I know I'm not alone.
Many of us have an area in our homes that is cluttered, messy or just a plain dumping ground for things that don't belong somewhere else.
So let me to explain — and defend — the horribly cluttered and embarrassingly messy craft room in my basement you see in the photos with this story and accompanying video online.
The things I do for my job...
When I spoke with Lynne Poulton, a professional organizer and owner of Wholly Organized who is teaming up with me for this series, I talked about a potential project to use to jump-start this column by giving practical tips. I sheepishly offered my cluttered craft room.
It used to be neat and clean.
About four years ago, I couldn't stand the clutter in our combination computer room (when we used to have a desktop computer on a computer desk instead of a laptop) and craft room. So I spent several days and cleaned it all out, decorated it, and made it somewhere I wanted to be.
But slowly, it became a dumping ground. A place where I'd put “extra” things or things I'd get to later. I would climb over totes to get to what I needed and then quickly leave.
Before Poulton even came over to my house for our one session, she asked me what I wanted out of the room.
I want to banish the dumping ground. I want it to be functional, though I recognize I need to update its purpose. We no longer have a desktop computer and I used to do a lot of scrapbooking in a built-in work area my husband built. I do want to finish a scrapbook for my daughter's upcoming high school graduation.
I have re-purposed an old cabinet into a school-supply area. Both of my kids are in high school, so I no longer need all of the crayons and wide-rule paper, among other elementary-school items. I also do some selling and swapping of things like video games my son no longer uses or books online, so I utilize a printer and postal scale in the room, and use the computer desk as a mailing center. What doesn't sell well then goes to donation.
But that was where I had the biggest “problem.”
Over the years, I have brought home different-sized manila envelopes co-workers or I get in the newsroom so I didn't have to buy any to ship items. But I also was tossing all of the envelopes that came in the mail when I received something at home, including Amazon packages, in a tote “just in case.”
Well, my “just in case” became a problem.
I had one tote on a shelf already filled with envelopes and then parts of other totes and boxes and piles with more envelopes.
Upon seeing pictures and videos of my cluttered room, a few of my co-workers teased that I was a person with a hoarding disorder.
Although Poulton, a licensed social worker, doesn't diagnose, she told me that from what I had shared with her about my envelope-keeping, she was pretty confident that I did not have hoarding disorder. She said she had worked with people with the disorder, and congratulated me that I was making some rules for myself and recognizing that I might be keeping too many envelopes.
“I am not here to tell you what to do,” Poulton told me as we discussed my potential rules. “You are the absolute boss. I'm not saying you have to get rid of anything.”
I told her I knew I had way more envelopes than I would ever need. She suggested collating the envelopes by size and choosing a certain number of each size that were in good shape. We would only keep enough to fit in my dedicated tote.
That was very fair. We spent time together and I spent more time on my own collating all of the envelopes in the room and around the house and recycling a lot of them. Did I say a lot of them? I counted. I recycled 198.
After I established the envelope rule, it has given me permission to take envelopes I receive now and toss them in the recycling. The first time, I still had a pang of guilt that I was recycling a perfectly good envelope, but knew it was a necessity.
Poulton also gave me several great ground rules before she left me to my task of cleaning up. Here are several of her tips:
• Before going out to buy bins, baskets and boxes, consider your goal. You may very well have what you need in your house. You also need to identify what you will keep.
• Gather a few supplies: trash bag, donation bag or box, “lives somewhere else” box, Sharpie markers, painter's tape or post-its for labeling. I also had a recycling bin I filled many times and used totes to collate like items.
• Start small. If you are working on a big project like your basement or kitchen, then pick one area, task or category. Set a timer for 20 minutes. Poulton likes a descending clock app called TimeTimer ($3.99 on iTunes) so it shows you on a clock face how much time you have left. You can also find free other apps for your phone or use the built-in timer or a kitchen timer. When the timer goes off, decide whether you stop or keep going. When you're done with each session, be sure to empty the “lives somewhere else” box and put those items in the right place — or at least the right room.
Being a deadline person, I originally told Poulton I would get the room decluttered and repurposed in a week. She politely told me that was unrealistic, unless I had nothing else to do in life but clean. She was right. While I am trying to schedule some good chunks of time on a weekend, I found it very manageable to give it 20 minutes at a time during weekdays. There were also several days when I didn't go downstairs because I didn't have time and that was OK.
• Establish your rules. Poulton said the process will start to unfold as you work. Are there items that you are no longer using or items better suited for donation? Set your limits on the number of items in a category that you will keep or a number based on the size of a drawer or shelf.
• Post your goals somewhere that you will see them daily. Rewards are a good idea — what will motivate you? If you can't think of anything, then plan to invite some friends over on a certain date and work to that date.
Poulton and I set a goal for me to finish my project within a month. I will follow-up with another column to let you know whether I succeeded. I will post photos on Twitter (@blinfisherABJ) and my Facebook page (search for Betty Lin-Fisher, Akron Beacon Journal) and you can keep me encouraged and share your own progress.
• More tips to succeed: Play music, invite a friend over to help, drink water and get fresh air when getting sluggish.
A final thought: After you finish your project, be realistic that it's not always going to be perfect, said Poulton. The same goes for the rest of your home.
“We don't live in a magazine cover,” she said.
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty
Betty Lin-Fisher: Let's get organized
I know I'm not alone.