Getting organized is work. That’s why even for small projects, it can be incredibly useful to hire a professional organizer to help. (Read: What Professional Organizers Do and Why We Can All Use One.) But sometimes we want to tackle the organizational process on or own. We just need a little advice on how to get our spaces to go from chaos and clutter to calm and composed.
We spoke to two experts Diane Lowy, a professional organizer in New York City, and Lisa Shields, a professional organizer and interior stylist in Los Angeles, both Top Pros on Thumbtack, to get their tips, tricks, and secret advice for getting organized. Here’s what they had to say:
Tackle the Space That Bothers You Most First
If your whole house is cluttered, you’re not going to get it organized overnight, Lowy says. So pick one thing that’s really bugging you, spend half an hour, and fix it. “When it comes to your home, your space is the one area over which you have total control; clutter is only a problem if it bothers you. If it doesn’t bother you, then don’t worry about it.”
Shields agrees. “I try to find a space that’s a big part of their lives that would really be to their benefit to get organized because that’s going to relieve a lot of pressure.” She recommends you ask yourself what the emotional place is in your home that’s bothering you and starting small so you’re not overwhelmed. “That will give you the confidence and get you excited about it, which will motivate you to do more.”
Identify All of the Storage Areas in Your Home
Lowy suggests a two-step process to her clients to help them get started with the organizational process. The first step is to label all of the storage areas in your home with a Post-It note. This includes every single shelf, drawer, and closet. Then identify what you would put in each spot if you were just moving in. After you have an idea of how you’d use every storage space in an ideal situation, conquer one drawer or shelf every day. It may take months, but if you can just spend ten minutes a day, you’ll feel good that you’re moving towards your goal.
Decide What You Want Each Room to Do
If your home is in a state of chaos, getting started with the organizational process can be overwhelming. Lowy suggests that if you’re feeling like you have to do something, but you don’t know where you start, you should take an hour and go to your favorite place outside of the home. While you’re there, make a list of each room in your house and the role that each room plays for you. Ask yourself what is the job of your living room, your dining room, your bedroom, etc. and come up wit ha list of five things for each room. Then go back to your home and look at each room through the eyes of that list. “Look around the room and ask yourself if the room does what you say it’s supposed to do,” Lowy says. “Because then you can edit around the idea of what the room is supposed to do. If you have a huge bookcase in your bedroom, but you don’t read in your bedroom, it shouldn’t be there. Once you get a strategy down and you know what’s important and how to have your home best set up to support you, it’s easier to get organized.”
Your House Will Tell You How Much Storage You Should Have
Lowy says you should not invest in more room for storage and less room for your life. “Your space tells you how much storage you should have. If you’re not using it well, that’s when you need to reassess the situation and maybe get help.”
Don’t Buy Storage “Solutions”
“People feel like they’re doing something when they go and buy a storage product they think will help solve the problem,” Lowy says. “You’re taking action and that feels good, but it’s usually not the most helpful action. You could spend the time you go to the store, look for the right thing, and buy it on actually getting rid of clutter instead.”
Shields agrees and says she sees a lot of people buying things to try to organize their space that only make the problem worse. “They’re wasting money on organizational devices that are overpriced, bulky, and ugly and just create more clutter.”
Be Creative with Storage
If your closet isn’t big enough, Shields recommends you find cool ways to display things like handbags and jewelry, like utilizing wall space or draping things over the top of a mirror. For things like remote controls in the living room, you can put them in a box that is beautiful and therefore serves two purposes: décor and storage.
Put Systems in Place
Shields says, “Every room and space should have a purpose.” If it doesn’t, that’s how things like junk drawers start. “You’re putting your problems in a drawer and closing it.” In the case of junk drawers, you actually do want to buy a tray organizer or drawer separators. Clear out the drawer and set up a system for whatever problem you’ve been pushing away into it. Create a spot for batteries so that it’s easy to find them when you need them. If you discover you have 15 spatulas, just keep two. It’s okay to have one junk drawer, but more than that and you’re just avoiding the issue.
Purge Your Belongings Once a Year
Shields advises everyone do a big purge once a year. “Go through your clothes, books, whatever it is you have a lot of that is taking up space, and get rid of anything you’re not using or wearing.”
Use the 10 Second Rule
Lowy understand that people can have real emotional attachment to objects and that that it can be hard to let go of things. “The goal is to keep and elevate the things that remind you of your best self,” she says, but without help it can be hard to know what those things are. If you have a box in a closet you’ve been putting off going through, you don’t have to make a decision about every single thing in the box. Instead, she suggests that if you spend more than 10 seconds thinking about whether you should get rid of it or keep it, just keep it. You can always revisit it later. “Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge how difficult the process is and keep the bar low; that’s still better than doing nothing.”
Organize Your Closet by Category
If your closet is crammed or overflowing, Shields says it can be helpful to put everything into a category, so you can see how much you have of everything. She suggests following these steps:
- Put everything that is a category (dresses, sweaters, jeans, skirts, etc.) in one spot.
- Put everything in that category that is similar together, like all of your black dresses, black skirts, skinny jeans, etc. This will allow you see what you actually have and what you wear.
- Ask yourself when the last time you wore each thing was, if you’ve ever worn it, and what the odds are that you’re going to wear it. If you have one black dress or skirt that looks good and fits, that’s the one to keep because that’s the one you’re going to wear most of the time anyway.
- Donate or try to sell the things you don’t need or wear. (But if you’re not going to actually take the time to sell things, then you need to bite the bullet and just give them away.)
In addition, you should edit your wardrobe so it makes sense for how you actually dress. Lowy tells her clients that half of their closet should be the clothes they wear six days of the week and that there should be fewer than 10 hangers per foot for that stuff. The other half of the closet should be your special occasion, fun stuff.
Don’t Hold onto Things out of Guilt
If you’re only keeping something because you feel too guilty to throw or give it away, then it isn’t actually bringing you any happiness. Shields says you have to be honest with yourself and let things go, even if your mother-in-law got it for you or it’s an expensive leather jacket you spent a lot of money on, but you’ve never worn. If there’s someone in your family who keeps giving you things you don’t need, it’s okay to tell that person you’re trying to consume less or that you appreciate it but you just don’t have any more room.
Avoid Stocking Up on Things
Buy things as you need them. “Don’t stock up on items unless they are things you actually go through really fast,” Shields says.
Avoid Impulse Buying
Shields says you can tell you’re a shopping addict if you have a huge closet with tons of clothes that still have the tag on them. If that’s the case for you, she suggests the next time you want to buy something, wait a week. “If you still want it after a week, then go ahead and buy it, but you’ll probably realize you don’t actually need it at all.”
Accept That Your Home Can Have a Bit of Mess
There are people who want clean countertops and to not have stuff lying around, but Shields thinks that realistically, you should allow your home to have a bit of a mess. “Things can be lived in; if they’re too clean or sleek, it’s not as warm or comfortable.”
Only Keep Things That Are Beautiful or Useful
Shields says you should ask yourself these two questions before you buy something or when you’re deciding if you need to keep something.
- Is it functional?
- Does it enhance my life?
If the answer is no, you probably don’t need whatever it is.
Lisa Shields is a professional organizer in Los Angeles, California who is obsessed with beautifying and transforming live/work spaces. You can find her on her website, Design Organized, and Thumbtack.
Diane Lowy is a professional organizer in New York, New York. Her focus is on apartment functionality and solving big problems in little spaces. You can find her on her website, New York at Home, and Thumbtack.
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