Getting organized is a little like dieting. There are a lot of ways to accomplish the goal, and some systems work better for some than others. Ellen keeps herself on the straight and narrow by hiring a weekly cleaning service. It forces her to tidy up, clear off the tabletops, and scoop up the piles on the floor on a regular basis so that the cleaning service can actually get in there to dust and vacuum. Jane, a single working mother, devised a ten-minute-a-day system knowing she doesn't have huge chunks of time to devote to organization. Then there's Mindy, who always thought she had to de-clutter her whole house all at once. She says she didn't sign onto the “one area at a time” approach until she was so overwhelmed that it was the only way possible to handle her situation. And it worked.
There are, however, some basic habits everyone can adopt that will make a big difference. Think in terms of economy of motion and time. Take off your coat and hang it up in one fell swoop. Undress near your closet so that you automatically hang up your pants instead of tossing them on the bed. When you open your mail, read it and decide if it should be torn and trashed or filed right then and there. And then do it. Keep trash containers handy so there's no excuse to let unwanted things lie around. Sure, you have to allow for life's realities, but a good rule of thumb is to deal with something once. And remind yourself to take an inventory of your changing needs from time to time. Dispose of the items that no longer fit your lifestyle.
Organization has to be based on the personality, environment, habits, and usage of the individual or household. A one-size-fits-all solution won't work. Trying to force-fit answers may work for a while, but sooner or later, anything forced is doomed to fail. Make sure your clutter-busting solutions fit your lifestyle.
A Place for Everything
Another important ground rule? Never buy anything unless you have a place to put it. One newly purchased painting was designated for duty in the communal storage bin of a condo complex after the homeowner was unable to find the wall space on which to hang it. Another individual bought a mahogany antique icebox thinking she could convert it into a funky bar for her den. Turns out the icebox didn't fit in the den. But it does fit in her unfinished basement, where's it been collecting dust ever since. And that goes for storage containers, too. Ariane Benefit says disorganized people tend to have more organizing products than their shipshape counterparts. The containers actually add to the clutter problem because they were purchased without a specific purpose in mind. Plan first, buy second.
What works? What doesn't? Every item needs a home, and the home must suit the need. For instance, things you use every day should be stored in accessible and intuitive places. Toothpaste in the medicine cabinet is a no-brainer. But what about your house keys? Is searching for them part of your morning out-the-door routine? That's because you haven't designated a permanent and appropriate spot for them, which, in this case, would be on a hook or in a drawer right by the door. Similarly, there are times when people see an open space in a drawer or cabinet and find it impossible to resist filling it with items that don't belong. They'll put photographs in a night-table drawer or toys in a home office closet. That only starts the snowball effect of creating a storage nightmare. Take a look around your rooms, and you'll discover this is where many clutter problems originate.
A Family Affair
Take a holistic approach to organizing your home. Involve each family member in the planning and process. Make sure everyone knows the end goal and what is expected of him or her. Start with a needs assessment. Who does what in which room? Do you need to carve out a crafts area? A play zone? A quiet zone for homework? A makeshift home office? How will the rooms have to be rejiggered to support these various activities? Put a budget together for shelves, bins, and other storage supplies. Then, get everyone's input and buy-in to the plan. When family members understand how integral they are to the endeavor and the benefits they'll reap, you'll have taken a major step at the outset to reaching your goals.