To Get Organized, Stand Up to Your Stuff
Start small and make peace with what you do and don’t want to keep. You’ll feel empowered.
During my 15 years as a professional organizer, I worked with clients who dreaded sorting through closets overflowing with ill-fitting clothing and file cabinets groaning under the weight of outdated documents.
I knew they could sort through boxes and clear out garages on their own. Still, they sought direction and moral support when their confidence continued to shrink along with their storage space. Without someone beside them to provide guidance, they were convinced the piles would continue to grow.
By taking the time to sort through what you own, you'll clear not only your living space but also your mind.
Getting organized is still a common concern, but there are other options besides relying on someone to work with you in person. Instead, you can schedule one-on-one online sessions with an organizing professional in a different state or country, learn streamlining strategies through YouTube videos and tune into organizing shows for inspiration.
You don't have to live in a sterile environment with clear countertops and empty bookcases, but there are ways to keep meaningful and useful possessions that fit your style and how you live. By taking the time to sort through what you own, you'll clear not only your living space but also your mind. Start with these tips.
Consider Why You Can't Let Go
"Some people think they need to hold onto an item because it helps them retain a memory related to it, or they have some type of responsibility for this item to make sure that it gets good use," says Naama Hofman, a clinical psychologist in New York. Keeping something you rarely or never use out of obligation or the belief that you "may need it someday" turns a possession into a burden.
Hofman suggests asking What is the worst thing that would happen if you gave something away? or Why do you think you need this? or Why is it difficult to let it go? A solid strategy: identify what you value in life.
"Let's say you value being part of a community," she says. "Think about what you can contribute to others out of all your possessions." Resources like Buy Nothing and Nextdoor simplify the donation process.
Start with Baby Steps
Organizing your home in one day is not only unrealistic but an overwhelming project. Cas Aarssen, host of HGTV's "Hot Mess House," suggests taking a large trash bag and setting a five-minute timer. Within that time, challenge yourself to gather twenty-one items you no longer use. Don't be surprised if, after five minutes, you're motivated to keep going. Setting a start and end time will make the task seem more manageable.
Organizing your home in one day is not only unrealistic but an overwhelming project.
But where do you begin? Aarssen recommends the bedroom, as it's the first space you see in the morning. The goal is to make the room a calm, peaceful place free of clutter.
Treat your organizing sessions like any other appointment, and block out a specific time — a three to four hour segment is reasonable. Use boxes labeled Keep, Donate and Recycle, and a bag for trash. This system makes the process simple and can minimize distractions. Otherwise, the minute you leave one room to return something to another, you'll likely lose focus and your motivation to continue your organizing project.
Don't Be Bullied By What You Own
"I would love for people to see decluttering and organization as part of self-care and self-growth," says Aarssen. By going through your belongings, you're standing up to things in your home that you're only keeping out of guilt and shame. "Every time you look at clothes that don't fit, they're telling you that you need to lose weight," she says. "They're bullying you." This applies to other items you may not use: your treadmill, weights, and anything else making you feel you're not enough.
Load Up and Take Out
After each session, my clients were excited and, at times, anxious about what they had tossed into the donate and recycle boxes, even more so about the trash bags. To ensure they didn't reconsider their decisions and restock their home with the castaways, I took everything with me when I left, except for what they wanted to keep. Later, I sent my client the donation receipt.
Aarssen says that during the past 13 years as a professional organizer, not one of her clients has contacted her to let her know they regret throwing away or donating anything.
Aarssen says that during the past 13 years as a professional organizer, not one of her clients has contacted her to let her know they regret throwing away or donating anything. "If you haven't used it in a year, get rid of it," she advises.
Don't Rush to Buy Organizing Products
When you're getting ready to tackle the project, the natural inclination is to stock up on plastic containers, hanging shelves and storage boxes. Instead of solving the problem of where to store what you own, you're providing more places to house things you don't need. After most sessions, my clients were surprised to see a collection of empty bins and other products they were convinced would solve their storage problems but instead created more issues.
A better option: Before you buy more containers to hold what you don't need and will never use, sort through what you own and watch your pile of empty containers grow.
Stop Fighting Your Natural Organizing Style
There is no one-size-fits-all method for controlling clutter, but there are ways to work with your organizing style rather than fight against it. If you're not an out-of-sight, out-of-mind person, add open shelving and clear bins or containers labeled with the contents. If you prefer to keep things out of sight, add cabinet doors with labeled containers inside.
If you're what I call a "bouncing ball," keep what you use often near where you'll use it. Otherwise, when you need something, you may get sidetracked on the way, and when you finally make it back to where you started, you realize you forgot to grab what you needed.
A note regarding junk drawers: Everyone needs one.
A note regarding junk drawers: Everyone needs one. The caveat — use dividers to separate the miscellaneous contents and make them easy to find. And no matter your style, store similar items together, so you're not engaging in a scavenger hunt when you need extra batteries or a pair of scissors.
Be Picky About Who You Ask To Help
Before rummaging through your things, looking for cast-offs and keepers, consider enlisting a friend. But there's a catch. If the person you select has trouble parting with their own stuff, find someone else. If not, within the first few minutes, they'll convince you to hold onto more than you'd like.
Instead, search for help online. YouTube offers thousands ofhow-to videos to organize virtually any room in your home. The National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO) provides a directory of organizers worldwide available for online sessions.
You Can Do This
Before Aarssen's first season on HGTV, she planned to work with various clients in person. Then the pandemic hit. The backup plan was to give the families GoPro cameras and film themselves following her advice.
While the premise of online organizing could have failed, she was thrilled with the success. People completed the "homework" she gave them: clear the laundry room of clothes, wade through loads of toys and handle other tasks. "They developed the skills and confidence that they could do this on their own," she says.
Spring is the ideal time to take back your space and take control over what you own. By adopting these simple strategies and setting up systems that fit your organizing style, you can transform your home into a place where you'll enjoy spending time.
"The empowerment that comes from decluttering and organization is more life-changing than you realize," says Aarssen.