How to Organize Anything

From Better Homes and Gardens

The secret to organizing anything? These five easy steps. Apply them to the areas of your house that need an organization makeover and you’ll be on your way to a clutter-free home in no time.

Step 1: Plan.

Whether you prefer to complete an organizing job in a dedicated period of time or take baby steps until you eventually reach your goal, scheduling organizing tasks into your day will ensure they get accomplished.

Massachusetts-based organizing pro Susan Pinsky suggests blocking out time on your calendar to get organized just as you would schedule an important appointment. “Plan to spend two consecutive days on each room you want to organize,” she says. “That way, you’ll ensure you’ve got enough time to actually finish whatever room you start.”

Don’t have a full two days? Follow organizing strategist Donna Smallin Kuper’s approach. “Pick a room, then choose a single drawer or shelf,” she says. “Set a kitchen timer for 10, 15 or 30 minutes, and stop organizing when the timer goes off. You can always pick up tomorrow where you left off today.”

Step 2: Empty.

Once you’ve assembled your supplies, clear the floor so you can move around easily. Then, begin to empty surface areas such as bureaus, nightstands and your bed. “Clear surface areas one at a time so you end up with a lot of empty spaces on which to sort things,” Pinsky says. “Last, empty interiors, such as the insides of drawers and the inside of your closet.”

Before you begin emptying closets and drawers, make sure you’ve got plenty of large, heavy-duty plastic trash bags nearby. “I buy black bags for things that go in the garbage and white bags for things that get donated,” Pinsky says. It’s also helpful to have a few sturdy baskets or bins on hand to corral items that need to be returned to other rooms. “Dishes will have to go back to the kitchen, and that bike helmet will need to be taken to the garage,” Pinsky says. 

Step 3: Purge.

Most of us find it difficult to part with items that we’ve paid good money for, that are still in good working condition, or that we think we might need one day. Kuper says deciding what to keep, toss or donate is easier if you rely on a simple “umbrella rule” that can apply to nearly everything in your home. “If you don’t love it or use it, lose it,” she says. “Keep that umbrella rule in mind, and you won’t waste time agonizing over every little thing you pick up.”

Still having trouble letting go? Remind yourself that less stuff equals more space. “Reduction is the key to successful organizing,” Pinsky says. “You are not Julia Child. You do not need 15 pots and pans in your kitchen.” Make decisions based on what you actually use, and remember that items still in good shape can be donated or sold to be put to use elsewhere.

Step 4: Containerize.

Shopping for pretty bins and baskets is fun. But before you run to the store, hit pause. “At this stage, efficient organizing is about minimizing effort and maximizing simplicity,” Pinsky says. Think about what would work best for your space. “The simpler your containers are to use, the more likely you are to use them—and stay organized for the long haul.” That’s why Pinsky favors lidless containers and easily accessible open storage. “People assume lids are good because you can stack things on them,” she says. “But the problem is that to put something away, you have to remove whatever’s stacked on the lid, then pry the lid open. You’ve just made extra work for yourself.” In other words, the fewer steps, the better.

Step 5: Reassemble.

“Often, the reason things don’t get put away is because they don’t have a home,” Kuper says. She advises storing items close to where you use them and where they’ll be easy to retrieve and put away. “Consider accessibility and frequency of use,” she says. “And remember that being organized is not about being perfect.”

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