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RISMEDIA, January 30, 2010—(MCT)—”The place where you feel happy.” In an interview in Esquire magazine, that’s how novelist Salman Rushdie described “home.” After a busy day or a long time away, most of us look forward to just being home, where we can be ourselves and surround ourselves with the familiar.

Many people, however, have trouble relaxing at home, especially where there are piles of clutter and unfinished projects at every turn. Sometimes, home can be a place that reminds us of what we haven’t gotten around to doing. If you sometimes feel that way, perhaps it’s time to make some residential resolutions. The New Year isn’t just about losing weight or quitting smoking. It can be about finding time to turn your home into more of a haven.

“If you take time to make your home the way you want it, you don’t have as many things hanging over your head, distracting you, getting in the way,” says Jennifer Linnig, a home organization specialist who lives and blogs in Cudahy, Wis. “Being organized frees the mind,” she says. “It lets you focus on what really matters.”

Paula Constable says being organized is a way to create a comfortable environment. “It’s not about perfection,” says Constable, of Johnson Creek, Wis., who has been a residential organizer for more than a decade, specializing in moms and families. “The mission is to make life smoother and less stressful.”

The following tips will help you turn your home into a stress-free haven.

1. Be responsible. Get serious about recycling by setting up a sorting center, perhaps in your garage to help you stay on top of things. Start by finding out what the guidelines for recycling are in your community, then clear a space, find appropriate containers and make them accessible all in one spot. Label them so that recycling becomes easy for everyone to do.

2. Be frugal. Turn some of your unwanted gifts and household items into cash by selling them on eBay and Craigslist. “There are so many things that we basically are just storing in our homes,” Constable says. “We don’t use them or need them, but they are still around. Why not turn these things into cash?”

3. Be generous. Donate your unused household goods to Goodwill or other charitable groups. Don’t forget about the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which accepts usable building materials that can be sold to finance more building projects. Be sure to check out, a sharing website that allows you to be both frugal and generous by posting items and giving them away to people who have a real need.

4. Be tidy. Make this the year you set up a system for mail that comes into your home. Stay on top of bill-paying, too. Constable suggests three choices for every piece of mail. “First, you can throw it out; second, take action on it (such as following up or making a payment); or, third, file it. As for a system for paying bills, she suggests making a master list and listing when each bill is due each month, how it gets paid (online or by mail) and what a typical amount is. That way you know what is due when and you won’t be caught by surprise. It also allows someone else to take over bill-paying duties if necessary.

5. Be discerning. Clutter and overcrowding are most often the result of having too many things rather than inadequate storage space. If you resist impulse buying and don’t buy something unless you really need it, you can keep your possession count as low as possible. As often as possible, try to make do with what you own.

6. Be inclusive. Involve your family in the home organization process. Getting kids involved teaches skills and responsibility. Linnig suggests setting a timer or playing a fun song when children are helping. “You can do anything for 10 or 15 minutes,” she says. Often when kids start to make progress on straightening up their rooms or putting away toys, they ignore the time limit and keep going until the job is done, taking pride in what they have accomplished.

7. Be mindful. You want to have a sense of safety and comfort at home, which can, in part, be achieved by having working smoke detectors, a carbon monoxide detector and a radon meter (in areas where radon is a concern). Taking safety a step further, consider replacing candles with alternatives such as scented globes or battery-operated flickering pillars that help create the same mood.

8. Be health-conscious. When tackling home improvement projects, educate yourself about products that have less of an impact on your home environment, such as low-VOC paint and eco-friendly carpet.

9. Be aware. Energy costs are going up, and environmental awareness is an important topic these days. You can do something about it. Obvious changes include replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents, using a setback thermostat and buying Energy Star appliances when possible.

(c) 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.