Do you have a clutter problem? Do you consistently have trouble finding things around your house? Do you feel overwhelmed by your stuff? If so, you’re not alone. If there’s anything we have a lot of, it’s stuff.
The good news is that taking control isn’t difficult. This easy-to-follow program will guide you through the steps of de-cluttering and organizing all the stuff in your home. Once you get rolling, your initial successes will motivate you to keep going.
Seven steps to an organized home can take as much or as little time as you need. Every situation is unique. Making this system work for you is a simple matter of following the steps, one after the other, until you’ve reached the end result of a clutter-free, well-organized home in which you can find what you need when you need it.
What Causes Disorder in a Home?
To begin, consider the arch-enemies of an organized state: clutter and poor use of space. What is clutter? Clutter is stuff that is superfluous, misplaced, or just plain trash. Clutter can be anything, but the key element is that clutter is a disorderly mess of stuff taking up space that could otherwise be put to good use.
When the clutter in your life overwhelms your living space it becomes impossible to keep your possessions organized. The important things become overshadowed by the clutter and next thing you know, you’ve lost hours of your life searching for misplaced paperwork.
The other issue that significantly impairs an organized state is poor use of space. This often accompanies clutter; however, it can exist independently as well. Examples of poor use of space: piles of sweaters on top of an empty dresser, file cabinets filled with 15-year-old paperwork that needs to be discarded while current paperwork has no place to go, or having objects crammed into a closet to the point that you don’t have any idea what all is in there.
When your possessions are well-organized, you know where everything you own is or you know how to locate it. You do not have objects in your home that you don’t need. Being well-organized makes it easy to quickly eliminate anything that’s unnecessary because said objects stick out rather than blending into and becoming part of the mess.
Organization is very simply having a place for everything. This means that whenever you’re not using it, an item is returned to its home, and when you need it again, you know where to look.
Seven Steps to an Organized Home
This seven-step plan may go quickly for you, or it might take some time. This depends on how much stuff you have to organize and how quickly you work. The steps are summarized below:
- Step One: Make an overall plan and set goals.
- Step Two: Throw away trash.
- Step Three: Sell stuff.
- Step Four: Give stuff away.
- Step five: Plan how to organize the stuff you have left.
- Step six: Set up a system to organize your stuff.
- Step seven: Organize your stuff.
This simple, easy-to-follow plan will set you free. Like any other skill, organizing becomes easier with practice. Take it one step at a time, see the process through to completion, repeat as necessary. Taking the time to de-clutter spaces and thoughtfully arrange objects is an investment in your future leisure time and peace of mind.
Step 1: Make a Plan
A plan will keep you on track as you move through the process of de-cluttering and organizing. Your plan will help you figure out what you don’t need, what you want to keep, and will help you identify your problem areas when it comes to keeping your possessions organized. Finally, a plan affords you the opportunity to devise a structure for storing the possessions you value in such a way that you’ll know where to put them when you’re not using them and where to look when you need them.
Your plan involves three steps:
- Assess your situation.
- Set goals for organizing based on your specific needs as defined by your assessment.
- Tentatively decide how and where you will re-arrange your valuable and needed possessions.
Begin with step one: assess your situation. Figure out where you are. Take an honest look around your home. What do you see?
Do you see a lot of stuff in disarray? Are you looking at things that ought to be thrown away, moved into another area within your space, or given to charity? This is the time to realistically assess what you have, what you can get rid of, and what you actually need.
Start making lists or get some color-coded dot stickers and put them to use labeling stuff. Look around your living space and decide:
- What can you throw away because it’s of no value or use to you or anyone else?
- What items that you’re not using have potential sales value?
- What can you give away to friends or charity?
- What items are valuable and necessary but in a state of disorder? These are the things that you want to keep that are in need of reassignment to a permanent spot within your home.
This is the time for you to get real about your stuff. If you’ve got lots of things that you never use that are eating up valuable space, these objects are weighing you down. You have to let them go.
This is just an assessment, so don’t become overwhelmed. You only have to look around your space with a critical eye at this point. Don’t do anything more than that.
After you’ve honestly assessed what you have and what can be removed from your space, it’s time to move on to step two: setting goals. This is when you narrow your focus. What specific areas do you need to work on. For example, is paperwork a problem for you? Do you have trouble keeping your personal items in order?
Look at the last category of items from your assessment: which of your necessary and valuable possessions are in a disorderly state? These objects will be the focus of your goal setting exercise.
As an example, your goals may look like this:
- Organize craft supplies.
- Keep better track of important papers.
- Re-arrange kids’ toys so they’re more orderly.
- Create a better system for storing the boots and shoes that are presently scattered all over the house.
After setting goals, move on to step three: making a tentative plan about how to arrange the things that need to be organized.
Working from the hypothetical goals listed above:
- Think about what area in your home would be best suited for storing the craft supplies that are currently scattered throughout your home in a disorganized fashion.
- To keep better track of paperwork, you might want to turn a spare bedroom into a home office.
- Start to consider the best centralized area to store the kids’ toys instead of where they are now, which is all over the place and always underfoot.
- Give thought to whether you can carve out some space near the front door for cubbies or a rack to store the shoes that are scattered about everywhere.
You’re thinking about where and how you will store the things that you want to keep which are currently suffering from a clutter situation in your environment. This is just the beginning.
By figuring out what you can trash, what you can sell or give away, and what you want to keep, you’ve set the stage to reach your goals. You will purge unnecessary items to make room for the proper storage and organization of the items you value. As you work through the next steps, ridding yourself of dead weight, keep in mind what space you’ll need for the things you plan to keep and aim to specifically target the elimination of clutter in those areas.
Now congratulate yourself because you’re on your way to taking control!
Step 2: Throw Away Trash
The first step to eliminating clutter from your space is to throw away trash. Refer to the list you made on day one and get busy. Be realistic about what is useful and what isn’t. Move beyond the obvious and purge trash from closets, cupboards, dressers. Remember to pay special attention to the areas you’ve tentatively selected as permanent storage spots for the things you set goals to organize.
There’s probably a lot of hidden trash in your home that you don’t think about.
- Paperwork is a prime culprit. Sort through warranties, user’s manuals, old credit card bills, bank statements, etc. Get rid of anything that’s not current. Don’t store boxes of papers that are taking up space you could be using to store things you actually want and use, like your hypothetical craft supplies.
- Don’t keep old magazines or newspapers. They’re junk.
- Sort clothing. Get rid of shirts that are missing buttons, hopelessly wrinkled pants that you mean to iron some day but never will, old socks with holes taking up space in dresser drawers, and smelly old shoes that were once your favorites but which you haven’t worn in six years.
- Toiletries and medications that are expired or no good have to go.
- Get rid of expired foods in the pantry.
- Old electronics have no value.
- Broken vacuum cleaners or blenders or toasters are things you’ll never get fixed. Toss ‘em.
Be ruthless. Dive into closets and corners. Refer back to the goals you set and think about the space you will need to free up to make them happen. When you eliminate space wasters you make room for the things you want to keep.
Look for trash that’s right in front of you. Objects that are too worn to donate or give away are trash. Don’t hang onto things for sentimental reasons. If it’s not useful, it’s dead weight.
Don’t keep meaningless knick-knacks or things someone gave you years ago just because you’ve had them for a long time. If the item has no purpose, no value to you, and you don’t have the space, get rid of it.
Don’t keep two dozen plastic food storage containers that you don’t use because they might come in handy some day. They won’t. Recycle them.
Sort through hobby supplies and discard things that you will not realistically use.
Look in the basement, attic, and garage for anything that can be tossed. You need the space. Keep repeating this phrase.
By the end of this step, you should have nothing left in your home that is trash. You should have freed up some space and eliminated some clutter.
You should feel proud of yourself and a little bit freer and lighter. You’ve eliminated some dead weight. Good job!
Step 3: Sell Stuff
Odds are you’ve got some stuff that has value but that you don’t use any more. There’s a good chance you have a lot of this type of stuff. Selling this stuff is a great way to get rid of it without having to haul it all to Goodwill. Plus, you can spend the cash you make on supplies to organize the stuff you want to keep.
As a rule, you won’t be able to sell your stuff for a ton of cash. That being said, if you want to get rid the stuff (which you do), selling it moves it out the door. This is your prime objective. So don’t waste a lot of emotion on the fact that you’re practically giving the stuff away. At least someone else will be able to use it and you eliminate more dead weight.
How do you go about selling your stuff? Well, you can always have a traditional garage sale. If you’re an outgoing person, you might even have a good time with it.
Host a Garage Sale
A garage sale is pretty straightforward. Take the stuff you don’t want and put it all in the garage or in your driveway on whatever portable tables you might have around or can rig up. Your setup doesn’t have to be fancy; you just want a space to display your wares without merely tossing everything on the ground. Put prices on the stuff. Advertise your sale on Craigslist or Facebook or your local classifieds. At the end of the day, place a “free stuff” listing on Craigslist to get rid of whatever’s left. If no one wants it for free, it’s trash.
If you’d rather not have a garage sale, you can sell your stuff on Craigslist, Facebook, or local classified ads. Many areas have garage sale groups on Facebook; list on both the Facebook marketplace and your local garage sale groups. The online listing process is pretty straightforward. Take a couple pictures of the stuff you’re selling, put up some ads, check your e-mail, answer questions from potential buyers, sell your stuff.
Vintage and collectible stuff can be sold on Etsy or eBay. This is a little more involved because the things you sell have to be shipped to whoever buys it. Either site requires that sellers create an account, and each charges fees for selling.
Take Things to a Consignment Shop
Clothes that are current and in excellent condition can go to a local consignment shop. Generally these shops accept only a set number of items per day and the things you bring in have to be seasonally appropriate. Many of these shops also take household goods, some take toys and electronics. They usually split the selling price with consignors 50/50. It’s best to call ahead before taking things in to make sure they’re currently accepting consignments.
Don’t forget word of mouth as a great way to sell your unwanted stuff. What you don’t need may be exactly what your cousin Doug is looking for. Of course, you may decide to just give it to him because he’s such a pal.
By the end of step three you should be seeing real progress in the elimination of unwanted possessions from your home. Hopefully you’ve also got some extra cash in your pocket. Most importantly, you should be starting to feel like you’re taking control over your possessions rather than the reverse.
You are moving steadily toward your goals. You are creating the space you need to properly organize and store the stuff that you really want to keep. Kudos!
Step 4: Give Stuff Away
You’re now in the home stretch of your purge. This is when you get to have a little fun by giving stuff away. Refer to the list you made at step one of the items you no longer use that can be donated to charity or given to friends or family.
How to go about this day of giving? One option: take pictures of your stuff and post them to your friends on Facebook with the caption “Free Stuff!” Or place an ad on Craiglist if you don’t care where the stuff goes. If you have particular friends or family in mind for specific objects, hand deliver the goods and have a nice visit while you’re there.
Many local charities are looking for stuff in good condition. Many of these groups don’t exactly put up billboards soliciting donations, but if you ask around you’ll find some very worthy causes that can put your old things to good use. Some ideas:
- Churches and other non-profit groups often operate thrift stores or distribute used clothing and household goods to families in need.
- Local veteran’s assistance centers sometimes look for household goods.
- Animal shelters sometimes need old towels, bedding, and dishes.
- Homeless shelters almost always need household items and clothing.
- Many areas have one or more community action groups that specifically take donations of clothing and household goods to pass along to those who need a helping hand.
To take a charitable tax deduction, write up a list of the items you’re donating along with their estimated value, and your charity will stamp or sign it as a receipt.
Some charitable groups will come and collect donations from you but most of the time you’ll have to take the stuff to a donation center during certain hours. Check ahead of time to be sure someone will be there to take your stuff. You don’t want to show up with a van load of donations only to find the doors locked.
It’s fun to give stuff away if you think about what a win-win deal it is. You get to free up your valuable space and someone else gets some things they want or need. Sometimes you’re helping people more than you could imagine. And sometimes you can pass things on to friends or relatives, and then every time they use whatever you gave them they’ll think of what a great person you are.
At the end of step four, you have completed your purge. You should now have left only the possessions you want to keep. Next up: sort, group, organize, plan. You’re getting closer to achieving your goals. Good work!
Step 5: Sort, Group, Organize, Plan
At this point you should have no extraneous possessions in your home. You should have created extra space by eliminating all the dead weight around the house. All remaining objects should be things of importance to you. With the clutter gone, you can actually see what you have left to organize. This is the time to make a solid plan about storing these things.
Think carefully about what will work best for you. At step one you made a tentative plan about how and where to organize your things. Today you will fine-tune your plan with an emphasis on the actual design. Your system should be one that will be easy for you to use consistently. If you don’t follow through with using the system you set up, you’ll end up with another cluttered, disorganized mess. This is why planning is so important.
Planning will be a three-step process:
- Sort and group your stuff.
- Figure out what kind of storage space you need for each group.
- Plan specifically how to organize each group.
So, you will sort your stuff, grouping items into your goal categories (for example, the hypothetical craft supplies, paperwork, toys, and shoes from day one). Once you’ve got things sorted out, you’ll have a good idea about the actual space you will need for storing each group. Then you can make a plan about how to actually organize the objects in each group.
Organizing generally involves arranging things in cupboards or containers of some type, on shelves, storing in boxes, setting up a filing system, or otherwise settling stuff for easy retrieval.
There’s a staggering array of storage supplies available. If you’re not sure exactly what you need as you make your plan, here are some ideas:
- Lots of very small, loose objects are best stored in compartmentalized trays or boxes or in jars.
- Things that stack easily can go into cabinets or on shelves.
- Baskets organized on shelves are great for storing all types of loose objects of varying sizes.
- Papers get stored in labeled folders in file drawers for a reason: it’s the best way to easily store and retrieve them.
- Bottles and jars can be grouped and stored in shallow drawers, bins, or tubs, or in shallow cabinets or cubbies.
- Medium size to large objects can go into storage tubs or chests.
- Toys can be stored on shelves, in bins, in bins on shelves, or in whatever way makes it easy to get at what you want without having to move a lot of other things to get to it. The traditional toy box isn’t the most practical means of storing toys because things end up strewn all over in the quest for that one object at the bottom of the box.
- Hooks are handy for things that can be hung on walls or doors or on the sides of furniture.
- Hooks are great for hanging clothing, hats, jewelry.
- Hooks can expand your storage space.
- Hooks fit into pegboard for extra storage space.
- Racks, hangers, and shoe organizers are handy for storing all kinds of things.
- Don’t overlook the potential storage capacity of dressers and chests.
And here are some storage tips:
- Labels are an excellent visual tool to help you remember what’s in a box or tote or other container.
- Tape a list of the contents on the outside of boxes.
- Using clear totes or containers allows you to see what’s inside.
- Stack-able totes are handy, but don’t stack more than two or three high. Having to constantly shift totes to access what you need leads to frustration. You want to love everything about your organizational system.
- Color coding is an excellent organizing tool.
- For example, when setting up a filing system for papers, place all personal papers into blue folders, all work-related papers into green folders, all child-school related papers into red folders, all bills into purple folders, and all household/warranty type papers into brown folders.
- Place red-colored dots on all boxes that hold card-making craft supplies, blue dots on all boxes that contain scrapbooking craft supplies, and green dots on all boxes containing knitting craft supplies.
- If you’ve got multiple boxes containing closely-related items, a master list can save time searching for individual items.
- Label your boxes A, B, C, D, etc.
- Section your list into subsections for boxes A, B, C, D, etc. with the list of contents following each letter.
- Alternatively, list all the contents of the boxes and place the corresponding box letter next to each item on the list.
- Use shelf risers to add storage space and easily access items in back.
- Use small bins in drawers to help organize small objects.
- Use wire racks, tension rods, pegboard, and magnetic strips creatively.
You may have stuff around the house you can use for storing and organizing. Think about how you might use trays or bins or anything you have on hand that might be useful.
To get a clearer picture of your objectives, let’s go back to the hypothetical goals from step one and look at how grouping and planning plays out. As a reminder, your hypothetical goals were:
- Organize craft supplies.
- Keep better track of paperwork.
- Re-arrange kids’ toys.
- Create a better system for storing boots and shoes near the door.
So the first thing you’d do at this point would be to gather your craft supplies into one area to see exactly what you’ve got. At step one, you (hypothetically) selected a storage area for your craft supplies. This might be a corner in the family room, a nook in your bedroom, or a cubby in the kitchen. Now you would consider whether the supplies will actually fit into the area you’ve chosen. If not, rethink your plan.
Once you’re sure you’ve got enough space to store all your craft supplies in the same area, it’s time to plot out storage strategies for them. Is there anything around the house that you can use? Do you have containers, baskets, tubs, bins, shelves or other storage containers that are appropriately sized for your needs, and, if so, can you move them to your selected craft supply area? If you don’t have anything on hand, figure out what you’ll need. At step six you’ll go shopping for whatever supplies you can’t rustle up around the house.
Continuing with the hypothetical goals example, to keep better track of paperwork you thought you might turn a spare bedroom into an office. At steps two, three, and four you cleared clutter from the spare bedroom so it is now free of excess stuff. Today, gather up all your papers and other office supplies and figure out what you’ll need to turn the room into a space you can use for your intended purpose. Repeat the steps above: do you have things around the house you can put to use? If not, what do you need to buy? Writing out a list will be helpful later on.
Moving on, you also (hypothetically) wanted to re-arrange the kids’ toys. Again, gather the remaining toys (hopefully you got rid of some while de-cluttering) together to see what you’ve got. Think about where you want to keep them and whether there is ready-made storage space in the area? If not, do you have something you can use? If not, what do you need to buy? If you’re planning to do a lot of re-arranging in order to use things you already have around the house, writing out a list of what’s going to be moved where will be helpful later on when you rearrange things and set up your storage space.
Finally, the last goal on our hypothetical list was to create a better system for storing boots and shoes. Gather up whatever loose footwear you see and think about a logical storage solution that everyone in the house will use. Maybe you need to set up shoe racks in individual closets. Maybe you need cubbies or shelves or a small dresser in your entryway. Then follow the same process as in the previous examples.
By now you should be getting the hang of the planning process. Just take stock of what you have, figure out a place to put it, then plot how to organize it so you can easily store and retrieve it.
Next, you’ll rearrange, get whatever supplies you need to complete your project, set up a storage system, and then you’ll organize your stuff. Almost home!
Step 6: Prepare Your Spaces
At step six you will set up the framework for organizing your stuff. Your objective is to get your storage system in place so that at step seven you can arrange the things that have to be stored in the areas you’ve selected to store them.
If you have the necessary supplies around the house, this is the time to rearrange things so that you end up with whatever you need in the places you want it.
If you don’t have what you need on hand, it’s time to take a field trip to the home improvement or furniture store. If you need to go shopping, you should have a good grasp on what you have to get. You’ll be purchasing whatever supplies you don’t have on hand.
As you plotted out your storage needs, you made a list or two. Refer to your list(s) as you go along. If you’re rearranging furniture or other stuff around the house, your list will help you keep track of what’s going where. If things get confusing or if you have multiple sets of helping hands, a master control list will be a very handy reference tool.
If you’re shopping, a list will help you to make sure you get everything in one trip. If you’re still trying to figure out exactly what you need, take a picture or make a list of the things that you have to organize so you have a handy reference in the store.
Make Sure Your Storage System Will Work for You
Whether your organizational system is comprised of things you already have or new items that you purchase, keep in mind that storage methods are highly individual. The system that works for you may totally baffle your neighbor.
Some people like to have everything in plain sight. Some people like drawers, or shelves, or cabinets, or plastic tubs, or racks, or baskets.
The most important thing is that your system of organization makes sense to you and works for you. Your system needs to one that you will use consistently so that you don’t end up with a clutter problem all over again.
Back to Hypothetical Goals
At the end of step six you should have your storage framework fully designed and installed. So, going back to our hypothetical goals, this is what it would look like:
- Your crafty corner storage system is all set up and ready for you to arrange your crafting supplies. You elected to re-purpose a set of shelves and a cabinet that were in the spare bedroom that’s being converted into a home office. You also bought some storage trays with dividers to help keep track of small items and some baskets for larger things.
- Your home office is assembled and ready. You were able to give new life to a nice old wooden desk that had been buried in junk, and therefore unusable, until your de-cluttering project. You purchased a filing cabinet and some file folders and at step seven, when you organize, you’re going to put them to use.
- You set up an area for the kids’ toys with brand new, still-in-the-package shelving units you forgot you had, which you unearthed from behind a pile of clutter during your purge, and some shallow bins that you bought at the home improvement store. The bins will fit onto the shelves and will make storing and retrieving toys quick and easy.
- Your shoe storage issue required multiple storage solutions. You picked up shoe racks for each family member to keep in their closets to eliminate some of the shoe clutter throughout the house. Additionally, your purge cleared out space in the coat closet by the door so you were able to set up a newly-purchased shoe-storage caddy in the closet for additional storage.
Are you excited yet? You should be because you’re almost done with your project. You ought to be able to visualize the results at this point. Step seven is right around the corner. Finally you’ll be organized!
Step 7: Organize Your Stuff
It’s finally here, the step you’ve been working toward, it’s time to organize your stuff.
If all has gone as planned, your stuff, which was previously known as clutter, is now sorted into groups. You have a storage system set up and ready to go. All that’s left to do is arrange the objects into the system you’ve designed.
Take care at this stage. You’ve come this far, so take it home with the same thoughtfulness that you’ve put in all along your journey. Take your time and think about what you’re doing.
Arrange things logically and in a way that will ensure you are able to find what you need quickly and easily. Don’t pack things in too tightly. Don’t place tall objects in front of short ones. Utilize your storage space efficiently. If necessary, leave room for growth if new items will potentially be introduced in the future.
If you get everything situated and don’t like the setup, change it. Rearrange. Make it work for you. You are now in control of this stuff that was previously controlling you.
Remember that organization is very simply finding a place for everything. Organization means that every single item in your environment has a designated spot to live so that whenever you’re not using it, each item is returned to its home, and when you need it, you know where to look.
Hypothetical Goals Accomplished
Once again we’re back to our hypothetical goals. Today, at their conclusion, they look like this:
- Your craft supplies are neatly organized in your craft corner. All your supplies are at your fingertips.
- Your new home office is already keeping your paperwork straight and true. You set up a color-coded filing system for bills, personal papers, etc. and your paperwork has been filed into the appropriate folders.
- The kids’ toys are neatly arranged, for now. The beauty of your new multiple-bin storage system is that it’s unlikely all the toys will ever again end up strewn throughout the house. Toys will come out of one bit at a time, and be replaced before getting into another. That’s the plan anyway…
- All shoes and boots have been neatly stored away. There will no more tripping over sneakers left in the middle of the family room.
At this point, there’s no longer a clutter problem in your home. Counter tops and other flat surfaces are not buried in stuff. Corners are filled with nothing but open space. Your closets are tidy and so is your mind. You’ve made a very wise investment in your future free time and peace of mind. No more wasted hours searching for things you know you have. No more buying stuff you’ve already got because you can’t find the original. You’re free of the clutter monster.
All that’s left to do now is maintenance. Plan to periodically sort things and get rid of anything that’s dead weight. Don’t let it get the better of you again
Staying organized is all about maintenance. Getting your clutter under control is liberating. You probably feel lighter, freer, and more in control of your stuff and life in general. It’s empowering to finally accomplish a goal that you’ve been putting off.
Staying organized is equally empowering. The trick to it is establishing good habits. This means doing whatever you need to do to make sure clutter doesn’t again begin accumulating.
For example, if you find that mail is piling up, get yourself a small basket and put your pending mail-to-be-sorted in the basket. Deal with it as soon as possible, and if your basket gets full your deadline has been reached. Deal with it immediately.
If other people in your household aren’t pulling their weight, get them their own baskets. Put their things into their baskets and give them a deadline to deal with it. If they don’t take care of their things, the basket disappears for a set period of time. That’s the penalty for non-compliance.
Make written schedules with hard deadlines for periodically sorting areas like the kitchen pantry or bathroom cupboards or any other areas that tend to accumulate outdated stuff.
As you notice that clothing, shoes, or other possessions are becoming too worn out to use, throw them away.
Place a donation box in a designated area, and if clothing doesn’t fit correctly or you find that you just don’t like it, put it in your box. When the box is full, take it to your local church thrift.
If you notice that your drawers or cabinets or closets are getting full, take the time to sort and purge. Write in on your calendar, if necessary, to force yourself to make it happen.
Every mountain of clutter begins with a single object. One becomes two, two becomes four, and so on. Piles spread like a disease. So keep it in check and never let it get out of control again. You are in control now! Congratulations!
Want more organizing and house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my author page. My books include De-Clutter and Organize Your Home in 7 Simple Steps, Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, and How to Become a Cleaning Pro: the Ultimate Guide to Starting and Operating Your Own House Cleaning Service.