Get it together

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      Cull your stuff, find storage fixes, and breathe easy.

      There's something about the end of one calendar year and the start of another that gets people thinking about their priorities. Taking its place alongside weight-loss vows and pledges to spend more time with the kids is the increasingly common resolution that this will be the year when all the stuff in your home finally gets put in its place.

      For Vancouverites, this is crucial. With the housing market in its current state, both renters and owners have to make do with smaller homes, and pay more for them. Getting organized and maximizing living space have never seemed more important.

      So where do you start? The experts will tell you that paring down your possessions is the first step. Says Comox-based professional organizer and speaker Alison Roberts: "One indication for someone that they have accumulated too much stuff would be that piles start sprouting up around their space, so items–whether it's books or magazines or papers or clothes–are always visible, because there's no longer any existing space for them to go into. And it's true that we're continuously accumulating. It sort of sneaks up on us. If something doesn't have a home, then that's a signal that you're getting crowded out of your space."

      Let's face it: if that bread maker at the back of your kitchen cupboard hasn't been used for a year or more, it really has no business being there. Roberts–whose book, Clutter's Dirty Secret (Trafford, $20.33), is part how-to guide part anticonsumerism manifesto–recommends sifting through everything you own with a big box or two.

      "The word ruthless often comes up with clearing out clutter, because you want to reassess what you own, and often remind yourself of what you own," Roberts says. "What I find with people is that they forget what they even own because they have so much stuff. Say, for example, in the kitchen: if the rice cooker or the juice maker is forever living on the counter because there's no room to put it away, then the idea would be to systematically go through each of the cupboards with the idea of purging or culling the contents. There's bound to be items that haven't been used, and so”¦have a box beside you–which in all likelihood could be a donation box, or maybe a sell box. Or if it's broken or beyond repair, then it would be garbage. But the idea is to pull items out of the cupboards or closets, place it in one of those boxes, and then by doing so, you're creating space."

      From there, the work of making a place for everything and putting everything in its place begins. The big-box retailers offer plenty of options, including install-it-yourself shelves, racks, and custom-closet kits. Not surprisingly, IKEA has home-organization down to a science; the Swedish giant's Web site ( has downloadable tools allowing users to fit Billy bookcases or Mí¶rrum wardrobes to the exact measurements of rooms, as well as swapping out items for the right result.

      For those who take a more hands-off approach to home improvement, California Closets might be the answer. In business for nearly 30 years, California Closets (5049 Still Creek Avenue, Burnaby) is the granddaddy of custom home-storage businesses. The company offers a free in-home consultation with a designer and a huge range of materials, from the look of traditional cabinetry to ultramodern industrial effects. You don't have to touch any tools yourself, a major selling point for those of us who place a high value on manual labour–as long as someone else is doing it.

      Mind you, it doesn't come cheap. Expect a small closet to start at $500 and a basic office system to set you back a minimum of $2,500. With upgraded finishes, colours, and accessories, the cost climbs.

      Before you even consider investing in pricey custom work, Roberts recommends maximizing what you've already got. "Look for any wasted space," she says. "Like, in a hall closet there might be almost a foot of wasted space at the top, so potentially another shelf could be added. So you start looking around”¦and see if there's any tweaking you can do or any modifications to make sure that you're making the best use of that space, and that the things that you're accessing are close to where you use them."

      Susan Brown, of Vancouver-based Blue Skies Organizing, agrees. "Set up your drawers and your cupboards so that every single thing”¦is easily gotten to. Don't pile things on top of each other," she says. "The things that you use the most, have them at hand. In a linen closet, your towels and your sheets are used pretty frequently, so have them at waist height, or between your waist and your head. Store things up high that you're only going to need to get to once in a while: extra pillows, Christmas ornaments. Store those things in the least convenient spots."

      However you go about getting your space in order, Roberts says benefits extend to many areas of your life. "I think people don't appreciate that clutter keeps us stuck," she says. "My background is psychology, and that's part of what I'm trying to impress on people, that our physical possessions end up forming a physical barrier, and it prevents what we want from coming into our life. And that could be a new job, it could be a new mate, it could be improved health, it could be better relationships.

      "But if we keep clinging to all of these past reminders or these old interests, then there literally is no room for new opportunities”¦ When people make that connection, then they go, 'Oh, okay. Well, I'm going to tackle that closet,' or, 'I'm going to go through that cupboard, because I really want my life to be different. I want to change.'"