Year after year, homes tend to accumulate clutter associated with holidays, special occasions and annual occurrences like tax season and back-to-school stockpiling. Here's a guide to restoring order all throughout the home and calendar year.
• Spring cleaning: Kick off an old-fashioned spring cleaning by purging expired foods, medicines, cosmetics and toiletries.
Ask the city or county household trash service or your pharmacist if there's a take-back program for unused prescription drugs, which as a general rule should not be flushed, warns professional organizer Cathy Bock, owner of Chaos Tamers in Northbrook.
If no such program is available, most medicines can be mixed with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds, sealed in a bag and tossed in the trash, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Do not crush tablets or capsules for disposal.
• Tax time: A last-minute scramble to locate all the necessary paperwork makes paying taxes all the more dreadful. Going forward, create a file folder for tax-related documents acquired throughout the year.
For longer-term storage after taxes are done, use a cardboard filing box or plastic bin and manila envelopes. Label one envelope "tax returns, all years" and gather them in this single envelope, as some accountants recommend keeping previous years' returns indefinitely.
Supporting paperwork, on the other hand, can be stored by tax year in separate envelopes and eventually shredded for disposal. (Go to IRS.gov to find out how long to keep paperwork.) File the envelopes in the box in reverse chronological order.
• Season switch: Switch out seasonal clothes. As you unpack summer clothing and stow away sweaters and coats, get rid of anything that's more than one size too big or too small. "If you've gained weight, reward yourself with a new wardrobe when you meet your weight-loss goal," Bock suggests.
Group like items and store them in airtight clear plastic storage bins with specific labels, including sizes, especially for children's clothing likely to be outgrown and handed down, advises Mary Pat Rick, professional organizer at Action Organizing, Milwaukee.
Save silica gel packets from the shoes and purses you buy and place them in the bins to absorb moisture. "A cool, dry location is ideal for storing," Rick says. "If you have the luxury of an extra closet, use that versus the basement or attic."
• Back to school: The start of school brings an influx of school supplies, which tend to migrate all over the house. Keep them in one location so you can check your inventory each year before hitting the back-to-school sales.
Designate a finite space in your child's room to display art projects and school assignments. Rick likes to use a clothesline and clothespins or binder clips for a gallery-style display, but a corkboard works, too. When there's no more room, with help from a parent the child can decide which masterpieces to relegate to under-bed storage or give to relatives, and which ones to throw away or recycle.
• Halloween: Halloween kicks off a series of holidays for which we decorate with abandon. Although see-through plastic storage bins allow for easy identification, a color-coded storage system allows for quicker identification from afar, says Lorrie Gazette, professional organizer and owner of Creative Order & Design, Tyler, Texas. Choose orange containers for Halloween, red and green for Christmas and pastels for Easter, she suggests.
When storing costumes, place accessories like wigs and masks in resealable storage bags, Rick recommends.
• Thanksgiving: Fine china, stemware and table linens come out of hiding but once or twice a year. Between those rare appearances, loosely rolling cloth napkins instead of folding and stacking them for storage helps reduce wrinkling, says Janice Simon, professional organizer and blogger in Houston.
Wash and press linens before storing. Note the shape (oval, square, rectangle) and dimension of tablecloths, because from one year to the next, "you will forget how big each tablecloth is, and which one fits when you put the extra leaf in the table for company," Rick says.
• Winter holidays: When packing or unpacking holiday decorations, keep bags on hand for damaged items and giveaways. "If you're just tired of something, donate it at the start of the holiday season so someone else can enjoy it," Rick suggests.
Keep strands of lights from tangling by winding them around a stiff piece of cardboard. Specially designed storage containers are available for wreaths, artificial trees and other oddly shaped decorations.
Store holiday-themed linens (towels, placemats, napkins) and tableware with their corresponding decorations.
Store Christmas giftwrap, bags, ribbons, bows, tags and leftover stationery together with all the Christmas items, while maintaining a separate, easily accessible, all-occasion giftwrap station. Gazette recommends a giftwrap workstation sold at the Container Store that hangs on a closet rod and stands up on its own like an easel when in use.