Your Guide to Lifelong Organization

Stay organized -- one day at a time -- with our easy-to-follow checklist.

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Too much on your to-do list? The key to staying organized is developing good habits that will last for life; but when your lists get unmanageable it's easy to backslide. If you consistently find yourself tackling clutter, it's time to rethink your getting organized system. Expert organizer Karen Ussery says to ask yourself these seven questions before beginning any organizing project:

  1. What do I need to have a place for?

  2. Does it need to be within arm's reach, or can it be put away?

  3. What supplies will help me stay organized?

  4. How can I label clearly so I remember the organizers' functions?

  5. Is this the easiest way, or is there a simpler way to do the same thing?

  6. Do I like the way my system looks and functions?

  7. How will I remind myself to use my new system until it becomes a habit?

Once your system is in place, get help staying organized with our handy checklist. Professional organizer Candita Clayton of Your Life Organized makes it easy with manageable tasks for every day, week and month of the year. Whether you need daily motivation or a long-range plan, stick to this list and you'll keep clutter and disorganization at bay.

Stay Organized Checklist: Daily

Things we handle on a daily basis often build up into a disorganization nightmare: think mail, toiletries and those scraps of paper that never seem to have a home. Develop a daily, routine system to stop messes before they start.

Mail

  • Discard junk mail and shred credit card offers as soon as they enter the house.
  • Keep bills to be paid immediately in an accessible area that's still in sight.
  • File notices and other paperwork that needs to be addressed. Mark the due date clearly on each important piece.
  • Bring catalogs and magazines to a designated area to be enjoyed.

Keys and Personal Items

  • Return keys to the same spot every time you come home, whether it's a hook by the back door or a decorative bowl on a foyer table.
  • Designate a drawer or shelf as a home for purses and wallets, cell phones and chargers, sunglasses and loose change.

Housekeeping

  • Before bedtime, tidy up the rooms you'll use in the morning.
  • Get belongings ready and placed by the door for quick morning pick-up.
  • Run the dishwasher at night and empty in the a.m.
  • Straighten up the coffee table, side tables and any other clutter catch-alls.

Children's Paperwork

Implement a routine system that both you and your children can easily follow.

  • Sort through school papers, artwork, etc. Place the keepers in plastic containers immediately to avoid loose piles from forming.
  • Before bedtime, pack backpacks with books, homework and other school necessities. Place backpacks near the door to be easily located during the morning rush.
  • Plan the next day's outfit with your child, and lay it out before night-night.

Stay Organized Checklist: Weekly

Grocery Shopping and Meal Planning

  • Plan out the week's meals on Sunday afternoon and create a shopping list.
  • Designate a time for coupon clipping and commit to it. Recycle unused coupons.
  • Shop once a week for family meals, bringing your menu plan with you.

Family Schedules

  • Review the calendar for the week with other family members to ensure you have all appointments accounted for.

Laundry

  • Set up a routine schedule for dry cleaning. Many dry cleaners will pick up and deliver weekly; your office might offer a similar program.
  • Attempt to do as much washing, folding and ironing before the week begins. This will save time during the week.

Car

  • Remove trash, and organize must-haves for the car.
  • Find homes for everything that does not belong in your car.

Stay Organized: Monthly

Bill Paying

  • Pay bills once or twice a month or set up automatic payments for recurring bills such as the mortgage, utilities and credit cards.

Paperwork

  • File paid bills in an accordion folder or similar filing system.
  • Update your designated file for receipts pertaining to taxes and deductions.

Bulk Shopping

  • Make a bulk shopping trip. Buy household items such as paper goods, cleaning supplies and toiletries. Purchasing these standard items on a monthly basis will streamline weekly shopping.

Calendar

  • Review the calendar at the beginning of each month to plan for upcoming events or gift purchases.

Stay Organized Checklist: Quarterly

Clothing

  • Sort clothing and eliminate unworn items, items that don't fit or are out of style. Store, discard or donate as appropriate.
  • Purge children's outgrown clothing: donate or pass on.

Toys

  • Have a toy purging session with your children to eliminate items that are no longer age appropriate, as well as broken or unused toys.

Magazines and Catalogs

  • Review magazines and store the keepers in magazine boxes. Recycle the rest.
  • Go through catalog piles and other miscellaneous papers to determine the ones to file or to recycle.

Stay Organized Checklist: Yearly

Important Papers

  • Review records for filing your tax return.
  • Check with your accountant to confirm which documents you need to hold on to. The rule is usually the current year's return and the past six years. Keep the supporting documentation for deductions with each year's returns.
  • Shred or discard records older than seven years.
  • If you use financial software to manage your finances (such as Quickbooks) be sure to have a backup copy of these yearly transactions.
  • Discard credit card statements, utility bills and auto insurance bills if they don't directly pertain to tax deductions.

Garage

  • Organize tools, gardening and seasonal items.

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