13+ Secrets Personal Organizers Would Never Tell You for Free

Industry experts reveal the dirty details to help keep your home organized and clean.

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Create 5 piles.

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When you’re organizing, you should sort everything into five piles: move to another room, donate, give to a specific person, throw away, and, finally, the “marinating” pile. Pack up the marinating items, and label the box with a date that’s six months to a year later. If you never open the box before that date, you can safely discard those items.

To make an organizing project go faster:

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Create rules about what you’re keeping and what you’re discarding. In your closet, for example, you can decide to give away any clothing that’s not between size x and size y, that’s stained, or that needs to be repaired. With periodicals, you can decide not to keep anything that’s more than a year old.

It will always take you at least five times longer

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to sort through a box of personal papers than you think it will.

Avoid lids...

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...on laundry baskets, bins, and other containers. They just make it harder to put things away. For other items, I’m a huge fan of clear sweater boxes. Not only do they hold sweaters in your closet, but they’re perfect for holding beans, rice, and pasta in your pantry, Legos in your playroom, the stuff you collect at trade shows, and more. They fit on almost any shelf in any home and can hold most of the stuff in your house. I order them by the case.

Your goal should be to remove the clutter, not create more storage space.

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People who think they’re disorganized always run out and start buying baskets, containers and hooks. You come home and try to use them, and they’re not the right type or size, because you didn’t sort through your stuff first. That’s just backward. All those new containers just end up adding to your clutter.

The number one problem for all my clients? Too much paper.

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The whole idea of a paperless society is a complete myth. People are seriously scared to get rid of it. Remember, 80 percent of the paper you get you don’t need to keep. So it’s imperative to keep weeding out every single day, whether that's magazines, catalogs, mail, receipts, or anything else.

Are you holding on to a big piece of the past?

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If you’re keeping something that doesn’t fit in your home for sentimental reasons—say, Aunt Jenny’s blue recliner or Grandma’s chandelier—recognize it’s the memory you cherish, not the item. Then take a picture of it and give it away to someone who actually has space for it who will love it. That said, if you really love that paperweight collection, grandma’s old photographs, or that heirloom quilt, why are you letting them get ruined, moldy, or eaten by moths in cardboard boxes in the attic? Honor your favorite keepsakes by getting them out and displaying them.

Sure, you could sell that item on eBay.

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But are you interested in finishing your organizing project or starting a new career hocking used stuff? Unless you sell online all the time or need the money, I recommend just giving things away so you can move on.

Watch out for flat surfaces...

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...which can quickly become drop zones for clutter. When my clients have a dining table that is always getting covered with junk, I’ll have them clear it off, put a flower arrangement in the middle, and set it with place settings. That usually prevents them from parking stuff there.

Anything that needs to go somewhere should be in your car...

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...not in your house. Keep your coupons there in a clear folder so you have them if you need them. Get an errand basket to hold items that need to be returned. Use crates to store kids’ toys and emergency supplies. Also, a car trash bag is a simple thing—get one!

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