Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Organization Inspiration

Clearing clutter from your home doesn't mean you have to get rid of everything. Personal collections are what make our homes interesting and uniquely us. Case in point is the kitchen dining area of interior designer Bartley Johnstone's home. She chose to display her collection of vintage pottery in the open shelves of an IKEA cabinet. The shelves form a grid to visually corral pieces, making them appear highly organized. Had they been open shelves without dividers the look would be much less organized.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Weeding Out

Having more than we need, can use, or have room for are all causes of clutter.

I recently started cleaning out some drawers in the guest bedroom of my home and was shocked by how many things were in them that I had forgotten I owned. At first I was excited about it. It was like having new things. There was a set of pencils I had used in architecture school, a box of fancy gold paperclips that had cost me $12, and a set of hand towels I had used on a photo shoot, but that didn't match the style of either of my bathrooms. Each piece triggered a memory that made me want to hang onto them, causing me to think, "I'll need these things some day, so I better keep them." For a few moments I truly thought, "Perhaps I'll have time to sketch," or "I'll use these clips next time I have to send a note to an editor," and--even more far-fetched--"Maybe I'll redo one of my bathrooms and I'll be able to put these hand towels to use."

I stood there for a moment in disbelief. It was like my subconscious was trying to pull a fast one on me, convincing me I needed to hang onto these things, when in reality they were just taking up space and were of no use to me.

The pencils went into a padded envelope addressed to my sister, an art instructor. The hand towels now grace my mother's guest bath. The gold clips? Well, there are five fewer now that I'm using them. They've been moved to a drawer in my office that I could barely close because of its cluttered contents. It really needs to be cleaned out. Maybe next week.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How Queenie Can Help You

One of the best things about my work is that it brings me into contact with creative people and interesting spaces every day. As part of my job I get to go into people’s houses, see how they live, and then style their space so that a photographer can take beautiful pictures of it for a magazine or book. I also write about homes for the magazines you see at your local bookstore or in the checkout line at the grocery store.

Starting next week I’m going to be posting tips from interior designers, architects, homeowners, and other savvy design-conscious people. My Clutter Clobbering Tip will feature inspirational advice to help you tackle your clutter in a creative way. I’ll also be sharing photos from real homes that give you Organization Inspiration. As a bonus, whenever I run across a product that will help you get organized, you’ll see it here.

I’ll also keep you posted on the on-going saga of trying to make my own home clutter free. Believe me, it isn’t pretty, but I’m working on it. Any suggestions you have to share are welcome!

Monday, April 16, 2007

My Problem With Cleaning Services

Even if I did hire a cleaning service to clean my house for me, I’d have to spend a week preparing for their arrival. I know cleaning before the arrival of the cleaning service sounds antithetical to the whole process, but please, I can’t have some stranger picking up my underwear in the bathroom, dusting under the invoices on my desk, or looking at my bank statements on the floor of my office while they suck up dog hair with a vacuum.

I blame my mother for this need to clean before having the house cleaned. Growing up, there was a short time when we someone came to clean our house. I’m sure it was when Mom was working full time, getting a masters degree, cooking an amazing dinner every night, and attending every sporting event that my sister and I participated in. The night before the arrival of the cleaning person my mother would shout out orders to pick up our bedrooms, clean out the tub, clear the vanities of all beauty products, put away all dog toys, and basically prepare a spotless home.

My mother is an incredibly fastidious woman. When I call her she’s always vacuuming, scrubbing the bathroom, or hosing down the screens. My grandfather is the same way. Even if he’s just prepared and served a dinner for fourteen, he stays in the kitchen until every pot is put away, the sink is spotless, and the last dessert fork is back in the drawer. I missed this anal-retentive gene somehow and am quite content to go to bed while the house reeks of the evening’s dinner and sauce hardens in the pan. It will still be there in the morning. Better yet, maybe my husband will clean it up.

As a gift for Valentine’s Day 2006, my husband took charge and called a cleaning service to come in once every two weeks. At first I was secretly exited to be relieved of the chore, but then I came to realize it was a shortcoming of mine as a perfect wife. The first couple of times the crew of three swept in it was great. The best part was lounging on the sofa on a Saturday in a clean space. Every Saturday prior to that had been spent whining about how overwhelmed I was by the mess, which never once made the place any cleaner. But after a few months into it I became uncomfortable because every time a different trio showed up and needed everything reiterated to them. With each new group, the job deteriorated. Dust still laid on the demilune, dog hair piled along the baseboards, and they never once scrubbed the tub or shower unless I was there to specifically ask.

When we were having some electrical work and construction done on the house I had an excuse for them not to return. I thought, it’s my house. They’ve shown me that a couple of people can clean it top to bottom in a few hours. I can take care of it. That lasted a couple of weeks and with the interruption of construction it got progressively worse. We were redoing a guest bathroom just off the kitchen, but it proceeded to infect the entire first floor with a choking layer of heavy dust.

My logic concluded, why clean if it’s just going to get like that again the next day? Because our contractor was doing the job piece-meal—whenever it fit into his schedule and our pocketbook—a two-week project dragged into six months. That’s right, six months of wiping down plates every time we took them off the shelf, six months of looking at a line of wood dust covering the floor under the pastry table, six months of saying, “It’ll all get cleaned up next week.”

We returned to the state of being overwhelmed.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

In the Chaos of Clutter

Why is it so hard to keep a house clean and organized? Well, for me, the difficulty is compounded by the fact that as an interiors stylist for magazines I travel four or five days a week to make other people’s houses look camera-ready and by the time I get back to my own home I’m so tired of moving other people’s stuff around that I’d rather just collapse on the sofa, glass of wine in hand.

The very fact that I am a stylist means I have to have a lot of stuff on hand for photo shoots and I accumulate accessories at a ridiculous rate. Imagine if Imelda Marcos had a fetish not only for shoes, but also ironstone, milk glass, woven baskets, trays of all shapes and sizes, and enough vases and pots to transplant the Brooklyn Botanical Garden to Boise, Idaho. While I do have a prop room (it was once a very small bedroom), things spill out into the hallway, across the dining room table, into the living room, and replace useful kitchen pieces (basically all of my kitchen cabinets are now display areas for props). Plastic containers line one wall of the master bedroom. I have half a closet filled with tablecloths and throws of every color. I have another closet filled with all the items you would associate with a small business—reams of paper, compact discs, shipping materials, and rolls of bubble wrap. It’s amazing how much space that stuff takes up.

Further complicating manners is that as a writer and stylist I need to see what’s going on with the magazines for whom I work as well as their competition. I subscribe to dozens of magazines a month and constantly scour newsstands for new ones. I also receive in the mail new design books every month and continue to purchase those books I know I should get around to reading—The Architecture of Happiness, Domesticities, Albert Hadley. That along with my writer-husband’s passion for reading three or four newspapers a day (he refuses to do so online), makes our 1,600-square-foot house a virtual tinderbox awaiting a light.

The bottom line is that at some point in this long winter I made a decision that I could no longer be overwhelmed by my own home. I love this house, but it got to the point where I dreaded coming home to it because of the mess. Who wouldn’t choose an empty hotel room over a house that looked like it needed a bulldozer to carve a path from the kitchen to the dining room? I was overwhelmed by the mess, the clutter, the props, the inability to clean because there’s so much crap everywhere. It was even affecting my marriage. My poor husband felt like he was being forced out of his own home by piles of throw pillows, the numerous plants I bring home, and just the piles of junk I was accumulating.

So here in lies my fight to reclaim my house from clutter. Suggestions are welcome and good ones will be posted!