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Feeling cramped and crowded in your apartment?
Sunday, April 20, 2008

Declutter and get organized to create space.

Take a look around your apartment. Is your ironing board or dining room table piled high with junk mail, newspapers, and unread magazines? Do golf clubs, skis, or tennis rackets tend to fall out of your closet whenever you open the door? If so, keep reading.

Apartment dwellers, especially those who have downsized from a single-family house, know how quickly their living space can become cluttered and cramped.

Not only is clutter unsightly, but professional organizers Lisa Graziani and Patty Clair said a messy, overcrowded living space can also have a negative impact on your productivity and general outlook on life.

"By decluttering and organizing your living space, you'll give yourself time, space, and freedom," said Graziani, owner of America's Best Organizing Solutions. "My clients come to me because their clutter has become overwhelming. They can't find important reports, they end up paying late fees because bills are not mailed on time, and they are consistently late for work because they waste time looking for things in the morning."

Whether your clutter has become unmanageable or if it's merely annoying, Clair said the first step to organizing your apartment and maximizing your space is to have a vision and a goal for your living area.

"A lot of people think the first thing they should do is go out and buy storage containers. That's the last thing you should do, if you need to do it at all," explained Clair. "When you start your cleanup project, you need to stop and think of how you're going to use a specific room and who's going to use the space. That will help you decide whether to keep an item, discard it, or move it to another part of your home."

Vertical spaces are your friend.

Once you've determined which items you want to keep, you'll want to find the most efficient way to store them. JoEllen Salkin, co-owner of Organizing 4 U, said apartment owners should "think vertical" when looking for storage space. "For example, maybe you can install an additional closet shelf above your existing shelves," she explained. "You can use that higher shelf for out-of-season clothes or items you don't frequently use."

Another idea for creating additional storage space is to use tall bookcases or install higher shelves on walls, said Salkin, who is the president-elect of NAPO's North Coast Ohio chapter. "And in kitchen cupboards, you can put in shelf expanders, which will give you an extra layer of storage space."

Calling herself a big fan of plastic storage tubs, Salkin said the stackable containers are ideally suited to take advantage of vertical spaces. "Clothing and memorabilia are good items for the tubs," she said. "Prioritize what you want to store and put the least frequently used items in the lowest tubs. Make sure that you use a marker or put a label on the tubs so that you don't have to dismantle the whole tower to find an item."

What's under your bed?

The space below your bed is ideal for stowing away linen, off-season clothes, books, and paperwork. Some bed frames have built-in storage drawers, or you can purchase plastic or cardboard containers that are specially made for under-bed use. To create additional storage space, consider the use of risers or inexpensive molded plastic units that fit under the bedposts and add five to six inches of height. If you use the under-bed area to switch out winter and summer clothing each year, you'll have the added benefit of freeing up plenty of space in your closet.

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Need help conquering your clutter?
Consider hiring a professional organizer

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the clutter in your apartment, you may want to consider hiring an expert to help you organize and maximize your living space. In the Greater Cleveland area, you can expect to pay between $35 and $75 an hour for a professional organizer.

"Think of it as an investment in your future," said Patty Clair, owner of simply put, llc. "Clutter doesn't build up overnight. So there's no quick-fix solution. A professional organizer can assist and teach people how to set up systems and spaces in their home that reflect their lifestyle."

For those renters who prefer to self-organize, Clair said the ideal time to declutter is before you move to your new home.

"If you look through your possessions, decide what you really need to take with you and discard the rest. You'll be packing less and moving less," she explained.

Lisa Graziani, of America's Best Organizing Solutions, added, "The very first step is to grab a trashcan and actually discard things that are torn, ripped, or broken. If you haven't fixed it by now, you're not going to."

For tips about maximizing space and a list of local professionals, visit the National Association of Professional Organizer's website, www.napo.net.

Robert Sberna is a Strongsville-based freelance writer who specializes in the real estate and finance sectors. He can be contacted at rchas@aol.com.

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