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It’s finally happened. You’ve officially hit your clutter limit.
“Today’s the day!” you resolve. “I am going to get organized. I am going to be an organized person!”
You hear yourself say it . . . and it sounds impossible!
After all, most of us think like this:
- Organizing my space and my life will take a ton of time I definitely do . . . not . . . have.
- To get organized, I’m going to need to get lots of pricey tools, gizmos, and systems.
- The only way decluttering will only be successful if I acquire some sweet superpowers.
But here’s a secret: Getting yourself organized doesn’t require lots of time, space, energy, or tools.
In fact, there’s a lot you can do quickly and easily. Here’s how . . .
1. Have a trusted place for brain dumping.
Setting up a system to catch your brain clutter is paramount to getting yourself organized.
In his massively popular book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stree-Free Productivity, David Allen discusses the importance of using your brain for its intended purpose — processing information — rather than storing information.
I highly recommend reading a copy to understand and implement his brilliant systems for storing all that info (outside your brain!) in an organized and accessible fashion.
After all, consider all of those little things you’re desperately trying to remember — the list of groceries you need to pick up, that paper you need to sign for your kid’s field trip, a book that’s due back at the library. The magnitude of that mental to-do list is stressful, and it prevents you from being more productive — and relaxed! — with your thoughts.
So put it all in one place. For me, that means dumping everything directly into a well-organized planner.
Then check your planner regularly throughout the day to keep your system functioning smoothly and your brain focused on the task at hand!
2. Set up a place to dump your physical stuff too.
Does this happen to you too?
When I walk in the door of my home, I’ve got stuff plastered to me like barnacles — keys, purse, cell phone, umbrella, shoes, incoming mail, a jacket, my kid’s bountiful supplies, his artwork du jour, and armfuls of who knows what.
And I need somewhere to put all that stuff.
But the kicker is that the place I dump my stuff must be . . .
- Somewhere right near the door. Realistically, I know I won’t wander through the house with armloads of stuff as soon as I get home.
- Somewhere I can access quickly. If I need to pry open half a dozen tubs or bins to put things away when I arrive home, it won’t happen.
- Somewhere I’ll be able to find it easily. When I run out the door the next morning, I need to grab and go — not begin a scavenger hunt for our belongings!
- Somewhere I’d consider “away.” I can’t stand piles of clutter, so I need a dumping ground that hides and/or organizes our stuff nicely.
If you too need to unload a mountain of stuff the moment you get home, set up an easy-to-use but organized dumping ground. A no-thought-necessary system saves you from needing to wrangle your accessories later or search frantically for them in the morning.
3. Always take something with you.
There’s never a time when everything in my home is where I want it to be.
At any given moment, there is always at least one thing downstairs that needs to go upstairs, something upstairs that needs to go outside, some item in the car that needs to go in the basement . . . you get it.
And it can start to get ridiculously backlogged pretty quickly.
If your home starts accumulating things that are waiting to go somewhere else, start a new habit. Take (at least!) one thing with you whenever you’re heading to a different part of the house.
Without thinking about it, you’ll start to organize your home one item at a time.
4. Designate a receptacle for pending donations.
I always seem to find something that I don’t want to keep but that’s also too new (or in good shape) to throw out.
I would love to have a magic chute in my house that instantly transports those items to a charity that can use them. While I’m waiting on that little invention, I wind up collecting random things until I have enough to justify a trip to a donation center or a pick-up from a charity.
And since all those random things are just passing through, they don’t have a place that’s “away” in my home.
If you find yourself in a similar pickle, make a home for those transitional items.
Designate an out-of-the-way receptacle — maybe a big box tucked in a closet — to collect those items to be donated. When your box fills up, drop it off with your favorite charity. Then start over with a new box.
5. Create a simple mail processing center.
Years ago, I’d come home with mail — and a million other things — in hand. And I’d dump the mail on the dining room table, because the table was conveniently right there.
You can guess what happened next. My husband and I would make dinner and go to set the table . . . only to find mail on the table.
And, naturally, I still didn’t have time to deal with my mail at that moment. Sooo I’d move it again.
The entire process was inefficient, maddening, and an eyesore to boot.
The solution? If your mail doesn’t have a home, it’s time to set up a place to catch and sort your mail. You’ll easily eliminate 90% of your paper clutter with a sorting system that makes sense to you!
After trying a few systems, we finally settled on a set of magazine holders. We slapped on some labels, and now mail easily gets dumped into one of a few “buckets” — a general inbox to sort through, a box of mail for me, one for my husband, and one with papers to file later in the week. Simple but effective!
6. Reset your kitchen every night.
It’s draining to start your day by coming downstairs to a hot mess — last night’s dirty dishes, crumbs on the table, and clutter on the counters.
FlyLady — an organizing guru with a massive following — takes it a step further. The #1 chore on her list every night is shining her sink.
Even if you find polishing your sink a bit much, aim for the whole family to get the kitchen clean and organized before turning in. You’ll position yourself for success when you get moving the next morning!
7. Have the kids clean up their play area.
Enjoying the feeling of a tidy kitchen in the morning won’t last longer than a few seconds if you immediately trip over a mound of singing toys.
So enlist the aid of those little messy people in your home. Create a habit of having a quick, nightly cleanup.
In our home, we have our son tidy up right before dinner. Depending on your schedule, you may choose to clean up just prior to bedtime.
Set the expectation, get the kids into the habit, and put on some energetic tidying music for your children’s speed-cleaning session!
8. Create a big-picture chore list.
They say the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. So if you’re staring down the task of keeping your whole house organized, conquer the overwhelm by chipping away at it a little bit every day.
Make a big list of everything you want to organize or clean. Think of the tasks you want to accomplish each week, each month, each quarter, etc. Then pick a few tasks off that list every day.
9. Plan for tomorrow today.
The evening is an ideal time to settle in, review your day’s achievements, see what didn’t get done, and sketch out a plan for tomorrow:
- Update your to-do list.
- Look ahead to your upcoming appointments.
- Write down your goals for the following day.
- Prep lunches to take with you.
- Gather papers you’ll want to take out the door.
- Put out breakfast supplies for grab-and-go convenience.
10. Be ruthless about filtering what comes in the door.
Once you let stuff in, it takes extra effort to get the stuff out of your home. So stop it at the threshold before it ever makes its way in:
- Sift through mail over your recycling bin. Instead of stuffing junk mail in a drawer or on a counter, chuck it directly in the bin.
- Bid goodbye to spam. Got junk in your inbox? Select everything that’s garbage and send it to spam. After a few iterations of this, your E-mail provider will have learned which types of mail should automatically go to spam in the future.
- Say no to hand-me-downs you don’t really want. Feel free to refuse politely when friends or relatives offer you second-hand stuff they no longer need!
11. Stop junk at the source.
Stopping junk at the door is great. But stopping it from arriving at your door is even better! If you can curtail the onslaught of clutter, you’ll save yourself endless time and hassle dealing with junk:
- Cancel subscriptions that aren’t a good fit. Say goodbye to print publications and digital newsletters
that you no longer bother reading.
- Unsubscribe from unwanted E-mails. Next time you get an E-mail from an unwanted source, hit “unsubscribe” right away. Or use a service like Unroll.me to unsubscribe from all unwanted E-mails in just a few clicks.
- Get off of mailing lists and call lists. Contact providers of catalogs and newspapers. And follow the FTC’s recommendations for eliminated unwanted credit offers, direct mail, and telemarketing calls.
12. Change the way you use your shopping list.
You know that sinking feeling you get when you reach for tissues during a cold and you’re all out? Or when it’s your baby’s bedtime and you pull out the very last diaper?
Ugh. Save yourself from the late-night store run for that empty item.
Instead, try this: When you open your last roll of aluminum foil or crack open your only remaining detergent bottle, use that moment to add that item to your shopping list. Or pull out your phone immediately to order a new supply from Amazon, Target, or your grocery store.
And don’t just put one item on your shopping list unless it’s a product you go through infrequently. Buy two or more to avoid repeating this process regularly.
That way, you’ll always have a fresh supply of the items you need waiting for you in your pantry, closet, or freezer.
What’s your favorite powerful but simple organizing tip?