Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton on getting organized for the new year | Home Front

Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton
Jan 07, 2016

Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton is the owner and founder of Organizing Maniacs, a professional organizing service company located in Tysons Corner, Va. As a certified professional organizer, Sgrott-Wheedleton is dedicated to helping individuals and businesses become productive, organized, and successful.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

Everyone I know is decluttering as fast as they can in this new year. I know I am.  So it's great we have a professional on the chat today to help us - Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton is the owner and founder of Organizing Maniacs, an organizing service company in Tyson’s Corner, Va. As a certified professional organizer, Sgrott-Wheedleton is dedicated to helping individuals and businesses become productive, organized, and successful.What could be better? I will be awarding a new book called "New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (And Everyone else) by Fay Wolf for the best story posted today on the chat of something you have recently decluttered and organized in a successful way. Winner will be announced at the end and if you are chosen please email me your mailing address at Let's chat.

Good morning. My name is Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton with Organizing Maniacs and I am a Certified Professional Organizer in the DC Metro area.  I am so excited to be here!  I'm glad to help with your organizing challenges.  

What's the best way to organize purses in a small space?

Great question!  We all have lots of purses and little closets in the city.  Think vertically!  Hanging them on hooks attached to the wall is always a good start.  There are permanent options being screwed into the wall and there are not so permanent options such as Command Hooks that can be found at your local hardware store.  Hope that helps. 

Hi! I hate cleaning. There, I said it. I live on my own and so I'm okay with having a messy place. However, once I actually force myself to clean, it takes less than a day to get back to the messy state ;) Other than "put things away" or "spend 10 minutes each day to neaten things up," are there any other magic solutions?

We are currently working on the patent for magic but unfortunately, organizing takes effort.  You could hire a cleaning company to come once every couple of months allowing you to focus your time on organizing.  The other thing is having good systems.  Making a home for your stuff makes it easy to reset. Not having a place to put things creates an "I'll put it here for now" syndrome which causes visual chaos.  And the last options is to minimize.  Having less stuff means having less to maintain. Thanks for asking.  You are not alone. 

What are the worst things to organize in someone's home? You must have seen some terrible messes...

That's a funny question. Every client is different and we love to learn about people.  As far as decision making, memorabilia is the toughest to organize.  People have a hard time letting go, there's so much of it, and there's lots of of it coming in all the time.  We love all messes!  Thanks for asking. 

I can't seem to come up with a good solution for organizing everyone's shoes, which collect around the door from the garage to our family room. There's no space to put a mudroom, and I'm tempted to try to install something along the garage wall although there's not much room there either. Have you seen anything that isn't too expensive and we can do ourselves? To be honest, my three kids aren't even the problem. It's my husband's massive collection of giant man shoes for every possible occasion that would put Imelda Marcos to shame.

You are not alone! Giant man shoes can be a large problem.  Without seeing the space it is hard to determine the best solution but think vertically.  Hanging baskets or Track systems may be a good option.  Also, having rules and/or systems in place may be another good idea as well.  For example, on Saturdays, rotate the shoes not being used to another closet. Hope that helps! 

The code for today is HF9546

trying to get organized at same time as putting house on market. Afraid of just stuffing things into storage and not knowing what i have. Help!

I would suggest creating a box inventory.  Put the box number and contents on a sheet of paper and when you need something you can consult you inventory.  The more detailed the better.  Good luck on your move. Lift with your legs!  

We've been trying to minimize but seem to have hit a plateau. What are some things we can consider parting with in 2016?

We've all hit plateaus at one point or another and it can be very frustrating.   We find that it works best to really evaluate the space that you're organizing.  Pull everything out, look at every item, and then make a decision.  This will eliminate items staying hidden in the back of the closet or drawer.  We call this 'Multiview-Devaluation' The more times you see something, the less value they have to you.  It's looking at your things with a fresh set of eyes.

I always find things to purge in my closet, drawers, closets, and kitchens.  Pick a small space to start... Small wins will get you motivated!  

 Good luck.

As a bit of a neat freak I am somewhat fascinated by KonMari though I don't think I could ever go that far. My family considers me a little OCD -- at least as compared to them. A shrink I was talking to at a party once told me that being a little bit OCD is a good thing because it keeps the house clean. But I have my messy areas like everyone. About 30 years ago I cut out a "quote of the day" from the newspaper and enlarged and laminated it. It sits in the bottom of a drawer my office desk. When I clean out my desk about once a year, I always come across it and it still makes me laugh out loud. The quote is "Those who are so proud of keeping an orderly desk will never know the thrill of finding something they thought they had lost forever."!!!

Wonderful quote. And so true!

Does Goodwill or Purple Heart want old t- shirts, old towels and old sheets? Or should they just go in the trash? Do you know if they recycle old things to make money as well or do those organizations throw out alot of what comes in as a "donation"? Am I just making my self feel good because I am donating when really I should be throwing alot of this stuff away.

The last time I checked, Good Will had a good fabric recycling system. Each organization may do different things with their donations but I'd like to hope they are doing their best to recycle as much of it as possible.  

If you are moving in the new year, what items do you recommend leaving behind and replacing in a new home? Is it better to organize/declutter and then pack or to do both at once?

It depends on your timeframe.  I you are in a rush to move, I would declutter and pack at the same time.  I would start in areas that are not as essential (garages, basements, storage rooms, etc.).  If you are have time, then I would declutter first and then pack closer to the moving date. Good luck with your move.  

Hi, I am pretty good at filing and keeping papers organized (and throwing a lot away after doing the whole KonMari thing). But really how long should we keep certain papers? I recently unearthed my GRE scores, grad school comprehensive exam pass letter and official letter stating I had achieved my professional certification. given that I have now been in my industry for 15 years, and been re-certified several times over, I guess I should throw these things away, but I can't quite seem to do it. Same with my kids' well visit packets showing their weight and height at 2, 6, 12 weeks....sentimental stuff I guess. Any advice?

It sounds like you are hanging on to some memorabilia, which is fine, if it has it's own place.  Those items don't necessarily have to live in the filing cabinet.  They could live in a memorabilia bin in the storage room or closet.  That way, when you need a nostalgia-pick-me-up, it will be there.  We normally recommend, to have their own bin. It does't have to be big, it can be a small bin. They don't have to take up space in your office. The KonMari method would say if it doesn't spark joy, you should throw it out.  

What is best way to declutter an art collection? I like to support young artists with a purchase but really don't need or want all the pieces I have accumulated.

How good of you to support young artists!  Schools are always looking for donations for their fundraising auctions. I would contact your local school system and offer the pieces for auction.  They will raise funds and you'll have more space! 

Hi Jura - My home has a dozen 1920s radiators that are covered in old, flaking paint. Professional refinishing and radiator covers are both out of my budget, and I'm reluctant to sand as the paint almost certainly contains lead. Another coat of paint seems to be my best option. Is there a specific kind of paint that you recommend I use? And would you match the paint to the wall or the white trim? Thanks so much for your wonderful chats. I enjoyed them even before purchasing a fixer-upper, and depend on them now!

I called in a pro for this one. Florence Jones, of Arlington Color Consultants, has a 1908 house with radiators and metal radiator covers. She has painted her covers the color of the trim of her rooms and suggests you do the same with her radiators. She suggests wiping your radiators down with a sponge and then lightly brushing off the loose flakes before painting.  She used Sherwin Williams Pro Classic, a  latex based enamel paint that she says holds up nicely and that she used on her trim. She also says checking out special paints for metal surfaces might be something you want to do. Most companies make them. She also cautions to do this project in the spring or summer when the radiators are not in use. Good luck.

Our travel clothes are under control, organized by color and season. But when I packed, it took longer to organize the toiletries and medicines than it did the clothes. I put an inventory list on a file card of everything we needed,including phone, camera, and computer cords, and assembled a separate zipped bag of blister packs of OTC drugs, with name and dosage labeled with a sharpie. The last key item: the nightie hanging on the bathroom door. When we return from a trip, I replenish everything with new supplies. No more last minute trips to the drug store!

Wow. This is fantastic! Great great tip here. Thanks.

Try animal shelters, humane society, etc. The Harford County HS will take them for the animals' cages.

Great tip. Thanks.

donate to the local animal shelter


I find that the best way to declutter and to get rid of unneeded items is to move! I've moved three times in three years, and each time, the boxes get a bit lighter. Every time you carry a box filled with junk you don't use, it reinforces the desire to purge! I have another move on the horizon, so I'm looking forward to another critical look at all of my stuff. (This time, I'm taking a look at kitchen supplies...) The other side of my success? When I'm in a store contemplating a purchase, I ask, "Is this something I'd be willing to lug up and down stairs one day?" If the answer is no, I put it back on the shelf and walk home empty-handed! Perhaps an unconventional (and undesirable) approach, but it works for me!

This is very helpful!

We have found over the years this is the most challenging part. So many items from the school years that may never make it to a scrapbook. "Special" toys, clothing, etc. Surprisingly our daughter in cleaning her room before heading off to college actually suggested taking pictures of many of these items, organizing the pictures and then we still have the "memories" without the the clutter. Some would say we moved the clutter from physical to digital, but storage is cheap and a lot easier to move when you do.

Digital clutter is a lot easier to handle! Thank you for this.

I knit and crochet and stock up on high-quality yarn. I had it all stuffed together in some large boxes, and would forget what I had. Finally had a breakthrough, so here is my organizing tip: I bought a bunch of transclucent plastic shoe boxes. I organize my yarn mostly by weight or type: cottons, fine wools, acrylic worsted-weight, novelty yarns, bulky, and so on. Any yarn bought for a specific project all goes together with a copy of the pattern I intend to use the yarn for. The shoeboxes all fit neatly, stacked double-high on each shelf, on a bookcase in my family room, which is where I most often sit to do my work. Now my colorful stash is easily accessible, protected from dust, and I know what pattern I bought which skeins for. Works very well for me.

Yarn is so hard to organize. You seem to have come upon a great solution and one that can be a colorful corner in a closet or room.

We have recently moved and at first focused on just getting stuff out of boxes, particularly for the kitchen. How should we go about figuring out the best way to put what where. I want to be purposeful but am not sure where to start.

Congratulation on your new home!  I would develop a plan on where to put your stuff based on the appliances.  Design a blueprint for the kitchen. Sticky notes are a good way to identify where you want things to go.  Think about functionality.  Glasses and dishes by the dishwasher, Coffee cups by the coffee maker, pots and pans near the stove, etc.  This is a good time to evaluate what is coming out of the boxes and putting if necessary.  Good luck! 

Good morning. We need the outside of our home addition repainted. When's the best time to do this? I wonder if winter is bad because of all the weather (that we usually have, at least). But then maybe humidity is bad? Thanks!

From what I've heard, you shouldn't paint  the exterior of a house in temperatures under 55 degrees. I would wait until spring. Nicer for your painters too.

but part of Good Will's program is to provide job training. So you shouldn't feel free to give them complete junk, but if it is in decent condition, you can donate it and their trainees can decide if it is up to their standards. But remember that the value of donations is NOT deductible if they aren't in good condition. I think that old towels are better given to animal shelters. They need them and the dogs aren't overly fussy about the nap of the loops on the terry cloth or if the colors are a little faded.

Dogs are surely better end users of previously owned towels!

I read Marie Kondo's first book and I thought it had some very useful tips. The idea of keeping only things that spark joy is brilliant, and echoes 19th century designer William Morris' credo of "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." But the problem I had with her approach is that it seems to place too much importance on material things. The idea of thanking your belongings and animizing them elevates material objects to the level of living things with which you have a relationship and a higher level of attachment than seems necessary or appropriate. In any case, it seems to work for her and many other people, but just wanted to pass on my observation. I did refold my sweaters based on her method, and it is certainly much easier to find the particular black sweater I'm looking for when they are not stacked on top of each other!

You make a good point. I am not really in love with my sweaters, even those made of cashmere that spark joy.

I volunteer at The Treasure Shop in Mclean, a very well organized shop for both consignors and buyers seeking beautifully displayed upmarket "seconds" such as crystal, china, oriental rugs, lamps, jewelry, silver, artwork, antiques, as well as donations in support the Navy Marine Coast Guard Residence Foundation of Vinson Hall Retirement Community. 6246 Old Domionion Drive, Mclean, 703-536-7467. Consignors get 60% of proceeds. When decluttering and organizing it really helps knowing your items will not only go to a good cause, but be loved by others. Jane Baker, Falls Church, VA

This is great information. Many thanks.

at a recent organizing project? I find that organizing is the one thing I can't do when I am stressed about other things. At least, that seems to be the case. But I just relieved myself of some stress (renegotiated for a lower lease on my apartment) so I think I am ready to tackle a few things. Some of it is actual organizing (financial papers that just got dumped in a designated box all year) and some of it is just taking the time to toss things - I am never, ever, ever going to watch those video tapes I recorded off TV over a decade ago. Never. Some of the nicest boxed sets of old UK Jane Austin dramatizations jut might be acceptable to a local thrift store to sell for a buck or two. The rest just need to be tossed. Are you supposed to recycle them? Is there a program for that in Montgomery County? It seems they would take up a lot of space in a land fill and maybe leach something toxic into the ground.

Congratulations on relieving yourself of some stress!  Every little bit helps.  There are ways that you can recycle your VHS tapes but unfortunately there is a cost in doing so.  Companies such as Green Disk can help you with that.  Unfortunately, there aren't many options that I am aware of for free proper disposal of VHS tapes.  Hope that helps.    

I found a patterned 12 inch tile I love for my kitchen floor (1920 home) but I worry a little that it's too adventurous. How can I know? The rest of the kitchen is quite monochromatic.

Ask three friends their opinion. They should be people who you think have good taste!

When moving in with a new husband who has a bit of OCD, and me being a bit of a hoarder, any suggestion on how to merge and purge?

I love that, "Merge and Purge!"  Marriage is all about compromise.  Tough choices will need to made on both ends.  I would develop a plan for where things are going to go in the order of priority.  Make a priority list in order of importance.  Memorabilia is always high on people's lists, so that may be a good place to start while VHS tapes or older CD's may not be as necessary.  You may have the tougher decisions to make it sounds like.  The things we do for love. Happy marriage!   

When we had to cancel our winter break ski weekend due to the lack of the primary ingredient needed for skiing, my husband and I took the opportunity to go through our file cabinet. We checked the "warranties and manuals" folder and took out paperwork pertaining to items we no longer have and warranties that had expired. We went through the tax folders and took out irrelevant old stuff. Got rid of the nanny's employee file (she worked for us for a year; our kids are teenagers). We opened the vague "personal" file and made a separate folder for legal documents (birth certificates, passports, marriage license), got misty over the kids' Santa notes and handmade cards (and then filed them accordingly), checked out each other's college transcripts (filed those, too). One surprising space-saver: we unfolded anything that was folded in an envelope, then tossed the envelope. We spent an hour or two per day for a couple of days, and by the end, the recycle/shredding pile was amazing. So satisfying!

Congratulations! You did an amazing job and tackled something that most of us say we never have time to do. Seize the day! Love the envelope tip - and great that you did this together. I am guilty of saving a number of the things you mentioned in files in my attic. Inspirational.

I consider myself very effective when it comes to keeping an organized workspace. However, during a recent office move, I discovered that a startling number of things had appeared since my last big office purge this summer (reusable food containers, travel mementos, photos, notes, etc.). I had an entire box of unneeded stuff! I’m not going to be more vigilant than ever when it comes to amassing things at work.

I'm with you there. We just moved and I threw out tons and tons of stuff. Enjoying my cute little cube and small drawers.

I had three boxes of paper files (receipts, magazine clippings, records) that I had not gone through since moving houses more than two years ago! I had been adding papers to the boxes over time, but most of the files were pre-2014. Anyway, instead of tackling all of the boxes at once, I moved a handful of the files at a time to a colorful shopping bag and walked that over to our filing cabinet, then tried to get through just that bag. Sometimes, I wouldn't be able to finish and would put 5-10 pieces of paper back into the bag for later, but most of the time, I could get through a shopping bag in 20 minutes. At least once a week, but sometimes more frequently, I'd do this. Right now, I have gone through 2.5 of my 3 total boxes and I think I'll finish the rest this week!

Great project and goal. Good for you.

Hi. I am not a hoarder; I am a slob. I make the distinction because I have no emotional attachment to my “stuff”, I just hate the process of sorting through it and for some reason can’t get myself to deal with it when it first hits my hands. Mine is a broad-spectrum problem but I’d like you to discuss paper. My solution used to be panic cleaning when guests were coming to the house but now, as a dedicated recycler and with the issue of identity theft, proper sorting is a necessity. I become overwhelmed. One thing I have tried is to make sure categorized waste baskets, files, etc., are within reach throughout the house but they’re not exactly attractive, either. My problem and stress have been exacerbated by a house fire. Everything left was taken out and brought back in boxes full of mismatched items. It’s been some time but there are still boxes I haven’t even bothered to open. I think I know what you will suggest; it’s actually doing it that I can’t seem to master. Thanks so much for any encouragement.

I'm very sorry to hear about your house fire and hope you are okay.  Take one thing at a time and do it in small quantities.  There is a terminology in organizing called, "Body Doubling."  It is the act of organizing with another person.  Is it an option to have someone help you?  They don't have to really be doing anything but encoring you and present to help move papers from one place to another.  I wish I had a magic wand that could help you as I can sense that this is burden on you.  Small wins are motivating, set realistic goals, and take one box at a time. Reward yourself and celebrate your accomplishments! Wishing you the best.  

Hi Cris! I have completed my transition and I started wearing women's clothes to work this week when I came back after the holidays. I am finding it very difficult to organize all of my new clothes though! With all of my shoes and accessories the task is overwhelming. Some mornings it takes me close to an hour to get my outfit together. Obviously, this is all new to me, but can you give me some tips on the basics of organizing women's clothing in my closet and dresser? Thanks!

We all struggle with that same problem.  There are so many options and we all have so many clothing, accessories, and shoes.  Color coding , sorting by season, and having a place for things.  Planning your outfits in advance also helps.  Good luck!   

Although Goodwill has a decent cloth recycling program, unless your stains and tears are clearly marked, the staff will probably put out with the regular items and somebody will buy it unknowingly. My mother-in-law (who is on a very tight budget) has bad eyesight, and I've received so much clothing from her that is damaged it isn't funny. I know they're from Goodwill because she forgets to take the tags off sometimes. We’ve also received a lot of broken toys from her from Goodwill too.

Thank you for addressing that.  Please make sure you label the items that you are donating properly! 

Moved locally in late July. While I eliminated boxes by Labor Day, I still have things left from my office to organize or pitch. Last weekend, I eliminated more than 10 years' worth of Christmas cards I received from my friends, keeping only the ones that were photos of the dearest ones. My recycling bin was full but I still can't seem to make a dent in it. Advice? I'm planning on tackling wedding invitations next. Or maybe photos....

Congratulations! You are definitely on the right track.  You may not see it, but you are making a dent.  Keep at it and your dent will get bigger! Good Luck! 

Now that I've retired, I'm starting to go through many many years of accumulated "stuff" and hoping to purge. I've picked up some very helpful tips in this chat, but can you recommend a few good websites or books to help me determine what things should get tossed, what should get donated, and what can be sold? Also, can you recommend a guide to determine how to price items at a yard sale. I have no experience at it - sadly acquiring most of my "stuff" at retail - or at least on sale at a retail establishment.

Congratulations on your retirement!  That is a very personal question on what gets donated, sold, and tossed. Goodwill has a guide that may help some, here

As for yard sale pricing, you may want to start the pricing at 25% of the retail price.  Be prepared to negotiate. Yard sales are usually not a money making opportunity.  There is a lot of prep work with little results, especially when weather plays a role.  

Wishing you the best! 

Thank you so much for all the great questions.  You can check our blog at for other tips on getting organized.  Happy Organizing! -Cris

Really fun chat today and I think we will have to do more on organizing and purging in 2016 on the chat front. Thanks so much Cris for all the information and inspiration. Meanwhile, I think I will award the organizing book to the chatter who gave us great tips for organizing our travel supplies and keeping track of what we need to take with us on the next trip. Email me your mailing address at to get your organizing book prize. Next week my guest is Kayleen McCabe, host of DIY's Rescue Renovation. Until then, keep organizing and keep tossing.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton
Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton is the owner and founder of Organizing Maniacs, a professional organizing service company located in Tyson’s Corner, Va.
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