It’s finally starting to warm up here in Nashville, and we’re grateful that spring seems to be on its way. The blue skies and warm breezes often provide inspiration for unloading the excess “stuff “ that has gathered over the winter. I thought we could talk about the possibility that you might just be ready for a big organizing project.

You’re done messing around with the odd drawer or shelf. You’re feeling strong, the organizing fever has taken hold, and you’ve had enough of the clutter and not being able to find things. Or maybe you’ve got a deadline coming up, something that’s inspiring you to be ready. Maybe the in-laws are coming to visit for a month, or maybe there’s an upcoming audit or move in your future. Where will you begin, the garage or attic? The kitchen? Home office?

What steps do you need to take to prepare, and what tools do you need to “dive in” on the big job?  Based upon experience with a variety of clients and projects, here’s my two cents (or nine, as the case may be):

1.  Choose the right amount of time, and set the right expectations. It didn’t take two hours for your space to become disorganized, so don’t expect to get it all Real Simple-worthy in two hours. I usually tell people to calendar a weekend or a few days off to get a big project completed correctly. A good rule is to estimate how long you think it will take, and then double that time. If you finish faster, great!  Take those extra hours to relax and enjoy the space.

2.  Choose the right environment. There’s a reason we have “Spring Cleaning” as opposed to “Winter Cleaning” – the weather is usually good for being comfortable, opening the windows, and taking the necessary trips in and out. A 101-degree day in July is probably not best (nor safe) for working in an attic or garage, so be smart about picking your time.

3.  Think about getting the right kind of assistance. The project goes much faster with extra sets of hands, but be sure you choose your helper(s) carefully. For example, kids can be great assistants in a neutral spot like the garage, but other times they can completely sabotage a project (like in their own rooms!). A trusted friend can be wonderful, unless you get to chatting so much you don’t get down to business. It might be a job for a professional organizer – someone who can look at things objectively, offer expert advice, keep you on task and cheerlead you though the boring parts. Which leads me to…

4.  Plan a budget. Are you thinking of hiring a professional organizer?  Do you want to have a contractor do a makeover of your master bedroom closet?  Even if you’re great at do-it-yourself projects you will need to think about the materials you’ll need and plan accordingly.

5.  Make space to sort. You can’t purge or make decisions about what you can’t see, so you need to have room to spread everything out. Make peace with the fact that you will make a big mess before you clean up the big mess.

6. Have what you need on hand. Having to stop and go get trash bags or a Sharpie will goof up your organizing rhythm. Keep some water (or coffee!) close by. Gather some boxes or bags for sorting items into what you need to keep vs. what you need to get rid of. That being said …

7.  DON’T go shopping for storage items before you’ve sorted. Many a time I have worked with a client and we’ve ended up with a huge pile of plastic bins or filing supplies that were not needed.

Create neat configurations of the items you’ve sorted (like with like) and take time to assess what kind of storage will work best. Do you want it to be attractive, or just functional?  Could you go “shopping in your own home” for storage solutions and save yourself some money?  Do you already have some pretty baskets or boxes you could repurpose?  And if you do want to purchase some new storage, remember –  measure twice, buy once.

8.  Call ahead to arrange for pickup of donation items. You’ll be tired when you’re done, and it’s nice to not have to think about driving a carload of stuff somewhere. It’s also not great to still be looking at said carload of stuff two weeks after you’ve finished up!  Check out Donation Town to find a listing of charities that will pick up. You can even schedule the time via the website.
9.  Keep your eye on the prize. Your motivation will no doubt wane (especially when you uncover the fourth box of old VHS tapes), so plan some breaks and remind yourself of how much better you’re going to feel when the job is done. The best results come from unwavering commitment to the task at hand.

So dive on in – the water feels fine!