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Taking disorderly to organized in a few simple steps

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Kids dread it, parents find it necessary and the whole family is assigned different tasks every time it comes around.

Spring cleaning can be the bane of some peoples' existence. But year after year, there it is, staring you in the face.

Whether there are dozens of warm sweaters and long pants taking up unnecessary space in your closet, several games strewn across the living room or office drawers overflowing with paperwork, spring is generally the time to tackle it all.

Take comfort in knowing that it doesn't have to be as dreadful as it sounds. In fact, if you keep organized throughout the entire year, spring cleaning can be reduced from a weeklong event to a quick day of dusting and vacuuming.

Professional organizer and Lake City resident Marilyn Tomfohrde knows firsthand how to turn clutter and confusion into systematic structure. Since 2005 she's been helping dozens of people get rid of messy kitchens, cars, closets and cupboards. But, she stresses, people need to want to change or else their lifestyle won't improve and the process will be too overwhelming.

"You can only organize people who want to be organized," Tomfohrde said. "Definitely, they have to be ready for it."

Tomfohrde deals with her clients on a case-by-case basis, trying to tailor her style to each individual and take a very hands-on approach. She's done everything from cleaning up a small office drawer to tackling a hoarding project that was broadcast on TV.

Though getting rid of items can be an emotional process, Tomfohrde said organizing can often invoke positive feelings in the long run.

"A general rule of thumb is if you want to feel good about your whole house, do your kitchen. If you want to feel good about yourself, do your closet," she explained.

Following four simple steps, Tomfohrde helps make positive changes in clients' lives on a regular basis.


If clutter becomes so prominent that you can't even decide what to focus on first, that's when Tomfohrde's assistance is most beneficial.

"That's usually where you've got to have another person in there," she said, mentioning counselors, organizers or health partners.

They can pinpoint where work should begin and, as far as Tomfohrde is concerned, it's always best to start with sorting.

"Think about a kindergarten room ... everything is in its own spot," she said.

Tomfohrde suggests having "centers" that will always house the same items. For example, the kitchen could have a center for mixing, another for cooking and baking, and a separate center for putting away food. Similarly, the living room can be split into different centers for reading, watching television and playing games.


Once areas have been designated and items have a place they belong, it's time to pull out the trash bags and let some things go.

When simplifying your belongings, Tomfohrde says to ask yourself four easy questions: Do I love it? Do I need it? Do I have room for it? Is it paying its rent?

"Make it earn its keep, darn it," she said.

If items have not been touched for months, they may not be worth having around. Also, just because grandma's wedding dress is a keepsake doesn't mean you need the entire thing. Nobody is likely to wear it again, so cut off a scrap of the lace, find an old photo of her wearing it and create a shadow box to hang on the wall.

And if you've been holding onto objects you don't actually like but feel guilty about discarding, now is a good time to let go of the guilt.

"Just because it's a gift, you don't have to keep it," Tomfohrde said.

Another tip to keep at the forefront of your mind: "If in doubt, throw it out," she added.


Now that you've eliminated unnecessary items, it's time to take the others and find a permanent home for them. Tomfohrde likes to organize with containers of all sizes and suggests matching the container to what's inside.

"Make it fit the size of the item," she said.

If you're working with drawers and containers won't fit in them, try to assign them a category.

"As much as possible you want one type of thing in a drawer," Tomfohrde said, mentioning how office supplies should be grouped all together. An added bonus is that your children will get used to putting the same items back in the same place every time.

Last but certainly not least in your organizing endeavor, "Label, label, label," Tomfohrde said.


Not everything is successful on the first go-around. For that reason, Tomfohrde said it's wise to survey your new organized areas once you've had some time to adjust to them and see what works and what doesn't.

"Check it out again in a few days or a few weeks and see if it needs tweaking," she said.

Though it isn't always a quick process, following the four steps can lead to a less stressful life. Tomfohrde's husband, Roger, understands that as well as she does.

"You can find things, they have a home and it's easier to work in the house," he said.