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Cori McDougald gladly stands in other people's clutter, surrounded by papers, sentimental items and junk. That's because knowing how much peace people get after the organizing guru has cleared up their spaces brings her joy.

"When someone's not feeling either physically or mentally capable of doing it in their house, I like to bring that energy and enthusiasm," she said. "Before you know it, you leave their house or garage, and it looks totally different, and they're like, 'Oh, that's such a weight lifted off my shoulders.'"

After starting Twin Cities-based Meat & Potatoes Organizing in 2021, McDougald has helped hundreds of people unload possessions they've collected over the years. Getting started is tough for some, and others get hung up after they've thrown everything out in the open. But clearing up your space has major benefits: It can improve mental health and keep families more organized in the long term.

"Most people, I'd estimate 80%, live with a lot of clutter," she said. "We all have busy lives and the last thing we want to do is address the clutter around us."

To make the task less daunting, McDougald recommends taking these small steps when decluttering:

Pick one area to focus on. That can be a closet, a drawer or a corner of a room.

Sort by making three piles: keep, donate/sell and toss. The number one mistake people make is not letting items go, McDougald said, advising organizers to ask themselves why they are holding on to a certain possession and if it makes sense to keep it.

After sorting, you should find the best organizers that work for you, such as bins, baskets, vertical hangers or drawer dividers so you can easily find items. And don't forget to label them. Color-coding your closet could also be a useful organizational tactic.

Nevertheless, be honest with yourself and put back items you'll truly need and use. If you're torn about something, it's okay to head back to that toss bin and put it in the keep pile. It happens to the best of us.

Clean the area you've just decluttered. Wipe down surfaces, vacuum, sweep and get rid of garbage. After all, you've put in the work and deserve to enjoy your now mess-free zone.

"You're going to feel so much better in your space. The space is going to function better, you're gonna be able to see the things that you need when you need them," McDougald added. "As opposed to putting everything back in an organized fashion. We can do that, but you're not going to have that stress-relieving effect.

Repeat the process in a new area. "If you can get one area nailed down, you'll understand the process can be replicated for other parts of the house," McDougald said. "Then you can attack area by area."

After organizing, McDougald advises creating a regular cleaning schedule and sticking to it. And if it starts to feel overwhelming, don't be afraid to ask for help.

"If they get stuck they should call a professional organizer," she said. "Clearing up the physical clutter, it's really an awesome gift [to yourself]."

Cori McDougald helps people clean up problem areas in their homes, including storage rooms and garages.
Cori McDougald helps people clean up problem areas in their homes, including storage rooms and garages.

Olivia Link, Olivia Link