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Ms. Simplicity: Organizing with purpose

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Melissa Schmalenberger, Ms Simplicity columnist2 / 2

My favorite moment when I work with a client is when I walk in their house for the first time.

I have them give me a tour and show me their trouble areas. I watch their body language as we walk and talk. I will ask a few questions, but most importantly I listen. And then we get down to business.

When we work on an area, I want to get to the bottom of its use. For example, a kitchen is not just a kitchen, it serves multiple functions. Kitchens are often where bills are paid, where kids do homework, where card games are played and where company is entertained. When people organize, they focus just on the kitchen as a place to cook and don't look at its broader purposes.

When I am taken into a spare bedroom full of clutter, the homeowner has a tough time defining what the space is used for. In that case the room has become a catch all, or as I like to call it, a junk room. Yes, some people have junk rooms or junk garages or junk closets.

So today I want you to focus on the purpose of your space.

• Bedroom: Is it just for sleep? Then create a room that is focused on sleep. Take out anything that does not soothe and relax you into slumber. Perhaps the video game system should be placed elsewhere. Yes, I speak from experience on this one.

• Laundry room: What is the purpose of this room? Most often it is more than laundry. Are cleaning supplies taking over the space? What about clothes that need to be mended? Or off-season clothing? Define the space and define a purpose. Be clear and the clutter will disappear.

• Kitchen: Focus on the activities that will be done in this room. If homework is done on the kitchen table, then create a basket of homework supplies. What we do not want is everything strewn all over the kitchen. Contain each purpose to a designated area. If you keep tools in your kitchen, have an area set aside just for tools. Don't put the hammer in the silverware drawer and the screwdriver in the junk drawer.

• Bathroom: Is it just for bathing, or does it have other purposes? Maybe this is where you keep your bathing suits (Yes, that is where our family keeps ours — in a drawer in our master bathroom, in a designated place). Perhaps this is where to go to have your Calgon moment, so make it a relaxing area.

• Family room: Is it just where you watch TV or is this the room where you do yoga in as well as construct Lego communities? Can you create a corner sanctuary where yoga is done? Have an oversized basked where all the Legos are kept? In my family room, no food or beverages are allowed. It is easy to keep clean as this room was not designed as a room to eat. If your family room is used to eat in, make sure that there are tables for glasses and a place to put bowls and plates while eating. Define the space.

Take a walk around your home and decide what the purpose of each area of your home is. If your answer is "this is where stuff is thrown," you need to get clear on the purpose. You want to have answers like, "This is where the coats are hung," or "This is where we store the extra towels." Once that you have a vision for the space and get it organized, it will be easier to stay organized. Unless you have children or a spouse or hate to organize, or have a job, or have pets ...

Ms. Simplicity, also known as Melissa Schmalenberger is a professional organizer based out of Fargo and author of "Organizing in Simplicity: Kitchens." Email her at