An Interview With Erin Rooney Doland
By ─ Amy
Got Clutter? Get clutter-busting with the help of D.C. metro-area mom and unclutterer extraordinaire, Erin Rooney Doland. After moving into an 850 sq. ft. apartment with her husband, this self-described pack rat realized the necessity of changing her ways and committing to a more minimalist lifestyle. Now the highly successful Editor-in-Chief of Unclutterer.com, she has shared her message of simplicity with the Rachel Ray Show, The New York Times, Real Simple Magazine, and Martha Stewart Living radio. Here, she shares some tips with DC Metro Mommy on controlling all the clutter that causes unnecessary stress in our family lives.
What is clutter?
Any distraction that gets in the way of the life you want to lead. It can be physical, mental, emotional, or even a time commitment that is keeping you from doing what you want to do.
You have a successful website, Unclutterer.com, a regular blog on Realsimple.com and book, "Unclutter Your Life in One Week". What inspired you to turn your knack for uncluttering into a professional enterprise?
I was chronically disorganized for most of my life, and after an encouraging conversation with my husband decided to change my ways. After months (and now years) of studying the science behind how our brains store information, how we process information, the benefits of simple living, and the joys of always knowing where my keys are located, I decided to start writing about the topic and sharing what I had learned with others. I work with corporate clients from time-to-time, give lecturers, and even go into clients' homes - but my passion is writing about uncluttering.
Sometimes the biggest hurdle is getting started. What's the most important first step for the clutter-prone to take towards uncluttering?
I recommend starting in one of three ways: Take on the area you first see in the morning (like your closet or your coffee station in your kitchen), the area of your home that causes you the greatest amount of stress (like the pile of dirty towels that have been in your mudroom since a pool party at the start of last summer), or a small drawer that you can tackle in less than 15 minutes time. No matter which of these projects you decide to do first, finishing just one of them will give you the motivation to take on another small project. It might take a year, but eventually you'll get your home into a state that causes you few distractions.
What is your "red velvet rope" test and how does it help you decide whether to keep something in your life or not?
After emptying out all of the contents of your closet, imagine that there is a burly bouncer standing at your closet door. The bouncer is holding a red velvet rope, and he's only going to let clothes back into your closet that you love, that fit you, that do not need to be repaired, and that make you look your best. Going to your closet should be a joy, not a disaster. You don't need a lot of clothes, but you should only store clothes in your closet that represent you and your style.
What areas of a family's home are typically the ha rdest to keep clutter-free and what strategies do you recommend for uncluttering these spaces?
Each family is different, but many families struggle with maintaining schedules. I always recommend having a giant calendar where all members of the family can clearly see where everyone is and where everyone needs to be. If a family has children who are high school age, a shared Google calendar could work, too. Many families also struggle with getting homework home from school. If this is the case in your family, contact the school to see if you can rent an extra set of textbooks to keep at home so your child never has to tote books back-and-forth between the two locations.
What system do you recommend for dealing with all those papers, projects, and artwork that come home from school every day?
I think every family should have an art gallery on a wall in the dining room or in a hallway. I recommend an art gallery hanging system with DynamicFRAMES and floating shelves (like ones you can get at Pottery Barn or Ikea). Collect artwork, projects, and papers in the frames and put 3D items on shelves. Sort through the collection every semester with your child. Have your children decide which items will be stored in a Rubbermaid tub (one per child) for the permanent collection, and which items will be recycled or given away as gifts. When your child moves into his first apartment, you can send the Rubbermaid tub along with him.
Not long ago my three-year old stumbled into her messy room and aptly exclaimed, "This place looks like a jungle!" Do you have any advice for helping kids keep their rooms from turning into a jungle?
Every night after dinner, have your children spend 10 minutes picking up her room and then the next 20 minutes helping with other chores around the house. Play fun music, tell jokes, and keep the time entertaining. Even at three, kids know where their toys belong and how to pick up their spaces. Thirty minutes isn't that long, and the organizing skills will help her to take pride in her belongings and feel like she's contributing to the family.
I'm pretty sure that if I dared look under our car seats I'd find at least a servings worth of petrified fries, a rainbow of melted crayons, discarded wrappers, and an odd baby sock or two. Do you have advice for families on keeping the kid-car clean and uncluttered?
Put a trash can in a location as close to the car as possible. Then, as everyone exits the car, take a few seconds to pick up and then throw out the odds and ends that accumulate in the car. I'm actually really awful with doing this - even with our trash can in a convenient location. I had to put a sticky note on the car dashboard to help me remember ... and even with the sticky note I forget from time-to-time. I figure there are much worse things in life than errant juice boxes!
Who are some of your favorite makers of containers, storage bins, and other fun organizational stuff?
I'm a huge fan of Rubbermaid products, DYMO label makers, Scottevest jackets, utility skirts from REI, Butler Bag purses, and Elfa shelving. I'm sure there are more companies out there that I love ... these are just the ones that I find myself repeatedly recommending. I'm also a huge fan of the binder clip. There are so many amazing uses for binder clips, they're true multi-taskers.
What are your favorite local places to sell, consign or donate unwanted items?
I'm a huge supporter of Goodwill Industries. I've also consigned clothes at Current Boutique in Arlington and Mustard Seed in Bethesda. For children's items, I like to use Freecycle and Craigslist. Local animal shelters are terrific places to donate used towels, sheets, and blankets. A number of my husband's suits have gone to the Men's Warehouse, where they give the suits to local job placement programs.
Want more great advice? Check out Erin's great website, Unclutterer.com and new book "Unclutter Your Life in One Week."
Tags: Amy, Home Design, Home Organization
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