Organizing Strategies: Tips from Christopher Lowell

Christopher Lowell
Christopher Lowell

Do you struggle with keeping your living space organized? Do you find yourself running out of space to store all the things you're holding onto? Emmy Award winning home designer and decorator Christopher Lowell shares information about the seven layers of organization and provides tips on how you can recreate the space in your home in this exclusive expert interview. Lowell is the author of five top selling books, including Christopher Lowell's Seven Layers of Organization, and offers keen insights into organizing and personalizing your space.

The Seven Layers of Organization

Cleaning and organizing your personal space can be an emotional experience, because it demands that you identify what to discard, what to donate and what to keep.

Love To Know (LTK): What are the seven layers of organization?

Christopher Lowell (CL): I created the seven layers of design in the late 90s. We understood that people really connected with the layers of design because it dealt with the emotional side as well as the visual pleasantness of making things look pretty. We really felt that a new design trend was coming (about four years ago) and we address that with the seven layer approach again.

LTK: What makes the seven layer approach different?

CL: None of the other approaches or books address the emotional and psychological impact of the purging process of what you already own.

LTK: How long did it take you to put this approach together?

CL: It took about a year to write the book, which included time for people go through the process step-by-step.

LTK: What does a person do to get started?

CL: You begin by stepping outside the house and saying I have no idea who lives here. Spend the first day ransacking the house - open all the drawers, all the containers, look up in the overhead spaces, look for what is in those places and take notes. How many of these things do you use? What items do you have from a previous home? You want to build a profile of the person who lives there (you). What does the house say about you?

We did this with our TV audience and they were fascinated about the process and a lot started to laugh. Some had bath mats from an apartment from five years before. They had stuff they didn't realize they still owned and that it took up space.

The Purging Process

Now that you know what is in your home, you will need to move to the next layer. You know what you have. Now, what do you do with it? According to Lowell, the purging process takes an average of ten days. You should purge each room, one at a time.

LTK: How do you decide what to keep or get rid of?

CL: You want to make the decision in the room you are in. We advise people to use a dark leaf bag, you decide on an item right then and there, you don't move it to another room, if you're keeping it, you keep it. If you aren't keeping it, you put it in the dark leaf bag and once it's in there, it can't come out.

LTK: What about items you want to rehabilitate or reuse elsewhere?

CL: You ask yourself the question about your time versus the money involved. How much will it cost to rehab something? With clothing, for example, consider how long will it take you to size it or fix it versus can you buy a similar item, ready-made without the excess time? It's a delicate balance.

LTK: What happens when you are done 'purging'?

CL: It's hard, but once you get all the way through the last layer, it's really just about maintaining. You realize that what you have left is all stuff that has meaning and use. We have found that people experience a new lease on life after decluttering the house.

Identifying the Real Estate in Home

Lowell identified key areas and questions to ask yourself when it comes to identifying clutter and cleaning out your home. For example, ask yourself what's at arm's length? What's behind a closed door? What are you holding onto that you don't need? Do you have a large number of items on counters? You should have to work harder to get to the stuff that you don't use every day. The less you use it, the less accessible it should be. Going through this process can help you identify the real estate inside your own home that you can free up for space.

LTK: How hard is it to declutter?

CL: Well, the whole world has changed. Today's homes are drowned in clutter. You have people feeling guilty for the choices they made. But the hardest part is when a person doesn't understand that you go through a separation anxiety during the purging process. People hoard more than they know.

Some solutions to the ways that people hoard include:

  • Too much paper: People won't throw away a newspaper because they haven't read it yet. They have huge numbers of magazines, piles of articles, recipes and the like. Much of this can be stored electronically, taking up no physical space and allow for the recycling of the paper.
  • Gift: Sentimental people will not get rid of some items no matter how much they dislike them because they were gifts. If you don't want to just discard, consider donating them or giving them away.
  • Multiple copies: From VHS to DVD to digital media, many people have multiple copies of the same movies, television shows and other recordings. The same can be applied to books.
  • Clothing: A lot of people keep clothes even when they don't fit, too big, too small because they think they will either fit into them again or need them again. This creates a larger sense of clutter in the closets.

LTK: That's a lot for people to cope with.

CL: It is. Ideally, the seven layers of organization support a person emotionally through the process.

Big Impact

Since Lowell's first release of the 7 Layers of Organization, technology has expanded to use laptops, smart phones and iPads. Lowell plans to revisit the plan to help people inventory how they are living and how much can be archived in cyberspace, creating a fresh, open space. Love To Know would like to thank Christopher Lowell for taking the time to chat with us about purging all those unnecessary items and reclaiming your personal space. Be sure to check out his website for episodes of his series and to ask him your own questions about organization.

Organizing Strategies: Tips from Christopher Lowell