Guest Post: Controlling “Dump” Zones

There are a few other organizers I have met in this great town of Athens. I love that we can support one another. I had the pleasure of having coffee with a new organizer just getting her feet wet in this business, Lisa Lewis.  She has some great ideas and has been working on her own home and friends spaces for some time and is now available to help others. She has a special passion for helping those whose clutter has become debilitating and extreme.  But for today I’ve brought her in as a guest blogger to help those of us who are starting out the school year and feeling a little bogged down in the places we enter our homes.

Controlling “Dump” Zones

In most households with kids, especially the older set, the return to school is synonymous with lots of stuff returning to places you really don’t want it — typically, whatever surface it hits first when your family walks in the door. This year, I anticipated the onset of this frustration and made space for things I knew would soon litter my floor and countertops if there wasn’t a pre-specified place for it all to go.
What typically happens is this: My two kids step out of their shoes the minute they cross the threshold and set their lunch boxes/water bottles on the countertop and/or island, then drop their band instruments and backpacks in the kitchen floor. Sound familiar? Later on, my spouse will walk in and unload everything in his arms onto the very end of the kitchen counter, creating an unstable pile consisting of papers, keys, cups, sunglasses, loose change, chapstick, receipts, etc. I do give him credit for corralling it all into one area, at least.
So, before this mess kicked back into full gear, I took stock of the space around where we walk in and set about creating room to house things. About five steps inside the door, there’s a tall cabinet beside my kitchen desk, inside which is an array of office-y things like a printer, files, copy paper, batteries, and vacuum cleaner bags (admittedly, not so office-y stuff has lived there, too). This cabinet has a significant amount of storage, and while most of the space was being utilized pretty efficiently, I identified some things that could easily go elsewhere in order to make room for at least one backpack and possibly a shelf for my husband’s things.
The very bottom of this cabinet is a cavernous cubby — easily big enough to house my daughter’s colossal backpack. It made sense to move the file bins that were there to another spot in the house, since I rarely need to access them. I freed up a smaller shelf in the cabinet deep enough to hold books/paper/legal pads and a small basket for some of my husband’s things. However, since he’s someone who really needs to see things in order not to forget about them, I knew I’d also need to create some organized counter space for him. I had a pretty, unused rectangular basket I decided could more attractively contain his things. This has been working for us, and so far, my son is dutifully walking his backpack the extra few steps to the mudroom where there’s a place for it.
Not far from the door where we enter is our entertainment center, which until recently, housed broken DVD and CD players; countless VHS tapes, DVDs, and CDs; games (most of which my kids had outgrown); and a random assortment of other stuff. Before school started, I vowed to clean this thing out. I easily filled two large boxes which I delivered to Goodwill, and took the broken electronics to the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM). Now there’s room for band instruments, as well as the piano music which was previously all over the floor.
For the most part, I’d already figured out how to deal with the other drop-and-dash items, like shoes, which get tucked under the bench that sits right by the door. While we don’t have the luxury of a foyer, we do have a wonderfully big kitchen with lots of great storage. When we moved into our house seven years ago, I was elated to realize there were a few drawers and a shelf or two that were empty after I’d unpacked. This was like winning the lotto. Pretty quickly, I decided that each kid would get a drawer. This has worked beautifully. (Though I must enforce “clean out your drawer” time every three or four months.) These are relatively small drawers — about 10” x 18” — but they’re just right for holding the myriad things kids acquire. I also reserved a shelf in the kitchen island for baskets big enough to keep books, folders, and notebooks, as well as a pencil sharpener and pens/pencils. Another island shelf, right across from the sink, houses lunch boxes.
If you’ve fallen victim to walk-in dumpers, consider how traffic flows into your house and if you’ve overlooked some potential storage options. Rethink spaces, furniture, and storage pieces, and make them work for you, regardless of their original intended purpose. I honestly have no idea what this thing in my mudroom was designed for (it was in the garden section of an interiors shop), but when I spotted it with its ten sturdy, movable hooks, I knew it would be invaluable for hanging things like bags, jackets, and hats.
Think outside the box and discard, donate, or move what you can, and you’ll be on your way to reclaiming your space.
Lisa Lewis lives in Athens and offers organizing support with a focus on simplifying, downsizing, green organizing and making spaces function more efficiently. Email her at