De-Cluttering Series: Part 1

photo - mcleod

There were a few interesting articles in the New York Times this past weekend. First of all, Durham was written up as one of 41 places to visit in 2011. Great news! As our friend Craig pointed out however, it was right between Kurdistan and Kosovo…huh?

Second, and perhaps more relevant to this blog, is the article Organize This! by Elissa Gootman. The author observes Barbara Reich, a professional organizer, as she helps people weed through belongings deciding what needs to go, what needs to stay, and how to organize whatever is left. Like any profession, there are different types of organizers and they all come with unique personalities and practices. Ms Reich is an organizers’ organizer. She is militant. She pulls no punches. I must admit I was taken aback when I read how, at one point when seeing how a couple had saved notebooks filled with the earliest handwriting of their young son, Reich said “Everybody’s going to learn how to read and write. You don’t need the evidence.”  O-U-C-H!  That said, Ms Reich is very successful and her approach, as evidenced by their own words, is perfect for her clients who are very grateful. Me?  I like to think I have a softer touch. I am neat. I am tidy. I am fairly unsentimental. And yet, I imagine her tearing through my house with a mix of disgust and delight as she came up with a dozen trash bags full of items I am currently certain I can’t live without.  Me:  “But Barbara! My husband scratched our initials in that heart shaped rock!!!”

When I work with clients on organizing, what is foremost in my mind is our human need to nest. I want to walk into a home and know…feel…that someone lives there. At the same time, our houses are influenced by the reality of a consumer culture – the urge to buy. So, there is a tipping point. People call me in when they feel like their stuff is taking over the space and their lives. They don’t know where to start. I know it sounds crazy, but I swear my mouth waters when I see a room so packed you can barely get the door open – let me at it!

When I begin an organizing project with a client, I keep the following two ideas close at hand:

If everything is special, then how can anything truly be special?

There is a psychic weight attached to having too much stuff. If you’ve called me, you’re probably feeling that weight.

So where do we start? As a fun exercise, I thought I would lead you through organizing one room. The room to tackle is (drumroll please) the bathroom. It’s the perfect size (small) and filled with items that make us feel guilty (for spending too much money on them). That said, these items aren’t typically sentimental, and therefore, a bit easier to let go.

Clearing the Clutter:

The bathroom, like the bedroom, should be a sanctuary within your home.

If you want to attack your bathroom, start by clearing the clutter.

Remove everything from the top of the sink vanity. Really, you only need a few small items here: soap, toothbrushes, and a cup. In the winter, possibly some hand cream.

Phew! Now doesn’t that feel better already?

Now, take everything out of your cabinets so you can start with a clean slate.


  • old makeup
  • expired medicines (i.e. cough medicines, allergy pills, ointments)
  • old nail polish
  • old cleaning products
  • Shampoo you don’t like and will never use…no matter how much it costs (storing it but never using it won’t make it any cheaper).
  • Products that made you break-out or otherwise look bad (I will never buy apricot colored lipstick again).


  • Multiple boxes/bags of things like band-aids, cotton balls, q-tips, etc can be consolidated to save space


  • If you have a linen closet, store things that you don’t use every day in order to free up space and make your bathroom more functional. For example: cleaning products, half of the toilet paper (you don’t need 18 rolls at hand), pet products, seasonal supplies (big tubes of sunscreen), hair dye, first aid, travel size toiletries, etc.
  • Speaking of travel size – put a small basket of these necessities in your guest room for visitors.


  • Cosmetic bags (you know, the free ones that come with your favorite makeup purchase?)
  • Hair accessories that no longer suit your length or style
  • Hair appliances that no longer suit your style: curling irons, curlers, flat irons
  • Remember that apricot lipstick? I’ll give it to a friend with the perfect red or blond hair.

Now that you have some room, start putting things away.

Next Week: Ways to organize what’s left over.

You can start by checking out this quick article: 30 Ways to Store More in Your Bath on the Better Homes and Gardens site.

Week Three: Applying a little bit of feng-shui

And if you think you need some help, contact me!

One thought on “De-Cluttering Series: Part 1

  1. Someday I will get Jeff to de-clutter his space. It is a work in progress! I agree with you about the harshness on getting rid of your child’s first handwriting. You don’t need to save all of it but, as a parent these contribute to your memories of your children growing up.

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