Your family room or living room is the one place your whole clan comes together to hang out. And, as such, it's probably the default dumping ground for everyone's stuff. If your family is like most families, that means clutter and disorganization.
But you can transform this room from the messiest area in your home to the organized, relaxing family haven you desire. Here's how:
1. Get rid of what doesn't belong.
Think about the function of the room, says Lorie Marrero, author of The Clutter Diet and founder of the Web. How do you use the space? Most people use family rooms to watch TV and movies, listen to music, read, talk, play games and play with toys.
Start by going through each item with that in mind. Keep what fits and move out what doesn't. That means board games, magazines and DVDs are in; backpacks, a briefcase, mail, keys, cold medicine and other miscellaneous items are out.
2. Sort your stuff.
Focusing on the stuff that you decided to keep, sort everything by how often you use each item, advises Marrero.
Things your family uses daily or almost every day (magazines, remotes, toys, etc.) should be easily accessible. Items you use a few times a month (playing cards, scrapbooks) can go out of the way in a cabinet or drawer. Gather anything you rarely need (holiday decorations, your grandmother's tablecloth, old report cards) into storage bins and send them off to the garage, closet, attic or basement.
3. Ditch DVD and CD cases.
One of the quickest ways for a room to look and feel neater is to transfer discs to CD wallets or binders and get rid of the cases by either recycling them or donating them to charity. This way, you convert many shelves of storage or display space to just a few inches, and your CDs remain accessible. In fact, it's even easier to find the CD you need. "Because you flip through binders like a book, it's easier to find specific discs," says Marrero.
4. Clear the coffee table.
Because of its prominent spot in the room, the coffee table can amass clutter and make an otherwise tidy room feel disorganized. Here are some ideas on how to deal with the messy inhabitants:
* Move magazines. Magazines and catalogs can easily pile up. Place them in a basket in a corner, instead. It serves as a natural "limiting container," says Marrero. "When the basket is full, it's a visual reminder to clean it out."
* Rein in remote controls. A universal remote is an extra expense, but what you spend to turn four remotes into one, you'll earn back in sanity. Also, give it a designated home: Attach the soft side of Velcro to the back of the remote and stick the rough piece to the side of the sofa or another easy-to-reach, hidden spot.
5. Tidy up toys.
Some people think that all toys can be thrown into one place, but if you want to stay organized, that might not be the best strategy. "One big toy box encourages kids to dump the whole thing out," warns Marrero. And then what do you have? Clutter city! Instead, store toys in small containers by type -- one bin for dolls, one for blocks, one for games, and so on. And skip lids if possible. "Using open bins means that kids can just throw things in, making cleanup easier for everyone," says Marrero.
6. Corral your cords.
A mess of exposed electrical cords is just that -- a mess. Fish cords through the back of furniture and use Velcro cable ties or even garbage-bag twist ties to bundle them. "That way, they don't become a giant octopus," says Marrero. Attach label stickers on the ends so you can unplug one electronic without the guessing game.
7. Stay clutter-free.
Once the room is organized, keep it that way!
* Stop collecting stuff. "Try to prevent things from coming into the room in the first place," says Marrero. Unsubscribe from magazines you rarely read, and buy music or movies online instead of getting them in discs. And, before you buy anything new, ask yourself, "Where am I going to store this?"
* Think beyond the family room. If items like backpacks and mail keep showing up, give them a permanent home elsewhere. Create what Marrero calls a "destination station." Hang hooks by the door for keys, put a basket in the hall for mail and give purses, backpacks and shoes space in your mud room or hall closet.
* Straighten up on the spot. "Organizing is about decision making," says Marrero. It's easy to put an item somewhere "just for now." But doing so instantly creates clutter. The rule: Put items away as soon as you finish with them, and find suitable homes for new things right away.
* Enlist your family's help. Talk about maintaining the order, then post a checklist reminding your kids that they have to put away toys, homework and other stuff before they can watch TV. Or set a policy that everyone spends five minutes before bed to get organized -- folding blankets, putting back the remote, picking up socks and so on.