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Quick Tips for Everyday Organization

Only have 15-30 minutes to spare each day? Try one of our 14 simple fixes to get a more organized home, fast!

1. Set Goals for Rooms

Make a room-by-room list of what you want to accomplish in the next eight weeks. A list for your family room, for example, could include alphabetizing video tapes, corralling magazines and designating a space for the remote. By jotting down goals for each room, you'll alleviate some of the pressure of accomplishing the tasks all at once. Plus, you'll have the satisfaction of checking off tasks as you complete them, a great motivator to keep going.

2. Define "Organization"

Organization means different things to different people. It might be a home where everything is accessible at your fingertips, but out of sight. Or, it might be a desk loaded with piles and stacks (organized, of course). Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from the Inside Out, www.juliemorgenstern.com, recommends asking yourself the following questions and putting the answers in writing:


  • What works in the room?

  • What doesn't work in the room?

  • What items are essential?

  • Why do I want to get organized?

  • What's the cause of my clutter?

Also, take a minute to sit down with other members of your household to find out what organization means to them. Discussing with your spouse and/or children will mean everybody gets to voice how they want the home to be collectively organized.

3. Find What Works for You

One of the biggest organizing mistakes is committing to a system that isn’t second nature to you. "You want to store things where you use them," says Julie. Designing a system around your natural habits makes it easier to maintain, she says. That's not to say you should continue with your messy, throwing clothes on the floor ways; rather, find ways to make your tendencies less messy. Stick with simple solutions you know you can commit to: throwing clothes in a readily available hamper, for example. Think through what you want to accomplish, then keep it simple and doable according to your habits.

4. Start Small

"The most important thing is to start small and start in the room you spend your most time, which is the opposite of the way most people approach it," says Julie. A professional organizer for 18 years, she says it takes a day to a day and a half to thoroughly organize a room. But if you "analyze and strategize before you attack," she says, you'll be less overwhelmed. Morgenstern recommends starting with the bathroom so you can practice on a smaller space.

5. Seek Professional Help

If the thought of organizing gives you an ulcer, a professional organizer might be in order. A professional can identify problems and solutions you might be unaware of, gently guiding you toward more organized systems and spaces for your home. The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) is a non-profit association with members across the country, many specializing in residential organization. Check its website, www.napo.net, and find a professional organizer near you.

6. Determine Where to Donate

Identify where you should donate all those clothes and unwanted items you'll be purging. Besides widely known charities, check local churches or consignment stores. Women's organizations usually seek office attire for women entering the workforce, while prom dress drives are great for your daughter's taking-up-space gown. Make some calls to find out where your items are most needed. Knowing they're off to a better place will help you to purge with a free conscious.

7. Minimize Interruptions

Just when you begin organizing your jewelry, the phone rings. And keeps ringing. Telemarketers and even family and friends can be a prime source of interruption in the evenings. When you want to get things done without being interrupted, set a night aside each week when family and friends know not to bug you, except for emergencies. As for the telemarketers, stick it to the man by registering your home and mobile phone with the National Do Not Call Registry www.donotcall.gov.

8. Uncover Your Fridge

Do you really need 15 magnets, or will five suffice? Unless your refrigerator is a design statement, it usually becomes a catch-all for mismatched magnets, emergency phone numbers and take-out menus. Clear everything off your fridge's façade and organize it by stacking ads, coupons and scraps of related papers in piles. If you keep phone numbers on your fridge, type or neatly print them on a single sheet. Things like doctor's appointment reminders should go in your planner, while coupons can be stored in a coupon book.

9. Toss Old Medicines

Take 10 minutes to sort through your over-the-counter and prescription medicines, throwing away any that are expired. You might want to relocate your medicines, too. Even though medicine cabinets are a logical place to store medications, capsules and tablets really should be stored in a moisture-free environment. Just be sure to store them out of reach from children. All medicines should be kept in their original containers, unless you’re using a pillbox when traveling.

10. Practice Early Morning Organization

If you dread organizing and have a hard time committing to it, try doing your organizing projects early in the morning. By spending just 30 minutes on a project before you go to work or drop the kids off at school, you'll be free to do things you really enjoy later in the day. It's also great for those days where everything seems to get in the way of your carefully scheduled plans.

11. Go On Receipt Duty

Receipts — what to do with them? They find their way in your wallet, your check book and your piles of bills stacking up on the kitchen counter. Gather them up and make a quick pass through, noting which payments have cleared and which are still pending. Get organized fast: Check ATM and bank receipts against your monthly bank statement; Purge grocery and clothing receipts if you have no problems with the products; Make a pact from now on to retain credit card receipts in an envelope until you pay that month's bill. Shred all receipts rather than tossing them.

12. Never Run Out of Milk, or Mayo

Designate a space for the grocery list in your kitchen (not your bottomless purse!). We recommend keeping an index card or notepad handy on the refrigerator or at the kitchen office. When you run out of an ingredient, write it down immediately. Gone will be the days of getting half-through your tuna casserole and realizing you forgot the mayo.

13. Find Ways to Remind Yourself

You've made a list of organizational goals... and promptly lost it. Enlist a spouse, relative, friend or coworker to help you remember — and remind you about — your goals. Sometimes all you need is a friendly reminder to keep your organizational efforts on track.

If you're the type of person who balks at such "motivation," make a copy of your list and keep it in two prominent places in your home where you'll look at it every day. Or, go digital and sign up for free with the simple Todoist www.todoist.com or more complex Backpack www.backpackit.com. Both let you can replicate your to-do list, but Backpack allows you to schedule reminders to be sent to your e-mail or phone.

14. Consider Creative Containers

Aesthetics and function are important when choosing containers for your things. "You want to make sure you know exactly what you're going to put in the container before you go shopping for it," says Julie Morgenstern, author of Organizing from the Inside Out www.juliemorgenstern.com. She recommends making things as much fun to put away as they are to take out by using sleek, classy storage that matches the decor of your room or home.

Instead of several shopping trips, reuse items you have lying around your house: Baskets, boxes or shelves can be repurposed with a new coat of fabric or paint. Often, this is less expensive than buying a specialty container and can be just as effective for organizing. The key is to buy containers last, not first, so you know they'll be effective.

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