Decluttering and Spring Cleaning in New York City: Tips from Organizing Expert, Laura Kinsella

Buds are appearing on trees, the weather is warming up (slightly!)  and our thoughts are turning towards spring cleaning and de-cluttering our over-stuffed cupboards and packed apartments! While we wish we could be home makeover mavens, the truth is that we are often overwhelmed by the mountains of kids’ clothes, endless little plastic toys and bulky winter clothes, so we turned to an expert: Laura Kinsella of Urban OrgaNYze, to get her top tips for spring cleaning.

You help clients organize their homes for a living – are you always tinkering with the organization of your own home?

Absolutely! Organizing is a continual process even for a professional organizer.  As long as we keep bringing stuff into our homes, we need to edit and tweak the systems we have in place.  I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter, and there is a revolving door of clothing and toys to keep up with her ever-growing needs. We are human, so as we change and evolve, our homes need to follow suit!

What are your top tips for dealing with the nightmare of toy storage? What are moms and dads supposed to do about all the little plastic minutiae that kids collect?

Keeping it simple is key. Children should be able to easily access what they want to play with, while also learning how to put things away independently (cue the “clean up” song from Gymboree!). Everything they own should have a home (yes, even those paw patrol figurines that seem to be everywhere) and limits should be in place for how many toys they are allowed to pull out at once.  By instilling positive habits in our pre-school children, we help them to be organized teens and adults.

For children under 5, open bins and baskets work wonders!  For older kids, ditch the awkward toy packaging and put items in clear shoe boxes with lids to keep things uniformed, corralled, and visible.  Over the door shoe organizers are fantastic for storing barbies, or pesky little toys that tend to get lost in a toy trunk or couch cushion. Everything should be labeled (even pre-readers will remember where things go), and it will keep the adults accountable too (as you’re less likely to throw a bouncy ball into a bin labeled LEGOs!)  Try a two day rule for keeping goody bag items, and always edit right before a major holiday or birthday. Even the most strong willed child (aka my daughter) will donate old toys when it’s presented in a fun way! Not to mention you are teaching your children empathy, and the importance of giving to those in need.

What are your top organizing tips for New York City living?

When rooms have to be multi-functional, opt for furniture that performs double duty. Think storage ottomans to hide toys or linens! Wall mounted shelves are great for items you don’t want little hands touching. Utilizing vertical space is a biggie (shelf risers double storage in a kitchen or bathroom), and adhesive Command Hooks can turn any ordinary wall into a system (stick a few at your kids eye level and suddenly they can hang up their coat themselves!)  Don’t be afraid to store things unconventionally. I have a beautiful glass bowl with a lid in my entryway that secretly stashes cough drops and coldeeze!

How do you recommend tackling spring cleaning re-organizing?

I love spring cleaning because it’s all about refreshing and re-energizing our home. To keep focused and motivated, start with one mini project at a time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was that junk drawer! Open the windows and blast some of your favorite 80’s tunes to keep the energy high.

I like to start with clothing, because what we wear can make or break how we feel and carry ourselves every day. Sort through what you haven’t worn for the past few months. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s so much easier to part with a pair of jeans knowing we haven’t touched them all winter long, than to toss them in storage and deal with them the following season. Plus if they are in good condition, you can consign those bad boys and recoup some of the money spent!  

What is your take on the Marie Kondo phenomenon? Love or loathe?

I love that Marie Kondo changed the way people viewed organizing. Not only is she cute as a button, she made de-cluttering a trendy topic of conversation! Her best-selling book advocates that all items in our home have to “spark joy”. I think that’s important, but as a parent, it’s only half of the equation. I like to declutter with this question in mind: does this prove to be useful or beautiful in my home?  Chances are you’ll inevitably own things that are purely functional (ahem, your diaper pail), but everything should have a purpose and fit into your family’s unique needs and lifestyle.

What can a professional organizer achieve that moms or dads might not be able to achieve on their own?

When I became a mom, time became the most valuable thing, and the most elusive. A huge benefit to working with a Professional Organizer is that we give you the gift of time. We will do what you find stressful and confusing, so you don’t lose precious time looking for things, wondering where things should go or deciding what products you need to make it all come together. Choices can be debilitating, and deciding where and how to begin can trigger bickering and blame. Having a pro with a critical eye eases tension, clarifies goals, and keeps the energy positive and fun.  You’ll be left with systems that actually work, and that every member of your family can upkeep. Because what good is a picture-perfect Pinterest playroom (say that five times fast!) if it all falls apart a week or a month later.

Can you tell us any organization nightmares to make us feel better about our own messes?

I’ve yet to be in a home where I haven’t heard “is this the messiest you’ve ever seen?” I think we romanticize how our friends and neighbors live, but truth be told, everyone struggles with the same things! We have to cut ourselves some slack, especially when we have kids. We live in a state of consumerism, where we own far more than we could ever need. I’m a minimalist, and often joke that nothing in my house is “safe”, but I would never want my home to be stripped of its individual quirks because that’s what makes a house a home. I’ve truly seen it all, and nothing has stopped or scared me yet!

Do you have any great donation resources for parents looking to clear out clutter?

There are a plethora of wonderful organizations throughout New York City that welcome your donations while helping children and families in need. I love Room To Grow, Little Essentials, The Bowery Mission, and Housing Works to name a few. Nowadays with social media, it’s easier than ever to connect with your community (Facebook parent groups are great for this) to pass along your gently used items. When in doubt, reach out to your child’s school to see what supplies they are in need of. My daughter’s school recently requested men’s collared shirts, because they repurpose them as smocks![gravityform id=”13″ title=”false” description=”false” ajax=”true”]

What should we do if our partner (or kids!) is a pack rat?

Like my mama always says, “you catch more bees with honey!” Approach is everything. We want to check any judgments at the door, and replace “why” questions with “I” statements, like: “I feel like I can’t think when I see a pile of papers on the table” is so much better than, “Why is there a pile of papers on the table?” One assigns blame, and the other opens an honest and calm conversation.  When working with families who don’t quite see eye to eye, I find it important to define shared space versus personal space, and set ground rules for each that everyone must follow. There is a huge difference between not liking your partner’s baseball card collection that lives peacefully in their drawer versus if that same card collection were to be always sprawled across your dining room table.  Every member of the family should have room for what they find most meaningful, as long as daily routines are not negatively impacted.

What’s the number one thing we all have too much of, in your opinion?

In the hundreds of homes I’ve organized, I always find tons of shopping bags! I see them floating around in nearly every room, shoved in cabinets, and most notably in a front door closet where one large and rather sturdy tote houses (you guessed it) about a few dozen others. I think our intentions are always good and we’ve embraced reusable bags to limit our carbon footprint. The only trouble is we aren’t reusing them, but rather collecting them just like we would a plastic bag! I know how hard it is to say no to that red and black irresistible tote from Lululemon, so the next time you leave the house, carry one with you! It’s eco-friendly, and stops clutter from entering your home. Win win!

Any words of advice for shopping for organizing products? Should we clear out BEFORE we hit up the Container Store? Or afterwards?

I know this is everyone’s favorite step (who doesn’t love the look of a magazine makeover?!), but pre-purchasing containers before an edit is like leaving for the grocery store without glancing in your fridge. It’s so important we first take inventory of what we use, love, and need. Only then can we take careful measurements and choose products that take our homes to the next level. Often times storage solutions work themselves out! After all, the less we own, the less we need to keep organized.

Thanks so much for your expertise Laura! We’re going to take these tips on board to tackle our own horrendous messes…

Laura Kinsella is the founder of Urban OrgaNYze, a New York City based home organizing company dedicated to helping individuals and families declutter, streamline, and style their space. As a born and bred New Yorker, and mom to a growing toddler, she blends principles of organizing and minimalism to transform even the trickiest of NYC homes. She is a member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) and has been featured in A&E’s Hoarders, Apartment Therapy, & to name a few.  For tips and tricks, follow her on Instagram @urbanorganyze.