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Top 10 Organizing Rules of Thumb


Organized looks different for everyone. Your unique combination of belongings, experiences, style, and preferences make your home completely special and different from anyone else’s. As you’re figuring out what your particular version of organized looks like, there are a few simple rules that always seem to work, no matter the person.

  1. Keep like items together

  2. Sort and declutter first, then pick a container

  3. Broad categories first, then get more detailed

  4. Put items where you use them, not where they “fit”

  5. Label, label, label

  6. Schedule the time

  7. Keep your goal in mind

  8. Store by your organizing style

  9. Organize for your life, not someone else’s

  10. Expect old habits to pop up while you’re building new habits

1. Keep like items together

The simplest and most universal rule of organizing – it’s easiest to find things when they’re with similar items in a convenient place. The more books, kitchen utensils, or papers you keep together, the easier it is to know where to store and find them later.

2. Sort and declutter first, then pick a container

When storage is too big or too small for what you want to put in it, you’re not going to use it – Make your storage work for you, don’t work to fit your storage.

3. Broad categories first, then get more detailed

Organizing projects can often feel overwhelming to the point that we don’t start them at all. Make the process easier by doing the basic sorting first and then get more detailed as you go – sort books by subject, group clothing by type, and file papers by use. You can get into the nitty-gritty once you can see how much you have.

4. Put items where you use them, not where they “fit”

Most homes have storage in a place that’s out of the way or not quite right for your exact combination of supplies and items. It’s tempting to put things where they fit, even if it’s out of the way and not where you use the item. Store items where you’re most likely to use them and add storage in that space if there isn’t enough.

5. Label, label, label

Labels are the glue that holds an organizing system together. You might know exactly what you put in that bin yesterday, but what about a month from now, or a year? Instead of having to rely on your memory, which is holding a lot of info for you, a label can tell you at a glance exactly what’s inside. Save yourself time and mental energy by taking the mystery out of your storage.

6. Schedule the time

One of my favorite mantras for myself is “if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist.” The clearer and simpler your organizing plan is, the more likely you are to do it. Make it easy by picking a time in advance and taking the guesswork out of when you can fit it in around family, work, household tasks, and Netflix.

7. Keep your goal in mind

Knowing that you want to be more organized is a great place to start, but what does that mental picture look and feel like? Can you hear the laughter at that party you want to throw in your tidy kitchen? Do you want to relax more and drop that extra part-time job cleaning up your home? Get really clear on what you want your home to feel like and why, and then save that goal (write it down, make a vision board, email yourself a description) so you can go back to it as you organize.

8. Store by your organizing style

Most people fall into one of two categories – “I like to see my stuff out” or “I like my stuff put away.” Do things on your countertops feel distracting or easy to find? If you put something in a drawer, do you know exactly where to look for it later, or is it lost forever? Pay attention to how you feel most comfortable in your space so you can organize for what works best for you.

9. Organize for your life, not someone else’s

Pinterest and Instagram are amazing resources for ideas and instruction. Keep in mind though that “organized” means you know where to put your things away and access them later when you need them. Your home doesn’t have to look like a magazine spread to be organized – make it function first, then make it pretty.

10. Expect old habits to pop up while building new ones

Your brain created your habits so that your day can be easier and you don’t have to think about every decision. Changing those ingrained patterns takes attention and energy. Give yourself grace if you fall back into old habits when you’ve had a rough day or feel stressed. Your need that energy elsewhere. Follow through on your new habit again as soon as you can, and keep it up from there.

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