"Organizing" may make for fun Pinterest fodder, but for us folks back here in the real world, it's pretty much a four-letter word. Organizing sounds like a great idea in theory — especially while browsing hacks on the internet with a full glass of wine in hand. But without a solid plan in place — one made up of simplified organizing tips that can be used IRL — you're probably going to throw in the towel before the towel organizing is done.
We promise we've made this whole organizing thing easy on you. By using just one of these tips a week (just one!), you can keep your humble home de-cluttered for 52 weeks of the year. Doing the math, that means we've put together 52 real-world and real easy organizing tips to get you started.
Let's do this:
- Make lunches, set out clothes and put everything you need for the next day in a designated area the night before. Have kids pack homework and books in their backpacks to be ready for the next day.
- Place your purse, briefcase, cellphone and keys in a designated area every day so you always know where they are.
- Decide on a breakfast menu the night before. If the family is to have cereal, set out the cereal boxes, bowls and spoons.
- Make a to-do list for the next day and prioritize the tasks. Be sure to refer to it regularly.
- Fill the gas tank the day before so you won't have to worry about getting gas if you are running late the next morning.
- Create a morning family schedule and stick with it — no matter how much the kids and spouse complain. Having bathroom times for each family member or roommate can save you a good half hour of chaos each morning. Bonus points for laminating the schedule and posting it to the fridge.
- If you just can't get it together in the early hours, set all of the clocks 10 minutes ahead. This old-school trick really works.
- To organize countertop clutter, purchase a plastic tub with a handle on top. Place all of your accessories (such as hair spray and lotion) in the tub and place it under the counter. Take the tub out when you are ready to use it, and put it back under the counter when you are finished with it.
- To organize your bathtub/shower, place your soaps, body wash, shampoos and conditioners in shower caddies. Many different kinds of organizers are available at both discount and department stores — including those that hang from the shower head pipe and others that have several shelves attached to a long pole you put in the corner of the tub.
- To help keep your shower doors clean, buy a water squeegee (like you use on your windows) and keep it in the shower. When you are done taking a shower, just wipe down the doors with the squeegee for a clean and dry shower door. Many of the squeegees come with a hole in the handle, which is convenient for hanging it up in the shower with a suction cup.
- Install a simple magnetic strip in your medicine cabinet and hang tweezers, nail clippers and scissors from it.
- Store reading material in a decorative magazine rack. As you add new magazines, recycle or give away the older ones to keep the magazine rack from overflowing.
- Throw away old or unused items in your bathroom: makeup, lotions, old razors, sunscreen and perfume. Return old medications (including prescriptions) to your local pharmacy for safe disposal.
- If you are out of space in your bathroom cabinets for towels, roll them up and display them in a decorative basket next to the shower or bathtub.
- Install hooks on a wall or the back of your bathroom door for towels and robes.
- Use drawer organizers for makeup, jewelry, ponytail holders and other loose items. (Plastic silverware trays found in the kitchen aisle are inexpensive and fit the bill.)
- Place a shelving unit or étagère above the toilet for storing extra towels, washcloths and other accessories.
- Put a clock in each bathroom so there are no excuses for being late.
- Sort through, bag and donate anything you don't wear anymore to a local charity. This includes clothes that are no longer in fashion, no longer fit or you haven't worn in over a year. Also get rid of those worn-out and/or uncomfortable shoes you no longer wear.
- Separate your clothes by season. If you have a tall closet with several rows of hanging rods, place the current season's clothes on the lowest level, and move out-of-season clothes up to the tallest rods.
- Categorize your clothes by purpose: work, casual, cold- or hot-weather wear and formal.
- Gather all of your unused wire hangers (remember Joan Crawford!) and take them to the dry cleaners to recycle.
- Hang scarves on a hanger or scarf rack and belts and ties on hangers or racks.
- Use a shoe rack to keep shoes organized. Recycle old shoeboxes that clutter the floor. (If your closet is small, you don't need to keep every pair of shoes in your closet all year long either.)
- Install hooks on the closet wall to hang up hats, handbags and totes.
- Store clothes that you want to save in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag. These bags compress the clothing, making it much easier to fit under the bed or in a closet. Save only the clothes that you think will be worn.
Next Up: Kitchen
- Organize your cabinets into several categories, such as plates, glasses, plastic containers, kid plates and sippy cups. Place the plates on one shelf, the glasses on another, and so on. This way, when you empty the dishwasher, you or other family members will always know where everything goes.
- Group your foods together in the pantry — keeping like items together — for easy access and inventory assessment.
- Put all those mix packets (gravy, Jell-O, sauces) in a basket on a shelf.
- Buy a pretty spice rack that works best for your kitchen cabinets. Place frequently used spices on the front of the rack and all others toward the back — and alphabetize each set.
- Dedicate one cabinet or drawer to all of those plastic and Tupperware containers. Purchase stackable containers to maximize your space.
- Save your countertop space for items you use daily. Display only the cookbooks that you really use, and if possible, store your mixer/food processor, utensil holder, canister set, knife block, etc. in your pantry instead of on the counter.
- If you have a collection of clipped recipes that are filling drawers and taking up countertop space, purchase a three-ring binder in a color that matches your decor, plastic sheet protectors (to protect your recipes), paper and a set of dividers with tabs. Glue each recipe onto a piece of paper (use the front and back of each piece of paper) and then place into a sheet protector. Categorize recipes (breakfast, dessert, etc.), label the tabs, and place the recipes in the binder. An additional tip: If you buy a binder that has pockets, store clipped recipes that you want to try in the pockets before adding them to your collection. If you're willing to bring tech into your kitchen, you also might buy a recipe collection app (or even just notation apps like Evernote) and transfer your recipes to that.
- Reuse those mounds of plastic grocery bags at the market. You might save a nickel or so each at some stores, plus you'll cut down on waste. Better yet, try out some hip and handy reusable bags.
- Get into the habit of cleaning out your refrigerator every time you bring home groceries. Dispose of old or inedible food and anything your family's just not going to eat.
- Place a two-compartment hamper in your kids' rooms so they can sort light clothes from dark when undressing.
- String a clothesline across your child's room to clothespin up her favorite artwork.
- Hang a mesh hammock or fish net from the ceiling to store stuffed animals, dolls or action figures.
- Add a bookshelf and help your child organize all those books.
- Buy the kids their own alarm clocks (ideally with battery backup) and teach them how to be responsible for getting up on time. (Mom or Dad is always there for backup until they have it under control.)
- Make sure everything in your house has a place. Teach all family members to mind their own messes. For example, if you take it out, put it back; if you open it, close it; if you throw it down, pick it up; if you make a mess, clean it up; and so on.
- Put wastebaskets in every room and place several unused trash bags in the bottom of each one. This will eliminate countless trips to retrieve new trash bags and give all family members a place to throw away their trash.
- Place a decorative basket on the coffee table in which to keep remote controls.
- Use a plastic caddy (instead of shelf space) to store cleaning supplies, and simply tote it from room to room.
- Keep baskets or tubs in every room for fast toy pickup. For kids' outdoor toys, purchase a weatherproof, bench-style storage box. Gather all outdoor balls and store them in the garage in a large, mesh drawstring bag.
- Each night before bedtime, have all family members pick up clutter for 10 to 15 minutes. Make a game out of it and see who can pick up the most things in the shortest amount of time.
- Create a family message center on the refrigerator or in another prominent place and use it for shopping lists, reminders, calendars and phone messages.
- Make a master grocery list on your computer from a spreadsheet or Word document. Categorize the groceries into sections such as frozen, dairy and so on. In each category, list the items you buy most frequently. Organize the grocery list according to the way your favorite grocery store's aisles are set up. Print copies and keep one handy for the current week. When you see you are low on a product or when you're preparing your grocery list for the week, simply highlight the items you need. Keep the document current by adding new items and/or deleting items you no longer buy. Create a space on the page for miscellaneous items where your family members can write down what they need that is not on your regular list.
- Shopping the web beats hitting the brick-and-mortar stores, even for groceries. You'll avoid lines, traffic and lugging stuff home, and you can shop any time you like.
- Create an inbox on your desk for papers (bills, permission slips, etc.) that need your attention. Clear it out daily.
- Use one power strip (many can be mounted on a wall) as a home base for all of your rechargeable goodies: cellphones, cameras, music players, handheld video games, etc. You'll never have to hunt for an outlet or ask someone to call your phone to see where you left it.
- Do you have a lot of visually indistinct items, such as chargers for electronic items? Label them. You won't waste time looking for the right cord to charge the video camera, and when the scissors are left out on the table, you'll know who they belong to.
The goal of organizing isn't to make your home pristine, but rather to make your life more calm and functional. Work with the above ideas and you will end up with less clutter, a neater home, improved productivity and — most important of all — more quality time for yourself and your family.
Originally published Feb. 2008. Updated Aug. 2016.