Friday, October 25, 2002

Organized? You bet. Professional organizer Gerry DeBenedetti's kitchen includes these rolling shelves, home to table linens and china that she has kept over the years. She believes you can find a place for everything you want to keep if you organize.

Holiday clearinghouse

Clean out your halls
before decking them this year

By Ruby Mata-Viti

Keep the clutter. Wait, no, get rid of it! But those black shoes you bought during the Carter administration and wore twice cost so much. Put them in a box and store them. No, get rid of them.


Better yet, worry about it tomorrow. With the holidays around the corner, who wants to wrestle with mess?

It's the perfect time for doing just that, according to organization experts, who say dealing with clutter now will clear the path to a more joyous season.

Though it appears obnoxious for stores to market Christmas before trick-or-treaters get to the door, it's a signal to strategize and avoid holiday ambush.

Here are some methods they suggest to handle mental and physical clutter for the months ahead:

There's no such thing as clutter

To one person, clutter is a child's Halloween costume more than 5 years old, ready for Goodwill or the trash. To Gerry DeBenedetti, it's one she first wore at age 8, which her mother saved. Now, in her early 60s, she has pulled it out to wear this Halloween.

"There's no such thing as clutter," said DeBenedetti, owner of Ecoculture Associates Professional Organizers, modeling her tattered witch's cape over a printed T-shirt she turned inside out to make use of the solid inside, which doesn't clash with the printed cape. "Anything that you collect or makes you happy, it's the stuff that contributes to your life.

"You can have it all and a place to put it if you get organized" is her motto, and her home, radiating a warmth from things she loves, is a showcase of her philosophy. Rows of mugs line one wall of her kitchen. Hats form an artful sculpture, stacked and displayed in an orderly fashion in her living room.

DeBenedetti models a Halloween costume that she wore when she was 8.

Thanksgiving comes late this year, she said, leaving less time between that holiday and Christmas Day to prepare one's home, so it's a good time to start organizing belongings.

"Do it now; anything you do after will be just touching up." Those things you've been meaning to give to Salvation Army, Goodwill, your aunt? Do it, she orders.

People are more willing to "lighten up" if they know "someone's going to use this thing they bothered to save, wash, dust, keep for 20 years."

Think about giving cherished belongings to nieces and nephews now instead of assigning it in a will, she added, so you can see the joy in their faces as you give it to them.

"A preschool somewhere would love to have those 52 Cool Whip containers you have taking up space in the cabinet," she said.

Those trophies lined up across the piano? Give them to a canoe club lacking funds; the plaques can be taken off and replaced.

For holiday cleanup she suggests "clearing the decks for boughs of holly." DeBenedetti said Hawaii people tend to compensate for the lack of seasons by decorating for the holidays indoors and out. Some may have most of their family on the mainland and miss them, so make their surroundings happy and festive.

She suggests placing everyday home accessories, "things we love to look at that give us comfort -- the framed photographs, soccer trophies, knickknacks" into the boxes used to store Christmas decorations, once emptied.

Presumably, you have a special storage space assigned and can find those boxes after the holidays.

Place items sitting on end tables and coffee tables in boxes and baskets, using space underneath them for storage as they can be conveniently hidden by holiday tablecloths.

Putting the items in boxes allows removal for routine cleaning and makes retrieval easy if you need a comforting peek.

No holiday tablecloths handy? Sheets from Costco or Home Depot in red, green or holiday stripes will do the trick. Tying knots at the corners will remedy oversized sheets, she said, or try tucking fabric underneath tables for a puddling effect.

Nonholiday accent pillows can be stored in plastic garbage bags and left in the garage for a month. "You don't want the orange and blue pillows to fight with the Christmas colors," DeBenedetti said.

Consider buying a smaller Christmas tree than usual and placing it on a tabletop, which gives the appearance of a taller tree and allows more storage space for hiding special presents.

Her tree will go atop a toy chest this year, its top tied to ceiling rafters to keep the wind from tipping it over.

With all the table tops empty, the stage is cleared for Christmas.

"The choo choo trains or whatever you like to have around for Christmas doesn't have to compete with your regular stuff."

Call Gerry DeBenedetti at 734-1189.

Clutter is a dirty word

Remember the ghost of Christmas past and let it be your guide for the holidays, said Ruth Wong of Organizations Plus. Clutter, a visual reminder of postponed decision making, haunts like that ghost, existing because people either have too much, don't know where to store it, or can't/won't make decisions.

"To grow is to outgrow and let go," said Wong, reciting something she read. "If you really want to move on with your life and make your home more pleasant, you've got to let go of stuff."

Wong, a former occupational therapist who has worked extensively with stroke victims, said often, pain is associated with letting go, but that is fleeting when compared to pain of hanging on to the unnecessary, which lasts longer. "You're looking at (clutter), thinking about it, thinking about trashing or storing it; it takes up your energy and space."

Ruth Wong lifts a door to reveal storage in her organized workspace at her Aiea home.

Just as she enjoyed her work at Rehab Center of Hawaii, she said, "I love to help people in a practical way, and I like that I'm able to do that still, with organization."

To prepare for the holidays, she suggests de-cluttering public spaces in the home such as the entry, living room, dining room and bathrooms. She finds the "Mount Vernon" method effective, starting at the door of each room, working clockwise, until every drawer and cabinet is de-cluttered. "But don't de-clutter and clean at the same time; de-clutter first, then clean."

Use "SORT" as a mantra. With boxes marked S for sell, O for offer or giveaway, R for retain and put away, and T for toss, start putting things in them.

Wong said people say too often, "Next Christmas it's going to be different," but never set goals to achieve that.

Her "Well Organized" newsletter offers tips on "How to Have a Hassle-free Happy Holiday," which begins with evaluating last year's holiday and remembering what provided the most joy.

"Eighty percent of enjoyment usually comes from 20 percent of activity," and that goes for clutter as well. "We use only 20 percent of what we have in the home -- the same pots and pans, the same clothes -- everything else is excess."

If fond memories come from spending time with friends, make that a goal. Instead of exchanging expensive presents, she said, get friends to agree to a night out for a holiday dinner.

Pace yourself and know your priorities. You can prepare a little each week, for instance. With Thanksgiving coming up, she said, plan your meal now, make a grocery list, set target dates on your calendar for buying your turkey and squeezing in Christmas shopping.

Decide what you dread about the holidays, whether it be crowds, shopping for gifts, last-minute rushing or January bills, and figure out ways to avoid these.

"Maybe this is the year to make homemade presents or bake cookies and give them as gifts," she said.

Most importantly, get rid of unrealistic expectations. "Forget those picture-perfect magazine Christmases," she said. "They're not the real world unless your name is Martha Stewart."

Call Ruth Wong at 488-0288. For her free newsletter, send four self-addressed stamped envelopes to 98-1155 Malualua St., Aiea, HI 96701.

Recovery is the key

Any time is a good time to clear clutter, said Kelly Galvin, owner of Galvin Home Management and Organization, but the holidays provide extra incentive to pare down.

The more organized you are now, the less chaotic the holidays will be, said Galvin, who worked on the mainland as a tour guide and freelanced her organizational skills off-season until she was able to make helping others get organized her occupation.

"Recovery is the main thrust of mastering clutter," she said. "You don't want to get to the point where you're saying, 'Oh my god, how'd it get like this?'"

If you have a place for everything, you'll see the mess starting and you can recover quickly by putting things away, tossing the trash and moving onward. Recovery time for her is about 10 minutes.

Holidays mean lots of cooking, and maybe the kitchen isn't operating efficiently, she said. Find the pots and pans you use most; get rid of the ones you don't. Make space for new ones you might need to cook that special Thanksgiving dish.

"Now's the time to think about preparations for wrapping gifts," said Galvin. Check to see that you have supplies such as tape, scissors, ribbon, tags and gift wrap, and decide where you're going to work on that project.

Especially agonizing for her is seeing people buying huge storage bins for Christmas decorations at the after-Christmas sales. "I want to run up and tell them, 'No, don't do it, you don't need that.'"

Just de-clutter. Do they really need to keep that faded Santa that they never display for one more year, or keep that nativity set they haven't assembled in the last seven years?

Her method for Christmas crafts is setting them in bankers boxes that can be purchased from any office supply store. When she has time to work on them, she'll pull the boxes out. It's a myth, she said, that projects in process need to be left out.

"You think, 'If I leave it out, it'll get done faster,' but that's not true. And besides, most of us don't have that much table space."

Contact Kelly Galvin at, or call 524-5894.

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