How to Organize {Detailed Guide}

How To Organize - guide from a professional organizer -v

Learning the organizing process means taking the big overwhelming task of organizing a space and breaking it down into achievable small parts. It doesn’t matter if organizing comes naturally, you can learn the skills and practice one junk drawer at a time.

6 Steps of Organizing

Step 1 – Declutter

If you try to organize without removing the excess, you’ll just end up shuffling the same junk around without really making a difference. Decluttering is near and dear to me, and if you need extra help, read How To Declutter or check out the 91 Day Declutter Challenge Series for in-depth help.

Step 2 – Sort like with like

After decluttering in Step 1, sort the keepers into piles/categories. Keep things together that make sense together. This is an important preliminary step to figuring out where things go and what containers they’ll fit into. How will you know if you need a drawer or a whole cabinet for something unless you see the size and scope of what you’re dealing with? This is the messiest stage of organizing! You might have piles everywhere, so be careful not to stop after this step … keep going!

Step 3 – Decide where stuff goes

After you sort things in Step 2, the next step is to match your piles to places that make sense. Step back and think about where the different types of things should go. Shoving things here and there is how things end up “here and there” all over your house. The rule of thumb is to try to get your most frequently used stuff in the prime locations that are easy to reach and access. This is the Rule of Proximity in Organizing. If different things need to go to the same place, the thing that is used most frequently wins the spot. Frequency of Use is an important consideration in organizing when deciding the importance of proximity.

(Even if you aren’t moving, read Organize Your Move Like A Professional Organizer for in depth info about categories of stuff and figuring out where they should go.)

Step 4 – Find the right tools, containers, or furniture

When I hear people tell me they’ve stocked up on some bins and containers to start their organizing process, I cringe a little inside. So many times, those containers actually get in the way of the organizing. Don’t get me wrong, containers and functional tools are absolutely part of the organizing process, but starting with containers is putting the cart before the horse.

Now that you know where your stuff is going, it is time for the containers! Go ahead and select the right containers, tools, and/or furniture that fit that space.

I literally measure my spaces with measuring tape and take measuring tape to the store while I shop. It is so liberating to purchase something you know will work, not just hope it will. It is so annoying to think you’re going to make progress on a project and realize that something doesn’t fit!

Step 5 – Make it pretty

Functional things can be beautiful as well. When your organized space looks good, it is way more satisfying to keep it organized. Use that positive momentum and don’t stop organizing until your space looks good too. Use fun labels on your containers, spray paint the containers to look uniform or paint the piece of furniture to add a pop of color. Add in decor that is beautiful and meaningful to you, not something that is going to just feel like more clutter in a week. This step also makes members of your family take notice of your hard work organizing, just another way of making it easier to maintain!

Step 6 – Create a maintenance plan

Unless you live in a museum where things are not allowed to be touched or used, you need a maintenance plan. Maybe you already have some positive maintenance plan that would expand easily to include your newly organized space. The best plans are the ones that use natural milestones to organically maintain themselves. For instance, I maintain my children’s clothes areas at each season change. The real need to pull out warm clothes for the cold days of fall reminds me to go spruce up their drawers, closets, and off-season clothes storage. I tidy up my children’s memory boxes in August at back to school time to make sure there is a file folder labeled for the new year and take out ‘memories’ that have lost their charm.

While I do my normal living and cleaning routines, I try to maintain as I go when I see something that needs my attention. It’s best to just spend 10 minutes here and there instead of letting things build up.

Don’t sabotage yourself by hiding your messes.

My drawers aren’t particularly fancy, but they are organized. I completely disagree with the idea that it is okay to be super messy in the spaces that aren’t seen because this seems to indicate that we clean and organize to impress others or to avoid judgment.

I never shove things just anywhere in my home to get them out of sight. If something doesn’t have a place to go, it doesn’t belong in my home and needs to go in my donate pile! If I’m going to put something away, I put it where it goes.

Right now, as you are on the path to getting organized, you may not know where everything goes quite yet, but remember these principles and let them guide you as you make progress.

Quick Tidy Hacks

I get that real life is busy and messy and we need some conveniences to make it easy to clean up quickly. These are my hacks for quick tidy-ups. These could’ve been there own post, but I really think that living organized involves knowing some of these hacks to make it easier.

  • The Super Tidy is a daily practice. Read more about the Super Tidy.
  • I use an inbox for any paper in my home that isn’t instant-recycling. Read more about my Inbox or my Home Management System.
  • I use clothes hampers for dirty clothes. I can not tell you how often I find piles of dirty clothes on laundry room floors that aren’t in queue for the washer … they are just put on the floor there because there is no other place for them to go. After I finish with my laundry for the day, my laundry room is clean again and ready to go for the next day’s washing. I don’t want to live in reverse to find out for sure, but I really think that keeping my laundry room tidy makes laundry easier. And it could be completely mental, because I only have to focus on the task at hand and I get the satisfaction of ending each day without dirty clothes in my laundry room. Or it could be the very practical reasons of not fighting my way around piles of dirty stuff to wash the day’s loads. And there is no guessing about what is clean or dirty. See my Laundry Room or read more about Laundry: How to Kill the Laundry Monster.
  • I use a what-not basket when I find little things that belong to my kids. Read about my basket.
  • I put dirty dishes in the sink if I find them around the house. If I have time I might clean them right then, but more often I end up cleaning them up with everything else after dinner.
  • I use a donation station to keep my donate piles from making a mess in my house. Read about my donation station.

Organizing correctly is a big deal. Knowing the process and doing it in the right order is absolutely a game changer.

Happy Organizing!

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The Summer Organizing Challenge – any time of year – is a great way to practice your organizing skills and make a difference in your home today!

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12 thoughts on “How to Organize {Detailed Guide}

  1. A lot to digest, but it all makes sense if one wants an organized home. I’m in the middle of a remodel. Had tile floors jack hammered and new tile put in the 2 BRs, entry way and dressing room and the carpet taken out in 2 BRs, DR, LR, Kitchen then Wide Vinyl Plank put down. Also carpet indoor/outdoor put on Lanai. So it was almost like moving, everything almost was put in the garage or on lanai even had to empty closets. So now the clean up and organizing begins. The gritty dust from jack hammering the tile is so difficult to get rid of. Keep dusting, damp cloth and damp mopping, changed a/c filter 2 times, but the gritty dust just seems to never go. Got Bedrooom closets organized and back together with the help of a friend. Will be having LR, dr, entry and kitchen painted next week. Then need to get all back in those rooms before I have major surgery on my foot. Two weeks after that my new living room furnitue will be delivered. And when I recover from surgery and can stand and walk again I will tackle my drawer’s. And the the big one will be to tackle the garage! Pray I live thru it all!! Does anyone have vinyl plank floors?? How and with what do you clean them?

    1. Oh my gosh! Reading this reminded me of what I went through earlier this year. Ahhh!!! Honestly, I think you should hire some help. It really is okay not to do it all yourself!

  2. I totally agree that the reason to organize is to make your life easier! Presenting a tidy facade when your mess is all shoved away does no good at all. The neatest, most organized places in my home are the ones people rarely see. Open any cupboard or drawer and you will find everything in order. I have dividers in almost every drawer in the house, and everything is neatly in its place. My cupboards are the same. I don’t have time to be digging through a cupboard when I want to find something, and I don’t need the backache either…lol. Best just to make a home for each item, and be done with it! It’s amazing how much time you can save when you don’t waste it looking for things. Everyone needs to try living the Mary way….once you’ve done it, you’ll never want to go back!! :D

    1. Love this “Best just to make a home for each item, and be done with it! It’s amazing how much time you can save when you don’t waste it looking for things.” Exactly!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. What do you do when you have a stockpile? I’m trying to keep extras of things like toilet paper and paper towels, but there isn’t much room in my bathroom for extra TP or in my kitchen for extra paper towels. How do you keep like together, when there just isn’t room to store it? I’m trying to work on my year’s supply and gradually add to my stock pile, but it’s hard to keep it organized and not look like a crazy, prepper, hoarder in the process. Any suggestions??

  4. I love the idea of the what-not basket. I think you should assign a chore if the kids want an item from the basket.

  5. Mary I am a Sr citizen & over whelmed with clutter. I have a donate box always in garage. I have collections that I have displayed through years. I hate to get rid of than. Right now icannot get in my gRage because of boxes & furniture. Any ideas on furniture. I have donated cough, tables & chairs. Any ideas

    1. Yes, there are lots of donation centers that will come to your house and pickup those furniture pieces! I’ve personally used the Salvation Army’s donation pickup service successfully.

  6. Mary, I cannot thank you enough for sharing all these wonderful ideas and systems for cleaning and organization! I prayed that God would show me how to manage my home better that was becoming a very overwhelming mess with 4 little ones and a husband who works long hours and no one to really help me. Your blog has been an answer to prayer for me and i have been so much happier. Thank you so very much! I have been doing the declutter challenge, taming the paper trail, supertidy, chore sticks for kids, and i am working on setting up a donation center. I will probably end up doing everything that is written in this blog!! Thanks again! I cant wait to do the love home challenge! Have a lovely day! I pray that God will bless you as you continue to bless others!

    1. Jill, I am so happy for you. I am just a person over here doing my thing, but you were the one willing to be teachable and do the hard work! Good job!! Your family is worth all the effort and you deserve the peace of an organized home life!

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