How to Organize a Home

Stumped about how to organize a home and make sense of your stuff? An organizing expert offers insight into the best ways to manage your spaces.


Take a poll of most homeowners, and they probably have a drawer, a closet, or a room that needs organizing. But many people get stuck. Why are they always looking for their keys, and what should they do with their towels and toys? There's a few insights into how to organize a home that might help, expert Julie Morgenstern says.

Do you really need to learn how to organize your home?

Some homeowners, says Morgenstern, author of SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, suffer from a lack of organization, while others need to declutter. "There's a difference between the two, but most people conflate them," Morgenstern says.

 

In a nutshell, organizing is about improving and streamlining access to what you use and love. "It's really about systems that make us efficient," she says. "It's finding what we need when we need it. So, you know what you want, but you don't know how to get there."

 

A well-organized home means that you'll be able to find your gloves and scarf in winter and won't misplace those essential school papers. It doesn't, however, mean casting off all but the essentials. "You can organize without getting rid of anything," Morgenstern says.

 

Decluttering, on the other hand, is about identifying what's obsolete and releasing it to make space for change, Morgenstern says. Many people can stay well organized but still accumulate too much stuff. "There are lots of people who are organized but need to declutter," says Morgenstern. "It suddenly feels like you have too much. Every surface is wheezing under the weight, so you feel bogged down by your space."

Identify the problem

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Before you begin thinking how to organize your home, single out what you really need to do. Do you have what you love and want to hang on to, but aren't sure how to access it when you need it? Or, do you find yourself drowning in a sea of clothes, toys, papers, books, and more?

If organizing your home is the problem, break it into categories Morgenstern says. Do you need to conquer your clothes, your pantry, your shoes, or something else? "We have these pocket areas that tend to over accumulate," Morgenstern says -- bathrooms and linen closets to name two. Then, look for products -- a key hook inside the front door, baskets for toys and clothes, closet systems -- to help streamline your routine.

Figure out next steps

If you've decide that you need to both organize and declutter your home, there are several steps to take.

 

  • Decide what you're making room for. This, Morgenstern says, is your theme. "What are you trying to make space for? What's your intention?" This may include tangible or intangible experiences -- piece of mind, creativity, space for family connections. That's your payoff.
  • Define your "treasure" criteria. Treasures are what you absolutely must keep, but that can be hard for people trying to figure out how to organize a home. Ask yourself, "If all this were gone tomorrow, what would I miss?" Morgenstern says. Put your treasure criteria in a visible location. "If you think of what's valuable before you dive in, it speeds up sorting significantly," Morgenstern says.
  • Figure out where all the discards go. Have separate boxes -- give away, throw away, or something else -- at the ready.
  • Establish the value of time versus stuff. Organizing a home can feel like an endless task. That's why Morgenstern advocates figuring in advance how much time you are going to spend. "You have to decide how much time of your life it is worth going through the stuff compared to other things you want to spend time on," she says. "It's easy to get lost in the dig and start slowing down. But don't forget, the micro minutes that you spend trying to find something in an overstuffed closet or cabinet adds up. "You will gain back in an uncluttered environment with a nice organized system," Morgenstern says.
  • Get over your hurdles. When you get stuck over whether something is treasure worthy ask yourself: What is worth more to me, this object or the space for whatever the payoff is? Put another way: Is this the best version of one of these that I have? That applies to items such as kids artwork or mementos especially.
  • Remember: Stuff may signify something else. Sometimes we hang onto stuff because of goals we think we have, or visions of ourselves that we once had. "Things can weigh you down," Morgenstern says. "I think everything we hang onto that we aren't using represents an attachment -- to an old belief system, another time in our lives, an unresolved goal -- that we are struggling to release." For example, is your bedroom in a state of disarray because you're always promising yourself that you will redo it? "Ask yourself if there's another way to achieve that goal," Morgenstern says. The solution may be to toss the stack of old magazines, purchase new sheets, and dress up a side table. "What you are trying to do is lighten the quantity of stuff to create open space, energy, and clarity, to imagine your next step," Morgenstern says. "You're trading tangible clutter for intangible rewards."
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