Get Organized for Good

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 18, 2020

Your home should give you a sense of peace -- and that means keeping clutter to a minimum. Research shows that a visual mess doesn’t just affect your ability to find your car keys. It makes it harder for you to focus on other tasks and hikes your stress level, too.

Ready to get organized for good? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Start small. The more out-of-control your house, the harder it may seem to try to make order. Plan realistic goals: Set a timer for no more than an hour and choose a specific area to clear out, like one corner of your basement or the floor of a junky closet. Play music you love or have a friend keep you company while you work.

Purge what you don’t use. Go through each space with bags marked “Recycle,” “Toss,” “Donate,” and “Yard Sale.” Make the easy decisions first, like finally getting rid of that broken TV set you’ll never fix. Can’t decide what to do with something? Put it aside and forge ahead so you don’t lose your drive.

Organize first, store second. Don’t spend time and money picking out storage containers only to bring them home and find they’re not what you need. Wait until after you’ve cleaned out a space and organized the leftover items to shop for a storage system. Otherwise, you’re only collecting more junk.

Take control of your closets. These spaces are magnets for clutter since you can just shut the door and walk away. To reclaim them, start by removing all empty hangers and unused boxes so you don’t waste precious room. Then use labeled clear containers to group other items together so nothing falls out of sight. Even better, install a closet organizing system or double-hanging bars to make the most of the space.

Reduce the paper pile-up. Clutter can creep into your work space, too. One survey found that 66% of people said they spent 30 minutes each week looking for a lost item in their office. To reduce pack rat habits, shred outdated documents. Scan newspaper and magazine articles you haven’t gotten around to reading and recycle the rest. Make a folder or basket for “action items” like bills to pay, invitations, and event flyers, then file things inside according to due date. Keep the folder where you can get to it easily, then go through it on the same day each week.

Get the kids involved. Add shelving in a bedroom, basement, or garage to make it easy for even young kids to help clean up their toys, books, and clothes. Then every season, have them go through their collection and decide what they no longer play with and are ready to donate.

Put things away, not down. Break the habit of putting things down on the nearest flat surface. Where does each item belong and fit? For instance, keys can always hang on a hook by the door, and you can toss junk mail into the recycle bin right away.

Think before you buy. Each time you’re about to make a purchase other than groceries, ask yourself: Do I need this? Where would I put it? If you’re not sure, put it back on the shelf.

WebMD Medical Reference



McMains, S. Journal of Neuroscience, January 2011.

News release, Brother International Corporation.

University of Illinois Extension: “Clear the Clutter.”

Barry J. Izsak, certified professional organizer and certified relocation and transition specialist, Austin, TX.

Bonnie Joy Dewkett, certified professional organizer, Ridgefield, CT.

Annette Reyman, certified professional organizer and president, greater Philadelphia chapter, National Association of Professional Organizers.

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