We can't all be professional organizers, but we can all learn how to organize our homes properly. But where to start? Many home organization experts — including Marie Kondo! — recommend decluttering as a good first step.
"Decluttering [is] the act of picking what you like, picking out what you [don't] like, [and] choosing what you want to keep," says Michele Vig, a Marie Kondo-certified master organizer, the founder of Neat Little Nest, and the author of The Holistic Guide to Decluttering. "Declutter first, organize second." After you've gotten rid of everything that no longer sparks joy, you'll have an easier time creating lasting systems for a chaos-free home.
Once you're ready to get down to business, use these expert-approved home organization hacks and methods that will save you time, money, and stress. Most can be accomplished for free, relying on the tools you already have at home, or can be pulled off with a few affordable organizing products that will take your closets, bedrooms, bathrooms, and more to the next level. Just remember: Even if decluttering and organizing feels overwhelming, the best thing you can do is simply start. Once you start chipping away at all that clutter, you'll be reaping the benefits of a more streamlined life in no time.
Block out the time you need on your calendar.
Plotting your organizing efforts on a daily planner could be just the motivation you need to hold yourself accountable. Just make sure you're being realistic about the amount of time you need, especially if it's a big project.
"Don't try to quickly get a project done that you know takes time," says Kate Pawlowski, founding partner of Done & Done Home. "If you dismantle your closet to do a big declutter and run out of time because you have to pick up your kids, you'll just have to come back to it the next day."
Do the best you can with the time you have, but try to give your plan some structure so you don't have to abandon the project before you're finished.
Tackle one space at a time.
There's no denying that organization can be a stressful activity for a lot of people. Experts suggest starting small and tackling one space of your house at a time to make it less of a daunting task. "Walk around your home and assess the space that is the most unproductive," says Wendy Silberstein of the Aesthetic Organizer. "Make a commitment to organize, and schedule it."
Ashley Murphy, co-founder of Neat Method, finds it's best to choose a place that you use a lot in your house. "This will make a huge impact on your day-to-day life and give you the confidence needed to move on to other areas on your list," she tells Woman's Day.
Make a prioritized to-do list.
One of the best ways to maximize your time? Consider making a to-do list of the top five things you want to get done that day.
"Prioritize your tasks so that you know which one you are going to do first," says Sharon Lowenheim, a professional organizer and founder of the Organizing Goddess, Inc. "As you get interrupted during the day by other activities, keep returning to the list and go in order of priority." At the end of the day, move whatever you didn't get done to tomorrow's list.
Use the Focus15 method.
If you're still struggling to find time to clear your space, Vig highly recommends the Focus 15 method. Basically, you set a timer for 15 minutes and focus on doing one task in that timeframe. "You're gonna feel this sense of freedom," she says. "When I'm stuck, when I just feel like either I'm too tired, or I'm just tired of it — whatever the ‘it’ is — the Focus 15 can really help. It kind of gets your adrenaline going and gets you across the finish line."
Editing and Sorting
Now it's time for a process professional organizers call "editing," or taking inventory. Once you've decided on a space, pull everything out of it and start sifting through to see what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of.
"Editing is a step in the decluttering process that helps you determine which items to keep, toss, or donate," says Jaime Hord, founder of Horderly Professional Organizing. "After editing, you're left with only the items you need and love in your home!"
Set up a staging area, like the dining table, then empty whatever you're organizing so you can spot doubles, giveaways, and must-saves fast.
Learn to make quick decisions.
It's easy to fall into the habit of hoarding things you think you may need or use one day, even if you don't necessarily care for these items, so be brutally honest with yourself about what to keep and what to toss. "It may have once served you well, but it apparently has no place in your life right now, so let it go," says Lowenheim.
Silberstein says there are a few key ways to "edit" your possessions. "Do not keep any garments that you have not worn in 12 months or longer, any kitchen or bathroom products that have expired, or any inventory that has not served you well in the last 12 months," she tells Woman's Day.
Need to make it even easier? If at least one of the following statements is true about an item, then it's a keeper:
• I've used it within the last year. That's enough time to have gone through all four seasons and special occasions. If you still aren't sure, put the item in a "Donate Later" box, seal it and mark it with the date of one year from now. If you haven't opened it by then, drop off the box at Goodwill without peeking inside.
• I need it or I love it. If you don't, there's no real reason to hang on to it. Resolve to fill your space only with things that really work, give you pleasure, or celebrate your family. Remember that you can't appreciate what you have if it's hiding in a dark corner of a closet. You should frame or display what you deem worth holding on to.
• It fits into the life I want to live. If something supports you and your future goals (think exercise equipment or a book about starting a business), it can stay. If it's a painful reminder of the past (think clothes that don't fit anymore or items that belonged to an ex), let it go.
Another great rule of thumb is to always remember the 80/20 rule. "It's the theory that most of us only use 20% of what we have," says Julie Isaacs, a professional organizer and founder of Uncluttered Home. "That's a good starting point to realizing you are surrounded by a lot of things you probably don't need."
Also keep in mind that everything you keep will need a home. For categories that can get unwieldy quickly, like memorabilia or craft supplies, assign them to a single shelf or bin, then let the designated area's size dictate how much you keep.
Sort like things with like things.
One of the things that can make a huge difference in how you organize your space is putting similar things together. Once you've pulled out what you don't need to either throw away or donate, the next step is to group the things in your pared-down collection together based on use or occasion.
"Make sure you pull everything of the category you are working on together from anywhere it lives in your house," says Pawlowski. "This doesn't mean taking your coats from the mudroom to your bedroom because it's 'clothing,' just that you should edit all coats at the same time."
Seeing everything in front of you sorted by categories — jeans in one corner, shoes in another — gives you a chance to see how much of something you have, making it easier to get rid of extras.
Don't buy storage containers until you've purged.
A word of warning: Do not buy new bins and boxes before you've taken inventory so you can assess what you truly need. The worst thing you can do when decluttering is to buy bins that will ultimately go unused. "When people want to get organized, the first thing they usually do is run out and buy storage supplies," says Isaacs. "But that's actually backwards."
The point, she explains, is to evaluate why you have so much stuff to begin with — not find new ways to house your junk. "You won't have any idea of what you really need in terms of containers or shelving until you've purged," she says.
Find a home for everything you own.
Once you've edited and sorted, it's not enough just to place what you're keeping back in containers. You want to make sure to group items appropriately, so you can easily find them and so your system is easy to keep up.
You've probably heard the saying, "A place for everything, and everything in its place." This tip perfectly embodies that sentiment. At its simplest level, to organize is to "keep creating a home for everything you own," says Vig.
Store things where you use them.
So how do you figure out the best home for your things? "If something gets used in the living room but gets stored in the bedroom, you're never going to put it away," Lowenheim says. "You're going to keep it hanging around in the living room on a surface or on the floor, creating a cluttered look."
While you may not think you have the space to store a certain item where you use it, finding a more convenient home can help reduce the clutter in your house because "you increase the likelihood that it gets put away," she adds.
Arrange items according to how frequently they're used.
Keep the items you use every day in plain sight — or at least at eye level. "The things you use daily should be the easiest to get to," interior decorator Christopher Lowell, author of Seven Layers of Organization, tells Woman's Day. "While the things you only use once in a while should require a step stool." This is where high shelving comes in handy. "Things you use just once a year should require a ladder," he adds. (Think attics or out-of-reach shelving in a garage.)
Not only will this storage system make it easier for you to find the things you use often, but the items you don't use regularly — like seasonal clothing, skis or camping gear, luggage, or special occasion dinnerware — will stay organized until you need them.
Take the same approach in the bathroom: Keep cotton swabs and other daily use items on the counter within arm's reach and tools you use occasionally under the cabinet. "With the things you only use now and then separated out and away from the things you need every day, those daily essentials will be better organized and easier to get to," Lowell says.
User dividers in your drawers.
"There isn't a drawer in your house that should not have container organizers in them," says Lowell. They can be any material you want — wood, wire mesh, or clear plastic — and are available at most home goods stores. "This allows you to separate the drawers into defined areas for specific things verses throwing everything into one big space," Lowell explains.
For the bedroom, store everyday items — like underwear and socks — in top drawers, workout clothes in the second or third drawers, and pants in the bottom drawers.
Make it easier to put things away.
"It always surprises me how difficult people make organizing for themselves," Kate Brown, professional organizer and owner of Impact Organizing LLC, tells Woman's Day. Her suggestion? "Make everything a one-handed operation." For example, keeping open containers and bins on shelves around the house can help maintain tidiness and make it easier to locate things when you need them.
Why open bins and not stacking bins? "You're more likely to put your things back where they belong if you're storing them in a drawer or open bin," Sara Losonci, founder of Shelfie NYC, tells Woman's Day. If you have to stack and unstack bins every time you want to put something away, it takes more time and energy, which you may not always have when you're organizing. "When you don’t feel like putting something back where it belongs, you set it down on a surface and the clutter collecting begins," she explains. Whereas, simply placing something into an open bin or tossing it into a drawer with organizers is far less tedious and takes little effort.
"Avoid lids at almost all costs," adds Brown. "The fewer steps, the better the organizing system."
Color-code your bookshelves.
This organizing hack is more of a fun, aesthetically pleasing project and less of a necessary thing to do to keep your space neat. If you have a little extra time on your hands, and you're looking for something to do, "color-code your books," Losonci says. "Nothing is easier on the eyes. There's a reason this tip is life-changing and talked about all the time."
Organize your kitchen with a towel rack.
Hanging up a towel rack in your kitchen for utensils and pans is another fun little project that'll not only make you feel much more organized, but also give your kitchen an aesthetically pleasing touch. It helps you reduce the clutter in your kitchen drawers or cabinets, and because it looks nice, you won't mind looking at it every day. It also makes high-use items much more accessible!
Sort your fridge like a grocery store.
Just as grocery stores have a designated place for different types of items — meats, dairy, snacks, etc. — so too should your fridge. Silberstein advises using clear bins in your fridge to keep everything in its designated place, and stacking the bins to take advantage of the height available on most refrigerator shelves.
Ysolt Usigan is a lifestyle writer and editor with 15+ years of experience working in digital media. She has created share-worthy content for publishers Shape, What To Expect, Cafe Mom, TODAY, CBS News, HuffPo, The Bump, Health, Ask Men, and Best Gifts. A working mom of two, her editorial expertise in parenting, shopping, and home are rooted in her everyday life.
Alesandra is a digital travel and lifestyle journalist based in Los Angeles whose work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Prevention, Insider, Glamour, Shondaland, AFAR, Parents, TODAY and countless other online and print outlets. Alesandra has a masters degree in journalism with an emphasis on cultural reporting and criticism from NYU, and a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley. An avid traveler, she trots the globe with her husband and their twins.
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