If your New Year's resolutions include getting more organized, there's no better time to start than in January during National Get Organized Month.
We turn to Jessica Litman, a Twin Cities-based teacher turned professional organizer whose decluttering strategies have gained her a sizable Instagram audience (@organizedmamas) with 70,000 monthly page views. In her recently released book, "Home Sweet Organized Home," Litman shares tips that have worked for clients and in her own household.
Her key to organizing is getting the entire brood involved. We talked with Litman about rallying the troops, decluttering in the midst of the boot-and-jacket season and how empty nesters should approach sentimental items. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How did you become an organizing expert?
A: I've always been an organized person. I feel like it calms my mental well-being when I am organized. I started teaching it to others.
I became a professional home organizer when we lived in Chicago prior to COVID. I homed in on the idea that not one person can do it all. Everyone has to pitch in.
When I had a family of my own, I took the same approach. We recently moved back to Minnesota, where I'm originally from, and we're starting to get things in order in our new house in Maple Grove.
Q: You start decluttering in the bedroom. Why is that?
A: Brain research shows you need a tranquil place where you sleep. You go into REM sleep faster. That means you're well rested and can make better decisions and you're not overthinking things. So keep your bedroom clutter-free, the floors, the countertops.
Q: World-renowned organizing guru Marie Kondo mentioned a technique of yours in her newsletter. What was it?
A: This has been controversial, but it's the idea of how young your kids can start helping to declutter, which can be as early as 2 years old. My daughter was featured in Marie Kondo's newsletter because she was folding clothes at 3½, 4. If they see you doing it, most toddlers want to help. They want to be big kids.
Q: How can you tell if your kids are ready to help?
A: I think as soon as they can dump over a bin of toys or pull out all the clothes in a drawer, they can start putting those things away. The idea is that if they fold their clothes and put them in the drawer, they're not going to dump it out because they already know what's in there.
And that's often why kids want to dump everything out in the first place, because they're curious about what's in there. They're going to learn the skills early and it's not going to be a fight later on.
Q: How do you practice what you preach?
A: I have a 9- and 10-year-old. For us there are shared spaces — the living room, kitchen, basement. In all those areas we have specific expectations that everyone has to help with.
Plates go in the sink or the dishwasher when done. Then whoever's turn it is to empty the dishwasher, it has to be done by dinner.
Then when the kids get older, I coach families with teenagers to prioritize keeping their rooms clean. It goes back to why decluttering should start in the bedroom. If I have reign over my room, I can support these other things that need to be done.
Q: You address clutter and kids. What's another age group you zero in on?
A: One of the biggest challenges is how do you declutter when you become an empty nester. I see that even with my own parents. The items that have sentiment or are important, you wonder if you should give them to someone in the family.
When you're decluttering, you don't have to always give things to people you know. If they say no, then don't take offense. You can donate. There are a lot of Twin Cities charities and organizations that can really benefit from your items.
Q: You remind us that decluttering is a work in progress and nobody's perfect. What room do you have the most trouble with?
A: The office. My husband and I both work from home and our offices are always piling up with stuff. Paper, especially, is the biggest culprit of clutter. Usually on Mondays, I try to go through the papers and file and shred and make electronic versions.
Q: We're in the season of bulky boots, mittens, jackets and all that other winter gear. How do you keep cold-season clutter at bay?
A: Get everything off the floor. The big thing is extra hooks — get all the hooks — so jackets are off the ground so the floor can easily be dried. Use shelves or shoe holders. Get bins or baskets for each family member.