Anyone who's had trouble organizing knows that sometimes the whole task feels too big to start, so you end up not starting at all.
In your head, it seems like you're looking at a mountain of stuff, and you have no climbing gear, no training, and definitely no Sherpa.
Do you tackle this pile of papers on the counter first, the extra room that's become your in-home storage unit, or should you do clothes because that Japanese lady says clothes are easiest?
Having a clear path can make the whole process seem a lot less daunting, so, I've taken the liberty of preparing some methods for you to choose from. Read them all, or skip to the one that sounds most awesome. You're so welcome!
The 6 ways to organize your organizing project are by prioritizing:
1) Urgency or an upcoming event
2) Rooms or things you use most often
3) A dream or a goal you want to realize in your home
4) Common areas first
5) Personal areas first
6) Clearing negative energy
1) Organizing by urgency or an upcoming event
I list this one first because urgency is a true motivator, and if you have guests coming to stay or you're hosting a dinner party, this is a marvelous place to start.
I'm not talking about the frantic boxing and bagging of items you don't know what to do with and then stashing them out of the way, like in the basement or a closet. No judgement, just saying.
I'm talking about tackling rooms where you intend to host because you'll have your goal front of mind - a place where your guests can feel comfortable and where you aren't worried someone will knock over a pile of papers, trinkets, and delayed decisions and a landslide falls at your feet.
You already know what would make these urgent spaces feel homey and welcoming, so focus on a) creating open floorspace, b) clearing surfaces, and c) removing things that belong somewhere else.
I recommend that you group like things together first, which will often tell you whether they belong in the room they're in or if they belong somewhere else. Books like to live with their book friends for instance, not on the dining room table where you want to share a meal.
2) Organizing by rooms and things you use most often
Starting with frequency of use makes sense if the whole house seems daunting, but you feel comfortable with the stuff you use all the time.
Pick your top 3 most-used rooms and the activities you do in them. Organize the things you want to use in the room first and gather all the things that don't fit the purpose of the room so you can move them somewhere else.
Don't worry about organizing the items that don't belong in the room at this step. Your job right now is to focus on what does belong and what you do want to use the space for.
Once these first 3 rooms are done, check in with yourself.
Does each room feel the way you want it to feel?
Are there any lingering items that don't fit?
Are there any activities you thought you wanted to do in here but now you want to move somewhere else?
Acknowledge that you did these three rooms and that you have the ability to move on to the next room and the next, even if they're full of cobwebs and dusty objects. You already did it three times, you can totally do it again!
3) Organizing for a dream or a goal you want to realize in your home
This method is wonderful if you're feeling really uninspired in your space and you need something truly amazing to get you into the organizing groove.
Pick a single room to start where your wildest dreams can come true. Maybe you have a dream to start a small business, and you want to convert an extra bedroom into your new office. I've had that dream, and it's an incredibly rewarding one!
Maybe you want to convert a bedroom into a craft room so you can let your inner artist bloom.
Maybe you want to move a craft room to another area and turn the room back into a gorgeous bedroom for a loved one you're excited to have visiting or living with you.
Maybe you just want to elevate a space you already have, like turning your bedroom into a true sanctuary or turning your living room into a place fit for a monthly salon gathering (the French kind, not the hair kind).
Start by making room for your dream. Clear the room by either choosing homes somewhere else for items you want to keep or by taking this opportunity to let go of things that no longer fit the new and exciting direction you're taking.
Thank any items you're clearing and let them go with gratitude. You might even want forgive yourself for not using these items the way your past self thought you would. Let yourself know that it's okay to move on to the next big thing. Say the words aloud - "Thank you." "I forgive you." "I'm making room for my dream now, and that's okay."
4) Organizing by common areas first
This is a great place to start if you have a lot of activity "bleed" in your home, and none of the rooms seems to be used for what you want, particularly if more than one person uses the space for very different activities.
Common areas bring a sense of community and closeness into your space, so organizing these rooms first can help restore a sense of harmony to your home - and possibly your family!
Start by picking one main activity for each person who uses the room. Maybe you want to use the room in the same way or maybe you have a different activity present for each person who uses the room. Whatever the case, limiting the number of separate activities to one per person will give more direction to the space.
Clear anything that doesn't fit here, whether that means putting belongings back into each person's room or finding common homes for similar items that you want to access without leaving every item out.
Some rooms are naturally transitional, like a family room. Of course you can do other activities in this room besides just talking, watching tv, or doing (home)work, which are common ones.
The key here is not to stuff everything into a room simply because it's convenient and everyone hangs out there. Put collections of books in a bookcase in another room instead of stacking them on the floor. Make sure papers go back into a briefcase, filing cabinet, or backpack when you're done instead of letting them hang out on the coffee table indefinitely.
Define the space and honor the purpose you choose by not letting other things pile up simply because there are available surfaces. You might find that this makes you more productive as well.
5) Organizing by personal areas first
This is an excellent place to start if you simply need a place to relax and unwind before you tackle areas you share with others. Having this sacred space might help ground and center you now so that you have more energy for other, high-traffic zones later.
Fill your own cup before pouring for someone else, so to speak.
Picking a personal area to organize first also gives you complete autonomy over what to keep, what to discard, and where everything goes. That sense of freedom can truly make you appreciate what you have and help you get in touch with your own preferences and goals before adding anyone else to the mix.
Start with your goal or vision for the space and, you guessed it, clear anything that doesn't fit your vision. Again, this might mean putting things that have migrated back into their proper homes, or it might mean letting go and donating or discarding things that simply don't fit you anymore (physically or metaphorically).
Once the belongings in the space match your goal and vision, store similar things together, whether they're the same type of item or they're all related to the same activity or task.
Think about storing things where you use them OR where they will be easy to access and put back - sometimes these aren't the same location! Think about whether storing something out of the way will make it too difficult for you to enjoy, or if storing something near where you use it makes the space cluttered or otherwise changes the flow or feel you want.
Bonus: Organizing your own space first might also inspire others to organize their space too. If you lead by example, you're more likely to see the change you might like someone else to make.
And, even if your partner doesn't want to organize their paperwork or desk for example, you can still enjoy your lovely, clean area regardless. Win-win.
6) Organizing by clearing negative energy
We all have them at one point or another, an area that makes you feel guilty, sad, angry, resentful, drained, uncomfortable, or otherwise any kind of icky.
Not only are these black holes a waste of potential joy in your home, but they're a drain on your mental and emotional reserves. You can feel the weight of these areas when you pass them, or worse, when you accidentally stumble upon them because you forgot they were there!
Do yourself the favor of clearing your physical space of these energy drains. It's a physical "opening," but more importantly, it also allows you to truly let go of whatever is clouding your otherwise good mood and clear mental checklists.
I hereby give you permission to get rid of:
Gifts that make you feel bad in any way
Projects you've started that fill you with guilt or in any way make you think that you've wasted your time
Excess of anything that you already love and enjoy
Broken, stained, holey (not the good kind), or otherwise damaged goods that feel like a time suck to repair, not a joyful belonging
Literally anything else that makes you feel bad or ruins your day, for any reason
I've had these lingering black holes from time to time, sometimes even years! Usually, I kept things out of a lingering sense of obligation to myself or someone else. And here's the thing, the other person has probably forgotten about the thing you've been holding onto for months, years... decades.
Remember that a gift is meant to bring pleasure and convey love. It's not about the person who gives the gift, it's about the receiver and how it makes them feel.
Love received and acknowledged? Let it go.
Not to your style or taste? Pass it on.
Doesn't fit into your precious time and energy on this Earth? Drop that thang like a hot potato!
Now let yourself acknowledge the clear, lovely air that space now has instead of the negative cloud that used to waft over it. You did that. Well done.
tl;dr Start wherever it makes most sense to you, and give yourself the gift of a home that makes you feel good in every nook and cranny. That's the sign of a good organizing strategy at work.