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'Secrets of an Organized Mom' author on toys, paper work and that cluttered pantry

April 2, 2013 at 3:15 PM ET

The last time TODAY Moms talked to professional organizer Barbara Reich, mother of 13-year-old twins and author of "Secrets of an Organized Mom," she gave some tough love advice on throwing out much of our kids' artwork.

She's baaaack. And this time, Reich answers readers questions ranging from how to tackle toy-overload to decluttering the kitchen pantry and taking control of paper work.

Link: Click here to read an excerpt from "Secrets of an Organized Mom."

Read on for her answers:

'Secrets of an Organized Mom' author Barbara Reich shares her advice.
Atria Books
'Secrets of an Organized Mom' author Barbara Reich shares her advice.

Toys: How do you organize them, especially the big ones like trucks/cars/stuffed animals?

Jennifer Barbour writes: What’s the best way to organize BIG toys, like big trucks, racing ramps (ugh!), toys with tons of parts! These are my biggest problem. Too many big trucks/cars/stuffed animals. They don’t fit on a shelf or neat little baskets/bins, etc.

Barbara Reich responds: I advise people not to buy any toys that can't be put away at the end of the day for exactly this reason. When toys are too big to fit on a shelf, they end up lining the perimeter of the room, on the floor. Unless you can build extra-large, deep shelving, lining the trucks up neatly on the floor may be your only option.

In order to pare down, you need to be ruthless in purging the big toys. Unless your child plays with a toy OFTEN, it's not justifying the space it's occupying. For the tons of parts that go with your toys, I recommend getting clear plastic storage boxes that can be labeled.

Be ruthless with the stuffed animals too. Although your child may say s/he LOVES every one of them, generally, there are truly only handfuls s/he can't live without. Work hard at eliminating the ones that aren't true favorites.

Pantry problems: What do you need and what can go?

Traci Murphywrites: My mantra: “if everything is special, then nothing is” – I’m great at tossing kids schoolwork and getting outgrown clothes into better hands. My issue is the pantry! A good sale on cereal can overwhelm my small pantry, which also houses my Crock-Pot (use it often) and blender (less often, but a necessity in the summer for blended drinks), as well as spices, baking products, all the other food for packing lunches and making dinners for my gang. What do you “need” in a pantry, and what can go? I already have a shoe-bag on the door for the little things that get lost.

Barbara Reich responds: I love your mantra! You have to apply the same discipline to buying food as you do to children's clothes and toys. If you don't need it and don't have room for it, don't buy it.

If you have a full pantry, maybe you can find another place to store the Crock-Pot and blender (and any other non-food items). I'm not opposed to the blender living on the counter as long as your kitchen counters are reasonably uncluttered. Another strategy is to see if the pantry shelves can be moved closer together. If so, you may be able to add a shelf or two to increase your linear feet of storage.

Collectors conundrum: How to to decide what to keep, store, give away.

Linda West: My home is a collector's paradise-but I cannot part with it. How do I get my mind set to: 1. Organize the unused items.2. Find a place for them, sell them, or give them away.3. Basically, how do I set my mind to begin? A first step?

Barbara Reich responds: My recommendation is that you schedule time in your calendar for de-cluttering (maybe 1-2 hours a week) and treat the time as sacred. That’s the first step. Once you’ve scheduled this time, you can really focus on what you want to keep and what's not truly necessary. Start with the unused, less emotional items, and enlist a friend who can keep you focused. And be sure to check out my "Eliminating Clutter Quiz" in Secrets of an Organized Mom.

Video: Barbara Reich, author of “Secrets of an Organized Mom,” shares her no-nonsense home-organizing tips, including how to deal with daily mail and children’s schoolwork, and what to do with cookbooks and kitchen utensils.

Paperwork: How to deal with all the piles.

Kathlene Meadows writes: I need to organize all my paperwork for home and work (I am a Realtor). Can you please give me any ideas? I have buyers, sellers, and appointments everyday as I do real estate and I have piles of paperwork and notes all over the places. Whenever I get a call on a house I have for sale, I will just write it on any paper around and then lose it. I also have tons of paperwork from daily personal mail. How can I organize this all?

Barbara Reich responds: It sounds like you need a working file system. I suggest having a file for each active client. After a day of appointments, take the time to file all of the paperwork for each client in his/her folder. Instead of taking notes on random pieces of paper that get lost, carry a notebook with you everywhere. Write all of your notes there. When your notes are in one place, it's easier to stay focused. I would also suggest transferring your notes from phone calls to individual client files at the end of the day.

Clothing: When the kids outgrow, where does it go?

Kathleen Carr writes: I have a 6 1/2 month old daughter. What do you suggest I do with the clothes she grows out of? Do I save them for future children? And if so, how would you organize...

Barbara Reich responds: You should save clothing if you plan to have another child within the next few years. Clothing should be organized by size and season, and then put in lidded boxes that can be stacked. For example, "Six Months, Summer."

Photographs: What’s the best way to save – in print or digitally?

Kristin Mannion writes: I subscribe to your same no-nonsense philosophy. Kudos on your segment. My only problem area is children's photographs. What's the easiest way to organize and save the special ones? Online, in a few boxes and one first year baby book? I'd love to hear your solution.

Barbara Reich responds: I file all photos digitally (e.g., I have online folders for "Winter vacation 2011" and "Jeff's 40th Birthday Party") and make an album online at the end of each year. I also make albums for each vacation, and when my children were younger, I made an album for each of their birthday parties. Only print out pictures that you intend to frame.

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