Home Organization: A Beginner's Guide
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You weren’t born with home organizing skills. Your personality might lean away, or towards, the aspect of being an organized person, but if your caregivers weren’t into the art and science of home organizing while you lived with them, chances are you could use some brushing up on how to maintain a solid level of home efficiency and sleep better at night, free from the worry and embarrassment that stems from having too much stuff.
Add to the lack of education the psychology of why people tolerate cluttered homes, and it becomes apparent why so many people struggle. Here are a few common reasons why letting go is so difficult.
- Sentimental value is attached to everything, and getting rid of an item means you don’t care about the person who gave it to you.
- The expectation of the home’s optimal cleanliness level is too high, so overwhelm and then avoidance sets in.
- Buying stuff is a way to show your family you care, even if they don’t need it or have somewhere to put it.
- Clutter is an avoidance technique to hide from life’s drudgery, like paying bills and scheduling appointments.
Strategies to Start Organizing Your Home
Start with a Quiz to Find Your Organization Style
Everyone has their own style preference organization, and you just might know what it is! But if you’ve tried and failed using organization systems suggested by friends and family, choose an individualized quiz to help put you on the right track.
Pick a Date for Motivation
After dipping into the psychology as to the “whys” of a cluttered home and then choosing an organization style that fits your personality, finding the motivation for starting the work is the next hurdle most wanna-be-organizers trip over.
If the big dream of a clean, clear house that offers peace of mind is just too abstract, nail down a concrete reason. Often these reasons are date or event-oriented, such as, “In three months, my family will be staying for the holidays,” or “My 40th birthday is next month and I want to celebrate with a new bedroom set. But first, I have to clean out the bedroom and closet.”
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What Bothers You the Most? Start There.
Are you constantly searching for your keys? Is the mudroom overrun with everything except mud? Each home has at least one pain point for clutter. For some people, entire rooms may be the culprit, with the overflowing contents hidden by a closed door.
Sometimes the snowball effect has amazing motivation powers. A cleaned out junk drawer leads to organized kitchen cabinets, followed by a revamped pantry. Pretty soon, an overhauled kitchen is the result.
A little room to breathe opens when you tackle the tasks that make life hard to manage. You’ll save so much time knowing your keys are by the door in the pretty bowl you picked up during a cherished vacation.
Enlist the Whole Family's Help
You likely don’t live alone, and you likely don’t create all of the mess in the entire house. Organization is a skill to be learned, and children of all ages can contribute to the cleanup. Age-appropriate chores like sorting toys and books are perfect for younger elementary school kids, while removing old or unwanted clothing is appropriate for tweens and teens.
This is also a great opportunity to reinforce the virtues of charitable giving and community. The idea that another family will love, in addition to need, your household items is a compelling reason to organize and donate.
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Popular DIY Organization Methods
The 4 Box Method
It’s as easy as it sounds. Label four boxes clearly with:
- Put Away
- Give Away
- Throw Away
Admittedly, the Undecided box is tricky to navigate. The intention is to house the item for the assigned time, so you can come back and think about its final destination once more.
Sometimes the time frame is 30 minutes, and other times, owners just can’t make a decision even after a month goes by. An added benefit of this method is that the whole system moves room to room throughout the house and makes easy work of each.
One in and One Out
This method is exceptionally popular for those who prefer to live minimally or in small spaces—for instance, you bring in one pair of shoes, an old pair goes out. This is by no means one of the easiest methods, but it is crucial to maintain a clean environment for those in tiny homes or small apartments. The silver lining of this strict method is the potential to save on extraneous shopping. You likely won’t give up an item you love to purchase something new.
Read Customize Apartments and Other Small Spaces for Everyday Comfort for more information on living in a small home.
The 12-12-12 Challenge
Joshua Becker’s method for avoiding clutter simply says to find 12 items to throw away, 12 to donate, and 12 to be returned to their proper storage space. His method is maintaining popularity, because it is simple to do in each room and can be repeated as many times as necessary. It’s also a good way to maintain an already organized home before the scene goes awry.
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Green Ways to Donate and Recycle
Often, the thought of adding to a landfill or contributing to the demise of the environment is a roadblock for those hoping to organize their home. Don’t let these socially conscious ideas prevent you from living in a happy, healthy home. Take a look at some of the options for green disposal.
Buy Nothing Project: “Give Where You Live” is the group’s motto. Simply offer your community what you have and watch the takers line up. You’ll be amazed by the generosity of your neighbors.
Recycle at Best Buy: Electronics, appliances, and fitness equipment are all welcome at Best Buy. They handle many types of used technology. It doesn’t matter where you bought it, or when.
Crayola ColorCycle: Remember when we said kids can help clean? Turn over their old, dried out markers back to Crayola for recycling. Watch for the program’s reinstatement at your local school.
Green Drop: A scheduled pick up of clothing placed on your doorstep ensures charities such as the Military Order Purple Heart Service Foundation, American Red Cross, and the National Federation of the Blind continue to receive much-needed funding.
Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD): The EPA’s arm of responsible recycling tackles the big stuff such as refrigerators and air conditioning units that contain harmful chemicals. Schedule an appointment for a pick up at home and you might be offered an incentive for recycling the correct way.
If, after a significant purge, part of your trouble is your house is truly lacking square footage and you have items that just don’t fit, hello military gear, more storage space could be a legitimate solution.
Check out How to Create More Storage Space in Your home for tips.
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Hiring a Professional Organizer
At this point, if none of the previous suggestions hit home and you’re more overwhelmed than ever, trained professionals are waiting for your call. They’ve designed an entire business around cleaning, organizing, and purging. They thrive in chaos and want to help you find peace at home.
Melissa Rogers is a professional organizer and military spouse, so you know her skills are strong. Not only does she help clients organize their homes, but she prepares her clients for an impending PCS. She understands that meeting with an organizer is intimidating and possibly embarrassing, so she wrote a blog about what to expect when you work with her.
“The first step to working with a professional organizer always starts with a phone consultation. Having someone you’ve never met in your home can be awkward. Even though I am completely non-judgmental, many clients are embarrassed or ashamed about their homes. Chatting on the phone first can serve as an ice-breaker, and relieves some of that anxiety before moving on to the next step. Usually, this conversation is about 30 minutes.”
After determining if, together, you are the perfect duo to take on the project, Melissa goes on to say,
“Just like how no two clients are the same, no two organizing plans are the same. Based on our conversation, I determine where we will start, what we will work on first, and the logistics of sorting, storing, and discarding. I’ll also start formulating a plan on how we will store items at the end. This design can always be tweaked and should be adjusted as we move along in the organizing process.”
This description of the meet and greet process should ease any trepidation about hiring professional help. To find a professional organizer in your area, contact one of these organizations.
Home websites such as Angie’s List and Home Advisor are also top choices, but referrals from friends and family are strongly recommended, as the personal connection is a factor that sets one organizer apart from another.
Understanding why you enjoy too much stuff and learning multiple ways to manage the quantities are important steps for conquering clutter. Use the above suggestions to begin to craft a personalized system. And, if you need help, hire a professional or enlist a supportive friend. The clarity and freedom an organized home offers are well worth your time investment.
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