25 Organizing and Decluttering Tips to Simplify Your Life
Have you ever sat looking at the mound of papers on your desk feeling overwhelmed? Walked into the laundry room and insisted that the clothes must be multiplying every time you turn your back? Perhaps you ponder all the ways your kitchen simply doesn't work for you as you prepare a family meal. If clutter and chaos has been the rule of the day in your home, and feeling overwhelmed has caused you to throw your hands up in exasperation or defeat, this hub is for you.
I was a chronic clutterer and highly disorganized for a very long time. I have a touch of ADD and it causes me to be rather flighty at times and to be easily distracted – the perfect storm for clutter and chaos to ensue.
When I began seeking solutions in my life to deal with anxiety, depression and procrastination and all those various other “tion's” that tend to stand in our way, one thing that came to mind was that despite having a free spirit – I DO need structure in order to thrive. I began practicing meditation daily and as I was able to clear the clutter of my mind, I began to realize the importance of clearing clutter from my space. It wasn't just a nuisance or aggravation – it was cutting into the quality of my life more than I was willing to admit to myself.
As we all know, tackling Everest when you can't even climb a hill is impossible. This is why many give up on organization and before you know it, it snowballs in your life until everything is chaotic. Every successful project and victory in life starts with small wins, little gains that boost self-confidence and determination. Killing clutter and organizing your life and space is the same process. It starts with developing little habits and rituals and tackling one room – or even one corner at a time if that's all you can do.
Here are 25 Tips to start the process of organizing your life. I tried to include tips that can be tweaked for both home and work. Since I use the same space for both, it's kind of how I'm wired now :).
Unrealistic Expectations and Getting Organized
Many of us see these perfect spaces on Pinterest or in magazines and we feel guilty that our homes, even at their best, have never looked that nice. Guess what? If you have kids or pets, you're not going to have a home that looks like a Martha Stewart set. It's ok. Get over it. You aren't going for perfection, you're going for function and less chaos. No one lives in a showroom, so that's not an excuse for not getting started.
Organizing and Planning Locations
Items you use regularly should be in the “easy to reach” zones. In whatever room or space you tackle first, sit down and make a list of the items you use most in this space. Those items need to be within easy reach. Other lesser used items can be stored closer to the floor or in high cabinets etc. This helps you make a space practical and makes it easier for you to put things away immediately as you use them. This is a very important tip in areas like the kitchen. Think about what you use where when planning your space.
Start De-cluttering at the Front Door
Most of us struggle knowing where to start. I say start inside your front door. When you first enter your home; it should feel welcoming. Find the first area of your home that you see visible clutter. This is where you start and work your way around from here. Many people have clutter right inside the front door. Shoes, coats, piles of mail, etc. This is not welcoming and peaceful. It is coming home to chaos immediately. Organize this area first and you will be amazed at how much more inviting your home feels when you return to it each day. This goes for your workspace or office too, the first place your eyes detect clutter – start there.
This quick video has great ideas for organizing very small spaces and making them highly functional. Love her entry way ideas. Could they work for you?
If you are a potential candidate for the “Hoarders” show, or fear you could end up that way, start mass de-cluttering operations by making the tasks more bearable. Tackle one room per week and one section of room per day. Carry two boxes with you and a trash bag. Resist the temptation to make piles. Use your containers. One box if for items you do not use anymore, but are in usable condition. The second box is for items that do not belong in this space/room and the trash bag should be used liberally to rid yourself of anything that is unnecessary.
No, you don't need 15,000 rubber bands. Get rid of them, with the exception of maybe a dozen. Ask yourself honestly – do I need all this? If the answer is no - recycle, throw away or prepare to sell the items. Sometimes this process hurts, especially if you are a “rainy day saver”. It's important to get a grasp on what you may actually use someday and what is reality. If you haven't used it in six months, you most likely aren't going to. Get rid of it. As each box fills, attend to it. Put items away and put your for sale items in one location in your home.
Organization – Everything in its Place
Sit down with a piece of paper as you do your room by room and allocate a place in that room for everything that belongs there. Everything should have a specific place that you go to find it. Map it out, draw it out whatever you need to do, but ensure that you get to a point where everything has a set place. Use labels if needed to help you remember where you put things. Planning is important here, write it down and you'll be more successful at organizing and remaining that way.
Hang Hooks in Your Entry Way
Hooks immediately inside the door for coats, purses and keys. You walk in, they come off and go straight on the hooks. No more fumbling for keys, finding coats, wondering where you left your purse. This one tip, developed into an amazing habit for me that has saved me many hours of wasted time and frustration.
Only One “Junk Drawer” Allowed
Junk drawers are clutter creators and they reinforce bad habits. If you must have a junk drawer or drawer for miscellaneous stuff, limit yourself to one such drawer and make cleaning it out a monthly chore.
Something Old for Something New
Want to get clutter under control? Stop bringing new stuff in. Learn to use what you have and if you can't use what you have, make sure that you throw something out for every new item you bring into your home. Going to the grocery store? Clean out the fridge. Buying a new decorative item? Get rid of an old one. This act of trading not only stops excess clutter; it makes us mindful of what we are bringing into our space and prevents hoarding of unnecessary objects.
Keep a Chore List and Follow It
Every home (or office) has maintenance tasks that must be done daily, weekly, monthy, semi-annually, and yearly. Make a list of these tasks (see my sample one to the right). Put the checklist on your fridge or in a prominent location. Every family member should have assigned tasks from each section and they should be required to check them off when completed.
Even younger children should be involved; it develops good habits. It also develops a sense of satisfaction when you see that tasks are being done. If your children resist this idea, use incentives. Around here, we are not allowed video games until homework and tasks are completed. Incentive helps kids better cooperate. These tasks also build life skills so that as your child grows and prepares to become an adult, they have an understanding of how to do these things for themselves and organize/structure their own home someday.
Kitchens are the worst. This video shows a pro organizer redoing her brothers small apartment kitchen to make it more functional. I like that she's mindful of attachments to items and things like that. A space should be functional, but also personal.
No Piles of Anything! (no, not even neat ones)
Stacking things develops bad habits. Stacks of items tend to grow into unmanageable piles of clutter and chaos that then take hours to clean and sort. Look at areas of your home where things tend to be “stacked” or piled up. This could be your mail, the laundry, dishes etc. This rule will save you hours of wasted time when you learn to follow it. For mail and papers get an inbox and outbox. Place this on your weekly task list. Bills go out, the papers get tossed or filed. Things come in, attend to them right away or place them only temporarily in the inbox. All dishes go immediately into the dishwasher or get washed in the sink after use; no leaving them in other areas or allowing them to pile up.
New Homes for Stacked Items
Take mental note of your space. Where do items tend to stack up and why? When possible, you may want to create a station or workable organized area near this place. For example, if you find you pile your mail and school papers and such on the dining room table, perhaps it's because this is the first large, flat surface you come in contact with when you enter the home. Instead, place a small plastic chest of drawers on or near this table with labels. Perhaps when you go into your office you see a jumble of papers all tacked to a bulletin board or piled on the desk. Purchase a file or office trays and label them for the various types of items that are piling up.
The key is figure out why it piles up, what it is and what you can do to make it function within the same space if you can.
Do Laundry Daily
Speaking of things that tend to pile up! A load or two of laundry every single day keeps this situation under control. Every bedroom should have a hamper if you don't have a laundry chute. Part of each child's morning ritual should be emptying their hamper and their wastebasket. Have them do it on their way down to breakfast, it only takes a minute. Clothes should be immediately folded, placed in a basket and then taken and put away.
Only Touch an Item Once
When you use something and set it down, it makes you have to go back to put it away later, which requires you to touch it twice. The touch it once rule is a simple way to remember the concept of use and put away. Drink from the glass put it immediately into the dishwasher, not leave it sitting on your desk. Don't take off your shirt when you come home and throw it on the bed. Later you have to take it to the laundry. This makes a two-step issue out of something that should only be one simple step.
The same premise goes for frequently used and lost items like remote controls. Keep the remote by the TV, get up and turn it on, switch to the channel you want and put the remote back down immediately in its “home”. Don't leave it sitting on the couch or chair where it will surely get lost. Touch it once! :)
Storage Spaces Should be Functional and Organized
Closets should be organized neatly with a place for everything. I enjoy shoe organizers and the hanging folding shelves for many items. They allow you to have “cubbies” for small items and you can see them right away, knowing what is where without digging. There are many frugal ways to organize closet space and make it more functional. Map out the closets in your home, what you keep there and what should go together. You may need to rework closets to get like items together in an area where they function the best. For example your hall closet should have shoes, coats, dog leashes, outdoor toys, etc. all organized and kept together since it's the closest to outside.
Storage rooms should also be organized according to function. Keep like items with like items for functionality.
Binders are a Girl's Best Friend
Binders are great for organizing everything from your most frequently used recipes to your kids art and assignments. Every child gets a binder. Papers you want to keep are 3-hole punched and placed in the binder immediately. Every year go through and clean out what you don't need. Consider scanning pieces of art instead of keeping all the originals – that way you can enjoy them without them hogging up space all over the house.
Keep a binder of your most commonly used recipes in the kitchen so you don't have to dig for a specific recipe book etc. This is very handy when you keep it tabbed! Mine has non-food recipes in one section (I make soaps, lotions etc) and holiday recipes in another tap, and common recipes in the front tab!
Pantry and Fridge
Speaking of kitchens, how much do you struggle with knowing what you have on hand and what you need to purchase? Does your fridge regularly frighten you with odd odors and things you can no longer identify? This happens to the best of us at times, and kitchens are the one area of the house it pays (literally) to be more organized. Map your pantry out. One shelf for canned goods and like cans in a row, boxes on another shelf, etc. Keep cereals and other frequently used items in plastic, air-tight containers to preserve freshness and easily see at a glance when its running low!
Fridge and freezer shelves should also be organized by zones/locations. Leftovers should be cleared at a minimum of once a week. I'm a realist, no one does this daily ;). Deep freezers can be sorted with milk crates. I use crates for different products and keep like products together. Cheap solution and easy to get to exactly what you need.
Those were the biggies - here are some more "quick tips" I use that will also hopefully help you organize and declutter.
- Organize your computer files and keep everything in clear locations. For example I freelance. My main folder is “writing assignment” In that folder is a folder for each client. In each clients folder are separate folders for billed items, work in progress, etc. Make it functional. Shoving everything into “my documents” is a time waster.
- Folders in different colors are fantastic. I keep a different colored folder for each client, inside I clip an index card with that weeks goals on the front of the folder. Whatever clients I am working for, those folders get placed on my clipboard. This makes organization a snap, I can keep notes or whatever I need for each one right there.
- Clear out email weekly! If you don't you end up with thousands of messages sitting there clogging up space and potentially making newer messages unable to be delivered.
- Keep a trash can in every major living area of the house – each bathroom, the living room, each bedroom. Empty them daily into the main receptacle.
- Make your storage pretty! You know that if you love how something looks, you're more likely to keep up with it. That ugly filing cabinet is just not calling your name, but if you make it over with some fabric and paint, it will be “yours” and appealing enough you'll want to keep using it.
- Have one set location for charging items and keep them there. Phones, hand-held games, etc. and their cords should have one central location for storing and charging.
- Once a month take a day and pick one location to go through and do a “cleanse”. Get rid of items that are not useful and simplify. This is also a mental and spiritual health activity. Our “stuff” can pile up so much that we lose sight of what is important. It becomes cumbersome, too much to deal with and is no longer enjoyable. Regular release is good for the home and for your soul.
- Procrastination and excuses will only make you miserable. It's easy to say “I don't have time for that right now” or “I don't feel like it”. When this happens ask yourself. Will you want to do it later? Especially when it's been let go and it's even harder? If the answer is no, take a minute make time. A small bite of something you don't like is easier than having to swallow a whole plate of it ;).
- Avoid impulse purchases. If you are tempted, ask yourself what specific place will this item have in my home? Where will it go and will it be used? If you are unsure, put the item down, you don't need it. “Because it's on sale” is not a “need”. If you aren't sure and there is a good chance it will collect dust getting in the way, walk away.
- Make it a game! Everyone loves a treasure hunt. As you organize, you will likely find some useful things you forgot you had. Take those useful things and find a home for them immediately, somewhere they will actually be used and enjoyed and not forgotten again. If it is something you will not use – (be honest) then get rid of it, but sometimes you find useful items that just got lost in the chaos.
What is your favorite organizing tip or how do you get rid of clutter in your life? Feel free to share a tidbit of advice for fellow readers in the comments :)