Getting started: Try to understand the role in your life played by all those accumulated belongings. Many people hang on to belongings for comfort and security, and to remind them of who they’ve been and who they want to become. Paring down, however, doesn’t have to be a painful process. Organizing takes whatever works best for you and makes it the norm rather than the exception.
Set goals and take an inventory of everything that’s not working in your life, big or small. Is it pawing through your closet each morning for something to wear, or dreading planning dinner every night? Now list everything that would make you feel organized, whether that be steps to take in planning dinner or items you need to lay out your outfits the night before. This inventory will reveal where your energy and time are needed.
The urge to purge: Choose an area from your inventory that needs help. Whether it’s your overflowing office, your crammed closet or your bureau, roll up your sleeves.
Start small to avoid getting overwhelmed. If you don’t have a entire day or weekend to devote to the project, carve out 20-minute chunks. Tackle the junk drawer during halftime or take on the medicine chest while you’re supervising baths. Setting a realistic time frame is key to getting stuff done.
Pull out everything from your target area and sort it into four piles: items to keep, items to sell or give away, items to fix and items to toss. Use boxes or large garbage bags to manage your piles, and keep one box to fill with items that belong elsewhere.
Put the misplaced items where they belong or in a temporary place. Take your discards to the garbage can and recycling bin. Put your sell or donate box in the car. Now look through what you’re keeping. Set aside anything that needs repairs, with a deadline of three months or so until they are too are sold or donated.
Make purging a routine. Of all the organizing principles, it’s the most difficult, yet it yields the most visible results. If you have trouble letting something go, box it up for a year. If you still haven’t needed it, you’ll be more ready to toss it.
Keeping it together. Start creating new organizing systems by analyzing how you use and store your stuff. Some organizers call it being “motion minded.” Hang a bucket filled with sponges, rags, soap and wax in the garage. Keep the coffeemaker next to the sink for water, and store coffee, filters and cups nearby. Pay attention to how often you use things as well. Place frequently needed items at eye level and at the front of shelves; put less frequently used items at the back, or on high or low shelves.
Ask yourself how a particular task or area could be made more efficient, and continue to refine your systems until you’re happy with the result. Whatever you try, make it simple. Anything else sets you up for failure.
Purchase containers that fit the task. Clear, stackable, sturdy, air and watertight containers offer security, access and visibility.
Label containers, folders, boxes and files clearly so everyone in the family knows where things go, and you can quickly identify contents. Unlabeled CDs, videotapes, folders or boxes are a guaranteed time waster.
Be conscious about acquiring new stuff. Before you purchase something, make sure you have a place for it. Better yet, purchase something new only if you get rid of something old. Buy only what you’ll really use—even if it’s a good deal or on sale. Say no to castoffs from friends and family. When in doubt, live without.
Recognize that you can’t do it alone all the time—that’s part of being organized. Get help from relatives, friends or professionals if you can’t keep up with routine chores; you aren’t good at doing what needs to be done; you don’t know how to do something and have no time to learn; or you recently went through a major life event such as a family death, divorce, job loss or change or a move. If you’re too overwhelmed to even start, call in the cavalry!
Last, & certainly not least: Break the big jobs down into manageable tasks and tackle one room or area at a time to minimize disruption. Be ruthless when you purge. For each item, ask: “Do I love this? Do I really need it? Can someone else use it?” If you haven’t worn it, used it or needed it in a year, get rid of it. If you can replace something easily, trash it. If you have many similar items, keep one and pitch the rest.
Are you one of those people who keep empty boxes for a possible future move or mailing? There’s no shortage of cardboard boxes if you should ever need them. Break them down and set them out for recycling.