A Hoarders Organizer’s Room-by-Room Guide to Getting (and Staying) Clean in Quarantine
Dorothy “The Organizer" Breininger shares easy, actionable tips for getting your home in order while sheltering in place
Ever heard of a little show called Hoarders? Then you may be familiar with Dorothy “The Organizer" Breininger, one of the organizing experts who has been on the cult favorite A&E series since it first premiered.
After years of helping people come to terms with getting rid of their unnecessary possessions, Breininger knows a thing or two about putting a house in order — and she believes that this time at home while social distancing is the perfect opportunity to start.
According to the professional organizer, cleaning your house is “one of the most satisfying ways to eliminate restlessness, anxiety and frustration,” while releasing pent-up energy. Being productive can release endorphins and make you feel good, she promises, and it’s much nicer to quarantine in an tidy home than a cluttered one.
Here, Breininger shares with PEOPLE a room-by-room guide, covering everything from messy kitchens to overstuffed garages, with easy, actionable tips to get started.
During the pandemic, she notes, “cleaning should happen before the organizing,” and she recommends scrubbing everything with hot, soapy water before starting anything else.
Outside the front door
When beginning the organizing process, Breininger suggests starting with the front door (this is something she does with clients on Hoarders, if and when she can get in the front door).
“Remove dead plants, rusting furniture, toys, shoes, brooms, flower clippers” and whatever else is outside the door, then get them “to their proper home or toss what’s no longer useful,” she says. “Take pride in looking at the entrance to your front door – it signals an organized (or disorganized) home on the inside.”
Inside the front door
Many people use the space just inside the front door as a “drop zone” for things like keys, change and sunglasses. “Accommodate that natural behavior by hanging smaller hooks for keys and larger hooks for backpacks & purses,” suggests Breininger. “Use a decorative plate or basket for sunglasses, keys and money. Then make an agreement that these are the only items allowed in these spaces.”
If you normally enter through the garage, make these changes there instead.
Speaking of the garage, Breininger suggests starting to declutter by looking for empty boxes — “yes, even if they’re darn good boxes,” she jokes. “Garage space is valuable and breaking down those space hogs is important.”
Next, she says, look for stained or broken items. “You know, the chair you’ve been wanting to reupholster, the suitcase that lost a wheel, the shoes you meant to give away a few years ago but now are covered with spider webs and show evidence of deterioration. Usually those items present less of an attachment for us and can be easier to part with,” Breininger explains.
While you don’t need to buy a lot of products in order to get organized, one thing Breininger does suggest investing in is a “Lazy Susan," a round tray organizer that spins.
“Place the Lazy Susan in your cupboard under the sink or on a shelf to store shampoos, hairsprays, perfumes, lotions, or medications,” she says. “Rather than having to rustle around the back of the cabinet for items you really can’t see, this method allows you to just spin the wheel to find your favorite toiletry.”
The kitchen is the hub of the house, and therefore can quickly become cluttered. Breininger says thinking about “counter management” is an easy way to make a big difference.
“Get clear on what you use your counters for,” she says. “Food prep? Okay, make that a zone. Define that space with the cutting board and knives. Paying bills? Okay, make that a zone. Set that space by keeping a tray for mail and tools to pay the bills (laptop, pens, clips, stapler).”
Once you know where everything belongs, it’s easier to keep it all in order.
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Now that most people are working from home, home offices are getting more use than ever — and it’s more important than ever to keep them clutter-free (for everyone’s sanity).
“It’s okay to have a ‘Pile System’ rather than a ‘File System,’” Breininger says. “People no longer like to file papers or they keep their documents digitally.”
Piles are totally acceptable, so long as you do these three things, says Breininger: “You designate an area for your piles (i.e. a bookshelf); they are separated into categories (bills with bills, medical with medical); and you review the piles on a regular basis (weekly is ideal)."
Bedside tables and drawers can accumulate junk fast — but Breininger has a method for organizing them just as quickly. To start, lay a solid colored towel on the bed and dump out all the drawers and everything sitting on the tabletops.
“Create categories such as toiletries, office stuff, sewing kit, toys, electronics,” she says. “Put every item into a category and review each category. If the item is no longer useful, toss it; if it is useful and doesn’t belong on the nightstand, run the item to its proper home, then put back only what you need at your immediate bedside.”
Need more organization inspiration (or just something to pass the time while social distancing)? Hoarders marathons air every Sunday morning on A&E.