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Help Me Organize My Home

5 Strategies to Help you Organize Your Home

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Many, many people come to this site with the same concern: Help me organize! And there are lots of resources, how to guides, and product suggestions available on nearly every page of the site.

Learning different techniques is invaluable, but the other part of being organized is getting in the right frame of mind to tackle this lifetime commitment. Here I share my own thoughts on living a more organized life by writing about what I've learned over and over again while researching the topics of organization, productivity, and time management, and how I've applied them to my life.

 

In addition to Help me Organize My Home, I've written a companion piece called Help Me Organize My Time -- the two really go hand in hand!

1. Be OK with Being "Organized Enough"

Cubby Organizer in Natural Stain from Pottery Barn
Photo / Pottery Barn

I am content with being “organized enough.” I don’t live inside the pages of House Beautiful; my televisions have cords and cables sticking out of them, and my books are not colored-coordinated. A quick peek into my closet would reveal that my sweaters are not perfectly folded, and my shirts are often wrinkly and not sorted by sleeve length. But if you asked me to locate my favorite pair of jeans, I can tell you which stack they’re in, or if you needed the user manual for my GPS, my birth certificate, or my passport, I know exactly where to find them in under 5 minutes.

I learned to set up a system that works for me, and I’ve honed it over the years to incorporate my life expanding and the places I’ve lived changing. A few rules:

  • I keep like items together. So If I get a new clothing item, I immediately store it with all the other “like” items in my closet. My favorite jeans are currently in the jean pile of jeans I’m wearing often (the second pile is jeans I don’t’ wear that often but still love on occasion).
  • When I bought a new GPS this summer, I put the user manual, receipt and accompanying info from Best Buy into a file box label “User Manuals.” I’m OK that my GPS user manual is right next to my Le Creuset pot’s user manual, because all I have to remember is “user manuals go in that box.”
In short, when I buy something new, I think carefully about where It’s going to live. See some of my tricks in Where to Store Everything.

2. Know Your Spaces

Wall Mount Entryway Organizer from Pottery Barn
Photo / Pottry Barn

Many people decide to get organized, head the Container Store (or similar), and then find that the products they've bought in a mad rush don't fit their space. My number one tip for being more organized at home is to take the time to measure everything. This may sound odd, but you never know when you're going to find the perfect recycling bin or bookshelf. Measure everything and then carry the measurements with you on index cards so you have them at all times.

Go through these storage guides and storage solutions, decide which ones will work for you, and then purchase products that fit your spaces (closet, kitchen, garage) and your collections (shoes, appliances, tools):

3. Take Action to Organize & Be Proactive

Black Smith Coat Rack from Pottery Barn
Photo / Pottery Barn

I don’t wait for things to “work themselves out.” One of my favorite quotes is “Things don’t 'just work out', if you don’t work them out, someone else will work them out for you.” I can’t identify the exact source of this quote, so I am crediting my friend Tim who I first heard say these wise words.

I interpret this to mean, in short: take action. People are much happier in general if they are taking action rather than waiting for things to change. I read about this phenomenon in a NY Magazine article on happiness ("Happiness: A User’s Manual") before the study of “happiness” was a “thing”:

"Inaction...gnaws away at the mind relentlessly.”

I apply this tenet to my life in several different ways:

  • If I see a pile of dishes in the sink, I just clean the dishes (even though the thought of putting my hands into a sink with dirt of unknown origin on them scares me – I rather clean a bathroom). This makes me happy (apparently) and keeps the peace in the house.
  • If I have 10 minutes to spare, I use them according to the space I’m in, or I take the opportunity to space out and not feel guilty about it.
  • I don’t expect someone else to go through the stack of mail, I just do it myself.

Am I this proactive every single day? No, of course not. Somedays I'm too tired or overwhelmed or something really critical and time sensitive pops up and I am playing more defense than offense. But, I believe that making a habit of being proactive means those days you're struggling to keep your head above water more tolerable. It's kind of like being on a diet or budgeting: what you do most days is more important than what you do once in a while.

4. Messes Happen When Organizing

Triple Mirror Train Rack from Pottery Barn
Photo / Pottry Barn
I recognize there will always be more dishes. Messes happen, they are a testament to the fact that you’re actually doing something, that you are an active participant in life. When cooking, I used to work very hard to minimize the amount of pots, pans and utensils I was using. I used to think “I’m just going to mess the living room up later when I have people over, so why clean it now?” But the thing is, there will always be more dishes! And the refusal to get things dirty, really just signalled my laziness. The fact is that caring for a home is good for you.

Just look at home many calories you burn while cleaning:

  • Sweeping: 240
  • Packing/Unpacking: 220
  • Scrubbing floors on hands and knees: 325
  • Cleaning, light (dusting, wiping down counters, picking up clothes): 100
  • Cleaning, general (washing dishes, doing laundry): 200
  • Cleaning house, heavy effort (vacuuming, hanging laundry, repetitive bending over): 260
  • Child care: 205
  • Shoveling snow: 415
  • Raking lawn: 235
  • Mowing lawn: 325
  • Moving large household item: 400
  • Cooking: 150
  • Grocery shopping: 90

(Source: Divine Caroline)

If you're organizing your closet, you'e gonna have to take everything out first. That's just the way things work: messy-before-clean. Own the mess!

5. Don't Stock Up

Blacksmith Shoe Rack from Pottery Barn
Photo / Pottry Barn

Something about stocking up makes me feel good, but nonetheless, I try not to over-buy. Flying in the face of advice given on most sites about organization, I kind of loathe bulk buy stores because I think they really encourage people to stock up on a bunch of stuff they don't need. We are terrible at judging both how long things take, and what we will want in the future. I used to eat Wasa crackers by the box so I decided to buy a whole case from Amazon. I got about an eighth of the way through the case before I decided to go on a low carb diet, and the crackers sat for almost a year, un-eaten and going stale.

For these reasons, I don't suggest buying in bulk for food, unless it's something you consistently use every single week, like toilet paper and toothpaste. Don't buy based on your current tastes because they may change.

Also, at some point you need to figure out where to store all of that bulk!

Start practicing some minimalism and ask yourself the famous decluttering question *before* you buy something: Do you love it? Will you use it regularly? Does it project the image you want projected? Read more about clutter & hoarding:

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