UNDATED -- It's National Get Organized Week, and that's as good a reason as any to take stock of the things we own and get the clutter under control.

Julie Braun, owner of Sauk Rapids-based home and office organizing company Smart Organizing Solutions, says most of her clients are motivated to get organized, but are often overwhelmed and unsure of exactly where to begin.

“What I always suggest is, first of all, completely clear out the space you want to organize,” Braun says. “Whether it’s your pantry, or your closet, or your cupboards – empty it all out and then start sorting by categories. That way, you really see what you have. If it’s a closet, separate things like winter hats, shoes and boots, etc. Then, from there, pare down to what you want to keep and what you’re willing to part with.”

Braun also suggests tackling one room or area at a time, and starting with a space in particular need of attention.

“Start small and do it in chunks,” she said. “Don’t try to do it all at once, because that will just make you more frustrated and overwhelmed, and you’ll create a heck of a mess. What area of your home is bugging you the most? Start with that. Do you want to organize your closet? Your pantry? Your kitchen cupboards? You should start with the one bothering you the most.”

Braun says it's important to stay on task while organizing a space - something that can be difficult to do at times while sifting through a menagerie of items.

“Nine times out of 10 when you’re cleaning out your home, you’ll find items that belong in another area,” she said. “You might have Christmas ornaments in your linen closet. Set those things aside in a separate box and stay focused on what you’re working on.”

So, what items are cluttering up our lives the most? Stacks of paper, like old bills and birthday cards, and clothes, says Braun.

“Clothes that don’t fit,” she specifies. “People say, ‘oh I might grow back into them, or I might lose weight.’ That’s something people tend to hang onto that, when you think about it, is just taking up wasted space. And, if you do shrink or get larger, those clothes will probably be out of style anyway!”

Braun tells her clients to pitch paper copies of bills or bank statements over a year old, and to sort through old greeting cards and only keep the most significant ones. As for the clothes, she says some of her clients have a "buy one, purge one" system in place.

“I know a lot of people that say they will have to remove something from their closet before they buy something new,” she said. “That’s one way to keep it manageable.”

So, why organize? Braun says people who live in cluttered spaces often feel stressed and out of control. She says one of her recent clients reported feeling so much better about her home and life after undertaking a major home organizing project.

“When I did a follow-up with her, she said, ‘oh my gosh, everything is where it’s supposed to be, it’s labeled, it’s organized, I can find it when I need it,” she said. “She loved that feeling that everything is in its place. I think it’s freeing for people, because they don’t feel as bogged down by their stuff.”

“It’s always easier to exist in a place when it’s neat and tidy,” she added.

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