Basic Organization, 101

Step One: Get Rid of the Junk in Your Life

If you are disorganized, clutter is the bane of your existence. The more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to take care of. It's downright amazing how much time, effort and money those little objects in our lives can take up. But those dress shirts need to go to the dry cleaners and the knickknacks need to be dusted. And just about everything has a habit of getting broken or damaged at some point, usually requiring a special trip (or two) to some far-away store in order to get that special replacement part or battery. If you don't attend to the objects in your life, they will create clutter, mess and chaos in your home. If you do attend to them, they can take over your life. What's a girl (or a boy) to do? Reduce them! But  how? Here are a few habits to start with:
  • Keep a big wastebasket in every room of your home. How many times have you set trash down on a countertop or table because there wasn't a trash can right there, or because the cute little teeny one in the bedroom was full to overflowing?

  • Until you have time to do a really serious declutter project, don't bring new things home. This stuff doesn't just sprout like mushrooms in your living room, you know. You and your family bring it here. So until you have time to clean out your closet, don't buy another blue sweater.

  • Keep an "out" bin or basket with a black plastic liner in it. Put it on a closet floor, in the hall cupboard, in the garage or somewhere else reasonably convenient. When you come across some item that you need to get rid of (but not throw away), toss it in the out basket instead of hanging it back up in the closet or putting it back in the drawer. When its full drop it off to goodwill. Instead of clutter you’ll have a lovely tax deduction at the end of the year.
A Place For Everything

I know, I probably sound just like Aunt Gert, but she had a point. If you aren't really sure where the scissors belong, how are you going to put them away? If you have to make that sort of decision every time you try to put away the scissors (and the seven thousand other homeless objects strewn throughout your living room), you're going to get frustrated five minutes into your cleanup.

If you want to be organized, then everything you own that isn't furniture or part of the interior decoration needs to have a home of its own. Keep in mind that it should be as easy as possible to put away items that you use regularly; this is why most of us store our drinking glasses in that cabinet next to the sink and not in the highest one in the kitchen.

When you assign a space to your possessions, you limit your clutter, too, because each storage space provides a limit. For instance, if your kitchen is very disorganized, you never know when you have too many plastic tubs, so you never throw any of them away, and the clutter gets worse. But you know it's time to pitch a few of them if you have a Tupperware cabinet and you can't cram another thing into it.

Pick Up Every Day

This sounds worse than it is. Once the mountain of junk in your home has been conquered, your home needs a quick pick-up every day. I emphasize quick - this shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes, and another fifteen if you are hand-washing dishes and/or folding laundry.

It's important to do a daily pickup, because this is the magic bullet that prevents clutter pileup. Put it off for a week and you'll be facing a solid day of pickup over the weekend. Put it off for a month and you'll be back to square one. And don't forget to enlist your family in this task! According to Stephanie Culp, author of How to Get Organized When You Don't Have the Time, nobody is too young, stupid or male to participate in the upkeep of his or her own home.

Create Temporary Storage in Every Room

I call these "halfway houses". Let's face it, it isn't realistic to expect you or your family to put away every object the minute you're finished using it. The solution is to have an area in every room that serves as temporary storage for these items. These areas get cleared out each day during the daily pickup, so they don't pile up. They give you a place to stash things should you have an unexpected visitor. You can have a big container like a wicker basket with a lid for large items, and a smaller container for things like pens, stray earrings, safety pins, change and other small and easily lost items. It also helps to reserve a portion of a bookshelf in one or two rooms for paper clutter.

Make It Easy

The harder it is to do a chore, the less likely you'll do it. Seems simple, doesn't it? Apparently not to generations of homebuilders who inexplicably put the laundry facilities in cold, creepy basements, while the bedrooms with their closets and dressers went two stories overhead. If you find that some of the work in your home simply isn't getting done, brainstorm ways to make it easier to do. If the towels end up on the floor in the bathroom, ask yourself if your kids can reach the towel racks. Are there hampers in every bedroom? Are you trying to work with a cranky and difficult vacuum cleaner that should really be replaced with a better version? Chores are enough of a drag; don't make them harder than they already are.

Buy Low-Maintenance Stuff

Look around you. Does your furniture have intricate carvings that appear designed to catch dust? Does your carpeting show every piece of lint? Do many of your clothes require dry-cleaning? Do you insist on the foreign model that has to go to the shop every three months? Do you own more than one set of coasters… and need to use them? If so, you're making a lot of work for yourself because you own high-maintenance stuff. Before you bring a new item into your home, ask yourself how much care, maintenance, time and expense it's going to drag out of you before you're through with it.

Time Management

Your life will be much simpler if you know where you're going and what you're doing. Find a good time management system and stick with it. Then it's easy to make time in your life to get organized. Check out the time management article in this series for some ideas to get you going, or go to a bookstore and see what’s available. A favorite of mine is Julie Morgenstern’s ‘Time Management from the inside out’.

Learn New Skills, Use Good Equipment
You don't have to be your own mechanic, but you're going to have problems if you can't hang a picture. Basic household skills are not a genetic trait - they can be learned. If you can't cook, sew on a button or use a power drill, now is the time to learn. The days of the woman who can't use a wrench and the man who can't use an iron are long gone, and there are lots of classes, books and web sites out there to help you learn basic household skills. The investment you spend in these skills and tools will pay off many times over.