You’re running late, you can’t find your keys, and your child is asking you where his lunchbox is. Honestly, you have no idea! We’ve all been there.
After a year of our living, working, and recreating at home, all of our houses are in need of a dust-down and reorg. And the truth is, taking on a few simple organization projects won’t just make your life easier—it will also make it better. Studies show that disorganized, cluttered homes negatively affect mental health, creating stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Whether you decide to go full-on Marie Kondo, or opt to keep all of your treasured knickknacks is really a matter of personal preference and style. But we tapped the minds and methods of professional organizers around the country for simple ways to get a bit more organized and sane, keeping a variety of time and budget constraints in mind. Read on for their tips.
If you have 5 minutes
Five minutes may not sound like a lot, but you can actually get a lot done if you set out with a focus on very specific tasks.
You can drastically reduce clutter quickly by thinking of your organization efforts as tidying, say Ema Hildebaugh, founder of Minimize My Mess in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“There are two types of clutter,” she explains. “Clutter that has a home is easy to handle; you just put it back where it belongs. For clutter that doesn’t have an obvious home, grab a dump box and pick a room. Collect all the clutter that doesn’t have a home, and put it in a box.”
Every time you have five minutes, tackle another room, with a separate box. Save up those boxes for a weekend when you can finish your reorganization.
Clear out prime real estate by checking your spice rack and medicine cabinet.
“Look for expired spices, and throw them out,” says Katy Winter, founder of Katy’s Organized Home in the New York tri-state area. Old spices often lack flavor, and sometimes can even add musty flavors to food.
“Then go the bathroom and check the expiration dates on medicine in your medicine cabinet,” Winter says. “You may be surprised how much you can toss.”
If you have 30 minutes
With a little more time, you can clean out the junk drawer, the place where rubber bands, cap-less pens, random scraps of paper, and take-out menus are stashed.
“Ahead of time, I recommend purchasing five to 10 small baskets or boxes that fit in your drawer, to keep the items separate,” says Rosemary King, owner of Heart-Led Concierge in Hampton, CT. “Then remove everything from the drawer, and spread it out on a table or counter. Clean out the drawer by wiping it clean. While it dries, throw out all trash and broken items.
“Downsize items and group them, like with like,” King continues. “Then place them in containers to keep them separate and neat.”
Cost: $5 to $15 for containers
Now, the dog walk zone: Often a tangle of toys, harnesses, and leashes, the area you store your dog gear need not be a disaster, says Katy Hawley of Barking Bungalow in Knoxville, TN.
“Find some wall space in the area you currently store your dog gear,” says Hawley.
This can even be within a large closet or pantry, by the back door, or in the garage or basement. Ahead of time, buy decorative hooks and a storage basket if necessary, and wash toys, leashes, and harnesses, if needed.
“Hang the decorative hooks, and keep the leashes and harnesses there,” Hawley advises. “Keep a towel on a hook, too, to deal with muddy paws. Use a decorative basket for toys and pet accessories. Waste bags should go there, too. If you have dog-walking shoes, store them by the basket.”
This way, when your pup is ready to go out, you will be too.
Cost: $10 to $50 depending on supplies needed
If you have 1 hour
An hour is a perfect amount of time for serious home organization. First, take on the toys and gadgets that tend to take over.
“Toy rotation is a game changer,” says Hidlebaugh. “Think about it this way: If you feel overwhelmed by the number of toys lying around, then your little one does, too. Toy rotation reduces clutter and stress, and increases creativity and independent play. Grab a few boxes, pack away all but 10 toys, and put them out of reach. Then rotate the 10 toys once a week or so.”
Reducing the visual clutter alone opens up the possibilities of play and increases your child’s focus, while making your home feel and look so much better, she says.
Streamlining your entryway drop zone also takes about an hour, but pays dividends that you and your family will feel in almost every area of your life.
“I use a mesh drawer system for the entryway, and I find it really helps the busy families I work with,” says Lisa Van Groningen, founder of Your Mom Village in Chicago. Plastic or wooden storage bins or cabinets would work equally well.
“Divide each section by activity. Items needed for that activity live there; after each use, items go back into that section,” she says.
Van Groningen recommends creating one section for each person’s keys, wallet, or purse. A second section should be dedicated to sunscreen, hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, bug spray, backup phone chargers, and any general family items that are frequently used. Another section should be created for activities and the gear associated with them (soccer, swimming, etc.). A fourth area should be designated for book bags or lunch bags.
Cost: $50-plus depending on the storage system
If you have 3 hours
“Bathrooms can be one of the most challenging places to keep organized, particularly if you’re working with a small or shared space,” says storage expert Marshall Weber, of Stor-It in Boise, ID. “The best way to bring order and functionality to your bathroom is to declutter and make sure every item in your bathroom has a designated spot.”
Ahead of the bathroom upgrade, buy trays and dividers for drawers and cabinets if you don’t have any on hand.
Start by emptying cabinets and taking stock of everything inside. Get rid of expired and damaged products, and give your cabinets and drawers a good cleaning. While the cabinets and drawers dry, group like items with like items and place them in trays and dividers.
To free up counter space, consider adding hooks and magnets to cabinet doors, to hang and store hair tools and other items when not in use.
“Don’t be afraid to show off your beauty products,” says Weber. “See-through containers can be great for organizing supplies.”
Cost: $10 to $200, depending on supplies needed
Another challenging but life-improving task we all need to tackle at least once a year is a fridge and freezer revamp, says Emily Perez, head of design for Kitchen Infinity in New York City.
“Take everything out, and clean the drawers and compartments,” Perez says. “Examine the products, and throw out expired items. Next, rethink how you’re grouping and dividing things. Rearranging them according to the space they take up, this should free up a surprising amount of space.”
If you have a weekend
It’s time to roll up your sleeves. You can take on several of the above projects or the project below, if you have helpers.
The garage and basement are two of the most overlooked regions of the home, says Shannon Krause, co-founder and chief operating officer of the professional organizing service Tidy Nest, which services Connecticut and New York. Tackle whichever one is the official “dump zone” for all your stuff.
“Start by pulling everything out of the garage or basement,” she says. “Yes, everything. Remove and dispose of all the obvious trash and recyclables. Break down boxes, and remove anything broken. Go through the stacks of paint, extra bathroom tiles, old sink faucets, and other items you threw in there to deal with at some point. Check with local charities like Habitat for Humanity to see if building supplies can be repurposed. If you have toxic items, like paint, find out where to dispose and recycle it. Earth 911 is a good resource.”
Then categorize the contents. Again, group like items with like items: sports equipment, household supplies, car supplies, tools, old furniture, discarded toys. Determine what’s trash, what can be recycled, donated, and sold, and what you want to keep.
Next, sweep out the area and organize it with a few easy-to-follow rules.
“The goal is to keep everything off the ground,” Krause says. “Use the vertical space, and introduce wire or plastic shelving. Both are easy to assemble and height-adjustable. Take stock of the inventory you’re keeping, then put items you use a lot—household back-stock like paper towels and water—in the most easily accessible place.”
Finally, label everything, so anyone in the household can find what they’re looking for.
Cost: $100-plus depending on shelving system you use
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