7 Small Tasks for New Year’s Decluttering and Organizing

If decluttering and organizing is on your New Year’s resolutions list, you might start visualizing your goal by saving photos of your favorite organized spaces to a Houzz ideabook. But at some point, you’ve got to go from dreaming to taking action. As a professional organizer, I recommend that you begin with tasks that take only an hour or two to complete.

Tackling smaller areas of your home can give you a sense of accomplishment that motivates you to continue organizing. Here are seven often-neglected areas that can be great places to start. Depending on the time you have, you may be able to get through several of these tasks in January.

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1. Organize the Linen Closet

Linen closets can easily become disorganized, cluttered and overstuffed. Sometimes it may even become hard to close the door. The new year is a great time for a fresh start in this area.

  • Towels. Towels should be washed once or twice a week to maintain freshness and eliminate bacteria. I suggest keeping two to three bath towels per household member so you have a backup on wash day. If you have more towels than you truly need, consider getting rid of any that are faded, stained or frayed. A local animal shelter will probably be happy to receive them.
  • Sheets. Two sets of sheets per bed should generally be sufficient. If you use a duvet cover without a top sheet, there’s no reason to hang on to unused top sheets. Donate those that are in good shape.
  • Blankets. I recommend not letting the linen closet become a catchall for blankets you never use. Small fleece blankets commonly given as promotional items might be stashed and never looked at again. Consider parting with these and any other unused quilts, throws or comforters.

Once you’ve pared down your supply, I suggest labeling shelves to identify which linens belong where. You might use categories such as “master bedroom sheets,” “twin bed sheets” and “guest room sheets.” Alternatively, if your budget allows, you might consider purchasing containers to store bed and bath linens. Label your containers and store sets together: A queen-size top sheet, fitted sheet and matching pillowcases should go in the same bin to make it easy to find the whole set.

Margot Hartford Photography
2. Clean Out the Coat Closet

A coat closet is valuable real estate that not everyone has the good fortune to possess. However, it can become a disorganized mess if not attended to periodically. Now might be a good time for a quick purging and organizing session.

When working with clients, I recommend they pull everything out of the closet and place coats, jackets and accessories on a clean table or other work surface. My clients are often surprised by how much a small space can hold!

  • Outerwear. Since this category of clothing tends not to be sentimental, it’s often easy to donate items you no longer use. If you happen to be saving outgrown jackets for a younger sibling, consider storing them away from this prime spot. Likewise, consider storing seasonal items like ski jackets with ski equipment.

You might find jackets and coats that were mistakenly left at your home after a party. In the future, return them in a timely fashion so they won’t continue to crowd your coat closet.

  • Accessories. Gloves, hats and scarves can usually be sorted quickly. Donate those you no longer use. Toss old gloves or mittens that are missing their mate. It might make sense to store rarely worn sentimental clothing such as logo hats and scarves — perhaps from your college, vacation or favorite sports team — in another part of the house.
  • Shoes. These have a way of piling up. Toss overly worn shoes and those without a mate. Consider donating outgrown children’s shoes that are still in good shape. It might be best to store athletic shoes and cleats in the garage or other storage area so they don’t give your closet an unpleasant odor. I recommend storing special-occasion shoes on the top shelf of your bedroom closet.
  • Random items. Now is the time to return random items stashed in the coat closet to their proper homes. Before entertaining, some of my clients throw clutter from counters and tabletops into boxes that they stash in the back of the coat closet. If you have such boxes, commit to sorting through them. You may discover a lost treasure buried there.

When returning coats and jackets to the closet, you might organize them by category (all raincoats together, for instance). Another option is to group coats and jackets according to their owner. You might want to invest in an over-the-door organizer to hold accessories. These can be great for storing gloves, hats and scarves.

Also consider giving yourself a deadline to get any donations out of the house so they don’t end up back in the closet.

Work with a professional organizer near you

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3. Declutter Under the Kitchen Sink

Since the area under the kitchen sink is small, it can usually be transformed in less than an hour. Start by pulling out all the contents and placing it on a counter or table. Then wipe the interior of the cabinet clean with warm, soapy water.

Next address your undersink products. Consider consolidating duplicates. For example, two half-used containers of dishwasher pods might be consolidated into one. (Take care not to mix products, as cleaning agents containing ammonia and bleach create toxic fumes if combined.)

Toss any products that have dried out or are no longer needed. People sometimes collect free samples of dishwasher soap or other cleaning products and then never use them. Consider getting rid of such samples or at least using them in the coming weeks so you don’t end up storing them indefinitely.

Wipe off remaining products with warm, soapy water. I suggest corralling supplies in plastic storage caddies to help the space under the sink stay neat. If you don’t want to purchase new caddies, you may be able to repurpose containers you already own.

Group similar products: dishwashing products in a single container, cleaning supplies in another. If you need more storage, you might consider purchasing an organizer that attaches to the cabinet door.

Find storage products in the Houzz Shop

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4. Purge the Freezer

Many people clean out their refrigerator on a regular basis yet don’t address the freezer.

Begin by removing all of the contents. Wipe down the freezer with warm, soapy water.

Consider tossing foods that have been in the freezer for many months. It’s safe to freeze food indefinitely at 0° F but, according to the FDA, the food’s quality decreases the longer it’s frozen. Tenderness, flavor, aroma, juiciness and color can all be affected. The quality of ground beef declines in three to four months, for example, while chicken pieces will last for nine months, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The quality of soups and stews starts to degrade in two to three months.

If you don’t want to throw food away, you might instead eat it now before the quality deteriorates further. Also pitch foods that haven’t been properly wrapped and have freezer burn or are covered in ice crystals.

Farm Fresh Therapy
5. Clean Out the Kitchen Junk Drawer

Often my clients have one or more junk drawers in the kitchen. These might contain pens, receipts, hair ties, screwdrivers, flashlights, power cords, earbuds, lip balm, old sunglasses, packing tape, old cell phones and a multitude of other random items. It’s often difficult to find anything in them because they’re so messy.

I suggest limiting your kitchen junk to just one drawer, and try to limit its contents to things you use every day.

To organize this area, I recommend first removing everything from the drawer. Toss anything broken or unusable, such as dried-out pens. Toss or file old receipts. Consider donating unused items that still have life in them, such as old sunglasses. Remove the SIM cards from old cellphones and recycle the phones at a local electronic-waste-disposal site.

Then return the items you want to keep — but not in the junk drawer — to their proper homes: tools to the toolbox, hair ties to the bathroom drawer.

For the items that will remain in the junk drawer, consider purchasing organizers or repurposing small containers to keep the drawer from becoming chaotic. Use these containers to store everyday items such as earbuds, phone chargers, pens, tape and scissors.

Since a junk drawer has the tendency to become a dumping ground, spend a few minutes each month removing things that don’t belong there and returning them to their proper homes.

Lori Dennis, Inc.
6. Refold the Contents of your Sock and Underwear Drawer

Underwear and sock drawers can easily become a tangled web. The trick to corralling socks and lingerie is to break a large drawer into smaller sections and group similar items within each.

I recommend purchasing inexpensive drawer organizers. Collapsable cloth boxes or plastic containers are a good choice, or you can repurpose shoe or photo boxes. Spring-loaded plastic drawer dividers are another option.

To begin the organizing process, I recommend removing the contents of the drawer. Toss socks without a mate as well as anything else that has reached the end of its functional life.

I have a large drawer, so I divided it into five sections: bras, underwear, athletic socks, dress socks and tights. The boxes I purchased happen to fit perfectly in my drawer. If you can’t find a good fit for yours, consider spring-loaded dividers, which can be adjusted to fit most drawers.

You can fold bras and arrange them vertically within one box so that you can easily find the one you want. I recommend folding underwear neatly in another box and tights in a third. For socks, organizer Marie Kondo recommends folding them and storing vertically. If this doesn’t work for you, opt for the old-fashioned method of rolling each pair in a ball. Consider storing athletic socks in a separate container from dress socks.

I’ve found that my underwear and sock drawer has stayed neat and organized since I purchased drawer organizers. It’s easy to maintain and I don’t have to spend time each month tidying it.

Find clothing storage products

NEAT Method
7. Organize Your Bathroom Drawer

Like any drawer that holds small items, the bathroom drawer can quickly become a jumbled mess without the use of drawer organizers. Fortunately, these are available in many shapes and sizes. Some people like individual clear plastic containers that fit products such as toothpaste, dental floss and razors.

I recommend that you measure your bathroom drawer before you purchase to ensure the correct fit. If you buy different sizes, they fit like a puzzle in the drawer, so be careful when measuring. It may be more economical to purchase one large organizer that’s divided into sections.

For this room, I do recommend purchasing organizers rather than repurposing existing containers. Bathroom drawers are shallow, and organizers also need to be able to stand up to moisture, so if you intend to repurpose containers, keep this in mind.

As with the previous tasks, begin by emptying and wiping out the drawer. Toss anything that’s dried out or unusable. Make room in your organizers for daily items like toothpaste, floss, razors, moisturizer and sunscreen. Create a space for cosmetics you use often. If you own a lot of makeup, you may want to store the less frequently used items in a container under the sink.

SHED Architecture & Design
Once you’ve completed these seven tasks, give yourself a small reward. If you’re motivated to continue decluttering your home, you might even consider seven slightly larger tasks to focus on next month.

Jeanne Taylor

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