April 2, 2006

Don't mess around with clutter

Closets, cabinets and drawers are full of things you probably don't need

By T.J. Banes

Admit it. You have threadbare towels in your linen closet.  You can't find a working pen in your junk drawer.  There are eight lipstick tubes in your makeup bag.

Your life is clogged by clutter.

Forget about spring cleaning.  Start small by finding the little nooks and cubbies that can add up to one big headache.  Organize your drawers, closets and cabinets, and then think about washing floors and windows.

"Constant upkeep is a battle, but once you get on the right track, it's so much easier to maintain."  said Ali Northern, a professional organizer and owner of "Contain Yourself!"  She's helped organize various home spaces, from offices to kitchens.

"The first step is to get rid of things that are old or expired.  That frees up space."

Northern, of Martinsville, along with professional organizers Chris Frazier, owner of Focus Forward, and Dana Carney, owner of Organizing Indy Inc., offer advice on tackling some common problem areas in the home.

They all agree that you should start each job with three objectives in mind:  "trash", "donate",  "store."

The following should be organized at least once a year.


Some organizers say there should be no junk drawer in the first place.  They say that every item should have a specific "home."

Problem:  This becomes a repository for miscellaneous items.

Solution:  Each item should have a category, a place to belong.  Batteries should be stored in a separate box:  pencils, pens, tape and scissors should be part of a desk or school supply drawer.

Start by emptying the drawer.  Next, sort the items and limit what will be replaced in the drawer.  Buy an inexpensive organizer that holds such items as paper clips, rubber bands and a roll of stamps.

Tips:  Once you categorize this drawer, refuse to deposit anything in it that does not fit the category.  If it's a drawer for office supplies, don't add a hammer and nails to the mix.

Upkeep:  Creat alternative locations for odds and ends that find their way to the junk drawer.  Design separate storage drawers for kitchen utilities, household tools or office supplies.


This space is typically cramped and should be used to store only items used daily.

Problem:  Excess sheets and towels

Solution:  Choose two sets of sheets for each bed in your home.  Seasonal sheets, such as winter flannels, should be stored elsewhere until they are needed.  The linen closet is not a storage area for cleaning or laundry supplies.  Remove anything that does not pertain to bed and bath.  If you have old towels or linens, give them away.  Threadbare items can be recycled in the garage or laundry area for cleaning the family vehicle or dog.

Tips:  ​Store larger beach towels in a tub with a lid and mark them as part of summer supples.

Upkeep:  When replacing laundered items, ask yourself if that extra towel or washcloth is good enough to offer a houseguest.  If not, throw it away or add it to the ragbag.


Health and safety hinges on well-organized medicine cabinets.

Problem:  Hanging on to unused medicine.

​Solution:  Start by disposing of all outdated prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

Keep only what is absolutely necessary for the well-being of your family.  Divide medicines into four categories:  1)Prescriptions; 2)Allergy; 3)Stomach/antacids; 4)First aid.

Tip:  Make it a practice to throw away medicine bottles immediately when they are emptied

Upkeep:  Buy clear plastic containers to store medicines.  Mark the containers and assess the contents every month.


This are is one of the most frequently used spaces in the home, but is often the most neglected.

Problem:  You can't find an item, so you just buy more.

Solution:  Start by removing everything from the shelves.  Check expiration dates on canned goods and non-perishable items and throw away any items that are stale or outdated.  Sort the remaining items into categories or by meals.  For instance, children's cereals and snacks should be on a lower shelf within easy reach;  soups and sauces may be grouped together with rice and pasta.  Make all items as visible as possible by purchasing shelf risers.  Finally, label the shelves or categories.

Tip:  It's OK to stock up o extra paper goods and sauces, but only purchase what your family will consume in one month.

Upkeep:  Only replenish supplies as needed.  Assess the organization every couple of months to determine if it is working.


Just as your moods change, your color palette changes with each season.  You end up buying five different shades of eye shadow or lipstick.

Problem:  Hanging onto old makeup.

Solution:  Start by throwing away cracked, broken or unwanted products.  Follow the guidelines for shelf life.

Concealer -- up to 12 months.

Powder -- up to two years.

Cream and gel cleansers -- one year.

Eyeliner -- up to three years.

Foundation -- check the ingredients (a water-based foundation will last up to 12 months; oil-based will last up to 18 months).

Lip liner -- up to three years.

Lipstick -- anywhere from one to four years.

Mascara -- four months

Nail polish -- up to 12 months.

Tips:  If a water-based foundation dries out, add a few drops of water and shake it well; to give lipsticks longer life, store them in the refrigerator.

Makeup brushes and sponges should be washed out weekly or discarded monthly to prevent bacteria build-up.

Upkeep:  Purchase a makeup organizer for your drawer or a folding case and keep only what was used in the past three months

--  TJ Banes

Call Star reporter T.J. Banes at (317) 444-6815

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