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

Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton
Jan 05, 2017

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. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than 10 years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

How many of us are determined to get our clutter in order in 2017? Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton is the owner and founder of Organizing Maniacs in Tysons Corner, Va. and she has solutions for almost any household organizing issue. Send in your questions now. Let's chat.

Hey everyone!  Cris Sgrott Wheedleton with Organizing Maniacs here.  Happy New Year!  I look forward to helping anyway that I can.  

I feel like I come out of the holidays overwhelmed, behind on everything, and unable to catch up (until, say, March). How do I keep myself from feeling so out of control during the holidays? Are there key things I can organize to make it easier?

Happy New year!  Hope you're feeling better.  The best way to stay organized during the holidays is to do a little organizing every single day.  Take 10-15 minutes to do one or two tasks every day and you'll feel better about accomplishing things and you won't feel so far behind as time goes on.  



Good morning Cris, Do you have a good local source for having an old stamp collection evaluated? Do these things have any value?

I really don't come across that too often.  Maybe check with a local antique store or online?  But be cautious before making any final decisions. 

Wow- I just went to your website and saw the list of resources for passing along and recycling items. What a wealth of information! I am pretty good at decluttering on my own but I often struggle to find places to funnel the items to. I have a couple of dressers that I need to donate- any ideas?

Large organization such as GoodWill, Salvation Army, and A Wider Circle would be glad to take those from you.  Give them a call to schedule. 

I have a 3 year-old and a 1.5 year-old who love to color but CANNOT do it unsupervised (the 1.5 year-old and the dog will eat the crayons!). How can I store these items so that my kids can see the items (transparent container) but still will need me to actually open them up? I've tried using zipper mesh bags or plastic containers with flippy lid securers or Gladware, but the kids can open those up by themselves and get their art supplies EVERYWHERE. What it takes them 2 seconds to dump out takes me 10 minutes to clean up :-/.

That's a good question.  Can you add a vertical storage solution that hangs on the wall?  That would prevent them from easily getting to them and would give you more control over what they can get at any one time.  I think the small, clear, shoe bins are the best solutions for small toys and crayons.  The only difficult is to keep them out of reach.  


I'm currently renovating a house and the wooden stair railing was stained a color so dark it's nearly black. There are so many cracks from age that there is no way it can be refinished properly - it would almost have stripes. Could I paint it navy to match with my home's décor? I haven't found any inspiration photos for this. Usually when I think of something, someone has already done it and done it well, so it gives me confidence. The slats are painted white, and the stairs and treads are stained to match the rest of the floors in the house. Thanks!

You could paint it dark navy, yes. But the traditional choice would be a glossy black paint - it goes with everything.

Are you opposed to having filing cabinets? I know they tend to just fill up with useless paper.

I'm not opposed to filing cabinets as long as they are used properly.  I believe that people tend to keep too much paperwork.  They no longer want or really need.  I am a fan of always evaluating what you have and keeping what you really need.  Keeping paperwork for the sake of keeping paperwork is where we get into trouble.  Take some time to weed out the old and think about organizing what's important.  Organizing paperwork takes a long time and dedication to the process.  Set a timer for a hour a day until you've sorted through and decided what is important or not. Start with your old paperwork.  It will be easier to purge things and you'll start feel more confident moving forward.

What is the best way to store shoes in a closet?

It really depends on the closet.  If you have floor space, you can use a shoe rack.  There are also hanging over the door shoe organizers.  If you have shelves, you can put them in containers and stack them.  Always use your vertical space to maximize your storage in any closet.

What, in your experience, is the best room of the house to start with when trying to declutter?

LOVE THAT QUESTION!  In my 30 day organizing challenges I always recommend with a smaller area (coat closet, pantry, or linen closet) because starting small makes you feel like you've accomplished something and build confidence!  Most people get discouraged because they start with the larger projects and easily loose steam after having to make decisions when encountering all of the stuff.  By starting small you avoid the decision fatigue and it sets you up to feel good about your project.  Good luck!  

Your views on Marie Kondo?

I agree that if it doesn't spark joy it should go.  A lot of my clients have a lot of clutter that they are keeping because it was a gift or spent a lot of money on it but clutter is clutter.   So if you don't love it and it's not bringing you joy, find another home for it.  Marie Kondo has done a lot to bring awareness to the relationship to our stuff and sometimes it's not a good relationship.  

I feel like my bathroom has gotten out of control. Is there a good way to get rid of lotions, perfumes, and other products?

Unfortunately, not everything is donateable and sometimes you just have to throw stuff away.  You could check with a local shelter and see what their policies are.  Some will accept half full, non perfumed lotions.  

For the person wanting to sell their stamp collection, my husband did this a few years ago and the best he could get was $50 for the whole thing from a local antiques dealer. Apparently stamps are no longer worth much. But the good thing is, it's not cluttering up our house any more!

I am in my 60's, and for many people my age, our parents are passing on and leaving behind a houseful of STUFF. I just visited a friend that wants to keep her late MIL's massive dining room furniture, and save it for when her son eventually gets married. I asked her "Where are you going to store it?" and she didn't know. Decluttering and downsizing is hard enough, and bringing home more furniture makes it a lot worse. What do you tell people faced with emptying their parents' houses?

That is another good question that more and more of us are facing.  Jura has written several great articles for the Washington Post about the subject and it is a difficult to decision that we all encounter.  If he wants the furniture, then storage makes sense.  Storage units are an option but do cost a lot of monthly so it depends on how long it will be stored.  If he doesn't particularly care for it, then donating it always makes sense.  I suggest starting with having a conversation about how he feels bout the furniture and going from there.

Here is my article about Boomers and Millennials that Cris mentioned. Millennials don't want their parents stuff and their parents don't know what to do with it.

the cupboard under the sink/closet/kitchen cabinets/whatever and on to the floor when it comes to organizing. I can do that today and tomorrow, since I'm off work and it doesn't matter that much if I have to abandon the process in the middle (live alone). But most of the time, I really don't want to make that much of a mess to have less of a mess 6 to 8 hours later. It seems to me that a real reorg requires emptying the area, sorting out what is no longer needed, prioritizing what you are keeping, and then reloading. Easy enough to do with a single junk drawer, but much more of a big deal when you are doing an entire closet or all the food cabinets in the kitchen.

Great question!  That's how everyone gets lost in organizing.  I sometimes to decide to organize my own closet and then 4 hours later I have stuff everywhere wondering what happened! What I do now is that I look at every shelf as single project.  I take it all out, evaluate what I have, what fits and doesn't, organize that shelf, bag the donations, and then evaluate my time again to see about starting another shelf (project).  The secret to success is breaking down every project into smaller projects and taking each one to completion.  It will build your confidence and you'll accomplish the small wins and keep you motivated to continue organizing.  You can do it!  

Im building a new house and currently all my closets are empty boxes. The home will be a beach vacation rental. What closet systems do you recommend for DIY

I love the Closet Maid solutions from Home Depot.  They have a great website where you can design your own closet and pick up the supplies at the local store.  Always use as much of the vertical space as possible.  

What is the best way to keep track of all the bills, insurance papers, etc. that we deal with on a daily basis for electricity, water, cable, dept. stores (and Kohls), tax bills, insurance statements (and bills).... thanks, looking to pay bills on time... Marie C.

Hi Marie.  We recommend to our clients to put their bills in a safe place.  That could be a basket, bin, or drawer.  The important part here is to not throw anything else in that safe place.  Bills only!  When everything has it's own place it becomes easier to pay your bills.  If automatic bill pay is an option for the monthly bills, that will take one more thing off of your plate.  

How do you corral toys/kids' things in a way that is not so plastic and primary colors? I have twin toddlers so anything that can be "climb-able" is problematic (i.e. toyboxes with seats or large cabinets that can be tipped). Thoughts? Thanks.

Since climbability and safety is the main concern, using wicker baskets on wall mounted shelving units is an option or using the wicker baskets lined up along the floor may be an option as well.  The benches with storage are a good option but like any piece of furniture (dresser, shelves, desks, or anything else that is climbable) always anchor them to a stud in the wall.  

Make sure you save yourself a lockable owner's closet! Think about what you want to store (sheets/towels/pantry supplies) and design from their. If you can, shelving that pulls out is best. I use the plastic bags mattress pads come in to store each room's sheets and towels - since is is presorted just grab the bag for whatever room is needed. My pantry supplies are in large plastic bins, again grab and go.

Thanks. Good ideas.

This is a perpetual disaster area in my house and it's very small. Any suggestions on organizing products that work well there?

This is one area that is always disorganized because it's such small area and there's always a lot of stuff.  I personally have two small bins.  One for cleaning products and the other filled with smaller items such as soaps, sponges, or other trash bags, etc.  This bins really help keep everything their place but it one area that gets forgotten often.

I agree- check with whoever you intend to leave things to. I have my parents china (made in "occupied Japan") & silver (plate) flatware. They were wedding presents to my parents, so I don't want to just give them away. But I don't use them, they take up space and I don't think the next generation is interested. I'd like to find a way to give them to someone that will actually care about having a family "heirloom." We gave away everything else they had. . .

You are right to want to put them to good use. Why not send an email to all your cousins, relatives, in-laws etc. to see if anyone is interested. Silverplate is really not in demand these days, especially if the pattern looks dated. Although if it was mid-century modern, it might be more tempting to your younger relatives.

A general antiques dealer might not have the right specialist knowledge. Contact a local stamp collectors' club and someone there would probably be able to tell you whether you have anything valuable. There's a club at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, for instance.

Thanks. That is a great suggestion.

I have access to all my bills online. Those I don't have on direct debit, I set up an e-mail reminder to pay in time for 1am. When I get up in the morning and see the reminder, I pay it electronically. I have a reminder set for two consecutive days so to reduce the possibility it doesn't get paid. There is no paperwork, and I double check the credit card statement online at that time. It works well for me - I do this for all bills, insurance and once a year bills too. Some people like to pay bills weekly - put aside the bills and sit down every - say sunday afternoon - and pay them.

I like your plan.

I'm 61 so certainly no millennial but want very few items that belonged to my late father and step-mom, who recently passed away. I am in the process of cleaning out the house where they lived since 1971, Understandably, almost everything in it is from the'70s, an era I thought ugly even then. I collect mostly 1920s and '30s art deco for my home decor and hope someone will actually want it when I pass on. Is there a niche market for 1970s furniture and decor? Otherwise I'm not sure even Good Will or salvage stores would be interested.

A Wider Circle helps those less fortunate furnish their homes.  I would start there.  They are always looking for furniture.  Don't be so quick to write off your old stuff.  

Clearly we all have a lot of questions about organizing and it's a perennial topic. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us today. Next week: Tyler Wisler of HGTV "Design Star" will join the chat. Tyler will be appearing at the Home + Remodeling Show at Dulles Expo Center, which is being held Jan 20-22. Catch you next week. 

Thank you so much for all of the great questions.  Hope we helped. Good luck!  

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.

Home Q&A archiveFind Jura on Pinterest
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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: