The Latest in Clutter Control


No matter how streamlined your life is clutter tends to build up overtime. Luckily, there are lots of resources to help the overwhelmed homeowner get out from under the detritus of daily living; companies design organizational systems of every shape and size, for any room in the house, from the bedroom to the garage to the wine cellar. Here, we offer advice from the experts on how to organize your home’s most common trouble spots and keep them clutter-free.

In the Bedroom Large, spacious master bedroom suites—including bedroom, bath and walk-in closet—are among the most sought-after features in the home. With the downturn in the economy, however, investing in new construction for the master bedroom suite has become a less viable alternative—and that goes for the closet too. “Lately we’ve been doing room conversions, taking a lot of small, existing rooms either near the master bedroom or adjacent to it and turning them into dressing rooms,” says Randall Fry of California Closets. “We’ll put floor-to-ceiling closet systems in and they then become big walk-in closets.”

When working around existing spaces, Closet Factory principal Denny Stotlemyer uses all angles. “We just did a closet with four different ceiling heights,” he says. “We created multiple-height units so as to utilize all the space.” He adds, “We’ve done closets with 12-foot ceilings; we install rods on pivots so you can pull them down when you need them. The rods are hydraulic, so they pull back up on their own—which works well for anyone who is disabled.”

To help clients get started on any organizational project, Stotlemyer recommends that they find additional space in which to store seasonal and infrequently used items. In deciding what to get rid of, the rule of thumb in the clothes closet is: Store the stuff you haven’t worn for a year, space permitting. If you haven’t worn an item for two years, throw it out or donate it. “Closet Factory will come in and design the space for what you have, with a little room for growth,” Stotlemyer says.

According to Fry, there’s a trend afoot towards “whole-house conversions,” in which clients request a house-wide overhaul all at once. “People are realizing that clutter is not just in closets,” Fry says. “There’s nothing wrong with getting rid of old stuff. Periodically we all have to clear out the old to make room for the new.”

Office Space at Home

The newest trend in home offices is the change from paper files over to digital, which eliminates about 75 percent of the paper stored in the average home office. “I encourage people to scan papers like old tax returns and store them digitally,” Stotlemyer says. “They can always print them out if necessary. You need to hang onto that stuff, but how often do you have to get to it?” The same goes for old newspapers and magazines: Scan them and throw them away, says Stotlemyer.

As a result of the disappearing paper trail, home offices no longer require the space they once did for big, deep file- drawers. In addition, Fry says, flat-screen monitors are changing existing organization systems. “You don’t need a whole room anymore for a home office, you just need a wall,” he explains. “The trend now is towards work stations—a printer, a scanner, and more and more often, a laptop. That’s all you need.”

As for remaining papers and electronics, Denny Stotlemyer suggests concealing as much of it as possible. “One of the things we do is find out how the space will be used and measure the computer equipment so it can be stored inside cabinets,” he says. “You want to be able to slide the equipment out and find spaces for office supplies.”

When a situation is truly overwhelming anywhere in the house, both experts recommend calling in a professional organizer. The Closet Factory works with the National Organization of Personal Organizers (NAPO), offering clients a four-hour consultation with an organizer. “Before you can do anything else,” Randall Fry advises, “the first step is to lighten the load.”

Garage Makeover

The typical garage is home to a wild assortment of stuff, from sports equipment and gardening supplies to power tools and toxic chemicals. No wonder homeowners are turning to elaborate organizational and storage systems to keep up with the chaos. “Most residential garages are basically raw, unfinished spaces without any structure,” says Peter Belman of Rockville, Maryland-based organizational systems company GarageTek. “They are disorganized and can be dangerous. Our systems are all about taming the garage.”

According to Belman, the first priority is to get things off the floor. GarageTek does this by installing a patented surface called a TekPanel on all the walls. Designed with horizontal grooves all over it from which to hang moveable shelving, hooks and baskets, this wall surface makes it possible to clear the floor for things that really belong on it—such as the family cars or extra refrigerators or freezers. GarageTek also installs workbenches and tool areas. “All the systems are customized to fit the individual space,” Belman says. “We come out and take measurements, assess your needs, then design a computerized layout of the garage.”

The company also offers special flooring to cover the cold concrete surface found in most garages. “We learned the hard way that epoxies don’t work on concrete over time,” Belman says. “We now use polypropylene tiles, which aren’t porous so they stay cleaner.” The tiles come in bold colors and designs that complement the bright white wall panels. “The goal,” Belman adds, “is to make the garage a bright, cheerful place that’s safe for everyone to be in.”