How to De-Clutter (and Organize) Baby Clothes - Business Cards

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Baby Clothes (see also Children, Closets, Stuffed Animals)

Whenever I think of baby clothes, I think of my client, Sue Ann. Sue Ann had two kids, a dog that wasn’t housebroken, a bird, a husband, and clutter up to her eyebrows. A large part of the clutter stemmed from the baby clothes of the two kids. Sue Ann steadfastly refused to give those clothes up, citing her ongoing energetic efforts to conceive another child to add to the already chaotic clan.

The fly in the ointment was her husband, who would yell from behind the kitchen door, “Sue Ann, get rid of these baby clothes —we are NOT having another baby!” In spite of her husband’s obvious resistance, Sue Ann stubbornly refused to give up the baby clothes, and continues, as far as I know, to try to add to the family, firm in her conviction that those baby clothes will come in handy someday soon.

I’ve worked with more women than I care to count who refuse to part with their children’s baby clothes, even though they know (unlike Sue Ann) that they are not having any more children.

Their kids grow up, get married, go to college, and Mom still has cartons of baby clothes stacked in the back closet, attic, or garage. Only a mother could understand the significance of those clothes, which transcends anything that can be verbalized. Still, I’d like to suggest that to pack and store more than one small carton of any category of items for sentimental reasons is asking for trouble. Baby clothes in boxes that never get seen, appreciated, or used make me pause. I always suggest, very softly, “Mother, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to give most of these to a family that's in need so that their child can enjoy these things today?” Select a few items for mementos, pack them nicely, and give the rest away.

Bags (see also Closets, Shopping Bags)

Some people automatically keep shopping bags, paper bags, and plastic bags. They don’t think about it, they just keep them. Like squirrels, bag keepers stash the bags in any number of places — in the closets, in linen cabinets, under the sink, and next to the refrigerator. Some people even start hanging them on the door knobs of all the doors in the house. The old “I might need it someday” excuse is often called into action here. And the fact is, you really might need one of these bags sometime, maybe even this week. But you are not going to need the twenty-five brown paper bags stuffed between the refrigerator and the wall (along with the dust balls and bugs), and I doubt that you’ll need the twelve shopping bags squashed in the hail closet behind the vacuum cleaner. Bags collect dust and bugs, and unless you are a hermit who never eats or shops, you can easily replace bags you throw away simply by going to the supermarket. So keep ten or twelve bags on hand if you must, but throw the rest away. Now.

Balls (see also Children, Exercise Equipment, Sports Equipment)

Baseballs, beach balls, basketballs, volleyballs, and balls for the cat and dog all seem like fun things to have, but storing them can be tricky. What usually happens is that they roll around the house, yard, car, and garage always in the way, and then either magically disappear or deflate just when you’re about to deliver on your longstanding promise to shoot a few baskets with the kids. A simple solution to the ball problem is to buy a large plastic trash can and put it in the backyard or garage. Henceforth, all balls go in the can when not in use. Keep an air pump nearby for the inevitable flat surprises. Assuming you can train everybody to put the balls into the can, you won’t have to worry about lost balls, or worse, somebody stumbling over a loose ball and breaking his neck or suing your socks off. Play ball!

Baskets (see also Collections)

Baskets are terrific for holding things, so much so that they’re included in the Storage: Clutter Containers section at the back of the book. But if you are a basket junkie, you have probably lost sight of the organizational potential of baskets. Baskets hanging from every ceiling and stacked in every corner may have started out as a good decorative idea, but invariably they become dust and clutter collectors, and you become known as a basket case. Put your baskets to use to hold groups of items and , except for a few decorative baskets, get rid of the rest.

Let baskets do double duty; they can be attractive and functional at the same time. Square or oblong baskets are the best bet since they hold more in less space than do round baskets.

Consider these storage possibilities for your baskets:

• Cosmetics (like lipsticks or brushes)

• Coupons

• Dry cleaning (separate from laundry basket)

• Hair ornaments and pins

• Jewelry

• Laundry

• Magazines and newspapers

• Mail

• Pens and Pencils

• Postcards and greeting cards

• Stuffed animals

• Toys

• Yarn and crochet supplies

Bathroom Clutter (see also Cosmetics)

The bathroom is the nerve center of the average household. And yet, it's often woefully under-equipped to serve the needs of all the people who pass through its portals. If more than two or three people use the same bathroom every day as their launching pad, confusion often reigns as eager participants wait their turn.


You can reorganize your bathroom paraphernalia with the help of a few simple gadgets and techniques:

  • Shampoo Storage — Get a portable shelf that loops over the shower head to hold shampoo supplies. This makes the shampoo easy to find, even with your eyes closed.
  • Rubber Duckie—Use a tray to hold your rubber duckie, soap, and other miscellaneous scrub-a-dub items you want kept near the tub.
  • Junk Drawer—Put divider trays into your bathroom drawers so that you can reasonably divide all of the small items that might otherwise get tangled up into one gigantic mess in the drawer. This is great for bobby pins, manicure equipment, hair accessories, cosmetics, and the toothpaste and /or toothbrushes. Cleaning the drawer becomes a simple matter of lifting the trays out and giving them a quick sudsing from time to time.
  • Round Table—Use Lazy Susan systems to store bottles and jars in the bathroom cabinets. With deep cabinets, it’s almost impossible to reach behind one bottle to get another without experiencing a frustrating collapse of everything. These revolving systems put an end to that frustration.
  • Wet Head—Get a Lucite or plastic hair dryer holder and install it on the bathroom wall or inside your cabinet door. You’ll be able to neatly store the hair dryer when not in use, and you’ll always be able to find it when you need it.

The average family finds it difficult, if not impossible, to store the basic necessities for all of the family members in one bathroom. Rush hour for a typical bathroom on a weekday morning finds everybody lined up with an assortment of critical bathroom gear tucked under their arms — everything from makeup to rubber duckies to hot curlers. Once in the bathroom, each person means to take their clutter back out with them, but somehow that never happens. Left behind are cosmetics, creams, shampoos and conditioners, hot curlers and curling irons, razors, brushes, hairpins, colognes and aftershave potions, and bath toys. Towels and washcloths proliferate, both clean and dirty, and eventually the bathroom becomes a maze for all who enter. Ultimately, making the room efficiently comfortable and finding more space for the grooming essentials can be the key to conquering the clutter and making the bathroom a better place to be.

Since the bathroom often serves as the jumping off spot in the daily effort to just get started, conquering the clutter there can mean a cleaner, faster, and much calmer approach to yet another day.

Batteries (see also Junk Drawer)

I don’t know why we can’t buy one battery at a time, but we can’t. So, if you’re like me, you rip open the package, take out what you need, and drop the rest into the first handy drawer or container. Then, when you need those extra batteries, you can’t find them, so you go out and buy another package and repeat the entire process again. Short of shooting the battery manufacturers, the best solution seems to be to set up a “battery center.” Dump all of your batteries into a container and store them in the refrigerator. The next time you only need one battery, you’ll know where to find the extras, and since they are stored in the refrigerator, you have a better chance of finding one that works.

Books (see also Recipes)

Books can accumulate with frightening results. Bookcases are all too easily overrun, and stacks of books Start forming in cabinets, corners, and closets. Book-aholics very often feel that their book clutter is righteous clutter, indeed, superior clutter. The books add more to their image than to their intellect, however, since it's a rare, rare thing to find someone with hundreds of books who has actually read even a fraction of the books they own.

I used to feel very smug about my books. I had hundreds of books, spilling over (neatly, of course) into bookshelves all over the house. After all, didn’t it prove that I was intelligent and worldly? Weren’t my many interests displayed perfectly to go with the decor? I lived with my books and this smug attitude until the day I priced a move from the east coast to the west coast. Reality hit me in the head with a thunk that I never forgot. It was going to cost a small fortune to move those books and , faced with economic choices, I did the only sensible thing. I left 80 percent of the books behind; the other 20 percent made the move by fourth class mail.

Today I have one large bookcase and one small bookcase. The small bookcase holds my first editions, and the big bookcase holds everything else. When the large bookcase gets full, I bite the bullet and give some away before I allow myself to buy any more. This way, I keep my book habit under control.

Finally, with books, the Wait and Save Rule is a good one. Wait until the book comes out in paperback—you’ll save money and space. Chances are your reading pile is backed up from here to eternity anyway, so waiting a little longer won’t hurt. (See Clutter Checklist)


As you go through your books to weed out the ones you can live without, consider these thoughts about the following categories of books:

  • Children’s Books—If your kids have read these books and they don’t care what happens to them, why should you? Give them to a charity that helps families so some other kids can enjoy them.
  • Cookbooks—If you regularly use more than five recipes in each of your cookbooks, raise your hand You get to keep those books. If not, copy the few recipes you do use and a few more you might try someday and give the books away. We all know you can cook.
  • How-To Books — If you read the how-to book and feel you need to refer back to it for reminder information or for motivation, then by all means keep it on the shelf. If you read the book and it made no sense or seemed silly, get rid of it. If you just plain forgot why you bought it in the first place, why keep it?
  • Phone Books—I’m a big believer in information by phone, so if you like to while away the day by letting your fingers do the walking, fine. Just do it in the most recent phone book for your region. Throw the rest of those door-stoppers away.
  • Reference Books — If you ever refer to them, reference books are great, and should be kept. If, on the other hand, you’re keeping a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica just because it looks good, give yourself a break. Get rid of it, and use the shelf space for something else that contributes to your life.
  • Textbooks—Get rid of these. No ifs, ands, or buts. They’re outdated, you don’t use them, and you never will.
  • Unread Books — Eventually, you’ll need to face up to your inventory of unread books—those books that you bought or received as a gift—you intend to read “someday soon.” A professional organizer I know faced up to her unread books when a friend of hers demanded to know if she had read all of these books on her shelves. “Well, er, no,” mumbled my friend the organizer, who right then and there decided to do something about those unread books. She went through all of her books and marked the unread books with little red stick-on dots. What she did not do was read the unread books. Normally a logical person, it did not occur to her then that the red dot system was not getting the books read. The folly of it all presented itself to her one day when, in reading a newsletter, she saw a bit of news she had no knowledge about. Calling the editor (who, as it happens, was me) she demanded to know why she hadn’t been told about this ongoing news before. I pointed out that it had been reported in the previous newsletter, and , upon digesting this news, she realized that she must have “red-dotted” the previous newsletter, and therefore missed the initial reporting of the news altogether. Last I heard, she still had a lot of red-dotted books, but at least now she is laughing about the dots. I think she should read the books before she buys any more, or give them away. That’s what I think you should do too.
  • Yearbooks—These are my favorites, particularly the ones from high school. Really, how often do you refer to that photo of yourself, resplendent in cat-eye glasses and beehive hair, smiling goofily next to the class clown? Or is it those words of wisdom penned inside the book that keeps you from parting with these annual records of your anxious adolescence, such as “To Pat— You’re a real sweet girl”? On the one hand, I think these books serve a legitimate nostalgic purpose—if you were the class president or the head cheerleader. But if you are like most people, high school left a lot to be desired, so, all things considered, why keep memories in your den or living room of what was essentially a lackluster experience?

Boxes (see also Holiday Decorations, Packing Materials)

Lots of people keep boxes because they might move someday. Or, they keep boxes that computer and stereo equipment were packed in—they’ll definitely need that when they move! If you are one of these people, I’d like you to measure the square footage that these boxes occupy. Then, I’d like you to figure out the cost per square foot per year to store these empty boxes (refer back to page 10 if you need help with this). I’ll bet you a doughnut that if you ever do move, it’ll be as cheap to buy new boxes from the movers. Shoot, you’ll probably save money. So get rid of those empty taking-up expensive space boxes. Oh, keep a couple if it’ll make you feel better, but dump the rest. You don’t want to move anyway.

The few boxes you keep can be stored inside of each other, or flattened out and stacked. Boxes that can be broken down in this matter and then reassembled either by fitting the notches together, folding them together, or taping them together are the best to keep because they take up the least amount of storage space, yet provide the same function when it comes time to use them.

Brochures (see also Desk Files and Filing Cabinets, Mail, Papers)

Brochures can represent dreams or nightmares. Brochures for that cruise you can’t afford, and brochures pleading for help for the mountain goats in Timbuktu tend to make your paper clutter Picturesque, if nothing else. If you really think you’ll have the money for that cruise soon, keep the brochure in a box or file it along with other travel stuff (that you probably haven’t looked at since you started clipping it). Brochures asking for your money or your vote should be read, paid (put them in your TO PAY basket — see Mail and Papers — so you can pay it when you next pay bills), and /or immediately discarded.

Bulletin Boards (see also Announcements, Business Cards, Calendars, Cards, Notes, Phone Numbers, Postcards)

If you really want to clutter up your life, get a bulletin board. Then do what everyone else does with it; start sticking things up there that you either “need” or like to look at. Initially you tell yourself that you will stick (and stick is the key word here) critical I-need-to- be-reminded-of-this items on the board. This visual tickler system evaporates as soon as you start automatically impaling postcards from Florida, cartoons that are politically significant to your life and times, telephone numbers, and assorted schedules on the board. You develop a shortage of tacks and pushpins, and before you know what happened, the board is loaded with pieces of paper, one crucified on top of another, making the whole mess a vertical paper burial ground that ultimately leaves you with an obnoxiously nonfunctional eyesore.

The most obvious solution to the problem is to get rid of the thing altogether. If you think about it, you’ll probably admit that what a bulletin board does is postpone the fact that you need to make a decision about a piece of paper. After all, where should you put that postcard and cartoon? The Clutter Checklist provides a few ideas, but for even more information about where to put the paper paraphernalia on your bulletin board, see also Papers, and check all the categories that pertain to the junk on your board. Then put it all somewhere else (your best bet—in the trash can) and take that bulletin board down. You’ve got enough clutter without hanging it on the wall.


If you can’t figure out what to do with the “paperphernalia” hanging on the board now, here’s some suggestions:

  • Postcards (see also Postcards) —Put these in a plastic shoe box and store them with other memorabilia, or better yet, throw them away.
  • Phone Numbers (see also Phone Numbers) —Put these in a file or container of some kind to be later transferred onto a Rolodex.
  • Office Telephone Exchanges — These can be put in a plastic page cover and placed under or near the telephone for quick reference.
  • Schedules—Schedules, including those for sporting events, the theater season, the children’s special events, and upcoming classes should be put in a file marked SCHEDULES. Put the file in the back of, or near, your desk calendar.
  • Tickets — Put these in your wallet so that when you go to the event you have them, and don’t have to spend a frantic twenty minutes before you rush out the door trying to remember where you put them.

Business Cards (see also Bulletin Boards, Papers, Phone Numbers)

People hand out business cards willy-nilly, and accept them with about as much abandon. Back in the office, you start to move them from place to place in a half-hearted attempt to figure out what to actually do with them. Whatever you do, don't , I repeat, don't , put them in those plastic business card holders that hold about a zillion cards. This looks like a good system until you actually need a phone number or name from one of the business cards. Only then do you realize that you have to thumb through all of the cards to get to the one you want, because there is no way to efficiently alphabetize the cards as they are put into the plastic sleeves. You’ll be better off if you put the cards with your phone numbers and add them to your Rolodex when you can. Some cards can be trimmed with scissors along the top or bottom edge and then stapled directly Onto a Rolodex card, saving you the time it would otherwise take to transfer the information. In the end, some cards aren’t worth transferring to the Rolodex. These are the cards you accepted when they were offered because you didn’t want to be rude. Now that nobody is looking, throw those cards away.

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