Wouldn’t it be nice if, at the end of the day, after all of the messes and chaos, our fairy godmother would show up, wave her magic wand, and, in a sea of sparkles, things would magically put themselves back in place?
Or, if we could but cast a spell, and everything would look nice and tidy like a picture from a magazine or a shining social media post?
Yeah, right. Enter real life.
The average American home doesn’t just house people and pets. It’s also home to more than 300,000 items!
That’s right. That’s 300,000 objects each household has to find a home for.
And we wonder why all of those clever storage solutions aren’t working.
Minimalism is a great alternative, but not all of us are cut out to be minimalists. So, if we’re not willing to live solely with the number of possessions that fit into a backpack, how do we get organized?
I will confess. Sometimes my home is messy. I have problem areas. But I am conquering clutter one area at a time—and here’s a guide to organization for the rest of us. Rather than waiting for our fairy godmother to bippity-boppity-boo away our chaos, let’s tackle it—one area at a time.
First, here are the definite don’ts of organization:
- Don’t try to do it all at once. Seriously. If you’re average, there are 300,000 objects in your home. At one-minute decision time per item, that’s 5,000 hours—or more than 208 days nonstop! If we attempt to declutter and organize our entire house, we’ll end up overwhelmed and stressed. If you’re fairly far into the decluttering process, you can take it one room at a time. But I highly recommend you break a room into parts and take it one drawer, one closet, one box, etc. at a time. Don’t attempt to declutter and organize the entire living room. Aim for the bookshelf, the coffee table, the kids’ toys, etc. Trust me. This works soooo much better, and you’ll hold on to your sanity.
- Don’t think of organization as a destination. It’s a process, and it must be maintained. That’s the primary reason storage solutions fail. We buy them, but we fail to maintain the organizational method we implemented. If you’re going to get and stay organized, go slowly and remember that it is an ongoing process. If you see it as a destination, you’ll only quit once clutter again starts accumulating. We’ll take a few big passes in the beginning, and then, as time goes on, it will get easier. It will take less and less effort, but it will still be a process.
- Don’t buy storage solutions before you sort things out. Too often, we try to “buy” our way out of our mess. I get the inclination, and trust me, I have definitely been there. But you have to organize before you buy that pretty little organizational solution, or it won’t work. Declutter first. Know exactly what you have and how much you’re keeping.
- Don’t think organization is only for the chosen few. You don’t have to be a minimalist to be organized. This mentality frustrates me—because many people simply don’t want to be minimalists. You can live a clutter-free life without only owning 100 items. Trust me. My mother-in-law owns a lot of stuff, but man, she knows where everything is. “Oh, it’s in the blue bin on the top shelf in the garage, and it’s labeled…” I am generally a fan of owning less, and I think decluttering is the first step, but don’t think you have to own next to nothing in order to be organized.
Okay, so we’ve talked about the “don’ts” of getting organized. So, now where do we start?
- Step No. 1: Identify the area you want to organize. Take everything out.
I mean everything. Every single item. See why I suggested starting with one area at a time? It could be a drawer, a shelf, etc., but choose one area. And yes, we have to take everything out. Don’t try to cheat on this one. Everything needs to come out.
- Step No. 2: Hold each item in your hands, and place it in one of three piles: Donate, Trash, Keep.
And yes, I mean every single item. Take, for example, a kitchen drawer. You might have a drawer of miscellaneous utensils. Hold every item in your hands and ask whether you’re using it. Does it serve a purpose? I, for example, had a melon baller. Do you know how many times I’ve balled melon? Uh, zero. Gone. That one was easy. Some objects will be difficult. That vase given to you by your late grandmother? Do you keep it? Ask yourself whether you like it, whether it serves a purpose. Just because something was a gift doesn’t mean we have to keep it. Items that you’re actively using (note: “might use” doesn’t count in my book), go in the keep pile. Items that are in good condition but you don’t have a use for go in the donate pile. And items in disrepair go in the trash pile.
In this stage, it helps to examine our attachment to objects. Why keep something if we’re not using it, beyond obvious sentimental items such as photographs, old letters, etc.? Sometimes we imbue belongings with power we shouldn’t. They represent our aspirational selves (that’s why I kept my art easel for so long). They represent who we used to be (clothes three sizes too small). They represent times we want to hold onto (uh, yeah, I kept my college books for years after I graduated). But here’s the thing. Objects don’t make us the best version of ourselves—we do that, with our own personal power. And we don’t need to cling to objects to remember our past. Those college creative writing and literature courses? They’re in who I am now. Every word I write, every book I read. They’re a part of my journey. They live on inside of me. And the person I used to be led me to who I am today. I don’t need to keep that skirt, however lovely, that doesn’t fit my new, curvy body. Sometimes, before we let go, we have to examine why we’re holding on. Only you can determine whether the emotional resonance of an object outweighs the mental weight of keeping it, and that’s the balance that determines what’s clutter versus what’s worth keeping.
- Step No. 3: Carefully examine your keep pile and determine the best way to store it.
And make sure to give yourself room to grow. If we’re talking about books, for example, make sure there’s spare room on your bookcase—because, trust me, you’re going to buy more books. If it’s clothes, do we have room for a few extra articles of clothing? If we’re talking papers, is there room in the file cabinet for future tax returns, etc.? If you’re sure the objects you’re keeping are definitely keepers—and you might need to take a few more passes before you get that step right—then figure out how to store them. I find placing limits on certain categories helps. I have one drawer for office supplies, for example, and another for crafting supplies. If that bin gets full, I’m out of space. That’s it. No more office or crafting supplies until I use up what’s in the bin.
And now is the time when you buy into those storage solutions. I am a big fan of plastic drawers for storage of many items—office supplies, crafting materials, cables/cords/surge protectors, etc. I even have one drawer for my witchy/altar supplies. And a label maker is our friend here. It helps to label a bin or drawer—and nothing that’s not under that category ever goes into that drawer.
- Step No. 4: Create systems for maintenance.
This might include transitional areas. I have a file organizer that I use for sorting receipts, mail, and action items such as bills to be paid or forms to be filled out. This is not long-term storage but a place for things that are temporary in nature. You might identify a few such trouble spots in your home and create systems for maintaining items that cycle in and out. Limits, again, are helpful here, as are bins for items that are to be donated, so that once we’re through with them we can send them on their merry way. The key is to maintain areas, with rules (if I haven’t used/worn it without a year, it’s time to donate it), temporary storage areas (such as the file organizer for mail, or a bin for donations), and regular clean-up sessions (once we get organized, maybe going through a particular area once every six months to reevaluate/clean up as necessary).
Again, we can’t expect to get it right on the first try, and we can’t expect it to always be Pinterest-perfect. The more passes you take—and I speak from experience—the less stressed you’ll feel by your stuff, the less overwhelmed by clutter, and the more quickly your regular maintenance sessions will go.
What about you? What are your problem areas, organization-wise? What systems have you put in place to control clutter? What works—or doesn’t work—for you?