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9 Tips for Organizing Your Home During COVID-19

With so much time spent indoors, many of us have fought off boredom by cleaning out and organizing our closets, garages, attics and basements.

“Now is the perfect time since folks are already at home and have time…two of the biggest excuses for not organizing have just been removed,” professional organizer Andrew Mellen said in a recent article.

Organizing during this time may also fill more than just a need to have something to do, according to Samantha Blumenthal, spokesperson for online clothing consignment shop thredUP. “During these uncertain times, cleaning and organizing your home can provide a sense of order and control over your environment,” she told HuffPost.com.

If you’re using this time at home to get organized, here are 9 tips to help conquer your clutter.

1. Start in one place.
If you have several areas in your home you want to organize, start with just one. Decide which area gives you the most headache, or which one guests to your home would most easily see. Select one area to organize and stick to it. Organization attempts often fail because the task of cleaning up an entire house seems overwhelming and we give up. When you complete one area, give yourself a pat on the back. Then move on to the next one.

2. Arrange items according to how often they’re used.
Keep items you use every day in plain sight, or at least at eye level. Make the things you use daily the easiest to get to, and keep a step stool handy to set aside those you use once in a while to a higher spot. Things you use once or twice a year should require a ladder, and are ideal for attics or high shelves in the garage. This allows the things you use most often to be easy to find, and the ones you don’t use regularly will stay organized until you need them.

3. Learn to make quick decisions and stick to them.
Here’s a good rule of thumb if you’re trying to decide whether an item should stay or go. If at least one of the following statements is TRUE, then it’s a keeper. If not, the item needs to go.

I’ve used it within the year. That’s enough time to have gone through all four seasons and special occasions. If one year seems harsh to you, use the two-year rule. If you haven’t used something in two years, you’re likely not going to. Get rid of it.

I need it or I love it. If you don’t need or love something, there’s no real reason to hang on to it. Resolve to fill your space only with things that you use, or that give you pleasure or celebrate your life/family. No one can appreciate something that’s crammed in the back of a closet. If it’s worth holding on to, frame or display it.

4. Don’t buy storage containers until you’ve purged.
“When people want to get organized, the first thing they usually do is run out and buy storage supplies,” says Julie Isaacs, a professional organizer and founder of Uncluttered Home. “But that’s actually backwards.” The point, she explains, “is to evaluate why you have so much to begin with—not find new ways to house your stuff. You won’t have any idea of what you really need in terms of containers or shelving until you’ve purged.”

While deciding what to keep and what to toss, Isaacs recommends the “80/20 rule.” “It’s the theory that most of us only use 20 percent of what we have. “That’s a good starting point to realizing you are surrounded by a lot of things you probably don’t need,” she says.

When you are ready to purchase storage containers, remember the three rules of organization: visibility, accessibility and flexibility. Choose containers that are either transparent or that you can easily label to help quickly identify the contents and save time.

5. Eliminate clutter “hot spots.”
Flat surfaces like the dining room table and kitchen counters tend to accumulate piles faster than any other spot in the house. Once you’ve gone through the stack of papers or clutter on these areas, instead of leaving it bare to just accumulate another pile, physically block off the surface. For instance, add a flower arrangement or centerpiece to a dining or kitchen table, and set out placemats. By doing so, Isaacs says, “you’re sending the message that the space is no longer a dumping zone.”

6. Let your space dictate what you keep, not the other way around.
Instead of trying to make room for items like collectibles, memorabilia and craft supplies, try a different approach. Assign an area for these, for instance, two shelves in a cabinet or three bins in the garage. Let the designated area’s size dictate how much of these items you keep. What doesn’t fit, discard or donate.

7. Take inventory.
Take a look at your stuff and where it’s stored. Ask yourself, does it belong here? If not, where would make better sense to keep it? For instance, your son’s lacrosse stick and gloves in the hallway closet would make more sense in the garage or mudroom. That professional-grade mixer that you keep in the basement closet, would make more sense to be in the kitchen. When it’s time to tackle that area, incorporate these items in your new storage plan. You’ll have more room for items in the appropriate areas once you’ve removed items that don’t belong there.

8. Look for wasted space.
If you need more storage space, think creatively about additional areas that you can put to work. For instance, you can buy or make over-the-door shelves, organizers that hang on the backs of doors, rolling bins that fit between your washer and dryer, and plastic or cloth bins that fit under beds. These areas are valuable storage spots in your home that are often overlooked.

9. Divide the space.
By adding additional shelves to a single shelf, or by using small containers that stack on top of each other, you can divide the vertical space and make efficient use of the area you have to work with. By dividing the space, you also eliminate the possibility of stacking tall piles of clothing, papers or other items that are inclined to topple over.

Now what do I do with my stuff?
So now that you’ve organized and cleared out clutter, what to do with all of the stuff you want to get rid of given that donation centers and thrift shops are shut down temporarily? COVID-19 social distancing measures have brought mandatory closures of nonessential businesses. As a result, most charities and thrift stores are closed for shopping and are not accepting drop-off donations or making scheduled pick-ups.

However, before you toss reusable items in the trash to clutter up a landfill, there are some other avenues to consider.

One idea is to sell your items online. Look up your items and see if they are market worthy. You may be surprised at the value of your old stuff! You’ll get rid of things you don’t want, someone else can enjoy them, and you’ll make some extra money. Books, board games, puzzles, video games/consoles, workout videos, craft supplies, exercise equipment, running shoes…these are all selling well right now.

Some online resale sites to check out: eBay, Poshmark, Etsy, Mercari, TheRealReal (good for designer purses, high-end clothing items, etc.) and DePop. If you have designer home items, art and accessories, Sotheby’s Home is holding virtual appointments for consignments. At thredUP, which accepts labels ranging from designer to Target, closet clean-out bags are still accepted by mail. Although, you should expect longer processing times due to volume. And, if you’re clearing out for peace of mind rather than to make extra money, you can order a thredUP donation bag, which allows you to turn clothes into cash for charities like Feeding America.

Another idea is to sell locally on sites like Facebook Marketplace and LetGo. You can either ship the items, or do a contactless pick-up; buyer pays electronically through online payment processors like PayPal or Venmo, then you let the buyer know you’ve left the items in a designated area for pick-up, like your front porch or back door. It’s recommended that you follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for how to stay healthy and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while buying and selling.

Lastly, see if you can pay it forward. You may have friends and family that need or could benefit from the things you no longer like, wear or use. This is especially true during this time when people can’t go to malls or shop as freely as they normally would. Maybe your daughter has grown out of her size eight jeans, and her friend the next street over is now wearing that size. Or your son no longer wants to play baseball, and your neighbor’s grandson needs a new bat and glove. Reach out to those who live locally and ask if they could use any of the items. You’ll get rid of your clutter, and make someone’s day in the process.

While it may be a while before thrift stores reopen, keep in mind there will be a need for clothing, accessories and home goods in the future. Don’t let this stall your organization efforts. You’ll feel better when your home and closets are free from clutter, and contain only those things you need, love and use.

Resources: The Container Store, Woman’s Day, HuffPost.com, Today.com, Goodwill.com, Facebook, Christopher Lowell, ThredUp Inc., Uncluttered Home, eBay.com, Revelist