How to Organize Anything
Achieving any goal is easier when you do the right thing at the right time in the right order. That’s what the steps of Start. Sort. Style. are all about! The steps can guide you through any projects you want to dream up and do, including getting your home or office organized.
Over the past year, we’ve tackled many different organizing trouble spots with SSS partner-in-crime and professional organizer Amelia Meena, from Appleshine Organization + Design: laundry rooms, linen closets, front closets, hall closets, kitchens, pantries, baths, toy areas, craft areas, garages and workspaces.
From studio apartments to three-story homes with attics and garages, Amelia has learned that we’re all the same: if we have space, we will fill it.
“Everyone thinks they don’t have enough space for their stuff,” Amelia says, “when truly, you might have too much stuff for your space.”
While organizing each area has different nuances (that we love to zero in on to help make your efforts more successful), below is our best take on a “one-size-fits-most” approach to organize any area in your home or office.
Overall, for best results, you’ll want to:
Finish each step before moving onto the next
Take your time, but be mindful of having an endpoint
Recognize that some areas may be more emotionally challenging for you than others – allow that and be gentle with yourself, but don’t let it hinder you from making progress
Call for help when needed (friends to encourage, family to help) but also feel free to own this on your own (too many cooks in the kitchen, etc…)
Resist the urge to buy new organizing supplies (hangers, boxes, and bins) until the Style. step: you won’t know how much you really need to organize until the Sort. step is completed
Keep your big goal in mind: enjoying a space that supports you in living your best and feeling great about all the things you have around you
Step 1: Start.
Get your mind right.
What this means: Think about why this is important to you, what the end result can be, and how good it will feel. Consider the practical reasons why investing the time and energy on these tasks is good: many times, you’ll see actual time and money-saving results. Light a candle, repeat affirmations, say a prayer of surrender if that’s your thing: it’s all good!
Get your schedule right.
Set aside some time, whether it’s 5 minutes or a full afternoon. Think of this as an appointment with yourself, and honor it!
Define the purpose of the space you’re organizing.
Is it a cabinet that’s meant to hold extra bath items, or a shelf for tools you only use occasionally? Clarifying the overall purpose of space you’re about tackle lets you know, immediately, what should stay and what needs to find a home elsewhere.
Get your materials ready.
You’ll likely need bags for trash and boxes for donation. Some water and a little upbeat music never hurts to have either!
Step 2: Sort.
This is Appleshine’s classic “Deconstruct to Reconstruct” practice that Amelia has perfected with hundreds of clients. Although we’re purposefully keeping the instructions simple, it’s the meat of everything you’ll do to create a clutter-free space that helps you live more efficiently and beautifully.
Take everything out.
Categorize the items, grouping like-with-like.
Edit. Pull out the items that are broken, worn down, don’t fit, or are shabby, irreparably stained or otherwise hold no value to you. Set them aside. These are the things you’ll donate or discard.
Take a deep breath: you’re doing great!
Make a removal plan. Write down a date in your calendar for when you'll get your donated or discarded items out of the house. Aim to do it within a week. (And no peeking back into the bags later!)
Step 3: Style.
Put everything back.
Give each category of items its own area within the larger area: a shelf, a section of the cabinet, a part of the garage.
Finally, the pretty bins, boxes, trays, sorters and other organizing accessories can come into play! You will want each category to be contained neatly in its own organizer.
Keep in mind: we’re going after functional first; beautiful, second.
Pay attention to the type of material you’ll use: if the organizers are visible, invest in nicer ones – you might save the plastic bins for out-of-site areas, like closed closets, garages and attics.
Consider the type: Should your bins be clear, so you can see into them easily? Are they open, so you can grab-and-go? Should they be covered, so no dust and dirt gets in? Make those decisions based on what you’re organizing and where.
In general, keep your organizing products (hangers, bins, boxes) in neutral colors: fashion colors like blues and pinks are fun to see in the store, but at home, they tend to create visual clutter. It’s also harder to match, if you need to buy more of them later or want to repurpose them for use in other rooms and for other things later.
Make it accessible.
Make sure the stuff you use most frequently is easiest to reach (eye level); put the items you don’t use as often up top; put the heavier stuff on the bottom (like in a utility closet).
Are there some items that are better to hang? Go up, as much as possible, from the mail and papers on your desk to hanging the shopping bags and dog leashes in the front closet or mudroom. (An over-the-door organizer with pockets solves many problems in kids rooms, the office and even in the kitchen!)
This includes possibly using labels to help remind you where things go and also communicating to the people in your home that there’s a new system in place. Explain to them how it all works and where things now go, and they’ll be more likely to help you maintain the space.
Be mindful of what new stuff comes into your home, by being aware of your shopping style. Are you more likely to succumb to an impulse purchase when you’re stressed? Modify your behavior accordingly, by being aware.
Stay on top of what you have in your home. Is it there for a season… or for life? Jot down, in a calendar, when it’s a good time to review the value of your categories of items. For clothing, review your items at least every Spring and Fall (if not at the start of each new season). In your bathroom, with products that have limited shelf life, write the date of when you open a new product on the bottom. Check and discard expired items at the beginning of every new season.
Once you’ve completed your organizing project, give yourself a huge pat on the back! You rocked this! And, you might find that it creates momentum for other areas you want to tidy up within your home or office. Keep going!