Whether the space you're organizing is large or small, cluttered to the ceiling or just a little over-stuffed, filled with shoes and clothes or pasta and canned peas - the general organization process is the same. Follow these steps for a more organized space.
Organize My Home: Where do I start?
You've had time - perhaps even years - to build up to where you are now. It can be overwhelming, and starting with a large project can be incredibly frustrating and discouraging. Start small. Pick a small area that supports what's important to you or that you use often: a corner of your bedroom to reduce noise for a good night's sleep, a kitchen junk drawer to calm a busy area of your home, a drawer in your desk to save time while working, or your purse or bag that you carry with you daily.
If you can, pick an area that you see often and that others won't undo. Repeatedly seeing the neat, tidy, organized space will reinforce a sense of accomplishment and help motivate you to complete other organization projects.
When you set aside time to organize, make it a no-distraction zone! Put the phone on silent and schedule the session for a time when you're not likely to be interrupted.
Take time to take a before picture of the space. Trust me: you'll be glad you did. We don't always have a good memory of the before, and it's important to acknowledge the work you did and where you started!
Grab the Sorting Bins
Grab something to sort your stuff into: bins, totes, laundry baskets, IKEA bags, boxes - whatever you have on hand. You'll need at least three along with a bag or can for trash and, if it's offered in your area, something for recycling.
Label the bins to S.O.R.T.:
As you S.O.R.T. an area, you may find you need a bin labeled Fix for broken items or things that need to be mended.
1: Take Everything Out. Everything.
Don't skip this step. Regardless of the space you're organizing, take everything out. Empty the closet or the drawer or the pantry or the countertop or the bag. Empty it out and take the opportunity to clean it while it's empty.
Why is this important? There is something magical that happens when you take things out of the space where they've been living. You see them differently. Something may feel like it belongs in the space simply because it's always been there. Once it's out of the space, and it has to justify going back in, it's much easier to see the object for what it is and to make a clear decision.
2: Declutter Your Space.
We'll start with a speed round. Set a timer for 15 minutes. (If you have one that ticks the seconds, use it. The sound of time slipping away will motivate you even more.) The goal here is to make quick decisions. Touch each item only once and place it in the appropriate bin. Make it even more fun by creating an extra challenge. Try to cut the clutter by half or one-third!
Some decisions will be obvious "no-brainers". Start with these to get the momentum going. Exercising your decision muscle on no-brainers will make it easier to make decisions later when the answer isn't so obvious.
For those items that take more time to decide (should we call them brainers???), ask yourself these questions:
When did I last use this? Ask yourself: is it a friend, acquaintance, or a stranger? If it's been more than a year, seriously consider Offloading or Trashing it. If it's been less than a year, go to the next question.
How often do I use it? If it's not something you use often and it's taking up prime real estate (meaning it's in an easy to access space that you see daily), put it in the Relocate bin. Actually, before you toss it in the bin, ask yourself...
Could I borrow, rent, or improvise with something else the few times I need it? If yes, Trash it or Offload it.
Is it a duplicate? Keep the best, the prettiest, the most effective, the one that's not broken, etc.
Is it out-of-date? Medication and food expires. Clothing goes out of style. Electronics are no longer compatible. Trash, Offload, or dispose of responsibly.
If I don't have this anymore, what impact will it have on my life? What's the worst-case scenario? Will you have to immediately run out and replace it? If yes, it's a Save or Relocate. If the answer is "I probably won't even notice" or a "I'll just use the [other thing]", then Trash or Offload.
Do I value this item? This can be a tricky question. What does "value" mean? Some related questions may be: Do I care about this item? Do I want this item? Does it spark joy? Would I buy it again today? If it's a yes, Save it. If it's dusty, thrown into a drawer, or forgotten in a pile, do you really care about it? Maybe it's something you liked once but you just don't value it as much now.
Does it need to be fixed? This is where the Fix bin comes in. If something is damaged or needs to be mended, put it in the Fix bin. But, before you do, consider the cost of repair (in both time and money) and the cost of replacing the item. Also, if it's been broken for years, do you really use it?
Am I keeping this because of guilt? Let go of the guilt! If it was a gift, it was given out of a desire for you to be happy. If it no longer brings you joy (or maybe never really did), Offload it. Spread the joy to someone else!
How easily could I get another one if I needed it? If it's something you don't use very often, but it's expensive or difficult to replace. It's probably best to Save or Relocate.
Once the timer dings, take a breath. If you're in a large space, you may have to start the timer again or give yourself longer increments of time. Don't set the timer for too long, however, or it defeats the purpose.
Once you've finished the speed round, it's time to take a more detailed look at the stuff in the Save bin. Empty it all out and go through it again. Give yourself 15-30 minutes. Anything that you couldn't decide on during the speed round - decide now. Anything that you couldn't identify during the speed round - now is the time.
To help you decide, think about the space you're organizing and your goals for that space. Think about its function and whether the item serves that function.
3: Get Rid of It - NOW!
Take the trash and recycling out to the curb immediately. Bag up donations and put them in the car. Anything you need to ship, pack up and address ASAP. Put that in the car. If you have items that need to be returned to people or places, put them in the car or make arrangements now. Anything that needs to be relocated to other places in your home - put it away now.
The key is to get everything out so you can see how far you've come and so you don't second guess yourself and allow things to slowly creep back in.
4: Like with Like.
At this point, you're left with the Save bin and the Fix bin (if you have one). For the Fix bin, give yourself a deadline, and write it on the bin. As you fix the contents, put them away. If there's anything left in the bin after the deadline, it gets trashed or donated.
Sort everything from your Save bin into piles or smaller bins, grouping items into categories. As you sort, the categories will reveal themselves. Some larger, general piles may need to be split into smaller categories. Some smaller piles of one or two items may be able to be combined into more general categories. Groups will vary. Some items may be grouped by task, such as a bin for bill-paying supplies, or everything you need to shine your shoes or wrap a gift. The entire time, keep in mind the function of your space.
You may find more duplicates during this step. As before, keep the best. If it's something you normally keep in quantities, like staples and paperclips, ask yourself how many you would realistically use in six months or a year. You're not an office supply store, and storing excess supplies is a poor use of valuable space.
Why is this important? There's a cost to having similar things scattered throughout your home: a cluttered, unusable space and wasted time. Storing like things together makes it easier to find what you're looking for. You're less likely to buy duplicates if you can see how many of an item you have on hand. Also, when you group things together that were once scattered, you save space.
5: Put it Away.
If your Relocate bin was full, it means that things are finding their way into the wrong spot. If this "wrong spot" is where you normally use those things, maybe it's not wrong after all. Regardless, know that putting things away is a habit, and it's one you can develop if you don't already have it. Perhaps you can start by working it into your morning or evening routine?
It takes more time and effort to put something in the wrong place and then put it away later, then it does to put it away in the first place.
If you're building the habit of putting things away, try this mantra: Don't put it down, put it away!
Put away all your Save items. If they don't already have a home, give them one. Focus on where you use it, not where you think you should store it.
What are the three rules of real estate? Location, location, location. These rules also apply to organizing your home. The spaces where you spend most of your time and engage in the majority of your activities are prime real estate. This is where you store the stuff that you use the most often and that's the most essential. The easier it is to get to, the more prime the real estate.
Secondary storage is for the stuff you use, but not on a daily basis. This is your higher shelves and harder-to-reach spots.
Then we have deep storage. This is for the stuff that's seasonal or rarely used like tax returns. A word of warning here: this area can be a clutter trap! This is only for stuff you use, not stuff you "might use" or for all the "just in case" items. Let Wal-Mart and Home Depot store that stuff. Your space is for the stuff you use, not for mass storage of all things that may be useful at some point.
If you can, store your stuff close to where you use it. This makes accessing what you need when you need it, and putting it back, much faster and easier. When possible, store things in containers with like things, and use containers with drawers instead of stacking containers. The stuff inside is much easier to access. Also, stay away from using boxes for storage, especially long-term. They may keep your things contained, but they do nothing to keep the contents safe. They may protect somewhat from dust, dirt, and sunlight, but they're no match for moisture and pests. Something valuable stored poorly can become junk overnight.
Something valuable stored poorly can become junk overnight.
I've Organized my Space. Now What?
Take a break. Reward yourself. And don't forget that after picture!
And schedule your next organizing session. You didn't get here overnight. It's going to take time, but you've learned the process. You can apply it to all areas of your home, your work, and even your car. Even if you break it up to 15 minutes a day, you will still make consistent and meaningful progress!
So, where are you going to start? Post in the comments below, and we'll all give each other ideas! And until then...
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I'm Jen, a professional organizer ready to help you take charge of your space, free up your time, and lead a more organized life! (Read more about me here)