to lose time and experience emotional upset.  Life Tweaks enable you to change your experience and your environment gradually.  I wouldn’t tackle more than two at a time.  Build on your successes! What are some ways we can turn a messy bedroom into a sanctuary?

The simplest answer is exactly what your mother told you to do when you were a teenager: pick up after yourself! We all love Downton Abby, don’t we?  Do you see any piles strewn about?  Part of what we relate to is the pristine, nurturing environment ~ and yes, I know we’d all love a house full of servants! LOL. When you are organized you are your own staff!

  • Check the room to see if it’s time to paint or purchase new linens.
  • Is the room comfortable?  Do you have a chair, a bookcase and adequate lighting?  What about your nightstands?
  • Do you have uniform hangars or are you using the wire ones the dry cleaner sent home with your orders? You really need to recycle those and remove the dry cleaner plastic.

The beauty of the 8-Minute Organizer is that you can work on your bedroom in short time intervals.  Clothing is a very thorny topic for most women and this method of attack helps diffuse the emotional charge. How can one create a nurturing kitchen in eight minutes?

Regina: You can’t do it in eight minutes! But you CAN do it in a series of 8-minute work sessions.

  • Clean out what you aren’t using and donate it to a charity or perhaps the family member who is taking over for the big holiday meals.
  • Create zones in your kitchen and keep cooking, baking and prep separate.
  • Store items you rarely use in the dining room, the garage or on the highest shelves. A surgeon takes the tools he needs into surgery.  You can be just as critical in your organizing. Great examples of rarely used items are the holiday turkey roasting pan and grandma’s ‘good china.’
  • If you have the space put a small lamp on the counter.  The overhead lights tend to be harsh especially for those late night snacks. Strive to make every area of your home inviting and remember the power of lighting. If you enjoy a spot you will be more likely to organize it and keep it in order.

You’ll find once you get the hang of it that your clothing, your kitchen, your bathroom and your paper piles are all the same. Remember: the items change not the way you deal with them! Paper clutter threatens to overrun many homes. How can we cope fix this problem permanently? It seems to never end.

Regina: In truth it never does! But the secrets to paper order are two-fold: make a decision about the fate of each piece of paper the very second you touch it and set up a file system so there’s a home for the papers you need to keep. It takes some time and focus and a few dollars for supplies to organize your files but the amount of time and energy you ultimately save is immeasurable.

Don’t hesitate to contact catalogue companies and request that your name be removed from their lists.  If you do like all the ones you receive be sure you keep only the newest edition. Keep them in a container or basket where they can stand up.  You’ll be able to flip through them more easily.

Check your home office for obsolete items.  If you have 3 printers, an old fax machine and an ancient computer or cell phone be sure and move them to an electronic graveyard. (Your local city chamber of commerce will be able to direct you to the correct outlet.  Be sure you remove all personal information from electronic equipment before you drop it off.)

In Closing: Getting organized can appear daunting and mystifying until you dive in with a professional organizer like myself or a good book like The 8-Minute Organizer. Everyone can learn! Yes, some of us were born with a natural proclivity for organizing but that doesn’t mean it’s a private club.  That would be akin to limiting piano lessons to those who can play by ear. I like to think of organizing a space as the place we practice an invaluable life skill.  Because what we really want is to understand how to organize our lives, our goals, our projects and our very thoughts.  It all begins with one 8-minute session in your closet, kitchen or home office. What have you got to lose except maybe chaos, upset and piles?

About the Author: Regina Leeds, named best organizer by Los Angeles magazine, has been a professional organizer for more than twenty years. She is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller One Year to an Organized Life. She lives in Toluca Lake, California.