Tips for picking up, cutting clutter after the holidays


Blogger and columnist Michelle Stephens uses bins, or rather "lots of bins," when storing toys for her kids.

"I try not to worry too much about putting similar toys in bins together," she said. "Kids don't care if all their dolls are in one bin and trucks in another. We aim for off the floor and into bins."

In honor of the new year, the National Association of Professional Organizers declares January "Get Organized Month." The task of straightening up your home can seem daunting when you're up to your neck in new gifts, holiday decorations and a list of resolutions to tackle in 2016. Especially if you're a parent with little ones too busy playing with new toys to take notice of your organizing efforts.

Stephens, who lives in Hinsdale, N.H., tackles the job by encouraging her children to put away toys before taking out other ones.

Any toys that are broken or have missing pieces immediately get removed from Stephens' house, she said. And toys are on a rotating schedule — a box of toys will be removed from the space to make room for new ones before or after birthdays or Christmas.

"In a few months, we will rotate out less-played-with toys from the playroom and rotate in toys that had been stored for the last few months," said Stephens. "Our house is small and the toys are abundant. We approach gift giving with quality over quantity. We try to have our 5-year-old really think about what she is asking for and if it will be fun for a minute or for much longer."

For Stephens, whose blog can be found at, tiny pieces and glitter are the bane of her parenting existence.

When it comes to holiday decorations, professional organizer Julie Ulmer suggests taking a "sincere stock" of what did not go up. Some of what remained in boxes could be hand-me-downs or do not match themes. Reflection can determine whether items can be discarded.

"If you're looking at the box, sensing there are things you didn't put up for a number of years or they make you feel sad or have bad energy or if they're ornaments from a first marriage or former relationship, then identify how many years it's been since you brought these decorations out and what has kept you from putting them up," said Ulmer, who has clients in Columbia County, Rensselaer County, and Albany in New York and Berkshire County, Mass. She has a Facebook page, Minding Your Manor, and a website at

Her four criteria for clients to use when they are considering purging include: Do I use it? Do I need it? Do I want it? Do I love it?

Ulmer suggests people be selective about what they want to pass down to their children or future generations. Rather than getting rid of items not used in years, she said she finds some people buy too many boxes or bins "to simply hold more stuff."

When putting away toys and other electronic products in a closet or basement, Ulmer said batteries should be removed. They can start to leak and corrode, ruining the item altogether.

"One of the things I see frequently is people storing things in basements that are not climate controlled that have a propensity to grow mildew perhaps because it doesn't have great air circulation," said Ulmer, who estimates nine out of 10 basements have some sort of humidity or beginning stages of mold or mildew. "I think it's important to identify what kind of basement you have. If anything down there has been ruined previously or smells musty, that's a very good indicator that's not an appropriate area to store holiday decorations or especially anything fabric or cloth or natural wood products."

Clothing and paperwork are the top two factors contributing to clutter in households, according to Ulmer. Next are books, children's toys and home decorations.

Usually, Ulmer said people want to start organizing in January. Some of the same people begin getting their taxes together, wanting to get off on the right foot in the new year.

"Of course, there are resolutions, but the main thing all clients experience is an overwhelming sort of paralysis. Facing the clutter all by themselves is just too daunting," said Ulmer. "I kind of give them permission to get rid of things that aren't serving them, which I think everyone struggles with nowadays. They just don't know how to get rid of it in a responsible way. They feel bad throwing it in the trash."

Contact Chris Mays at or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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