6 tips for getting organized this year

One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to get organized. Organized in your home, in life, on your calendar, and in your finances. So many people feel disheveled and disorganized in every area of their lives — and when you can’t see the trees from the forest, you’re easily overwhelmed.

That’s why my absolute best tip for getting organized is this: do just a little at a time.

Just like you eat an elephant one bite at a time, so, too, do you organize your life one day at a time, one thing at a time. If you feel disorganized, you didn’t get that way overnight. So don’t expect to get organized overnight. Or even in one week.

I’m honored that Mandi of Organizing Your Way asked me to contribute to her 31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010. Each day, a blogger is sharing his or her ideas about a specific topic related to improving your life and setting goals for the year. So today’s goal — getting organized.

31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010: Get Organized

Here are a few additional tips for tackling that organizing project on your list.

1. Think about the why behind the what.

Let’s say that one spot in your kitchen gets the brunt of the paperwork, and more often than not, you see more piles in that space than counter. I have one of those spots. Why is that? Is it because it’s easy to access? Is it in a central location in the home?

Mull over some of the psychology behind your decisions as well. Do you toss your bills in a desk drawer as they come in, only to find them three weeks past their due date? Maybe you’re scared to face your finances. Perhaps you’re dealing with some guilt.

Get your journal, and write down the areas in your life you want to organize. Be specific — don’t just write “the house,” write “the kids’ craft cabinet,” or “under the bathroom counter.”

Then, write some of the reasons why you think these areas are the most disorganized in your life. Tackle the reasons behind your disorganization, not just the disorganization.

2. Involve other people.

Tackling an organizing project with your spouse or kids is more fun, it holds you accountable to finishing it, and there’s a better chance the organized space will last longer (who wants to be responsible for screwing up a group project?).

But if your family is reticent, approach a friend about keeping you accountable, while doing the same for her organizing to-do list. Together, set a date for tackling your individual tasks, and when you’re done, celebrate with a coffee date.

3. Don’t wait for perfection.

Photo from The Container Store

I drool over organizing supplies — perfectly matched labels, canvas boxes in seasonal colors, divider trays for every possible supply. But these things are expensive. In fact, they can become just more stuff to hold your stuff.

You don’t need fancy equipment to get organized, so don’t wait until you can afford them. Reuse glass jars to house pantry items. Washed yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese containers are great for craft supplies. Cardboard file boxes work well for clothes out of season. Cover them in scrapbook paper, if you want them to look pretty.

4. If in doubt, throw it out.

I am not a hoarder. In fact, I tend to veer the other direction — I’d rather get rid of something and have to buy it again than hold on to it for years for no apparent reason.

If you’re hemming and hawing over something, there’s a good chance you don’t need it. Put it in your “donate” box, and see how you feel. If, a few hours later, you’re regretting that decision, get it out — no big loss. But if it feels good to get rid of one less thing in your home, then you’re good to go.

Always have a “maybe” box in your home. If you’re not sure whether you need something, put it there (and put the box out of sight). If you haven’t retrieved the item in six months, you don’t need it. Out it goes.

5. Expect organization to be part of your life.

Photo by Angus Stewart

It’s disappointing to spend a week organizing a closet, only to find it disheveled in three months. If you’re not careful, it could make you not bother organizing at all.

Accept the fact that managing a home means organizing it regularly. It gets easier and faster the more you do it, because you’ll keep less stuff and you’ll recall where things are. So don’t be discouraged when you organize. Again.

6. Use helpful resources.

Okay, so it has to be said — I wrote an e-book about organizing and decluttering your home in about ten days. It’s not written to be your final organizing approach to your life; it’s simply a motivator to jump start your more organized life with a ten day home overhaul. Check it out.

Organizing Your Way is an excellent blog with practical, down-to-earth tips on organizing. You’ll be inspired by Mandi’s great ideas.  Read more of her thoughts today on getting organized for 2010.

Keep “perfection” magazines to a minimum. I love flipping through Real Simple as much as the next gal, but those photos aren’t real. They’re designed and staged by stylists who are assigned projects to showcase advertisers’ products. It’s fun to look at, but don’t fool yourself into thinking those photos should be your organizing goal.

That said, keep an idea book going with both decorating and organizing ideas you like. Whether they’re from a magazine, a blog, or just a picture you’ve sketched, it’s easier to apply these ideas when you can find them in one place (and it’ll help you declutter your magazine stash!). A simple binder with clear sleeves for paper works well.

Is organizing one of your New Year’s goals? What’s the area in your life you find most difficult to organize?

top photo source
Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. I have just started organising our junk room. We move often, and many times the boxes in there aren’t even unpacked between moves. It’s all seasonal stuff we must keep, but don’t use that often. The ones I do bother to unpack and shelve, the removalists always repack in such a random way that it is totally disheartening to start again every two years.
    So, solution? A whole bunch of large plastic boxes with wheels. They are big enough that the removalists won’t have to pack them in a bigger box, small enough to be a useful size for sorting, and easy to label (I made cute chalboard tags). Now, hopefully, I will Never Have To Unpack Them Ever Again! Unless I actually need the contents, of course.
    My biggest tip for sorting is to only touch everything ONCE. Put it in the right place the first time. And folowing on from this, when you start getting that lazy/tired/sick of it feeling, the one that makes you go “awww, I’ll just chuck that here and deal with it later”, then stop! Have a break, start again when you are fresh.
    .-= The Accidental Housewife´s last blog ..Christmas Fairy =-.

  2. Organizing is always an important topic for me. One goal for me this year is “buying less” and I hope this will help to minimize the chaos!
    .-= Micha´s last blog ..Craft from your stash 2010 =-.

  3. I love your recommendation about determining the reason WHY an area is disorganized. There’s a difference between neat and organized. Too often I’ll just make an area “neat” only to see it get cluttered again. If I consider the “why” I’m much more likely to organize it in a way that makes sense and STAYS tidy.

    .-= The Secret Life of Kat´s last blog ..How To Create An Awesome Morning Routine =-.

  4. I used to love many of those “simple living” magazines, but after I while it started to frustrate me that the items promoted for simplicity often seemed to cost hundreds of dollars! =) Oh, the irony.

    I don’t read those anymore–not good for my mental health. (But I don’t mind flipping through them now and again in the checkout line!!)

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Thoughts on Blogging =-.

  5. Organizing and throwing old stuff away has always been a huge challenge for me. I can always think of 101 ways I could use my old junk in the future. I have to admit that my husband is much better at it. In fact – sometimes he is too good – and often throws out stuff that I still need.
    .-= Joanna @ Green Smoothies Power´s last blog ..How to Prepare Delicious Green Smoothies That Your Whole Family Will Love =-.

  6. Steadymom–LOL, when I first picked up a copy of Real Simple, I remember struggling to find anything in there about simple living.

    Anyway, last year I read “The Clutter Cure.” All through the book the author challenges you to figure out why you’re hoarding what you’re hoarding (back to Tsh’s first point). I’ve always been great at organizing, but have been particularly challenged by the addition of our son to our home!

    Now, I often challenge myself: “Why am I keeping this again? Could I store it in a different way/place?” Asking myself these questions keeps the house from falling into complete shambles.
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Global Warming? Where??!! =-.

  7. I’m currently running a playoff football style cleaning/organizing event on my blog. Baby steps and 15 minutes/day – 4days/week. I always love a good before and after, with little to no cost involved. Progress is so motivating.

    Tsh, I love your advice on keeping perfection and magazines to a minimum. Anyone can organize with a lot of cash – it’s more fun to do it on the cheap 🙂

  8. Yes yes yes! Organize with what you have — don’t wait around until you can afford the coolest gadgets or furnishings. I am finally learning this lesson and am much happier because of it. My teenager and I recently cleaned up our sewing area, and it is very neat and organized — and we didn’t spend a dime! We used things we already had around the house — little baskets, jars bound for the recycling bin — and made the best of the space we had, with what we had. What a cheap thrill!! 🙂
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..Vintage, Thrifted, and Handmade: All In One! =-.

  9. Organize your things and organize your data. These are GREAT tips for organizing your things. http://www.AboutOne.com is coming to help organize ALL of life’s data too: Health, Finances, Education, Career, Important Documents and Receipts, children’s milestones and special moments and so much more.

    Tsh and others – Check it out and tell us what you think! We would love your thoughts both good and bad as we continue on our quest to Organize your Life!
    .-= Organizing Life’s Data ´s last blog ..How can I sign up for AboutOne? =-.

  10. YES! Organizing is DEFINITELY a part of my New Years mess. Thank you so much for this inspiration!! I’m off to print off some of your scheduling stuff now…

  11. Waiting for perfection is my biggest block. I keep thinking if I just wait until I have …. then I can get things done.
    .-= Summer´s last blog ..Turning Me Off At The Tap =-.

  12. WOW! I love this… I really need to get organized. That is my goal this year. I just did a post about organizing and will link to this page for sure. Check out this wonderful free printable goal list. I’m a visual person, so when I write it down it helps me actually do it:-)

    Looking forward to seeing you at BlissDom!
    .-= Amy ´s last blog ..I’m Speaking at BlissDom =-.

  13. Perfection is definitely my biggest hang-up. I want all the perfect containers!
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..What do you call it? =-.

  14. Great, perfect tips. I agree with you 100%. Especially the part about “not waiting for perfect”. It just ain’t gonna happen, you know? This is such a hard lesson for me.

    I have decided to work on getting my pantry a bit more organized. I started yesterday by buying a small 2-drawer wire shelving unit to handle my “extra” spice pile (the ones that I dont use often enough to put them into my spice rack). That one small change made a big difference,

    It truly is one step at a time.
    .-= Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last blog ..A “Wicked” Confession, or: a reminder that I’m far from perfect =-.

  15. Thank you, thank you for that beautiful picture of the craft room with the wall shelves. That is exactly what I have been wanting to do for my children’s room, but instead of a sewing machine table it will be a desk. So glad you include the link to the photo’s origins. I am heading to the Container Store next. Thanks!
    .-= Jennifer Tankersley´s last blog ..list of ways to celebrate a new year =-.

  16. Love the advice to stop looking at the pretty magazines. I stopped a while ago. They just made me dissatisfied with what I have–as I guess they are meant to. It made me want a “look” instead of thinking about what our house and our family needed. I don’t look at catalogs anymore either!
    .-= nopinkhere´s last blog ..Gotchya! =-.

  17. I’m a big fan of reusing simple materials instead of buying new “tools” to help you organize. Chance are you arleady have some thing in your house. In this recent post – http://ourzones.blogspot.com/2010/01/in-closet-again.html – I reused some baskets from my daughters infant years to hold snacks in our pantry, I repurposed a utility cabinet in to a baking center, and even am using those old baby food jars to hold spices bought in bulk. I’m hoping to get some shelves soon and use the spices to add some color to the wall.

    Thanks for the inspiration!
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..Financial Check-up: January 2010 =-.

  18. Getting organized is the hardest part! My wife runs circles around me in that department. I envy her ability to organize and stay focused.

    John R. Carlisle
    .-= John R. Carlisle´s last blog ..John R Carlisle =-.

  19. Great ideas, thanks for sharing. When we finish our 8 year remodeling project will you come help organize all my stuff I haven’t seen in 8 years? It will be just like Christmas all over again~
    .-= Linda´s last blog ..Endangered Species Chocolates =-.

  20. My organization skills seem to come and go. Keeping up with it after I have it organized is an issue for me. I’ll have an area looking great, then one week later it’s in the same state as before. I really like your first tip of thinking of the “why” behind the what. That is definetly something I need to do. Thanks!

  21. If we’re not to beat ourselves up because we haven’t attained perfection, then why does this cool website always post cool pictures that depict… perfection?

    Just askin’…

    • Well, the photo from The Container Store is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. As in, don’t let this photo be your goal. Other than that, though, I do my best to have photos that aren’t necessarily perfect. Sorry if I’ve sent mixed messages in the past…
      .-= Tsh´s last blog ..6 Tips for Getting Organized this Year =-.

  22. My best buy ever was a small electric shredder. It was truly amazing to me how much unnecessary paper I had in the house.
    Having shredded my way through many large bin-bags’ worth of paper it was very rewarding to drop it all off at the recycling centre. I then changed all my statements (bank, power, phone, etc) to online and this has also made an enormous difference to the clutter coming into the house.
    I put a “No Junk Mail” sign on the letterbox, and voila! no more junk mail.
    Once all the drawers and drawers and drawers of paper were eliminated, it has made the entire house easier to keep clutter-free. Not sure how that works, but it has.

  23. I used to organize everything for everyone in our family… I had my finger in every pie!!! But as our family has expanded I have learnt to let go and let others join in the organizing. A great life-lesson for me. It doesn’t have to be my way for things to function. Everyone has a unique style and something to contribute. It took a while for me to learn this, but we are all better for it!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Fabulous Friday Fun – The First!!! =-.

  24. Keeping the clothes and toys organised has always been my biggest challenge in the house. Hopefully this year it will be less of a challenge for me as I attempt to work on getting the kids more involved in keeping the house neat and tidy.

  25. Biggest challenge? My husband’s ‘workshop’. But wait, this isn’t my domain, is it? 😉

    I need a plan to help inspire him to get it ship shape!!
    .-= Aimee´s last blog ..Foodie Facebook: Cheri =-.

  26. What a great post! And I loved the photo at the top. To me, it was very inspiring – even though I know my drawer would never look like that. I like the idea of eating the elephant one bit at a time. I often think of peeling an onion layer by layer. If I can peel off one layer today – that is good! Each time I will work on peeling one layer and slowly but surely I *will* become organized (like you!:)) I agree that once you begin the process – things will need to be reorganized but every time you have to do it again it will be a little easier. Thanks for your thoughtful and substantive posts.

  27. So many good tips in here. I am bookmarking your blog for future reference!

    Taking a little time each day, not looking for perfection, using what you have…

    I love the no junk mail on the mailbox idea – I think I’ll make the sign today.

    Thank you! I look forward to reading more.
    .-= Tami´s last blog ..Yoga+Music365 (day9) – The Reminder by Feist =-.

  28. TSH, how would you address the issue of not everyone in the household (spouse, children) following the set organization?

    I tend to be more detail-oriented (and have a greater desire for organization) than my husband. He honestly will put something “back” wherever is most convenient in that moment, even if he has moved to an entirely different room with said item. I can set up an sensible organization system as many times and in as many places as I want, but I can’t control other users of the system(s), children included, who can essentially sabotage my efforts. This makes me want to just give up and think, “What’s the point?” Beyond teaching and reteaching other household members, do you have any suggestions?

  29. Thanks so much! I am an organizational disaster but I intend on working on that this year!

  30. I’m feeling so awful about holding on stuff. In my parents house, we allways saved something for later because it might be useful for something. That was resourceful then because we had very little money. In my adult life, when I already had my family with two children, we lost 2 times practically all our possessions and we had to work very, very hard to rebuild our life and home again, twice! Now I have difficulties letting go of things, I’m not exactly a hoarder but in some areas I’m dangerously close. I know that this problem is rather of psychological nature but I really don’t know how to handle it…help!

  31. Yasmine, coming from a family that had money problems growing up, I can tend to hoard things too – “just in case.” Several things that have worked for me are: the belief that there is someone worse off than me out there who could really use this one thing and would really appreciate it; the belief that spiritually we receive so much when we give; and the idea of peeling an onion – every little bit (or layer peeled) is good. For some reason, focusing on giving just a few things away (or one bag) at a time was easier for me. And, the more I do it, the easier it becomes, and the lighter I feel. I think you may feel more content when you realize that you really didn’t need those things you gave away. There is a freedom in that realization.

  32. If in doubt, throw it out, is great advice. Today I had a conversation with a 25+ year old who is languishing over throwing out her stuffed animals. I suggested that she keep her very favorite and photograph the rest. She’ll have the memory of them and can freely give them away. She liked the idea.

  33. A young friend of mine, 25-something, was lamenting today that she has to part with her many stuffed animals. She’s growing up and running out of room. But it is a difficult choice. They all hold memories. She liked the suggestion I made. Keep the most important one and take photos of all the rest. Then give them away to children that you know or to Goodwill where they will have a happy home.

  34. Very nice site,they publish many tips about blogging. and by the help of this site that I must organize my goal this year .

  35. Thanks for sharing this post to us. This is really informative about organizing the things at your house. I am planning to organized some of or clothes on Saturday, glad that I found this post! 😉

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