Making room for life (part 2)

Making room for life (part 2)

By Monica K. Guthrie

We are now in the weeds of our cleaning/preparing to move – here are some tips as you start your own spring (winter?) cleaning. It’s broken down by room to help you better navigate. Share your tips on how to clean in the comments!

You probably can't tell but the photo on the left is the ridiculous "room of requirement" I showed you in my last blog. It's a mess. The photo on the right if after I've organized and cleaned it. I have a box for my old Army mementos, a shelf for entertaining dishes/plate/napkins and ... okay, if I'm really honest, I still need to clean the bottom right side. I ran out of time!


  • As you get started have a spot for things you want to “save” “give away” and “trash,” Put items in those piles accordingly (extra points if you have bins for the “give” and “trash” piles – helps for transporting when you’re done). Save items are things that don’t necessarily have a place to go but you want to keep them (Your mementos from your trip abroad, your senior thesis that you’re super proud of – whatever). You can go through the save box later and determine the best way to store them.
  • Start with the medicine cabinet
  • Move to drawers
  • Let go of makeup and other products you haven’t used in 6+ months.
  • Once you have everything decluttered – clean it. I’m totally grossed out by bathrooms so once it’s all clean, we’re cleaning the floors, toilets, mirrors and the bathtub. And then no one is ever allowed to use it again! Haha!



  • Set up a spot for save/give/trash piles
  • Go through each drawer removing items you aren’t using or don’t need. I like to start with drawers because it’s the easiest for me (it’s that snowball effect – the small victory gives me momentum to do more). Then I move to cabinets, the counter and then finally the pantry (I might even throw in the refrigerator if I’m feeling extra motivated).
  • Throw away old food in the pantry (and the refrigerator if you need to). I’ve started labeling my food items with a Sharpie putting the date I purchased on it so that I can figure out if I need to throw something out.
  • Once it’s all decluttered – clean it! Wipe down the countertops, stove, all the things!


Living spaces (living room, entryways, hallways – and maybe the laundry room)

  • If you have a desk or anything with drawers, start going through them (entry tables, entertainment centers, bookcases).
  • Start Save/Give/Trash piles – you know the drill at this point
  • Have places for things – for us, we keep our shoes by the door, so we need to have a designated spot for them. Shoes are also an easy thing to have my youngest help with. He can match shoes together and organize them. You may need a place for coats or umbrellas or electronics – things like that. Give them a home and then put them there. We have an entire drawer dedicated to cords and gaming controllers – a small drawer, but it’s there.
  • Bookcases – cleaning bookcases for me is ridiculously difficult. I have them filled to overflowing with books, books I love and can’t imagine giving away. I pick a few favorites to keep out and everything else I move to another room. I’m starting a library for my youngest in his room and while his books now are age appropriate (he’s 4), I’m seriously considering using the top shelves to home books he’ll read when he’s older. It’s a win-win because I get to keep the books and we find a new home for them. The trick is to not re-fill the shelves with something else.
  • Put things back where they need to go. I find as I’m cleaning I start creating sub piles (bathrooms, kids toys, kitchen, garage) where I collect items that need to be returned to their rightful spot. Once I’m done cleaning, I immediately take these items where they need to go and put them in the exact location they need to be (or, if I trust the kids, I’ll summon one of them – or my husband – to transport it for me).
  • Once everything is put away – clean! I vacuum and dust and put on a great smelling candle.


Office/Work space

Have bins to set up to toss things into as you clean. Having a "save," "give" and "trash" pile helps you easily organize and transport items to the thrift or trash. I additionally have a "paper" bin because I have so much. I'll recycle the paper when I'm done.

  • Start Save/Give/Trash piles
  • Go through the drawers
  • Throw away paper. I have so much paper.
  • Put items in places they belong (paper, pens, staplers, notes – have a designated spot for them)
  • Once it’s put away – clean (vacuum)!



  • Make your bed. I do this every morning. It just makes me feel like my room is tidy even if it’s not, plus it gives me space to lay things out as I clean.
  • Throw away trash – tissues, clothing tags, scraps of paper. Things you know FOR SURE, are not staying in your home.
  • Save/Give/Trash piles
  • Focus on the least troublesome spot first (maybe a dresser or under your bed). I like to pull everything out and decide what items you want to keep and which ones you don’t. This is where #2 (detach) from Jan. 12’s blog comes in. If you haven’t used an item in a year, maybe you don’t need it.
  • Then put everything away – nicely – and vacuum!
  • Move on to another portion of the room – closet maybe?



  • Closets get their own category because they’re so cumbersome for me. There is SO MUCH in our closets (well, in mine anyway) – step one is to dedicate a good amount of time to the task. If your closet is a wreck or filled to the brim, 30 minutes isn’t going to cut it (unless you’re just giving it all away).
  • Set piles and start pulling things out of the closet. I like to tackle it section by section (floor first, then shelves then hangers).
  • Once everything is put away … guess?!? That’s right, vacuum! Seriously though, the closet can be super gross. Vacuum it!


Garage or attic/basement

I have bins to help organize our items - like Christmas. All of our Christmas items are put into colored bins so that we know what they are just by glancing. We also like to organize where in the garage these boxes go - this helps both in organization and with finding items without opening a million boxes.

  • Open it up and throw everything away … just kidding.
  • Make sections – for example, I have a Christmas section, power tools, outdoor playthings and then generic “storage.” They all are dangerously close to mixing together so I need to clean up but having sections makes it easy to sort and also easy to find things later.
  • Save/Give/Trash
  • Take everything out and start sorting. I find it to be more difficult here because of how infrequently I use things (Christmas stuff only comes out once a year, or I may not use my table saw every month). Just try the best you can keeping in mind your lifestyle and the likelihood of you using the items in the future.
  • While I normally like to wait until the end of my cleaning to start organizing and labeling things, I find it important to have a system set up early when dealing with my garage. So if you don’t already have tubs for holidays or yard tools or things like that, go ahead and get some – just a few. I have mason jars to hold my screws and nails and a pallet to hold my plywood (I do a lot of woodworking in my garage), and we have red and green plastic bins for our Christmas stuff. It makes it easy to put things right where they belong.
  • In the end you may need some additional shelving, you’ll know more once everything is organized.


Those are just a few tips – what are some things you do to help yourself clean? I still have more cleaning to do so please share – I need to know! Happy cleaning!


Monica K. Guthrie is an Army brat, an Army veteran (Rock of the Marne!) and now an Army spouse with two boys. She is currently the media relations officer for the public affairs office at Fort Sill, Okla., and writes a weekly column called the Okie Bucket List. She also has a photography and graphic design business, Pro Deo Creations, that she maintains between potty training and kissing scraped knees.  

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