It’s been about two months since the influx of holiday gifts arrived at our house. Our car was packed to the gills as we drove home with all the presents, and we even had to leave a few behind at each of the grandparent’s houses. We live in a moderate sized loft for Chicago, but we also have 2 kids and as they get bigger, the toys seem to get larger too. And more elaborate. And have more pieces. Of course we love all our relatives and are appreciative of their generosity but here’s the simple fact: our kids have too much stuff! Do you feel the same way? Have you been able to find places for all the new or move out enough of the old? It can be really difficult to carve out space for all the new toys each winter, not to mention birthdays and such, and the problem is made even more difficult if all this comes about when your space is as disorganized or dysfunctional as mine was!
We have an upstairs area in the loft that is an odd shaped space with a soffit and duct along one wall, prohibiting (at least adults) from standing. I have always envisioned it somehow working as a play area for our kids to do art projects, access their easel, have space to play and read, and keep some of their toys. But somehow since it was built, I was never able to get it organized. I just couldn’t get rid of the piles and make it safe and inviting for the kids. The whole upstairs seemed crowded, jam-packed, and became a sort of dumping ground for things for which we had no place. Until Pooja Gugnani of Organizing With You came to my rescue!
With Ninja-like organizing skills, Pooja had our space whipped into shape in no time. It went from a cluttered, near-useless place to an open, organized room where the kids could see everything they had and could walk around freely between “zones”. Suddenly all the toys had homes. Although I was there and fully part of the process, I still have hardly any idea how she was able to calmly transform the space in 3 hours while I couldn’t make a dent in as many years! I guess it’s just an innate skill since Pooja says that even as a child she was annoyed when friends would “mess up” her categorized and lined-up toys. (In contrast, my mom spent the better part of my years at home grounding me until I cleaned up my room.)
We started out just tackling the disaster head on. She was not interested in my long explanations of what things were or how they ended up up there, she just kept me on task as we separated things into “Keep”, “Donate” or “Trash”, and one more pile for “Belongs somewhere else in the house”. This was hard for me to do quickly but without being the least bit abrasive, Pooja just kept bringing me back to the simplicity of the task. Soon we had the room basically empty and I was able to give part of the floor that hadn’t seen light in way to long a good vacuum or sweep. Ahhh. This process was starting to feel really good.
Next, Pooja talked to me about how she was envisioning putting the space back together. She took my thoughts and opinions on how the kids could use the space into account and we compromised on a few things. It was really nice to feel like I was part of the decision-making but also to know that she had a plan. We put the bigger pieces in place first and when we got them where they felt right, we started filling them with the toys, books and art supplies. Pooja said that containers that are mesh, clear plastic, or can otherwise be seen though are great for storing like items. That way the items are contained but the kids can see what they are looking for. She also turned some of our boxes on their sides to stack things like puzzles and games so that they are contained and have a home, but are easy to take out and put away. She suggests printing out pictures to label what belongs in each container because this, too, helps the kids find what they are looking for and aids in learning to put toys away.
After we were done, Pooja gave me a task list of things to do to follow up and a short list of things to buy to complete the organization project. This helped me stay organized even after she left. Now, after several weeks, the space is still in pretty good shape. Before contacting Organizing With You, I thought working with an organizer was going to mean I would have to go out and purchase all kinds of new gear at the Container Store. That was unappealing to me because not only did I not want to spend too much money, I also wanted to keep the project as green as possible…not send all my current stuff to a landfill! But Pooja gave me a pre-organizing survey to fill out that asked me if I would like to make use of what I already had, and she really did! This made the environmentalist in be happy and it ended up that I already had more containers and bins than we even needed. The items I needed to buy afterward were small things that make the space more functional. I got a splat-mat on sale at Land of Nod to put under the kids’ easel, bought some clear contact paper to laminate our repurposed art table, and handed one of my big old art portfolios down to the children to house their artwork. Pooja said that if you look around your house, you can usually get buy buying little or nothing and still have a great, functional space. I found she was right.
Pooja left me with resources to help continue the process after our time was finished. She gave me a list of web sites and stores she compiled to find organizing products in the future, a sheet explaining her system for sorting, saving and surrendering your children’s artwork, and a great list of where to donate children’s items (see list below). I gave bags of things to others who I knew would use them and since the rest of my items were so random, I delivered 2 big boxes to Goodwill. If you are oragnized (and you should be after this!) you can itemize your donations on forms from most charities and use them for deductions when you file your taxes.
So if you are like me and need help making room for new stuff, or maybe want to get a head start on organizing before Spring is in the air, use the ideas here or check into Organizing With You for more info. Getting rid of the clutter feels so good. It’s easier to see and use what you have, your kids learn how to put their things away, and vacuuming is so much more productive in a room without piles on the floor.
5 Worthwhile Children’s Charities in Chicago –
1) Boys and Girls Clubs
2) Chicago Children’s Charities
1235a N. Clybourn Ave. #163
Chicago, IL 60610
3) St. Jude Children’s Hospital
4) Ronald McDonald House
622 W. Demming Pl.
Chicago, IL 60614
5) Goodwill Drop Off Center
1201 W. Washington Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60607