We are a nation looking for help with our overabundance of stuff. So what better time than summer to target a few clutter-clogged zones in our homes and organize them?
We've seen more self-help organizing books being written in this category, which became popular in the prosperous 1990s, according to Lauren Nemroff, senior editor of books for Amazon.com. Interest exploded recently with the coverage of hoarders on shows such as Oprah and the steady stream of DIY cable series starring professional organizers.
"The current emphasis on organization and de-cluttering can also be seen as a psychological response to the economic downturn," Nemroff wrote in an e-mail. "Most people are looking to do more with less, and gain a sense of control over their lives and stuff."
To get you jump-started, we spoke to organizers about practical ways to tame three trouble spots in many homes: the junk drawer, kids' school papers and photo storage. Check out their ideas to get motivated so that by summer's end, you will be cleared out, sorted through and in control.
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The junk drawer
PROBLEM: An overstuffed drawer has become a catchall for the small items of life, many of which have no assigned storage places in your home.
EXPERT:Stacey Platt, a New York professional organizer and author of What's a Disorganized Person to Do? (Artisan Books; $16.95).
LET'S FIX IT!: Platt prefers to start an organizing project with a clean slate. She advises you to empty the drawer, turn it upside down and shake out dust, then wipe clean. Invest in small organizing trays to keep things in order.
Then begin your sort-and-toss cycle. Throw out whatever fits the definition of junk: soy sauce packets, grungy plastic forks, inkless pens and ancient crumpled receipts. Put items back where they belong: screws in the toolbox, keys on your key rack, stray change in your wallet.
Platt says "good junk" is whatever you use frequently and need to put your hands on quickly. The junk drawer often includes scissors, a tape measure, tape, sticky notes, a screwdriver, a few rubber bands (not 50), a highlighter and a glue stick.
THREE TIPS: 1 Loose keys are a challenge. If someone gives you a key to their house, bike or boat, put it on a small keychain and label it with the person's name or some other identifying code. Keep all keys together on a rack or in a metal box.
2 Figure out what chargers and cords belong to and put them in small plastic bags marked with their gadget of origin. Stash these in a tech supplies drawer or box.
3 A junk drawer is not a great resting place for batteries. Put all your fresh batteries in a labeled plastic shoe box.
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Kids and paper
PROBLEM: Parents must teach children how to maintain order for themselves. They need to learn how to have a place for everything in their bedroom, desk and backpack.
EXPERT: Sandra Forbes, a professional organizer and mother of seven in suburban Washington. Her firm, Forbes Organizing, advises working moms in home management.
LET'S FIX IT!: A parent needs to work with the child in developing systems that help everyone get out the door on time in the morning and into bed at a decent hour. Some kids need a checklist on the front door of what they need to bring to school every day, from lunch money to band instruments. Some families load backpacks at night and set them by the door or other "launch pad" before bedtime.
Keeping a family binder in your kitchen or on your desk gives a home to all the essential paper that's constantly arriving from teachers, band leaders and coaches. Forbes uses a three-ring binder with tabs for each child. Using clear sleeves, she organized schedules, phone lists and academic and sports calendars. You can use a similar binder for report cards and awards. She purges unneeded papers at the end of the school year and starts over.
THREE TIPS: 1 Keep a bright-colored file labeled "pending" for permission slips and other paperwork that is due in the future.
2 Forbes uses the Microsoft Outlook calendar as a master clearinghouse for family dates. She clicks and drags e-mails into her calendar so all the information she needs on an activity is in the same place.
3 A weekly cleaning by each child of his bedroom floor can turn up missing items. Clean out backpacks, where children tend to stuff old papers and food wrappers.
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PROBLEM: Today's photography, almost exclusively digital, is often stored only on the computer. Many households have not merged shoe boxes of photos with their online photo libraries.
EXPERT: Judy Parkins, owner of Gently Organized in suburban Washington. Her specialty is home filing systems. Recently, Parkins rounded up all her family photos.
LET'S FIX IT!: Parkins began by researching the best way to create a digital archive so all photographs would be accessible to her family. Even though she owns a scanner, she thought it would take too much time to do it herself. She looked into photo-scanning services that would convert her photos into digital files. She chose scanmyphotos.com.
Each scanning service gives instructions for how to send photos to them. Parkins unearthed her photos and set up a workstation to allow her to do a little bit each day. Her 4,300 photos eventually were sent back on two DVDs. (You can also order books of all your photos printed out.) Parkins' original photos were returned.
"I'm so happy to have this done," says Parkins. "My children now have access to them 24-7."
THREE TIPS: 1 Be ruthless when editing. Do not keep blurry photos. Do not keep photos of someone you don't recognize or a vacation you don't remember.
2 Have three backup files: one on DVD or an external hard drive, one on your computer hard drive and one with an online digital sharing service such as Flickr, iPhoto, Picasa or Snapfish.
3 At least once a year, go through new digital photos and delete any duplicates. Add the rest to your online digital sharing service. Parkins uses Flickr Pro.