Being organized offers a slew of benefits. It gives you peace of mind and saves you money, since “you can find and use what you own instead of buying more,” said Jamie Novak, author of several books on organizing, including The Get Organized Answer Book, 1000 Best Quick and Easy Time-Saving Strategies and 1000 Best Quick and Easy Organizing Secrets.
It also helps you stay connected to others. “When you’re disorganized you miss events and stop inviting people over your home.”
It helps you feel more confident and capable. And it saves you time, she said. A lot of it. In fact, “the average person wastes almost an hour a day searching for misplaced items like house keys, reading glasses and important pieces of paper.”
But you might already know that. What you might be less familiar with is how to actually stay organized, especially if you’re pressed for time (like most of us are).
Below you’ll find nine expert tips to help you start organizing your space and keep it organized.
1. Define what organization means for you.
There’s no one size fits all when it comes to organization. That’s why professional organizer Emily Wilska encourages clients to create their own definition of being organized, instead of adopting what they see in magazines, on TV or in other homes.
For instance, maybe your primary focus isn’t aesthetics but function, she said. Maybe you need a system that helps you get out the door quicker. Or you need an organized kitchen because you love to cook. Or you need organizational systems that are easy enough for your kids and spouse to maintain.
2. Start with what motivates you.
Starting is often the hardest part, so go with what’s motivating to you. For instance, some people are motivated by tackling the toughest task first, said Wilska, owner of The Organized Life and author of the book Organizing Your Home: Decluttering Solutions and Storage Ideas.
If that’s you, start with something that annoys you daily, such as the messy table in the hallway you pass on your way outside.
“Others might want an easy win to ease into a larger or more difficult project.” If that’s you, pick something that’s going to be meaningful but won’t take much time, she said. This might be cleaning out a junk drawer or organizing your mantle.
3. Create an organizing playlist.
“Music can get you moving,” so listening to a playlist can be motivating, Novak said. If you’re picking up for 10 minutes, that’s just two or three of your favorite songs, she said.
4. Create deadlines.
Deadlines are great motivators for filling at least one bag, Novak said. She suggested creating a deadline by calling a charity to pick up your donations or scheduling an appointment to drop them off.
5. Get it out of your house.
A critical part of the organizing process is dispersing whatever you don’t want, Wilska said. When you’re sorting and decide to get rid of something, get it out of the house, whether it’s into the recycling bin or to Goodwill, she said.
That’s because when you put it in the hall closet, you just watch “it get reabsorbed into that space [and] it can start to feel like why did I even bother?” Try dedicating 15 minutes a month for dropping things off, she said.
6. Avoid being a “weekend warrior.”
On TV we often see people devoting an entire weekend to organizing a room or years’ worth of clutter, Wilska said. The problem is that this “quickly becomes overwhelming and exhausting.”
And, if you don’t finish, you feel like you’ve wasted the whole weekend and the last thing you want to do is start cleaning again, she said. Instead, clean small areas in small chunks of 30 minutes to 3 hours tops.
7. Be mindful of new things.
“Every item we have in our space we have to give some time, attention, effort and energy to,” Wilska said. It’s easier to control what things come into our homes than to have to go through them, clean them, store them, make decisions on whether to keep them, and then eventually find another home for them, she said.
“A really crucial part of being organized over the long term is to develop a consciousness over what we continue to acquire.”
So the next time you’re getting ready to buy something, Wilska suggested asking yourself: “What’s the actual use I have for this item? Where is it going to go? Do I have something else that does the same thing?” Some people find it helpful to wait 24 hours before buying.
8. Have help.
It’s easier to start organizing and stick with it when you have someone keeping you accountable. Novak suggested seeking someone who’s also trying to get organized, such as a friend, colleague or neighbor.
“Set up a weekly time to connect by phone to tell each other what you’re going to work on … Check back with each other to confirm the project has been completed.”
9. Reward yourself.
A good way to maintain momentum when you’re organizing is to reward yourself, according to both experts.
Instead of rewarding yourself with things, such as a new gadget or pair of shoes, “do something nice and out of the ordinary,” Wilska said. This might mean going to lunch with a friend, hosting others at your home, buying fresh flowers or seeing a movie, she said.
Novak suggested other rewards such as getting coffee out or watching your favorite show.
If you do need new organizing gadgets, avoid getting them right away. Do the tough stuff of organizing first. Then use the gadgets as a reward after you’re done, Wilska said.