Decluttering? Top organiser Sarah Reynolds shows you how

Organisation is key in the utility room to keep it from descending into chaos with shoes, laundry, and sports, gardening and DIY equipment.

Now we’re in full flow nesting season, it’s the perfect time to tidy up our domestic eyesores and put plans in place for future easy, stress-free maintenance, writes Carol O’Callaghan.

There are enough stresses in life without fighting with your wardrobe every morning, according to professional organiser Sarah Reynolds, author of Organised: Simple ways to declutter your house, your schedule and your mind (Gill €16.99).

We’ve all been there: A wardrobe collapsing under the weight of clothes and shoes, yet nothing to wear, or we can’t find what we need while trying to get out the door in the morning.

Bookcases and open shelving systems are more of the same; they look fab and work efficiently when organised and styled, but can descend into a disorganised unit you wish had doors to hide it all away.

I enjoy playing house with my own bookcases, except for the bottom shelves of files of household bills, bank statements and other life paperwork, happily out of sight by the careful placing of a sofa.

It took my partiality for books on housekeeping and space planning to prompt a read of Organised and do something meaningful about them.

Professional organiser Sarah Reynolds runs ‘Organised Chaos’, an Irish company which helps individuals and businesses tidy up their homes and premises, here in Ireland and abroad.
Professional organiser Sarah Reynolds runs ‘Organised Chaos’, an Irish company which helps individuals and businesses tidy up their homes and premises, here in Ireland and abroad.

One conversation later with the author, and with the memory of chapter nine — “Flat Surfaces” — taunting me, resolution came quickly and with satisfaction.

Sarah is practical and realistic and not at all scary, so no risk of feeling under pressure to throw out your life with this organiser who trained with America’s queen of tidying up, Julie Morgenstern.

She describes any flat surface, whether it’s a shelf, worktop or window sill, as a magnet for clutter. “They’re the equivalent of junk drawers,” she explains.

“But at least with a drawer you’re not looking at it all the time. They work the same way but full of random bits and pieces you have to rifle through — usually under pressure — in the hope of finding what you’re looking for.”

Her approach to sorting involves three steps: Identifying the problem, the aim, and the method by which it’s tackled.

When it comes specifically to bookcases, she says: “Start by removing the excess and put it in the middle of the room. The bookcase is now back to normal.

“Next step is look at the excess. Is it extra books? If so, you might need bigger bookcases. Are there things like candles and papers, for example? You’ll need to find a home for these or you get rid of them.”

In the kitchen, anyone who has bought into the trend for open shelving to lighten up the oppressive feel of relentless wall cabinets might be starting to see the work involved in maintaining the tidiness level.

“Group things together like crockery for uniformity,” says Sarah. “If you have lots of bottles of oils and spices, give them definition by putting them on a tray or lazy Susan.

"Think about whether the things on display need to be. Open shelving is not your friend if you’re a busy family. You’ll have to tidy it from time to time so you need to make your peace with this or close it in.”

Another shelved area which can descend into chaos is the utility room. “It’s a busy room you’re in and out of several times a day,” says Sarah.

“Think first about the items that need to go in there. The laundry system is the priority: Wash, mid-wash, dry and iron. This is followed by shelving shoes, sports equipment, and gardening and DIY things.

"Ask yourself if DIY and gardening can go into the shed? Can shoes and coats go in the understairs cupboard?

“Remember you don’t need storage containers to get organised. They hold the organisation and streamline it; you have to declutter first and foremost. Don’t buy storage with having a specific purpose in mind.”

Then there are the other flat surfaces we might not have even considered.

“Window sills, the fireplace and the table seem to invite you to put down whatever is in your hand that doesn’t have a particular home,” Sarah adds.

“The first rule of organising is keep your surfaces clear. It’s not always practical but if you have hair bobbles, batteries and random things landing there, you have a clutter issue.

“It’s a balancing act, with the success of organising being willing to let things go. There’s a myth when you tidy, you’ll never have to do it again. You have to do it from time to time but you’ll do it quicker.”

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