Even the most organized home has areas that inexorably attract clutter, no matter how often you tidy up. Some call these mystery zones “black holes.”
A new study conducted by OnePol on behalf of ClosetMaid has found that 8 in 10 Americans say they have at least one black hole in their home—meaning a space they just can’t seem to keep clean or organized. And now that spring is upon us, this is precisely where you should start your seasonal scrubbing.
“The brilliance of starting spring-cleaning by attacking organizational black holes—the piles of clothing draped across your bedroom chair or that junk drawer in your kitchen—is it’s unfailing in its ability to reveal your worst organizational pitfalls,” says professional organizer Kelly McMenamin, author of “Organize Your Way: Simple Strategies for Every Personality.”
By targeting these problem areas, you can finally put systems in place to avoid such messes, and the rest of your space will fall in line.
When asked to identify the reasons that these “cleaning black holes” exist, 34% of respondents cited feeling too overwhelmed or distracted to tackle them. Others blamed their organization problems on their space being too small (32%), or on someone in their household causing too many messes (19%).
Whatever the reason, the time to tackle these household messes is right now. Here are the five most common clutter black holes, and how to tackle them so your house is spotless just in time for sunnier weather.
Cleaning black hole No. 1: The junk drawer
Unsurprisingly, the most common black hole, reported by almost all respondents, is the junk drawer (88%). The messiest one can typically be found in the kitchen (37%). And while some people actually designate a drawer as their catchall cubicle, about 33% said junk drawers just magically materialize over time.
And what’s in these junk drawers? The top 10 items reported were pens (10%), paper (8%), batteries (7%), tape (7%), tools (5%), scissors (5%), pencils (4%), screws (4%), rubber bands (3%), and nails (2%). The good news is that all of these items can be easily corralled.
The fix: Dump the drawer’s contents out on the counter. Wipe down the drawer, and then dig through the stuff you unearthed to see if there are any discernible categories. For example, if you have a bunch of batteries in the drawer that you usually store elsewhere, return them to their proper home; if not, group them together.
Then before you just haphazardly throw the stuff back in the drawer, put in some drawer organizers (about $3 to $7).
“It’s like a manual version of that old computer game Tetris, where you’re essentially filling every square inch of the drawer with mini cubes or rectangles,” says McMenamin. “From there, you can either designate each bin for a category or just break up the visual sea of junk, making it easier to spot or remember where you put something.”
Cleaning black hole No. 2: The laundry chair
Nearly half (49%) of respondents said that the “laundry chair” black hole has made an appearance in their home, meaning a chair or piece of exercise equipment has morphed into a receptacle for clean or dirty clothes.
“As with the junk drawer, that laundry black hole is simply masking organizational issues elsewhere in the bedroom to which there are also simple solutions,” says McMenamin. “Some are there because there are not enough hangers, or maybe you have too many clothes in need of a purge.”
The fix: Figure out why the laundry ends up in a pile there to begin with. If it’s because you don’t have enough hangers, order something like these slim velvet hangers ($6.99) that work as space savers as well. If it’s just that you’re too lazy or tired to get clothes all the way into the hamper, McMenamin suggests you mount hooks on the backs of doors where you can hang them out of sight.
If you have clothes that require dry-cleaning or hand-washing, get a separate hamper ($69.99) for them.
“While you’re at it, get an additional one for clothing donations,” says McMenamin. “Putting them in this type of purgatory for a while will help you decide if you don’t wear or miss the item, and a donation hamper makes purging clothing an almost effortless, recurring habit.”
Cleaning black hole No. 3: The plastic bag within a bag
Also lurking somewhere in your house is probably a plastic bag filled with other bags. In fact, 62% of respondents admitted to plastic bag hoarding. The number of bags seems to correspond with age, as this phenomenon is more popular with older respondents—roughly 82% of baby boomers (aged 57-plus) compared with 70% of Gen Xers (41–56), and 63% of millennials (25–40).
“I once had a client who had devoted half of an entire closet to their grocery store plastic bag collection. I was gobsmacked,” says McMenamin. “As cities clamp down on plastic bags and try to tax them out of existence, you’d think that this wouldn’t be an organizational black hole anymore. You’d be wrong. People hold on to them even more since they are a scarcer commodity now.”
The fix: One space-saving hack is to fold a plastic bag lengthwise a few times, wrap it around your hand, and then tuck the end through, which turns it into sort of a tiny ball. You can get a lot more bags into one storage bag that way.
If you don’t have the patience to do that, however, McMenamin recommends getting a compact grocery bag holder ($14.99).
“It gives more structure than stuffing a bunch in one large plastic bag, though a good back-up is just a small square open bin,” says McMenamin.
This might also be a good time to discard any extra shopping bags and boxes that you’ll never use, so be honest with yourself over whether you’ll use these things and purge accordingly.
Cleaning black hole No. 4: The food container explosion
While 82% of people say they have a dedicated cabinet for food storage containers, only 28% believe that theirs is well-organized; 20% say their food storage situation is a disaster—i.e., they can never find a lid to match a bottom.
“I’ve no idea why, but people often make the mistake of storing Tupperware tops and bottoms in separate places,” says McMenamin. The organizational answer here is in keeping your pieces together.
The fix: Take out all your plastic food containers and find the matching lid for each. Get rid of the extra bottoms without lids and vice versa (unless they fit something else or can be refashioned into junk drawer organizers). You want to store food storage containers have their lids fastened to them. If you don’t think they’ll all fit back in the cabinet, McMenamin suggests you get extra cabinet shelves ($6.39). Try to limit stacking to just two containers high to make it easier to retrieve them when they’re needed.
Cleaning black hole No. 5: The bottomless bowl
“Bowls with no purpose will always fill up with random clutter and spare change, always,” says McMenamin, and 24% of respondents agree with her, noting that they have a “junk bowl” filled with keys and all sorts of other stuff. If you have a bowl brimming with bric-a-brac, it’s time to dump that baby and start a spring downsize.
The fix: “Once you’ve gone through everything, try random keys on doors and label those that work; deliver other things to their proper homes—or the trash can,” says McMenamin.
Then what? “There is only one way to avoid the same thing happening again: Get a smaller bowl, and have a specific purpose for it,” says McMenamin. “Make sure the bowl is so small it only fits its exact purpose—catchall for your keys or what’s in your pocket every day—with no wiggle room.”
You’ll still get a stray paper clip in there now and then, but that’s easy to trash.
Cleaning black hole No. 6: The paper pile
More than one third (38%) of Americans say they have some sort of yet-to-be-sorted paper pile that needs attention. Whether it’s bills, mail, flyers, or to-do lists, these stacks of stationery are a black hole in need of structure.
The fix: “A proper mailroom—even if tiny—is the universal solution to all paper black holes,” says McMenamin, who suggests looking for a few shelves with bins to act as paper cubbies ($18.02) for everyone in your home, pets included.
“Organization systems are meant to be the underpinning of life, not the other way around,” she says.
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