Every year on December 26th, I inevitably feel the same way. I feel suffocated by all the STUFF we have in our house. We already have too much, and then Santa and grandparents bring even MORE stuff, and we are left bursting at the seams. This feeling, coupled by the kids being home from school, usually means a serious cleaning and purging in each room of the house. My poor children. They just want to play with their new Nintendo 3DS, and instead I have them sorting and purging their t-shirt drawers.
January is the perfect time to organize. It’s cold outside, your calendar is wide open, and it’s the season of fresh starts. A new year means brand new planners, new year’s resolutions, and lofty exercise goals. It’s like we all get a do-over.
Just in case one of your New Year’s resolutions is to get organized, I wanted to share the process I go through EVERY single time I work with clients and in my own home. It’s always the same 8 steps.
It usually takes 3-4 hours to organize a space, so make sure you’ve blocked off a good chunk of time so that you can start and FINISH a space. If you don’t have that kind of time, then start with one drawer. The process will remain the same.
Step 1: Take Everything Out
Yep. Everything. Take everything out of the space first. Use the floor, bed, or table to place items.
Step 2: Sort Like Things
As you take items out of the space, start sorting like things together. If you are organizing a playroom, think in broad categories like Vehicles, Pretend Play, Crafts, Games, Dolls, etc. Gather up the toys from all the rooms in your house so you can fully see what you have. The same is true for closets. If you are cleaning out your closet, but have shoes or jackets in other places, be sure to collect them all in one place as you are sorting like things.
This step is extremely helpful, because once you’ve put all of the same items together, it’s more obvious which ones to keep and which to toss.
Step 3: Purge into Categories
This is by far, the hardest step. Once your items are grouped together, touch EVERY item and force yourself to make a decision. Marie Kondo, author of the best selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, suggests asking the question, “Does it spark joy?” It’s a good question to ask. Does it make you happy? Or does it make you feel guilty because someone gave it you and you feel a responsibility to keep it? Or do you feel bad getting rid of it because you remember how much you spent buying it? Ultimately, you must trust your gut and keep only the things you love or need.
If you really can’t decide, have a “Maybe” box and keep it stored in your basement or garage for a year with a future date written on it. If you don’t use it by that date, then donate the box.
If you decide to get rid of the item, use bags, boxes, or laundry baskets with signs on them for “Consign,” “Donate,” “Give Away,” and “Move.” Marie Kondo also suggests saying “Thank you” to each item for its service to you. This may sound a little corny, but it does help you release things that may be hard to part with, knowing they’ve served you well and can now find a new happy home.
CONSIGN– Consignment stores are selective, so if it’s out of season or dated, you are better off donating it. They also usually limit you to a certain number of items to drop off so call ahead for their policy. For furniture, you can email the consignment store a photo and they will let you know if they will accept it or not. Most consignment stores donate your items after 60-90 days, and it’s up to you to check back for payment. There are several online consignment sites like ThredUp.com where you can mail in your clothing and they pay for shipping. For children’s items, I’ve found local seasonal consignment sales to be a great way to sell clothing and gear.
DONATE– You can take donation items to local charities or schedule pick-ups online. I have a list of resources on my website here. It always makes me feel better knowing my unwanted items will be given to those in need.
GIVE AWAY– Ask yourself if it’s worth the effort to give away the items. If you have a specific person in mind and will be seeing them soon, it may be worth it. Just make sure you won’t be burdening the other person by passing on your items.
MOVE– It’s tempting to want to immediately put back items that belong in another room of the house (anything to avoid the purging process!!), but simply put them in the “Move” box and you can do it all at once at the end.
I suggest putting the Consign and Donate boxes directly in your car at the end of your organization session and schedule a time to drop it off in the next week.
Step 4: Clean the Space
Now that everything is out of your space, take the time to give it a thorough cleaning. Wipe out all the drawers, dust, vacuum, etc.
Step 5: Reflect & Strategize
Before you put everything back, stop, reflect, and come up with a strategy for where things should go that makes sense for your natural habits. I suggest organizing in stations. Group everything you need for one task together. For example, in the kitchen, have a coffee station where you have your coffee, filters, sugar, sweeteners and mugs—everything you need for your morning cup of coffee. In your closet, have a dry cleaning station where you keep a pair of scissors to cut off tags, a box for receipts, and a trashcan for the plastic. In your playroom, have an arts and crafts station with blank paper, art supplies, wipes, and activity mats all together in one place.
Step 6: Put Things Away
Once you have a plan, start putting things back in the space. Find temporary containers from around your house to keep similar items grouped together.
Step 7: Make a Shopping List
Notice this wasn’t Step 1. Too often people buy cute containers to get organized before they clean out a space. This is a mistake. You should only buy exactly what you need to organize a space, and you won’t know what you need until after you get it all sorted. I always feel like going shopping is the reward for putting in the hard work of organizing the space.
Once everything is sorted and put away in your space, make a list of items you need to buy and go shopping! In January, Home Goods, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls are stocked with tons of great containers to get organized. The Container Store and Amazon are other great resources.
I’m very picky about organization containers. I prefer clear containers, and ones that you can reach into. And no lids! Believe it or not, the extra steps of having to take out a container, take off the lid, put in your item, put back on the lid, and then put the container away is just too much work! Inevitably, you’ll just leave the item on top of the container. Am I right? Instead, use stacking reach-in containers like these so putting things away is effortless.
This is especially true with kids. Cloth bins look neater than clear bins and give your space that “Pinterest Perfect” look, but if toys are out of sight, they are out of mind. Your kids won’t play with their toys nearly as often and they won’t be as easy to clean up. If you insist on using cloth bins, then be sure to print out labels with photos or images of the toys inside.
Step 8: Install New Products and LABEL!!!
Once you’ve gone shopping, install the products in your space and be sure to add labels!! This essential step is often overlooked. Not only does it help you to maintain a space, it helps every other member of your family as well. Once playroom bins are labeled, children, parents, babysitters, and grandparents can all help keep that space clean. Label everything! There are many fancy label makers out there, but this one is my go-to label maker and the refills are cheaper on Amazon than in the stores.
Bonus Step: Do a Happy Dance
You did it! Pat yourself on the back, do a little happy dance, and step back to soak in the transformation of your space. You can now breathe a sigh of relief every time you enter your space. It feels so good, and will inspire you to tackle other areas of your home.
Often people have emotional or mental blocks with certain areas of their home. They’ve tried several times to get a space organized, but it keeps falling into disarray. If that’s the case for you, consider hiring a professional organizer. It really helps to have someone tackle the space with you and to give you a fresh set of eyes on how to re-organize it for your natural habits. Ultimately, the goal is to have organized spaces that you can maintain throughout the year. You will feel infinitely better when you finally get the space cleared out and under control.
If you are interested in hiring me to help you get organized, you can read about the process and my services here. Organizing can feel overwhelming, so if the above steps feel too stressful for you, give me a call and we’ll do it together!
Home Organization Challenges
If you are up for the challenge of getting organized on your own, but would like a plan to stay on track, check out these great websites:
40 Week Whole Home Challenge by Organize 365
2016 Home Organization 14 Week Challenge by A Bowl Full of Lemons
The Home Organization 30 Day Detox by Clean and Scentsible
May you have a Happy and Organized New Year!
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