People often think of January or spring as high seasons for home organization. But for those of us with school-age kids, late summer is prime time to clear excess and create a better system to handle what's left and what's on the way.
Plus, if you declutter before classes resume, you could plan a garage or yard sale that could fund a school-supply shopping trip or last-minute visit to the zoo or water park.
There's an easy way to approach reorganizing any area of your house. It's a shorthand version of tips from top-rated professional organizers that you could call the 2-D method:
Decide: Pick a room or even just part of one. Quickly, without allowing time for second thoughts, sort everything into three piles or containers: Toss, Keep and Donate/Sell.
Designate: Find a place for everything that stays, storing things near where they're used and putting like items together. For example, keep school supplies where homework is done, and sneakers, boots, umbrellas and coats near the door you use most often. Designate a place for each item, at appropriately accessible heights and locations.
Some of you will be fine with the 2-D method alone. But here are additional pro-organizer tips for tackling specific challenges:
Children's artwork: Aim to keep work that reflects special moments, such as self-portraits or the first time a child writes his or her name. One mom I know has an inbox for all school and art papers. She sorts it quarterly, or when it gets too high. Some things she keeps, some things she photographs. The key is to periodically edit, with the goal of keeping just a handful of art examples per year, per child. Store "keepers" in a large, under-bed storage box. When that's full, sort again. And as your child matures and understands that not everything can be kept, he or she can help with sorting.
Your desk or personal work area: For some of us, it's the kitchen counter or dining room table. Wherever it is, keep the surface clear of what isn't used often. Create a filing system that lets you quickly find what you need. Set up an "inbox" for new bills/fliers/mail and an "outbox" for completed items. File finished work as it's done, or on a regular schedule.
Closets: Plan to set aside several hours per closet. Remove everything. Sort into categories by type - pants, skirts, tops, shoes, etc. Evaluate each item, separating out what you want to donate, sell or have repaired. Organize the rest by category, color and season.
Housework: In a central area, designate a bin for each family member, into which you place stray items that loved ones put away weekly. To keep housework manageable, focus on one task per day. For example, designate one day for dusting, another for vacuuming, etc.
Kitchen: Discard or recycle mismatched storage containers. Store lids in the largest container; stack the rest inside each other. Increase storage space by extending kitchen cabinets to the ceiling, hanging pots from a rack, and adding partitions, turntables or stacking platforms to drawers and cabinets.
Garage: With sidewalk chalk, section off your driveway into Toss, Keep and Donate/Sell areas. Break the Keep area into subcategories, such as tools, pet supplies, yard care, sports items and paint supplies. When putting things back, store like items together.
Organizing your home can be a rewarding do-it-yourself project that you can accomplish over weeks or months. But if you lack time, ability or desire, consider hiring a top-rated organizer to advise you or take on the project. Other service providers who can help include trash haulers and estate sale experts.
(Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. Follow her on Twitter @Angie_Hicks.)