It's back-to-school season, which brings out the organizing bug in pretty much everyone I know. It's difficult not to feel overcome with twinges of excitement and satisfaction while picking out clean and new notebooks and perfectly pointed crayons.
"This is it. This is the year where I get my act together, stay focused, and succeed. This is going to be the best year, ever!" We've all said these words, but this year it is different. It's different because we're going to PROM.
Don't worry, I'm not suggesting that you don a strapless turquoise gown covered in sequins. Today's PROM is not an overpriced school dance but an acronym for an efficient way to declutter: Purge, Remove, Organize, Maintain. After you have established the "Daily 7 for a Highly Successful Household," it's time to tackle the hidden junk lurking in the closets, garages, attics, dresser drawers, and under beds.
Give me a P!
The "P" in PROM is for purge. Grab a garbage can or large plastic sack and get moving. When faced with a decluttering challenge, enter a room and quickly toss all items that are obviously garbage. Move as fast as you can, and try not to overthink your decisions. One Barbie shoe? Toss it. Last year's invite to your third cousin's fourth son's baptism party that you didn't go to but the picture on the card reminds you of when your now 9-year-old used to listen? Toss it. Once you have filled your bin or sack, put the lid on or tie it up.
The next pass through the room (or drawer, box, bookshelf, etc.) will not be so easy. With another box or bin, assess the remaining items. Try to keep this simple.
- If you don't need it, toss it.
- If you can't remember what it is, toss it.
- If you don't know the last time you used it, but you think you might need it someday in the future--but you don't know when that will be--toss it.
Release the clutter and reclaim your home. The less "stuff" you have, the less you have to clean.
Give Me an R!
The "R" in PROM stands for "remove." Get rid of your purged things quickly. Do not have a second look at your purged items, and most certainly, don't let the bags of purged items sit around long enough for children to rifle through and discover lost treasure. Take the garbage out to the outdoor can or take a trip to the dump. Donate still-useful items to charity. There are numerous charities listed in your local phone book that would greatly benefit from your cast-offs. Many will come to your home for a pickup, and they all offer tax deduction receipts.
If you and your family would rather hold a garage sale, schedule it as soon as possible. Holding on to a pile of purged stuff to sell is almost as bad as if you never purged in the first place. Sell quickly (or check out craigslist.com and freecycle.org) and arrange for a charity pickup to collect all remaining items.
Give Me an O!
"O" is for "organize." Take the time to organize the remaining items in your newly decluttered space. Put like items together and use baskets or plastic bins to contain small items. Storage containers do not need to be expensive or matching. Depending on space, consider installing extra shelves, hooks, or a pegboard to help maintain order.
If you find that you continue to have more items than available storage space, purge again with a more discerning eye. I know it's tough to get rid of things, but remember that it's the people that count in your house, not the things. Give Me an M!
The last step is "M", "maintain." Spend time on a daily basis putting things back where they belong. Take a photo of your hard work and hang it in the newly de-cluttered environment to remind children (and spouses!) what the space can and should look like with just a touch of effort. Explain that it is everyone's responsibility, not just yours, to help ensure cleanliness and order.
Give yourself a pat on the back. Your children deserve to live in a de-cluttered, calm, and peaceful home. You deserve it too.
Stephanie O'Dea is the New York Times best-selling author of "Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life."