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Contain your enthusiasm for storage bins, and other reorganizing tips

Nicole Anzia, the owner of professional organizing business Neatnik, was the guest recently on the Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: I buy baskets and boxes but end up hiding stuff in them and not really organizing. What is the point?

A: Good question! There is no point. I always tell my clients that there is no need to run out and buy a bunch of fancy baskets and bins that you may or may not need. The real question is: Do you need what is inside? In Marie Kondo’s new book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” she writes: “A booby trap lies within the term storage,” and she’s right. Hiding your stuff to make a space look neat is not organizing. Getting rid of things you don’t need and storing only the things you want is the way to go, and this rarely requires fancy bins and boxes.

Q: I have heard more than once that the key to getting organized is to discard 70 percent of your stuff because you really only need and/or love the remaining 30 percent. In your opinion, how valid is this 70 percent rule?

A: I wouldn’t get too caught up in the percentages, but the theory is valid. We all have too much stuff, and there is a definite trend toward minimizing belongings. I think that most people keep and buy way too much stuff, and there is a price to pay for the anxiety and work that is required to keep it all organized. Less is more!

Q: How do we store tools and bulky outdoor gear we use approximately twice a month? Garage I assume, but in what?

A: In clear, labeled bins on shelves. The tools should not be in a huge container, something easy to pick up and bring inside. Most people reach for a hammer, nails, tape measure and screwdriver most frequently, so keep those things handy. For the outdoor gear, it depends on what it is, but if you can put similar things together or categorize the bin by person, that should make it easy to find what you’re looking for.

Q: Several years ago my parents died within a couple months of each other, and I had to clean out their house. I boxed up all their tchotchkes and files and brought it all to my new house. There’s a ton of stuff that I recognize from my childhood, and a lot of stuff that I don’t. I’m having a very hard time letting go of the first category. Can you suggest some ways to make this easier?

A: First, I’m so sorry for your loss. Situations like yours are very difficult and fraught with emotion. A massive organizing project like that is also physically exhausting. I would give yourself permission to keep some things. You definitely don’t need to get rid of everything, but maybe you can set a limit that you will keep five boxes of important memorabilia? Whittle the load down a bit, and if you end up with six or eight boxes, that’s fine for now. The key is to make the job less and less daunting. You can always go back and get rid of more later. Also, is there someone who can help you with this? It might be helpful to have someone with you who can help you make decisions and laugh a little bit. Best of luck.

Q: I enjoy a well-organized home and have no problem getting rid of things I am no longer using or wearing, but my husband is another story! His first line of defense is, “What if I need it down the road?” Any suggestions on how to get him on board?

A: This is the case in many marriages, and it does cause a lot of tension. Sometimes he needs to hear that it’s OK to get rid of something from someone other than you – one scenario where a professional organizer can help. Is there a specific category of things he feels the need to keep? Maybe you could suggest he start with one category of items and maybe let go. Usually once someone starts, the process will get a little easier. Also, tell him I have never once in eight years had a client tell me that they had regrets about giving something away.

Q: I’ll be living in an attic room that has slanted ceilings and no closets. Any suggestions for storing clothes?

A: A couple of low, three-drawer dressers will be helpful. I’m assuming that they will fit below the slanted ceilings, but measure first. Hanging clothes is obviously going to be more difficult, but if there’s enough vertical space along at least one of the walls, you might want to use a portable clothes closet.

Q: I have three types of “seasonal” clothing: winter-only items, summer-only items and maternity clothing. What do you recommend for where and how to store the stuff that is not currently in season? My closet probably isn’t big enough to store it all in there at the same time. Do I go with clear plastic containers? Vacuum bags? Something else?

A: If you have a basement or attic, you could store some things there in waterproof, airtight containers. If you don’t have a ton of additional storage space in your house, under-the-bed will do. I like to use storage containers that stack. Although vacuum bags can help to save space, they can be hard to store because of their irregular shape. If you have items that you want to store but that need to be stored in breathable bins, there are lots of options out there.

Q: Any ideas on places that would like my old college textbooks? As it’s been 15 years since college, I’m sure there are newer versions and so mine aren’t worth anything. I’d rather not just recycle them but will if I have to.

A: Unfortunately, it’s going to be hard to find a home for those old textbooks. You could check with your local library, but beyond that, they may just have to be recycled.

Q: I am sitting in my office, which is filled with my young children’s artwork, clothes they have outgrown out of, old letters from dear ones no longer living, treasures that came to us when my mother-in-law died and my mother downsized. It is amazing I can find the computer, and I am feeling overwhelmed! Any encouragement would be appreciated.

A: The best thing to do is just start picking things up and putting them into categories using boxes labeled “keep,” “toss,” “recycle” and “shred.” The office is not going to be cleaned and organized in a day or even a month — all of that stuff takes time to accumulate — but if you spend 30 minutes a day, you will make progress and feel motivated to do more.

Q: My husband is in the final stages of building a home office for us. Are there any products that you highly recommend, like must-have items for the office? Please recommend a good file cabinet that will not tip over when full.

A: The first thing I would think about is whether you want one large filing cabinet or two smaller ones. One for you and one for him? Or one for personal use and one for business matters? This decision is also dictated by the space, of course, but don’t just go out and buy a huge filing cabinet you may not need. There are a lot of good options out there though and so much great design too – better than your old standard metal, cream-colored filing cabinets.

Q: My roommate has a ton of boots and shoes. She already hangs up flats/heels in her bedroom (in a closet organizer). Where can we put her shoes? There doesn’t seem to be a place for them in our apartment.

A: If your roommate has so many boots and shoes that they’re encroaching on your common living space, you need to move. Just kidding! Seriously, does she have some shoes that are out of season and could be moved elsewhere until spring or summer, so that there is room for some of the boots?

Q: My kids are grown and I don’t put up a Christmas tree anymore. I have boxes of glass ornaments in my attic. Is there anyplace that would take them as a donation?

A: Check with a local church, hospital or senior residence. I bet they would be thrilled to have them!

Q: Have you ever reduced junk mailings for your clients? If so, how do you go about it? Between catalog and credit card offers, it would be amazing if I could reduce the pile I need to go through every day.

A: I have helped people try to reduce their junk mail, using the methods you mention, and it definitely always feels like an uphill battle. Shopping online is definitely going to make you a candidate for receiving a ton of catalogs. Have you tried actually calling the retailers? I know that’s a time-consuming way to spend an hour or so, but that may finally get you off the list of at least a few mailing lists.

Q: Do you have advice on when to keep/toss certain things? I always seem to keep makeup past when I assume I should throw it out. But who can remember when they bought a tube of lip gloss?

A: If you think you’ve kept something too long, you probably have and you should toss it. But the more important questions are, do you use it and do you need it?

Q: I have a small area off my living room and I currently have an old cabinet that needs to go! I have a wonderful old farm table I’d love to use as a desk. Any thoughts or ideas on must-haves for the space are greatly appreciated.

A: I love using old tables as desks – lots of room to spread out and not feel too cramped. Do you work from home? Is this going to be your primary work space, or more of something you’ll use on the weekend or at night? Regardless, you’re most likely going to want something to store supplies and file papers, but how you plan to use the space, and the size of the space, will dictate what items you must have.

Q: I have a tiny wooden desk in a small home office and need more work space. I don’t want to replace it with a table because I like having drawer space. I found an end table online that will go well with the aged look of the desk; it’s the right width and depth but 6 inches shorter. I can make it work but I’m wondering if it will look weird. What do you think?

A: It sounds like it might work! Because you don’t have many options, I would say give it a try, especially since the dimensions are correct and the wood matches. I wouldn’t worry too much about the height. Good luck!