Organizing expert gives advice to get homes in order

Published Jul 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm (Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 3:12 pm)

Getting organized, whether one has a lot of “stuff” or a little, can be a bit daunting. Finding a support system and figuring out where to start can be half the battle. Some may choose to seek the help of a professional organizer or attend a workshop on the subject. Recently, about a dozen people attended a free workshop on the subject at Castle Shannon Library. The workshop was presented by professional organizer Jill Yesko, president of Discover Organizing.

During the program, Yesko, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, talked about several ways to go about organizing one’s space.

“Clutter is just delayed decisions,” she said, quoting noted professional organizer Barbara Hemphill.

“This process is about you,” Yesko told the group. “Your home needs to reflect who you are.”

To make the task seem less scary, start by clearing out one square foot space of a room, about the size of a milk crate. “Think of that square cube of footage,” Yesko said. Also, start out by working left-to-right, instead of in the middle of the room, because that way one can better see the progress made. Yesko also advised it’s crucial to work when your energy is good and to never work when you’re tired.

During the workshop, she had folks write down a room or space that is “making you crazy” and what the goal is that they wanted to achieve in that space. She also had them write down the steps they needed to take to achieve that goal and the person who is responsible for helping clean that space, whether it is a spouse, child or grown child.

“Involve that other person,” she said, adding that it’s also important to give yourself a deadline.

Yesko also talked about supplies needed to get organized – including cardboard boxes and markers to write on the boxes. Label the cardboard boxes as “donate,” “sell” or “toss.” A bin can also be designated for recycling. Purchase plastic bins for the items you want to keep – if it’s important enough to keep, it should be in a plastic bin, Yesko sais.

Large garbage bags are also a good idea, and contractor trash bags that are not see-through are also good to have on hand. Anything that is broken, moldy or cannot be fixed should be thrown away.

Yesko also uses a notebook to keep track of the items that need to be donated or sold.

Deciding on what to keep and what to get rid of can be hard for a lot of people, but Yesko said that to figure that out, ask yourself how often the item is used and how much you love it.

“Make sure you’re living with the stuff you actually use,” Yesko said.

Once everything is organized, it’s time to figure out what to do with it. Yesko said donating to charity is a good idea. Donations of values less than $250 should have a written record of the value and what was donated – offers valuations for a variety of items.

Selling items on websites like Ebay is another way to go. Yesko advised attendees to do research on the rules and procedures, commission rates and shipping guidelines before listing on any auction site. Consigning items is another way to go, as is having a garage sale, though Yesko is not a fan of yard sales because of all the time and effort they require for limited results.

For paper documents, especially with important numbers and personal information, shredding is the best bet. Yesko recommended purchasing a good personal shredder or, if there are a lot of papers to shred, companies like Shred-It have trucks on-site for larger shredding jobs.

Items like paint and tools that don’t get picked up by the local trash company can also be donated to charities like Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity will take tools, yard tools, old tile and building materials to use on building sites. Allegheny County will pick up broken appliances for free.

Jackie Hall, who recently moved to Castle Shannon and downsized to an apartment, attended the workshop “to get re-organized.” She added that she has a lot of paper clutter so she wanted to learn how to get rid of that.

Eleesea Harrell of Bethel Park created what she called an “action list” of things to take care of at her house. The main rooms on her list are the kitchen, garage and basement. She said she liked how Yesko suggested to clean from left to right so she is able to see her progress as she goes.

Barbara and Giulio Magrini of Scott Township said they want to get organized because they are thinking about selling their house in the next few years and moving to something more manageable.

“We just have too many things,” Barbara said and joked, “We’re desperate to get rid of the things in the house.”

For more information on organizing, visit, and The National Association of Professional Organizers’ website at


Jill Yesko’s top 5 Do’s and Dont’s of clutter

Five Clutter Do’s:

1. Work when your energy is good and put on some music.

2. Get help – call a professional, a good friend or family member. It forces you to focus and make decisions you wouldn’t normally make.

3. Set a timer – have a beginning and an end to your de-cluttering.

4. Set up bins and receptacles – Keep, Garbage, Donate, Sell, Not Sure.

5. Work on one area or room at a time.

Five Clutter Don’ts:

1. Don’t try to organize when you are tired or hungry.

2. Try not to tackle big jobs like the attic or garage alone.

3. Don’t buy any new items – except food – until you are finished with your organizing project.

4. Don’t allow interruptions – phone calls, emails – to distract you.

5. Don’t criticize yourself for having “so much stuff,” just keep moving and be proud that you are doing something about it now!

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