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  1. Life & Culture

Expert tips for cleaning and organizing your home during the coronavirus lockdown

From closets and garages to pantries and kids’ rooms, here’s where to start.

Kirsten Fisher found her passion while cleaning her own house.

“I started organizing my own home and realized I was my own target audience,” said the mother of two who owns Imagine Home Organization, a St. Petersburg-based home organization company. She was working full time, raising children and trying to keep her household operating smoothly.

“I was organizing when I had time off and I really loved doing this, and I think it helps people,” said Fisher, who left her job in sports management five years ago to start her own business advising others on how to become better organized.

Along with her team of three other organizers and a couple of independent contractors, Fisher, 42, has been helping clients clean their closets, kitchens and garages as well as unpacking boxes for families when they relocate to the Tampa Bay area. She also designs closet spaces and hires installers when necessary.

During the coronavirus lockdown, Fisher has been organizing areas of her home to better accommodate her sons, who are attending school online. She has recommendations for home classroom setups as well as other organizing projects.

“The processes, no matter what you are organizing, are always the same,” she insisted. “People tend to make the same mistakes — they try to remove the low-hanging fruits without getting to the source of the issue.”

Organizing begins by sorting, she said.

“The key is to find a home for everything in your life.”

Where to begin? Start with a small space, Fisher advises, perhaps a kitchen drawer.

“Just empty that space and sort whatever is in that space into categories,” she said. “If it’s a junk drawer, sort the pencils, staplers, and remove food packets if they are in there. Then decide: Is it still going to live there?”

Fisher points to the example of silverware.

“I’ve never walked into a house where people’s silverware wasn’t organized — the forks, the knives, the spoons are all in their place. That’s because everyone has a silverware tray and everyone knows that’s its home,” she said.

How do you find a home for everything? Fisher said everything needs to go to a place where it’s easy to store when not in use.

“Our primary goal is to remove the stress people feel when they walk into a cluttered house,” she said. “Your home should be your refuge. You should know this is your stressless place.”

But during these uncertain times, she stressed this: “Just take it easy on yourself. I think there’s a tendency for people to want to get their homes perfectly organized. I tell them to have a little bit of grace for yourself in terms of what you can and can’t do right now.”

For Dennis Merritt Jones, a St. Petersburg author, former pastor and retreat leader, decluttering is also a spiritual experience.

“If you look at your clutter, it represents energy that is not moving in your life. If energy is not moving, you are clinging to it and not making room for any energy to come in,” he said.

Clearing your home and donating or recycling goods can lead to improved mindfulness, he said.

He’s offering a virtual seminar on the subject April 27 called “Your (Re) Defining Moments: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be.” For information and registration, go to dennismerrittjones.com.

“What’s going on with people right now is that they are really being forced — not by their own choice — to stop and look in the mirror and redefine a lot of things about who they are, and more importantly why they are, and where they are going next,” he said. “We’re smack dab in the middle collectively of a redefining moment. The universe has put it right in our face to stop, take a break and try to withdraw from the world and take time for ourselves.”

Fisher said her clients experience a similar sense of relief from organizing their surroundings. Her goal is to help them find balance and function in their lives and their possessions. If they aren’t using something now, they probably don’t need it, she said.

During the month of April, Fisher, who usually charges $75 an hour for her services, is offering one free virtual session for anyone interested. For information, go to imaginehomeorganization.com.

Here are some more of her tips.

Closets

When clients tell Fisher they have already sorted their clothes but want her help in decluttering their closets, she asks them to start over. She suggests they begin closet organizing by removing all of their clothes and sorting them by style and color.

“Until you sort them you won’t realize, ‘Oh, I have 12 pairs of black pants,’” she said. “I tell them to pick the ones that fit the best and that you look the best in.” We all need black pants, but not 12 pairs.

“Another good thing is having things around you that make you happy,” she said. “I say hold on to something if you truly love it and don’t hold on to it for guilt.”

That holds true for expensive clothes that you are hesitant to get rid of, even though you don’t wear them anymore.

“I tell clients to think to themselves — if they were in a store today would they stand in line to buy that?”

Fisher also has an answer for clients who are holding on to clothes they think might come back in style.

“If it comes back, by the time it does it won’t be exactly the same,” she said. “And, in terms of sizing, does it make you feel great that there’s a pair of pants in your closet that you can’t fit into?”

Children’s rooms

With children attending virtual school at home, Fisher is getting a lot of questions from parents about organizing work spaces for classes and homework.

“The principles are always the same,” she said. “Find a place for everything, for toys, for books, stuffed animals and everything.”

Whatever a student needs for school or homework needs to be visible.

While laptop computers tend to make their way throughout the house during the day, Fisher said if children know where the school supplies are supposed to land at the end of the day, it helps them stay organized. She suggests setting up spaces where computers and chargers stay put.

“If you have a place where everything goes, it’s just easier to clean up,” she said. “Kids rooms are never going to stay tidy. But the difference between being organized and not organized is that can I go in there and clean it up within 15 minutes.”

Garages

“The number of people who can’t get their car in their garages is crazy,” said Fisher. “You need to take everything out of your garage and sort it into categories. You’ll see that a lot of that stuff is going to go.”

One thing Fisher recommends is using vertical space in your garage.

“Put some shelving in there or tracks with hooks — you can hang up beach chairs, you can hang up bikes,” she said. “The shelving makes things accessible.”

Related: Cleaning out your garage? This company will help move and store your clutter

Pantries

When storing food and appliances, Fisher said her rules are the same: “They need to be easy to put away.”

“When I’m using bins to keep something in — I’m always going to have them be open containers if possible,” she said, adding that she keeps all of the snacks for her children in open bins within their reach. “If it’s too fussy to put away, like an appliance or a closed container, you’re not going to use it."

On that note, Fisher also recommends her clients refrain from buying any containers or fancy storage bins until they have sorted their spaces and know exactly what they need.

Try these ideas, too

Pam Hoepner of Lithia spent 32 years working in libraries and raising three children. A self-motivated organizer, she joined the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals and now offers consultations, virtual organizing and house calls. Her business objective is to “teach others how to gain time, save money, and have peace of mind through becoming organized themselves.”

Some of her favorite organizing tips include:

1. Use the bathroom walls and doors for storage. Hang a shoe organizer over the door or cut it so it can hang on the inside of a vanity door to store toiletries or cleaning supplies. Use a wine rack or basket attached to the wall to store extra towels. Add a high shelf over the bathroom door to store extra supplies in pretty baskets.

2. An over-the-door shoe bag also works well in the pantry to organize small boxes and packets, individual snacks, baby food jars or travel and sippy cups.

3. If you find it hard to downsize your wardrobe, hang all of your clothes in the closet backward. Once you wear an item, hang it the other way. In six months, donate all of the items that are still hanging backward. (She does this twice a year.) To help children manage their own clothes, add a second closet rod to create more hanging space that they can reach. Add pictures of clothing items to dresser drawers for nonreaders.

4. Use an inexpensive set of curtain rings strung on a sturdy hanger to store accessories such as ball caps, scarves, belts or tank tops.

5. Inserting tension rods vertically in a cabinet creates a perfect storage space for baking sheets. They will stay upright and take up less space.

6. Use hooks on the inside of a kitchen cabinet to hang measuring cups and spoons to free up drawer space.

7. Add a pegboard and shelves to garage walls to keep items organized and create more floor space. Add a shelf hung from the ceiling above the garage door to store seasonal items.

8. Use a clothespin to clip a zippered lingerie bag to each child’s laundry basket just for their socks. On wash day, zip up the bag and wash. No more sorting socks.

For more information, go to economicalorganizer.com. Pam Hoepner is also on Pinterest at pinterest.com/econorganizer/ and on Twitter at @EconOrganizer.

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