Tip 1: Purge Perennially
To really stay on top of the organizing game, constantly get rid of your unwanteds.
- In the living room and other high-traffic spaces, it's what you see first that counts. "Make sure the room's focal point, whether it's the fireplace mantel, a console or a coffee table, is the least cluttered area," says Jennifer Ford Berry, author of Organize Now! 12 Month Home & Activity Planner (Betterway Home). Keep surfaces pared down by limiting what you display to only a few items.
- Make laundry day a time to discard stretched-out T-shirts, mismatched socks and threadbare linens.
- Take stock of utensils and other kitchen paraphernalia each time you unload the dishwasher, Berry says. If you find you have multiples—more than two can openers or potato mashers, say—keep one on hand, store the duplicate and donate the rest.
- Toss clothes you no longer want or that don't fit into a bin in the corner of your closet. "Do this on a regular basis," says organizing expert and founder of simplify101.com Aby Garvey. "When it's full, take the container to Goodwill."
Tip 2: Enforce Term Limits
If you haven't used it or seen it in a year, give it away.
Tip 3: Group Like Items
Storing similar objects in the same place eliminates the thinking part of tidying up. There's no more hunting for the perfect spot to put something—or racking your brain for where you stashed it the last time.
- Arrange garments in your closet by type, fabric weight and color—you'll save time getting dressed in the morning and have a more accurate idea of what you need (and what you don't) the next time you're out shopping.
- It's easy to lose track of what you don't use often. "Pick one central location for things like batteries, lightbulbs and candles," Garvey says. The same rule applies to cables, cords and attachments for your family's various electronic devices.
- In the bathroom, divide products into categories—cosmetics, hairstyling tools, nail care and hygiene—so that you can easily grab the item you need.
- Arrange your favorite things—a small cluster of vases or a short stack of art books—by kind or color.
Tip 4: Choose the Right Containers
Finding the ideal storage solution for each job is half the battle.
- "Uniform canvas storage bins in neutral hues are stylish for children of any age," says Garvey. "And you can add labels so the kids know where to put their toys and games."
- Mount hooks and pegs on a wall in the garage to keep unwieldy, odd-shaped items off the floor, and stock up on opaque, watertight plastic bins for the rest. "Most of the stuff you keep there you don't really want displayed," Garvey says.
- Straighten up kitchen cabinets by transferring dry goods like pastas and cereals to clear plastic or glass food-storage containers. Square and rectangular shapes work better than circular or oval ones—they're easier to stack and fit better in tight cabinet corners, says State College, Pennsylvania-based organizing expert Jessica Dolan.
Tip 5: Get Rolling
Adding casters to under-bed storage boxes, sliding drawers to kitchen cabinets, and a lazy Susan under the bathroom sink makes hard-to-reach areas more accessible, functional and manageable.
Tip 6: Create a Place for Everything
What doesn't have a home is either going to get lost or end up as a mess.
Tip 7: Prioritize Proximity
Make clutter control a convenience, not an ordeal. Your kid is more likely to hang up his jacket if there's a hook on the wall just inside the door.
- "Organize kitchen cupboard space according to what appliance is nearest," says Berry. Cooking utensils, spices and baking pans stay close to the oven, plastic tubs for leftovers near the fridge, and everyday plates and glassware near the dishwasher for speedier unloading.
- A linen closet is great—but storing sheets near the bed often makes better sense. Sliding under-bed drawers or an old-fashioned cedar chest means blankets and all are at the ready.
- Stow cleaning supplies for the tub and sink in an out-of-the-way spot in the bathroom rather than, say, down the hall. That goes for the kitchen, too. "It's easier to do quick touch-ups, and you're less likely to leave sponges lying about," says Garvey.
Tip 8: Set Up a Way Station in Every Room
A catchall basket under a console in the entry or on a kitchen counter can help keep day-to-day clutter in check.
- Place a large shallow bowl or tray on a table in the front hall for keys and change and a bigger basket nearby for library books or rental DVDs awaiting return. "This is your family's launch pad," says Berry. "There should be a central place for all the stuff they'll need to take with them for the day."
- A stack of storage crates or a sturdy tote on a hook by the back door can hold items like sporting equipment, sunblock or gardening gloves before they end up tossed onto the dining room table or the living room floor.
- Kitchen countertops can be magnets for unopened mail, school papers and food-delivery menus. "Don't fight it," Garvey says, "Just file it." An upright bin with vertical slots posted near the room's entryway lets you tame the daily influx—and sort it by what pieces need attention first.
Tip 9: Embrace Filing
It's not just for old tax returns—a sturdy expandable file can work wonders in every room.
- Stash shopping lists, recipes clipped from magazines and party-planning ideas in an expandable folder or portable file box in a kitchen cabinet or drawer.
- Equip your utility room with a file for organizing warranties, user manuals and receipts for appliances and other big-ticket items.
- Store iron-on patches, hem tape and ribbons and trims between dividers in files that you keep in the laundry or craft room.
Tip 10: Start with a Clean Slate
The best way to pare down a decorative display, bookshelf or closet is to remove all the items first, then put back only the ones you love most.
Retrain Your Brain
It's the way we emotionally, and often irrationally, think about paring down possessions. Here, Peter Walsh of Extreme Clutter on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network identifies and dispels five decluttering conundrums.
1. I just don't know where to begin.
Start small—10 minutes of organizing a day adds up to over an hour by week's end.
2. This will be valuable someday.
If it'll be priceless in time, it should be worth money now. Why not sell it?
3. I spent so much on this item.
You can't get the cash back, but you can create a pleasant, clutter-free space.
4. It reminds me of someone special.
You can keep the memory alive long after letting go of the object.
5. I just don't have enough room.
Renovations aside, your home's size never changes. You need to reduce the amount of stuff you bring into it and get rid of excess.
Storage nesting baskets, $34/set of 2, available at wisteria.com
Originally published in the January 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.
Organizing Your Home
Watch our video series for organizing and creating storage in your bathroom, hall closet, kitchen or kids` room.