Tucson organizer Jennifer Phelps offers tips for making the most of your space during the coronavirus pandemic. 

These days, our homes are classrooms and offices, movie theaters and gyms. 

Our families gather in the kitchen for takeout and splash in whatever water we can find in the backyard. 

We're making it work. 

Jennifer Phelps helps people organize and design their spaces through her business Jennifer Phelps: Organize. Design. Reinvent! 

Jennifer Phelps owns the organizing consulting company Jennifer Phelps: Organize. Design. Reinvent!

"Our environment, whatever it is, affects us, not only practically and tangibly, but also mentally and emotionally," Phelps says. "And negative things in our environment begin to wear us down."

As our lives have changed, so too have the needs we have for our spaces. And that's normal, Phelps says. 

"You're always changing as a person and a family," she says. "Allow your space to grow with you and reflect who you're becoming." 

And while this could totally mean a major renovation, Phelps points out that there are plenty of simple ways to brighten your home without spending much money. 


For Phelps, adjusting a space starts here — getting rid of what you don't need. 

"It's not just decluttering," she says. "It's getting rid of things you don't want to look at anymore or clean anymore." 

She says it's important to start small — just pick one shelf or one drawer to sort through. And then pick the next thing. 

"By taking a tiny bite, you will get more done than you will thinking you have to rip apart your whole closet and ruin your life for a weekend," she says with a laugh. 

That's why she created a checklist of 36 decluttering tasks you can tackle in five to 10 minutes. She suggests challenging yourself to do one a day for a week or a month. Whatever organizing project you tackle, Phelps recommends breaking it down into specific tasks to make it more doable. 

There are plenty of Tucson places that will accept your cast-offs once you're done: Goodwill Industries of Southern Arizona, the Casa de los Niños Thrift Store and so many more. Check out this giant list of places you can donate to — just check with individual organizations about how donation policies may have changed due to COVID-19. 

Phelps says that only after you declutter and donate should you purchase new storage. 

"Buy the fun stuff at the end," she says. "Buy coordinated things, not to be fussy, but because they stack and they fit. It's worth investing in things that match, otherwise the containers can become as messy as the thing you put in them." 

Add personality

Phelps points out that a fresh coat of paint can work wonders. 

"Now is the time to paint the walls," she says. "Freshen it up, brighten it up and make it feel like a new house, since you can't leave the house." 

If painting walls isn't an option or something you want to do, consider finding some art that you love to decorate your walls. 

The Southern Arizona Arts Guild gallery at La Encantada sells art from a variety of local artists. Or check out the Madaras Gallery, 3035 N. Swan Road, to see pieces by the prolific Tucson artist Diana Madaras and around two dozen other artists (you can also browse and purchase art at madaras.com). Pop-Cycle Shop is also a great place to find quirky, locally-made pieces. The brick-and-mortar store is currently closed, but you can shop online at popcycleshop.com. To learn about even more Tucson artists, check out this Arizona Daily Star story

Another option for finding Tucson art? Browse the virtual Fourth Avenue Street Fair, a website that compiles links to many of the vendors that had planned to be at the canceled, spring fair.

If the color you're looking for more of is green, several local nurseries have  pickup options, including Spadefoot Nursery, 2831 E. Broadway, which has an online store (the nursery itself is closed to visitors) and Desert Survivors, 1020 W. Starr Pass Blvd.

Phelps also suggests washing your curtains and your windows, inside and out, to let better light into your home. Of course, she adds, that once you wash your outside windows, the monsoon will show up. So actually, yes, please wash your outside windows — and your car, too, while you're at it. 

Create an office space

Phelps says one of the needs she sees right now is for a designated office space. 

"It's incredibly hard to do work when you're surrounded by your domestic to-do list..." she says. "It's super important to create some boundaries about where you can work, even though you're home." 

She suggests picking a space with light — or investing in one for your work space — and finding a spot with a clear background for the ever-present Zoom call. If you can pick one, dedicated space, all the better. 

If you don't have a room that you can dedicate to a home office, Phelps recommends using a folding screen to create a separate space and clean background for video calls. Or if your workspace needs to be mobile, she suggests outfitting a small, rolling cart as your portable office, complete with laptop and lamp. Then, you can move it out of the way when you're done working. 

"There are always ways to improve your awkward space," she says. 

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