A-to-Z Guide to Organizing

Happy New Year! For many people the start of the New Year means making New Year’s resolutions. Besides losing weight, exercising more and saving money, surveys show that thousands of Americans want to get organized in the New Year, and given the many benefits of being more organized, it’s definitely a resolution worth putting at the top of your to-do list for 2020!

It’s well known that people who are organized are more productive, less stressed, and able to save considerable amounts of time and money. For some, organizing comes naturally; for others it’s more of a challenge and, as such, repeatedly gets put off. Organizing, however, is a skill that anyone can learn. By starting slowly, and gradually working organization into your daily routine, over time it will become a habit, and something you do almost seamlessly as part of your everyday life.

For the New Year I’ve created a comprehensive A-to-Z guide to organizing. I encourage you to use this guide as a tool for getting more organized. Pick out of few of the guidelines that resonate with you, and put them into place. Then, keep coming back to the list, adding more of the suggestions to your everyday life, and see what a difference it makes.

A – Art Supplies  

For those of you with children, as well as for many creative adults, art supplies seem to multiply exponentially and quickly overwhelm. To combat this, buy simple containers, buckets or baskets to keep your art supplies organized. Pitch dried paints, random scraps of paper and other old and unusable items. Do this a few times a year, perhaps seasonally, to keep your art supply stash from getting out of hand.    

B – Basement  

Tackling your basement might seem like a daunting task if this area has become a catch-all place for your extra belongings. But if you start with one shelf, corner or box, and then work your way around the room, before you know it, you’ll have sorted through the entire space. Not only will you potentially rediscover some old gems, you will likely identify many unwanted, unneeded things that are just taking up space, and can be purged. Once your basement is organized, prevent clutter from creeping back in by scheduling intermittent times throughout the year for maintenance.

C – Calendar

Whether electronic, paper, white board, or some combination thereof, it is important to have a calendar system that works for you and your family. Use it to keep track of all of your activities and events, and to help family members know what’s coming up on the schedule. If your current calendar system does not do a reliably good job of this, search for a new one that better fits your style and needs. Organizing your time is just as important as organizing your belongings.

D – Desk 

Desks often become a bit of a dumping ground. Papers to file, packages to return, letters to reply to, and dozens of other miscellaneous items end up on top of and inside our desks. Many products exist to help with desk organization, from drawer dividers to pen holders, from paper trays to filing systems. Identify the products that would best fit your needs based on your desk space and the types of items that tend to accumulate there, and use them to keep your desk area tidy. (Look for a future blog from me on this topic – it’s an important one!)

E – Electronics

We all have old electronics lurking about that we think we might “need” someday, but with technology changing so fast, it’s better to pull them all out and donate or discard the ones you no longer use. For electronic equipment that cannot be donated, find a place in your area that accepts e-waste to prevent it from going straight to the landfill.

F – Files

Filing papers is one of the most common challenges among my clients. If you don’t already have a filing system in place, set one up now! Find a drawer or buy a filing box. Label file folders for all the paper categories you have: bills, banking, taxes, receipts, medical, manuals, etc. Then get in the habit of filing your papers as you receive them or, at a minimum, create a bin or basket for your to-be-filed items, and make a point to go through it and file your papers at least weekly.

G – Grocery List 

There are many ways to manage your grocery list, but using an app that helps you keep track of the items you need to purchase can be a great help. Organizing your grocery list on your phone can save you both time and money. When you pop into a grocery store, you’ll always have your list with you, so you won’t forget what it is you are after. You’re also more likely to buy only what you need, and buy less of what you don’t need. There are a variety of family-share grocery apps out there to explore. Check out your options, and pick one that’s a good fit for you.

H – Household Chores

Getting household chores done is more easily accomplished when there is a plan in place, and when it involves all family members, including children. Organize your household chores by listing and assigning them on a wall calendar, white board or cork board for all to see. By participating in household chores, your children will not only learn some responsibility, but will also develop good habits around tidying up. It will also go a long way in helping you keep your home organized while they are living under your roof.

I – Internet Bookmarks

Organizing your Internet bookmarks may not seem all that important, but over time so many accumulate on our devices that it really makes sense to devote some time to cleaning up your online bookmarks and getting them organized into folders. Doing this (on all your devices) will pay off in both time savings and reduced frustration as you search for your favorite sites.

J – Jewelry

There are so many fun storage options for jewelry: leather cases, clear containers, wall hangers, standing jewelry trees, etc. Treat yourself to a storage container that works for the types and amount of jewelry in your collection, and beautifully store (and display) your baubles in a way that enables you to find them easily, prevents them from becoming a tangled mess and ensures you’ll use them all.

K – Kitchen

Having an organized kitchen is a game changer for so many of my clients. I have a lot of thoughts on kitchen organization – too many to list here – but if the kitchen is one of those rooms where you struggle with organization and clutter control, you can go here to read my post on kitchen organization. (While the post focuses on organizing your kitchen for the holidays, the strategies discussed can be applied any time of year.) Organizing a whole kitchen is a big task, but doing so will not only enable you to save time and money in the long run, it will also make spending time in your kitchen more pleasurable.

L – Laundry

Laundry is one of those tasks you never completely catch up on, and can quickly become overwhelming. The best strategy is to designate certain days of the week for tackling the laundry, and then stick with it. Since the volume of laundry will vary depending on your family size, there is no one-size-fits-all system for staying on top of this task. To prevent running out of clean clothes, or becoming overtaken by laundry piles, create a laundry schedule that works for the volume of dirty clothes, towels and sheets your household generates, and then adhere to it.

M – Manuals

Instruction and owner’s manuals … we all have them. Hopefully you are already storing them together in a file or drawer. If not, start by creating a specific “home” for your manuals. Then, once a year pull them out, sort through them, and discard those you no longer need. Another option is to scan your manuals and save them electronically in an online folder. If you choose this option, scan them as you get them, and be sure to go through the files periodically and delete the outdated ones. Keeping manuals organized means you’ll be able to quickly access the one you need the minute you need it (when something breaks!).

N – New Purchases

Ridding yourself of excess stuff is a big part of getting organized. Don’t sabotage your efforts by replacing your purged goods with new clutter. Be mindful of the new purchases you make. When buying something new, ask yourself if you really need it. Think about where it will be kept in your home. What value will it add to your life? Will it be forgotten in six months or a year from now? Obviously, not all purchases warrant the same amount of consideration, but at least some thought should be given to even small purchases and their likelihood of becoming clutter.

O – Old Clothes

If it is stained, torn or doesn’t fit, it’s time for it to go. Sure, you might one day fit into something that right now is too small, but then again, you may not. Does your self-esteem really need the constant reminder that you are no longer the size of certain clothes in your closet? Donate the too-small clothes, and look forward to treating yourself to some new outfits when you reach your goal weight.  The same goes for clothes that are too big. Keeping them around “in case you need them” sets up the expectation for weight gain. No one needs that. Free up your closet space for clothes you can enjoy now and will actually wear!

P – Piles 

No one is completely immune from piles in their home, but having too many piles that stick around too long is problematic. Piles can be comprised of almost anything – papers, books, clothes, shoes, tools, miscellany, etc. You may think creating a pile is a form of organizing, and to a certain extent it is, if there is a purpose and a plan for the pile. However, if a pile is not intentional, and there is no timeline for addressing it, then it is just clutter. Look for the piles around your home, and start eliminating them. Put things where they belong. If something does not yet have a specific place to go, create a logical home for it. Once you get through your existing piles, be vigilant about promptly tending to any new piles as they start to form.

Q – Quick Clean Up

Adding a quick clean up to your morning or evening routine can really help keep you organized. Spend five to ten minutes putting things away each morning or evening, whichever your preference, to stay on top of the clutter that inevitably starts to gather – by the door, on kitchen counters, in the bathroom, along bedroom floors, etc. Get your kids and spouse involved. Have them take a few minutes to tidy their areas as you tend to yours. This little bit of day-to-day tidying will go a long way in helping you maintain an organized home.

R – Reading Materials 

The reading materials I am referring to here consist of magazines, newsletters, printed articles and the like. Take a look at the various types of reading materials you have lying around your home. Is your magazine rack overflowing with years of back issues? Do you have stacks of printouts scattered about that you keep telling yourself you’ll get around to reading someday? Take a few minutes for a reality check. Do you see yourself catching up on this reading anytime soon? If not, get rid of those old magazines, holding onto only the most recent issues. Grab all those printed materials you’ve been saving up, and read them or get rid of them. Don’t let reading materials you don’t have time for hang around and clutter your home.

S – Shoes

As with clothes, I think it’s important to be somewhat ruthless when it comes to shoes. Once they’re scuffed, torn or misshapen, toss them. If they haven’t been worn in a year or two, even if they are still in good shape, donate them. Take the time to look through your shoes at the end of each season and purge those that no longer serve you. Shoes can also be awkward to store, so getting rid of the excess often frees up a surprising amount of space.

T – Toys

Toys present their own unique organizing challenges. For those with children, it can seem as though the influx of new play things never stops. If you’ve been following my blog, you already know that my top recommendation for dealing with toys is to control the amount of them you allow in your home by applying the “One In, One Out” rule (i.e. your child gets a toy, your child gives up a toy). Doing so will keep the toy volume from escalating, and make toy storage and organization so much easier. You can read more from me about the One In, One Out toy rule here.

U – Under the Bed

That opening under the bed tends to be a great hideaway for all kinds of things. It is certainly a space I encourage my clients to utilize when organizing their homes … so long as what is stored there is done so sensibly and deliberately. This space should not be used as a spot to mindlessly shove belongings you don’t know what to do with otherwise. Go check out what’s under your bed. Pull everything out and go through it. Rid yourself of things you don’t want or need any longer. Determine what properly belongs under there, and what would be better housed elsewhere. Do this every year or two to keep your under-the-bed area under control.

V – Valuables

The valuables I am talking about here are those items you don’t want, need or love, but are holding onto because of their perceived worth. If the only reason you are keeping something in your home is because you think it might be worth something, you are simply wasting space and encouraging clutter. If you don’t want it in your home, but you don’t want to just give it away, find out its value and sell it. If you’d rather not deal with the hassle of selling it, then go ahead and donate it or give it away … even if it is worth something. You are not doing yourself any favors keeping things around you do not want.

W – Wires

Technology develops so quickly these days it’s time to admit that most of the wires and plugs you’ve collected over the years for various devices are obsolete. Purging your wire collection won’t take that long, and by getting rid of the useless wires, you’ll be able to more easily find the ones you need when you need them. As with electronic equipment, there are places that take e-waste, so you can recycle your old wires instead of throwing them in the trash.

X – Xmas decorations 

Xmas, short for Christmas, is commonly celebrated with a wealth of decorations that come out once a year, and need to be stored the rest of the time. There are many storage options out there geared specifically toward holiday decorations, from ornament holders to wreath bags. Invest in some of these specialty containers to protect and preserve your decorations. Also, take some time each year to purge the holiday items you no longer care about. Do the same for the decorations you put out for other holidays; store them well, and purge the excess annually.

Y – Yard

Clutter isn’t confined to just your home’s interior. Yards and storage sheds collect clutter just the same. Flower pots, yard tools, outdoor toys, bikes, as well as a random assortment of indoor items that mysteriously migrate outside, are just a few examples of things that clutter the exterior of many homes. As with the stuff inside your home, these items should be sorted through, cleaned out, and then properly stored or given away. Fall or Winter are good times for organizing your outdoor spaces, and will set you up with a clutter free exterior come Spring.

 Z – Zones

Set up “zones” in areas of your home where certain types of tasks typically take place.  A “drop zone” near your main entryway would include designated spots for your keys, wallet/purse, backpacks, jackets and shoes. A “bill pay zone” would hold your checkbook, pens, envelopes, stamps, and your laptop (for digital transactions). A “homework zone” would have pencils, erasers, paper, rulers, scissors, glue, etc. … you get the idea. Create “zones” that make sense for you and your family. It will help make your daily life more efficient and frustration free.

Organization is a continuous journey, something you have to work at every day. But, with the right strategies and a little effort, it can become an easier process for anyone. I hope this A-to-Z guide helps you break down some of these more common organizing tasks into manageable steps. Let me know how many of these twenty-six tips you are able to complete this year. And, as always, please reach out to me if there is any area of your life I can assist you in getting organized. I’m here to help!