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Christy's mud room

Welcome to “Order Out of Chaos,” a new space-makeover series where we’ll demonstrate how small, inexpensive organizational shifts can make a life-changing difference in your home. We’ve enlisted the help of certified feng shui and decluttering expert Andrea Gerasimo, whose Wisconsin-based company, Third Mountain, helps clients transform both inner and outer obstacles through clutter-clearing, thoughtful design and the practice of yoga. She’s also the sister of our editor in chief, and to make this a real family affair, she’s organizing the homes of Experience Life staff. In this installment, Gerasimo takes on the entryway of Project Manager Christy Rice. In the future, she’ll tackle an office, a fridge — and more!

1: A Heavy Load

Pre-decluttering, Rice’s entryway was a real source of frustration. She was forever tripping over stuff and stressing about the mess. “I thought about it even when I wasn’t at home,” she admits.

Entryways are natural dumping grounds, Gerasimo observes. “It’s where everyone and everything passes through. Stuff like bags and keys get set down here as people go in and out, and whatever comes in — shopping purchases, mail, snow-covered boots — is likely to land here, too.”

The main issue with Rice’s entryway, says Gerasimo, is that there’s no “receptive space” — no place to set things down, except the floor, where stuff just tends to accumulate. Because the floor is one of the first places the eye travels, Gerasimo notes, clutter here can be especially vexing.

messy mudroom

2: Making Space

Gerasimo and Rice begin by sorting and boxing out-of-season items that can be stored elsewhere. To speed up the decluttering process, Gerasimo employs a box sorting system. She labels boxes with various destinations: “Donate,” “Disseminate” (to other rooms in the house), “Friends and Family,” “Recycle,” and so on.

The system helps eliminate distractions and simplifies a lot of “what should I do with this?” dilemmas. When Rice finds items that belong in the kids’ rooms, they get dropped in the “Disseminate” box, eliminating countless time-eating trips upstairs. The baby carrier lands in the “Friends and Family” box for a girlfriend who’s due in a few months.

By the end of the day, Gerasimo and Rice have filled several boxes with “donate” items ready to go to a local charity.

3: Room for Change

With excess clutter out of the way, the next step is to find a proper home for the items that will remain. Rice already had a good closet storage system in place — a neat set of fabric bins to hold grab-and-go items like yoga props and winter hats. But she hasn’t gone through the contents in a while.

“Life changes, and our space needs to change with it,” notes Gerasimo. By relocating rarely used items (including apparel that Rice’s young children have recently outgrown), they create additional space for items in more current rotation. Having less stuff packed into each bin also makes it easier for Rice to identify and grab the things she and her family need daily. “Not having to dig for the things you use most often can free up all kinds of energy,” says Gerasimo.

4: Functional Beauty

In feng shui, Gerasimo points out, “items of beauty are not frivolous, decorative afterthoughts.” Often, they serve an important structural purpose. A sculpture placed high on the closet shelf and an arrangement of silk flowers placed on a chair both draw visual attention up and away from the floor (where the occasional toy or boot is still likely to land).

The flowers also prevent the chair from becoming a crash pad for heaping baskets from the adjacent laundry room, and they keep people from sitting on the chair itself, which is an heirloom from Rice’s grandmother. Now she can enjoy its historical significance without worrying about its safety.

5: Sense of Belonging

Replacing a tacked-up calendar with a piece of framed art lends a sense of grace and solidity to the entry. Gerasimo also suggests that Rice place a beloved piece of art or family photo on the wall facing the door, so it’s the first thing she and her family see on arrival. Such items convey a sense of peaceful connection, she notes, and make every homecoming a pleasant one. “Beautiful objects in an entryway not only give the eye a place to land, rather than bouncing from one misplaced item to another, they also help you feel how you want to feel when you come in the door — truly glad to be home.”

6: Looking Past Symptoms

Beyond clearing spaces of clutter, Gerasimo strives to identify and eliminate its underlying causes. “Unless you figure out the source of the problem,” she says, “clutter will return with a vengeance.”

Rice’s entryway, for example, was lacking a “hub” — a central spot for entryway transitions to occur. Placing a bench under the hanging coats lends the room the sense of “receptive space” it had been lacking — a resting surface for keys, bags and coffee cups. The space beneath the bench also provides a neat place to stow shoes and boots. Establishing this kind of functional order makes the space look, work and feel better.

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