Clutter-busting habits make all the difference between a messy home and a tidy one. So the first thing a professional organiser does is find a place for every single thing – then keep it there. This doesn’t mean purchasing sets of matching bins or decanting all your pantry foods into clear glass containers with hand-printed labels. Rule of thumb, if an organisational system (like decanting) actually increases the time and effort you’ll have to spend keeping things tidy, ditch it.
Instead of assuming you must always alphabetise for easy access, try storing things by frequency of use. For example, those nesting mixing bowls that you frequently reach for should be kept on a low shelf and that crystal vase that you break out every Valentine’s Day should go higher up. This goes for smaller things like spices, too. “I never alphabetise my spices, because I don’t use allspice as often as I use thyme,” explains workplace productivity expert Susie Hayman.
Speaking of spices, Vicki Norris, organising expert and “life reclaimist” of Restoring Order tells us she never co-mingles sweet and savoury spices on the same shelf. Why? Because “on a bleary-eyed morning, no one wants to accidentally put chilli powder in their oatmeal instead of cinnamon!”
To avoid letting unused things pile up, Tamah Vega of Tamah Vega Design has a rule we can all get on board with, “Never go without a donation bag in the house ready for items you no longer need.” This way the minute you decide you’re ready to donate the item, you can have it ready to go.
After downloading a file, Andrew Mellen, author of Unstuff Your Life! immediately renames it and saves it in the appropriate folder. This way you avoid wasting time trying to remember its name or where to look for it next time you need it.
“I deal with it all as soon as I get it,” explains Jessica Dolan, owner of Room to Breathe. She sorts, tosses and shreds junk mail, then immediately deals with whatever remains. Better yet, eliminate junk mail before it even gets to you.
Move items – like those books to return to the library or returns you are taking back to the store – from house to your car trunk immediately, shares Amy Trager, certified professional organiser. “If they’re already in my car, I’m more likely to get them taken care of,” she says. Keep car clutter to a minimum too and you’ll always have room to store.
Once you have made a decision to replace an item, let the original go, suggests Birdie with Birdie Brennan Custom Closets & Organising. Her rule, “never keep something that you have replaced.” That’s especially true for tech items you’ve upgraded – learn how to recycle or donate your outdated devices.
Instead of storing reusable bags in the house, Sheryl Hadley, president of Organisation & Relocation, puts them right back in her car after every use. This way you won’t forget them when you go to the store and you won’t have a messy pile of bags cluttering up your house. Win win.
When you switch handbags, empty the current one out completely, Vega advises. Otherwise, you might lose track of your favourite lipstick – or that licence or credit card that never made it back into your wallet.
“I never leave clothes lying or draped on the floor, chair, bed or treadmill,” says Betsy Fein, president of Clutterbusters. They can get wrinkled, coated in pet hair, or simply forgotten about when not stored properly. If you need space to hang gently used clothes for another wearing, try installing a few hooks on the back of your closet door.
Keep your bedroom clutter-free for a good night’s sleep. “I never clutter a nightstand because it’s next to where I sleep, and I need peaceful surroundings to get the best night’s rest,” says Ellen Delap, a certified professional organiser.
When you’re preparing to organise an area of your home, don’t make buying organising products the first thing you do, says professional organiser Jodi Granok. Shop for an organising solution only after you’ve edited down and know how many and what size containers you need – or whether you already have one you can re-use.
“Never purchase a new organising bin just because the current one is full,” says Colleen Ashe, certified professional organiser. Make space in the current container by paring down what’s inside.
One thing most of us don’t need help with is acquiring more stuff, so leave room for that eventuality. “Leave some room to grow in your cabinets, bins, drawers and shelves,” suggests Granok. Otherwise, you’ll outgrow your storage containers, find yourself storing stuff in random spots, and you’ll never be able to find things when you need them.
“I never buy anything unless I know where it’s going to live in my home,” says Standolyn Robertson, certified professional organiser and owner of Things in Place. This goes for everything from that new juicer you want to that item of clothing you’ve been eyeing. This rule of thumb will help you “buy one, let go of one” and avoid the problem of having something new and nowhere to store it.
“Never put unlabelled cables in a drawer or box,” says Sharon Lowenheim, a certified professional organiser. You’ll have no idea what devices they belong to when you come across them later.
If you buy in bulk, take the individual items out of the giant bag. “Never leave bulk items, such as protein bars and snack foods, in large packages,” advises Laura Leist, author of Eliminate Chaos: The 10-Step Process to Organise Your Home & Life. She places often-used items into bins in the pantry for easy access.
One sure way to get your day off to a bad start is to wake up to a pile of dirty dishes in the morning, says Gayle Goddard, certified professional organiser. Deal with the dishes before you go to bed, because “a spotless sink sets the tone for your house – and your day,” she says.
Don’t keep things that are past their prime; it could be unsafe to use them. This includes expired food, expired home goods, like batteries, and expired personal care items, says John Trosko, founder of OrganizingLA. This goes for expired medications, too.
Never toss things in a drawer without dividers. “By using dividers you’ll know what and how many you have,” says Kathi Burns, certified professional organiser of Add Space To Your Life. “This also saves you from going overboard buying excess items you already own but cannot find.” The dividers don’t have to be fancy – upcycled shoe boxes will do the trick.
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