5 Favorite, Simple, Work-for-Everyone Organizing Tips
It's January, and you know what that means—a surge of home organizing, prompted by New Year's resolutions, Target emails with sales on organizing supplies, and the desire to start fresh. Many people set big goals, only to see their motivation fizzle by February—change is hard, your projects didn't come with magical blocks of free time, and big projects leave you wondering where to start.
But I have tips for you! This advice doesn't include step-by-step instructions for tackling your pantry or cleaning out your closet. Instead, these five tips are things that can become habit—and habits are a truly powerful way to create changes. These are the kind of actions that, once established, make your home a calmer, neater place without much mental energy. Because they are small daily actions (not weekend projects), they are easier to work into your life.
You may have seen some of these in my Tip Tuesday posts, but here are my 5 favorites, in one place:
# 1 — Do something to get started, especially when you feel overwhelmed.
If your whole house feels cluttered and you're unsure how to start, grab a trash bag. Walk through your house and toss things in—actual trash (seriously kid, throw away your granola bar wrapper!), papers you don't need, catalogs you won't look at, anything broken, things you don't want to look at (you may have gone to the fundraising paint night, but you don't have to keep the "trees at twilight" painting); you get the idea. Don't overthink it, don't get distracted by other projects—just look for trash. Customize this to work for you: do a room per day if that's better. Grab two bags so you can recycle too. Enlist kids to help, or to do their own rooms. Keep it simple and manageable. (You can take the same approach with items to donate instead of trash.)
# 2 — Create a donation box.
Somewhere in your house, garage, or basement, have a cardboard box to collect donations. When you decide you don't like that sweater anymore, drop it in the box. Found a toy your kid hasn't touched in six months? Into the box it goes. Realized you have three pizza cutters? Pick a favorite; put another in the donate box. Folding laundry and realized those pants are too short for your youngest kid? Yes, to the box they go. This keeps the purging process simple—it's not a huge task that you have to commit an afternoon to; it's a micro task that takes one minute. And it keeps you in the mindset of always questioning whether you still need something. When the box is full, drop it off at a donation center.
# 3 — Establish a 10-minute, end-of-day clean up for the whole family.
Let's be really clear about what this is and isn't. This is a few minutes of returning things to their intended places: hanging up the coat, getting socks off the living room floor, removing school papers from the kitchen counter, putting dirty laundry in the hamper. This is not the time to organize a bookshelf or go through a month's worth of mail. This is a speed clean that prevents a few misplaced items from becoming a mess that takes a full day to clean up. Every family member should participate—this shouldn't be mom's nightly job. I strongly believe that one of the great gifts you can give your children is the skill of taking care of and being responsible for their own things. I have no interest in being my girls' maid and I'm guessing you didn't sign up for that either. The first couple weeks of this may be a hassle (and yes, the kids will complain) but if you stick with it you—and the kids—will form a habit and do it with minimal thought. Tip for parents of younger kids—you can make it a little more fun with a "race the clock" style game, music, etc.
# 4 — Deal with paper (especially the mail) daily.
Is there currently a pile of mail on your kitchen counter, or desk? How much of it do you need and how much is junk? This tip is dead simple, but makes a huge difference in the volume of paper in your house. Every day, when you walk in with the mail, go through it immediately while standing next to the trash can/recycling bin. Drop in everything you can. Open every bill, recycling the envelope and inserts. Will you really look at that catalog later? Recycle ads, flyers, and insurance and refinance offers you won't look into. Most information can be found online and you probably don't need it on paper. Do this and you'll drastically cut down on your paper pile—and everything you keep will be something you truly need. That makes things easier to find. (Again, this approach will eventually become a habit that you do automatically with exactly zero seconds of thought. Speaking from experience here!)
# 5 — Store things where you use them.
I had the opportunity to share a favorite organizing tip in a recent Redfin blog post, and this is the one I chose because it is the core of how organizing makes your life easier. Think about the pain points in your day—do you have a battle with your kids each morning to go back upstairs for socks before leaving the house (more personal experience!)? Keep a small bin of socks next to the shoes. Is there always a hairbrush lying around your kitchen because it's where you do your daughter's hair each morning? Just store it in the kitchen (hide it in a counter-top canister so it's not mingling with utensils) and stop rushing from room to room on a hectic morning. There are no rules. Just do what works for the way you actually live.
Start small—starting 4 new habits at once? Tough. Establishing one and then adding another? Much easier. Side note: I suggest setting up the donation box first because it's absurdly easy and fast and gives you an instant feeling of accomplishment.
Want more organizing tips along these lines? 11 Organizing Tips You Will Actually Stick To, the blog post I mentioned above, has favorite tips from ten other organizers from across the country. It's a quick read with some great ideas.
And if this whole habit thing has you intrigued and you're a little bit of a nerd about it (raising my hand with no embarrassment because I'll own my nerdiness here), I highly recommend the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It's a look at how and why we think and behave and how to use that knowledge to be more productive, or exercise more, or whatever your personal goal may be.
So now that you have some action items, pick one and get started!