Many people have asked me how to organize when they have no idea where to begin or what the proper steps are. They are so overwhelmed from lack of organizing experience that they end up just walking away. People don’t know where to start! I have heard your cries and I’m here to help! These organizing tips will be the exact steps that I teach my clients when I do an organizing session! I’m giving away all my secrets today! Ha ha The most important thing to remember when organizing is that it is DEFINITELY going to get worse before it gets better! Your kitchen, and also the room you choose for your staging area, is going to look like a HOT MESS until the very end. Don’t be discouraged! Keep picking away at it and in a few hours, you’ll be done and feel so accomplished!
To help you with this process, I’ve created a free printable guide! You can find it at the end of this blog! Download and print it and let me know if it helped! 😃
There are affiliate links included in this blog post. I will make a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you click the link and make a purchase.
This is my normal flow with any organizing task:
Locate Ground Zero, Choose Staging Area, Break into Smaller Chunks, Sort each Chunk, Purge All Sorted Piles, Clean Area, Assign New Homes to Items, Contain and Place Items in New Homes, Label Everything
FINDING GROUND ZERO
The very first thing I always ask a new client is what area in your home gives you the most anxiety the moment you walk in the room? I want to know where ground zero is. This space would be the area that you dread walking into and can’t wait to get away from. That’s where I always suggest they start. I find that as soon as you organize that space, the rest of the house feels totally doable! When you are just starting the organizing process, you need a big win. You need to experience that organizing high that will motivate you to do the next task and the next task…
STARTING SMALLER, IF DESIRED…
If you feel like you just aren’t ready for a big task yet, try out a smaller area first. Maybe the win that YOU need is a smaller one, to convince you that YOU CAN DO IT! Everyone is different and works at their own pace. You may feel the need to practice with some smaller areas before you feel equipped with enough experience to tackle the big stuff. That’s okay! Just apply these same exact steps to the smaller space and get to it. I promise, YOU REALLY CAN DO IT and these organizing tips will help!
CHOOSING A STAGING AREA
After you have found your ground zero, you need a staging area. This is the area that you are going to use to sort your piles and do your purging and containing. You need a place to stack items into piles of keepers, donates, recyclables, and trash. Sometimes it can be hard to find enough space to do your entire area at once. If this is the case for you, I would suggest that when you break your big task into smaller chunks, you do each chunk from start to finish so your staging area doesn’t get too full. What I mean is that you would sort, purge, clean, assign, contain, and label your kitchen by doing one cabinet at a time, if you don’t have a big enough staging area to hold the entire kitchen worth of items at one time.
BREAKING YOUR TASK INTO SMALLER CHUNKS
Once you have located ground zero and designated your staging area, I always suggest breaking it into smaller, bite sized pieces so you don’t feel overwhelmed. I have helped clients organize whole kitchens and garages. I’ve always found the best way to approach a big job like that is in smaller chunks. When I do a kitchen, for example, I will walk through the space and pick a single cabinet. We will go through that cabinet, doing the sorting and purging, and then go through another cabinet and do the same sort and purge procedure. Once we have sorted and purged the entire area (or have completely filled our staging area), we will clean the area and then begin assigning the items new homes in the space and containing them in the proper containers for that space.
At this point, you have your ground zero, you have your staging area, you have picked a smaller area within your ground zero, and you are ready to begin sorting!
Take everything out of that smaller chunk and sort it into piles of like items. If you are doing an area with food, cleaning products, medications, or health and beauty items, you need to check the expiration dates as you take items out of the space. If it is expired, it is immediately tossed. This will save you time when you are trying to purge. Don’t get hung up on deciding if you need items just yet. For now, you are just sorting things into piles of like items. Some examples of sorting piles are office supplies, pots and pans, crafts, dog toys, paperwork, kids toys, books, and so on. It really depends on what area of your home you are sorting. You can make your sorted piles as detailed or as general as you like. You could have a pile of books or you could have a pile of school books, kids books, fiction books, hubby’s books, whatever you prefer!
Once you have everything in the area sorted, you can go through each pile and decide what is worth keeping and what you need to let go of. This is called purging. Now you will begin to make your donate, recycle, and trash piles. I suggest those big black trash bags for these piles. For the donated items that are fragile, cardboard boxes with newspaper works best.
Purging can be the toughest part of the organizing process. You may find items that you don’t necessarily need but are emotionally attached to. For these items, I suggest you consider why you feel emotionally attached to it. If it is a family heirloom, maybe you could find a place in your home to properly display it and give it a place of honor. If it is small, like a birthday card, you could take a picture of it. Then you could make a photo album of all the meaningful cards you’ve received over the years and display it in your home.
Sometimes, there are going to be items that are sentimental but you just don’t have the space to display it at the moment. I have a big set of crystal dishes that my grandmother gave me that I have no where to honor it properly at the moment. I have given myself permission to carefully store it in my basement until I can give it the honor it deserves. That’s life. Anyone who suggests that you should donate items like that must not have ever had to make that kind of choice. Just make sure it is something that is truly near and dear to your heart and NOT something that you don’t really want but feel guilty giving away. That is an entirely different situation with a name….guilty clutter!
In the case of guilty clutter, I suggest you consider the person who gave it to you. If they have passed on, consider if you have other items from them that ARE getting a place of honor in your home. Would they really want you stressing about an item that you really don’t want or need? I think they would be so proud to see the item they gave you, that is special to you, being displayed. I’m sure they wouldn’t require you to hold onto the other items that aren’t as special and could go to good use for someone else. I’m sure your loved one wants peace and happiness for you. Sometimes that means letting go of things in order to find peace in your home.
If they have not passed on, simply ask them if they’d like it back or if you should donate it. Don’t give them any other options. Those are the only two options if it is something you don’t wish to hold onto any longer. Don’t let someone else’s need to hold onto things affect YOUR household. That’s not fair to you or your family. Be polite and kind but also be firm. If they choose not to take it back, let them know that it will be donated and then let it go. Life is too short to hold onto meaningless things out of guilt!
If YOU are the one who has trouble letting go of things, there are some questions that you can ask yourself during the purging process that may help you to make those hard decisions. Ask yourself how long it’s been since you actually used the item and be honest with yourself. You can also ask yourself if you even knew the item was there before you started this organizing process. If you have the same item but it several different colors, I would suggest picking your favorite color and letting the rest go to someone who could really use them.
When you get hung up on something, stop for a moment and think about why you are organizing in the first place. You want to feel a sense of calm when you enter this space. Yes, you are just considering one item but there are MANY items in this space to consider. If you keep 75% of them, you may still struggle to find the calm you are looking for. Remember, they are just things. They are taking up valuable real estate in your home and costing you peace of mind. That is something that is too expensive to give away to “things”.
If you find yourself tossing item after item into the keep pile without really considering each item, this is another good time to stop and take a few deep breaths. It can become monotonous to make continuous decisions and you may find yourself entering auto pilot. As soon as you recognize this, pull yourself back a moment and regroup. You need to be making conscious decisions about each item, not just saying “I need this” and tossing it into the keep pile. Do you REALLY need it or do you think it COULD BE useful at some point but you don’t know when? If the answer is that it could be useful, I would ask you to re-evaluate that item and consider if it is really worth the space that it is taking up in your home and your peace of mind. If you truly consider it and the answer is still yes, then by all means, keep the item. I just want you to be aware of the decisions you are making. No auto pilot allowed when purging!!!
Once you believe you are done with the purging process, you will quickly scan all of your piles one more time to make sure there is nothing else that you need to let go of. Sometimes things get put into sorted piles that you have already purged and you don’t want to accidentally keep things that you would have purged if given the chance!
Congratulations! You have completed what is usually the hardest part of the entire process!!! The rest is a piece of cake! You deserve a pat on the back! And maybe that piece of cake I just mentioned…..
CLEAN THE AREA
It is time to clean the area in preparation for the final stage which is organizing everything the way you want it! Wipe down any shelves, vacuum any carpets, sweep and mop. These areas haven’t seen the light of day in a long time. Now is the best time to give them some love before you fill them back up again!
ASSIGN NEW HOMES TO YOUR KEPT ITEMS
You are now ready to assign homes to your items! Take a good look at the various groups of items that you have sorted for the space and then take an equally good look at your space. Decide what area inside your space is the most efficient place to store each group of items. The best way to do this is by considering what area of your space is “valuable real estate”. Valuable real estate is the area that is easiest to reach without much effort. On a bookcase, for example, the prime real estate would be the shelves that are level to the middle of your body. These shelves are easiest to reach and should house the things that you need to access every day or at least several times per week. The items you only need to reach once or twice per month can be on the bottom shelf and the items you only need to access a few times a year can be on the very top shelf that requires a step stool to reach.
The same goes for cabinets. The bottom of your kitchen cabinets that are above your counter are your prime real estate because they are the easiest to reach. This is where you would store things you use everyday, like well used spices or your favorite bowl to cook with. The pantry shelf that is eye level to your children should be where you store the snacks that you WANT them to have access to. I might not suggest putting your candy jar there, though! Ha ha
Once you understand prime real estate as it pertains to organizing, you can more easily choose where your items should be stored in your space. Remember, just because an item has been stored on a certain shelf for two years doesn’t mean that’s where it must live forever! When I ask people why they stored something in a certain place, I often hear that the item is there because that’s where it’s always been…..even though that is not the most practical place for it to be!
Decide where things should go according to where you usually are when you use said item. If you use a lot of seasonings, store them close to where you are when you usually need them. Putting your dishes and glasses right next to the stove doesn’t really make sense if you usually have to walk to the other side of the kitchen to get the pot that you regularly use while cooking on the stove. Maybe store the pots and pans closer to the stove and put those dishes and glasses closer to your dining area, where you grab them to set the table. If you are a shorter person, definitely store the things you use often at a level that you can easily reach them and put the things you don’t often need on the higher shelves.
Once you have decided where you want your items to live, it is time to choose just the right containers to keep your items in! This is my favorite part!
SHOPPING FOR CONTAINERS
There are such cute containers now days and they can be very inexpensive if you know where to look! You can shop for your containers before you start the job, if you feel pretty sure about how many containers you will need and what sizes. If you don’t feel very sure of this, you can do the sort, purge, and assign part first and THEN go shopping for your containers. This part is a matter of preference. I usually go shopping for containers before starting, but I study the area first, to get a better educated guess as to how many containers I’ll need and I sometimes measure shelves so I know what will fit, if necessary. Don’t forget that you will be purging so you might not have as much to contain once that step is done.
I always recommend going to The Dollar Tree first. If you get lucky and catch them on the day they restock the merchandise, you can find a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors to really make your space come alive! Not to mention, everything at the Dollar Tree is only one dollar each!!! Bonus! Some of the other dollar stores have varying prices but Dollar Tree is one of the dollar stores that sticks to the one dollar per item theme.
If you couldn’t find what you needed at The Dollar Tree, my next favorite store is IKEA, of course! They have an amazing selection, great prices, and items that can be hacked to make a totally different item, if you are slightly handy and okay with watching a little YouTube! They also have lots of furniture options that serve duel purposes, which is great if you have a small home or apartment and need to save space!
Thirdly, but certainly not because it’s not worth a visit, is Home Goods! I especially like to go here because, not only are their prices pretty good, they have very cute and fashionable items for your home that can really make a space pop with creativity and color! If you are concerned about décor just as much as function, Home Goods is the place to go!
My forth favorite place to get inexpensive containers is good ole Wal-Mart. Their prices are generally pretty good and they tend to have a nice selection. Don’t forget to check other places in the store, like their bathroom supplies for example. If you only stick to the plastic bins area and stationary, you might miss the neat items they have that you could re-purpose in an area other than what it is meant for. Sometimes those toothbrush holders make a great accent piece in your office, to hold your most favorite pens or for your bedroom, to hold some pretty flowers! Ya never know what you can get creative with until you start thinking outside the box! Or rather, outside the bin! Ha ha
If you have the budget for it, The Container Store can be a great place to find cute and functional containers that are very high quality. They do tend to be a little on the pricey side but their selection is huge and the quality is definitely worth it!
If you would prefer to shop from the comfort of your own home (in your pajamas like I do), here are some great options from Amazon! Be sure to measure your intended space and check the sizes of these bins. You want to make sure they are going to fit before you buy them!
CONTAINING YOUR ITEMS
Once you have your containers and you are ready to proceed, it’s time to start containing things! My general rule is to put things in containers vertically whenever possible. In order to store things vertically, you would stand them upright instead of lying them flat. Doing this will allow you to quickly see everything in that bin and easily reach the item you need without digging through everything to get to it.
I also put like-items in a container together so I don’t have to search through several bins to find something. If you have a bin of snacks in your pantry AND in your cabinet, odds are good that one bin will be used more often than the other because it is in the area of your kitchen with more traffic. The snack bin of food in the lower traffic area may go bad before it is used because your family forgets it is there. Out of sight, out of mind!
Choosing which bins to use is also important. In kitchen pantries, for example, I like to use baskets that I can easily see through so I know at a glance what is in them. IKEA has a great double basket that I’ve used in kitchens that is only $15! One of the baskets sits on top of the other so it holds a lot of items, doesn’t take up much room, and uses more vertical space (which is great when you have a tiny pantry and are trying to save as much space as possible)! Stackable bins and baskets are a fabulous way to use vertical space! Vertical space is key when you are organizing a small area, like a small bathroom, laundry room, or pantry.
There are also bins or baskets that can be mounted on the wall in order to use more vertical space. Sometimes, you can even change the use of an item so that it works for your space. For example, I am currently using a paper filing type box in my pantry because my rolls of crackers fit perfectly in it and it stores them more vertically than laying them out on the shelf. Organizing can be a very creative task!
Some containers are shorter and fit really well inside drawers. Other containers have a base that they spin on so you can reach everything stored on it without digging in the back of the cabinet to find it. There are stands that are made to go into cabinets and look like stairs so you can store little bottles of spices on them and see everything that you have without moving things around and searching. IKEA has some great cubed shelving systems that take bins so you can store things in plain sight but don’t have to look at them every day because they are stored inside the bins. The possibilities are endless!
At this point, you have sorted all of your items, purged the things you no longer want or need, cleaned your area while you had everything pulled out, you’ve assigned more functional homes for your items, and you’ve used containers to easily store your items so they can be accessed and used more efficiently! Finally, you have placed your contained items exactly where you want them to be! The only thing left to do to insure that your new organizing systems works great for everyone in your family is to label everything!
Labeling is essential to any new organizing system, especially when you have several people in the household that will be using the items you are organizing. It is the best way to let everyone know exactly what should belong in each bin or on each shelf or in each cabinet! If you put detailed labels on every bin and shelf, your family will take one look at the new system and know exactly how to use it! Otherwise, they will toss the item in the easiest spot and your organizing system will be gone in a week!
This is the exact label maker I use at home and on organizing jobs! It has lots of cute and useful features AND it won’t break the bank! Of course, I also bought the carrying case because I lug it to jobs and such but you might not need that if you are just using it at home.
There are many labeling options these days! If you think you will be changing what is in a bin often, a chalkboard label is a great choice. You can get a chalk pen that writes very neatly and clearly on the label, won’t smear very easily, and can quickly be erased with a little soap and water!
Another cute option are decorative tags that can be tied to the handle of a bin or basket with a string or safety pin. You can easily find these tags in any craft store, in a varity of designs and colors. You could even make your own if you felt extra creative!
Ribbon is a great option to tie picture labels onto bins of toys that young children will be using if they are too young to read just yet! Not to mention, it looks adorable!
I put adhesive labels on my autistic son’s dresser drawers so he would know what was in each drawer at a glance. This way, I could tell him to go change into some play clothes. He could open the Play Clothes drawer and choose a top and bottom from it and I didn’t have to go upstairs and help him choose the appropriate clothes. I also made him a school clothes drawer so he could dress himself on school days. Now, I have a hanging cubby system in his closet that I put whole outfits in and he just grabs one each morning and gets dressed without any help from me! Organizing systems are amazing!
For added help, I’ve created a free printable guide to talk you through the whole process!
Congratulations! You have created an amazing organizing system that is going to make your life SO MUCH EASIER! The great thing about these organizing steps is that they can be applied to any organizing task! Small or large tasks can all be tackled using this method of organizing!
If you have a slightly different way of organizing that works great for you, feel free to share it in the comments below! I am always anxious to learn new organizing techniques! If you enjoyed this article, give it a like!
For more of my organizing posts, click here!
To see my in home childcare posts, click here.
If true ghost stories are your thing, read mine here!