The University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology did a survey to discover the most common New Year’s resolutions. Losing weight was No. 1, and No. 2 was getting organized.

While we can’t really help you with the first one unless you want to come to the gym with us after work, we thought we would stay in the home and living category and offer some tips on getting organized.


New Years series 2 before

Before: Even if you decide to remodel, you will need to determine what items you want to keep. Part of the process is sorting and making the hard choices of what you keep and what you choose to get rid of, sell or give away. (Kevin Bunnell, Renovation Design Group)


New Years Series1

After the remodel is finished, you still have to decide what items you want to keep in the new space and how to properly organize them. (Kevin Bunnell, Renovation Design Group)

We recently met with a professional organizer who just moved to the Salt Lake City area. Susan Schreiner of Clutter Cutters sat down with us and discussed some of her techniques for helping her clients get their houses (and lives) in order.

Organizing a disorganized area can be overwhelming for many people. Many times people get bogged down with the process and give up.

However, Schreiner suggests tackling one area at a time, beginning with a coarse sorting and then continuing with additional fine sorting.

“The target area could vary from one drawer to a whole room, but don’t try to organize the whole house in one day,” she says. Select an area and then start coarse sorting. Coarse sorting is the de-cluttering portion of the process. For this part of the process, gather category boxes to sort your area into before the real “finding a place for everything” starts.

“Missing this step is the biggest mistake I see people make; they start fine sorting or finding a place for everything when they aren’t ready yet,” Schreiner says. “They have too much stuff to organize it all.”

So, if you want to be successful at organizing, don’t miss this step! For coarse sorting, you will need a box or bag for trash, a box for recycling, a box for items you can give away, a box for items to sell and a box for things you are keeping. Once you have the category boxes, then you are ready to start sorting. If you are organizing a whole room, start with the floor, Schreiner says. Then move to surfaces. Once that is done, you can get into what is inside the closets and furniture.

In this process it is important to understand the concept of good, better and best.

“For most people, what we keep is actually good stuff,” she says. “All the reasons we have for keeping our stuff are good reasons, valid reasons. It is good stuff. We just have limited space, money or time. So we need to make some choices as to what we keep. Look at the stuff and only keep the best. The good and better stuff can be donated.”

Schreiner says if it is something sentimental, ask family members if they would like it or find someone who would love it. Another idea to cope with getting rid of a sentimental item is to take a picture of it and keep the photo where you can see it and enjoy the memories. Displaying and rotating these types of photos actually may be better than if you had the item, because most likely that item would be in a box somewhere or stored out in the garage not being enjoyed at all.

Schreiner warns that in the process of organizing, the room may actually look messier for a while. Notice your progress and don’t halt it by procrastinating or skipping steps. Once the trash is full, take it out immediately. Same goes for donation piles: Take them directly out to your car ready to take to Goodwill or Deseret Industries. Don’t leave the donation box in your house — get it out!

Now that the general sorting is done, if you did it well, you will have less than you used to and you will also have things in categories. Now you can start fine-sorting for the items you are keeping.

The first sweep is putting your keep items into category boxes, such as all the books in one box, office items into another box, etc. Next, the second sweep is a finer sorting into subcategories. For example, “books” can be sorted into cookbooks, magazines, textbooks, novels, etc. “Office items” can be sorted into paper, notebooks, pens/pencils, staples, tacks, memo pads, etc. “Decorative Items” can be sorted into wall hangings, knickknacks, flags, flowers, etc.

You will probably weed out more stuff in the fine-sorting step. Seeing all your stuff in subcategories like this will help you see what you have multiples of or what you don’t use and can get rid of. Move these items to the trash bag or the sell or giveaway box.

Now that the sorting is finished for that area of concentration, it is time to organize. Phew, do you feel accomplished already? We have more tips on organizing from Schreiner for you next week.

This week, take the Schreiner challenge and pick one small area to organize. Maybe a drawer or a cabinet. It doesn’t have to be big, but clean it out, sort it and get rid of what you don’t use or need. Take five minutes today to go through one little pile and we’ll talk again next week!

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at Send comments or questions to

Renovation Solutions: New Year’s series: Breaking down organizing in manageable steps