First things first. I need to get a slight disclaimer out of the way. I’m not Marie Kondo. I’m not Martha Stewart. Heck, I don’t even claim to organize in any way shape or form professionally.
I’m sharing tips and tricks that have served my family well. I’ve picked them up along the way from articles written by folks like Martha Stewart to chatting with friends who actually organize people’s houses for a living.
I come to you, momma, sharing my experiences as a fellow momma trying to keep up with my husband and 11-year-old son. Here goes nothing!
1. Start small.
It is way too freaking easy to get overwhelmed when your whole house is filled with clutter. You want to know how to best eat an elephant (figuratively speaking)? One bite at a time. The same analogy can be applied to home organization - only replace the elephant with your home. Instead of assuming you’re going to get everything organized and clutter-free in one fell swoop, start with one area.
This can be ANYTHING. Think a cabinet, a junk drawer, your desktop, heck, even your purse (is anyone else’s a hotbed for random receipts and snacks?)!
Now, you’re ready to dive in!
2. Dump EVERYTHING out.
Yes, you read that correctly. The very next step is to remove everything out of the area you’re focusing on. The key is spreading it all out within a central location (think your bed if you’re cleaning out your closet or your kitchen table/island if you’re cleaning out your pantry). That way, you can actually see everything that was once lurking underneath, creating all that clutter!
3. Half Hour Hustle time!
I actually picked up this tip from my friend who’s an actual professional organizer, Melissa Hathaway-Stutz. She’s invented a method called the Half Hour Hustle. It’s a pretty simple concept. You pick some music that’s upbeat and gets you going, then you set a timer for 30 minutes.
And for those 30 minutes, you focus on organizing or cleaning only. This idea is so simple, but so genius. You can do pretty much anything for 30 minutes, right? And with some rocking tunes, you barely notice you’re doing anything not so fun. I find it to be a total win-win. Repeat as necessary.
4. Sort out what you’re organizing.
While you’re bopping along to your favorite jams, you’ll be sorting your items into 3 distinct piles:
The toss pile is pretty self-explanatory. You’re throwing away anything that ends up in that pile. Think old receipts from your purse, expired food from your pantry, or that old t-shirt you wear to bed that has more holes than Swiss cheese.
The donate pile is pretty self-explanatory as well. You’ll be donating anything that still has life to it you feel someone else will be able to use. Think those snack bars your kiddo ended up hating, that dress you wore once to a wedding 3 years ago and haven’t worn since, or that donut pan you bought to make donuts but they turned out to be an epic fail and the pan been collecting dust in your cabinet ever since (this one’s a real life example - trying to make egg-free, dairy-free donuts is harder than it looks).
The keep pile can be a little more complicated, so I’m saving it for its own tip.
5. Honestly assess what you’re keeping.
You may think it’s as easy as putting away everything you’re keeping and calling it a day. If you’ve really honest with yourself and your toss and donate piles are much larger than your keep pile, you may be able to do this.
However, if not, you need to ask yourself if you can reasonably fit everything you’re keeping back into the closet, drawer, cabinet and easily be able to find something when you need it. Does every item have its own unique spot?
This means you can easily spot your favorite black cardigan without sifting through piles of clothes in your closet. This means you can easily spot your checkbook in your desk drawer without having to sift through paperwork and pens rolling around.
If you can’t reasonably fit everything back where you initially had it, then it’s time to go through the pile again and again until you’re able to do so.
Yes, this part can be hard. When I first got married, I really got into scrapbooking. I even created calendars for my family and wedding albums for Christmas that revealed I was having a boy.
Once Cameron actually arrived, forget it. I never really had time to pick my scrapbooking back up. I got as far as documenting my baby shower and a few pictures from when Cameron was first born, then went back to work full-time when he was 8 months old.
All of my scrapbooking items sat in plastic bins and they moved with us over the years. Finally, I said enough was enough and I donated everything to a local summer camp.
Yes, at first it was hard to let go. Scrapbooking was something I once enjoyed. I was able to create beautiful mementos for my family and friends. But, I can just as easily create a beautiful calendar filled with pictures from the past year online. Plus, the kiddos at summer camp are going to have much more fun with my paper and supplies than I will having it sit and collect dust somewhere in my closet.
If you’re in a similar predicament trying to sort through items, ask yourself if you’re using the item now on a regular basis. If not, think about someone else who can get some enjoyment or use out of it. It is a much more productive practice donating something vs. having it sit for months or years collecting dust.
Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Yes, it’s hard, but it will be worth it! Now, onto what to do with the items you’re going to be keeping.
6. Sort your items into like categories.
For example, if you're sorting out your pantry, you'd sort what you're keeping into categories like baking, canned goods, snacks, beverages, etc.If you're sorting out your linen closet, perhaps you'd want to sort what you're keeping into categories like first aid, skincare, hair care, makeup, etc.
By sorting everything into categories, you're able to keep like items stored together so they're easier to find. This will also help you figure out what types/sizes of storage containers you'll need.
7. Figure out a realistic storage system.
Now that we know what we’re keeping, we need to figure out how to keep everything organized. This doesn’t necessarily mean calling in California Closets to build a custom closet system. You can easily utilize storage options you already have in your home.
This can include cloth bins for toys, mason jars for dried goods, and plastic shoe boxes to organize snacks. If you’re still looking for some inspiration, you can check out my previous article on my personal favorite storage solutions.
No matter what you choose, make sure you factor in storage for a little bit more than what you currently have. I learned this tip from another home organizer colleague of mine, Catherin Weeks.
What she advises makes SO much sense. Think about it - if you're running low on mouthwash, you're going to buy another bottle the next time you’re at the store so you don't run out. Where's that bottle of mouthwash going to go until you actually run out of mouthwash from the bottle you’re currently using?
This is probably the most challenging step of all. Now that you’ve put in all of this hard work towards getting organized, you’ve got to actually keep it up. This is where a weekly or monthly Half Hour Hustle can come in handy.
It’s also important to do a clean out before birthdays and Christmas. You know that your children are going to be getting new toys, books, and clothing. You’ve gotta make room for the presents they receive!
I also personally subscribe to the one in, one out philosophy. If you’re buying a new outfit, is there another outfit in your closet that hasn’t been worn in ages that you could donate?
9. Borrow or swap whenever possible.
By borrowing items, you know you eventually have to give them back and therefore they’re not going to take up precious real estate in your home. Think borrowing books from the library or borrowing a special cake pan from your neighbor (if only my neighbor had that donut pan).
You can also swap items. Think swapping clothing and accessories with your friends or swapping toys with friends/family that have children in the same age range as your children. You can get “new to you” outfits and your children can get “new to them” toys.
10. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
At the end of the day, you don’t have to do everything but the kitchen sink right away. As I mentioned in my first tip, start small. Once you feel good about one area of your home and maintaining it, move onto the next. The important thing to remember is that keeping your home organized is a practice.
It’s okay to have busy weeks where you can’t see straight and before you know it, your kitchen table has become a dumping ground. Accept that it will happen, then return back to your organization practice. It’s just like riding a bike!
There you have it - my top 10 organization tips for real life. I’d love to hear what tips you’ve incorporated or if there’s other tips you use that have been helpful. Share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear them!
Until next time…
Happy Designing (and Organizing)!
- Angela :)