So you want to organize your house but you don’t know where to start.  A quick google search for this topic will result in multiple pieces of conflicting advice.  Start small. Tackle your biggest project first.  Start with something you know you can finish. Shared spaces! Private spaces! Storage space! THE ROOM THAT IS USED MOST OFTEN! – OMG, make it stop! The truth is there is no right or wrong place to start organizing your home. And if you live with kids you know there is no such thing as private space so it will always involve multiple people and their things.

Organized Junk Drawer
An organized junk drawer can be the perfect place to start your organizing habits.

Start With the Space That is Bothering You The Most

Most of my clients contact me with a specific space in mind because they think it’s the best place to start. About ten minutes into our conversation and they’ve spent the majority of it talking about another area of their home but they think it is too hard to tackle or not important enough. Start with the area of your home that is hanging over you like a bad cloud no matter what size. Starting with your biggest irritation is going to have the greatest impact on your mental health and motivation to keep going. 

I once had a client that I was helping organize his basement but ended up tackling the junk drawer in the kitchen first. I started my appoint like I always do by going over a plan for the day and signing contracts. He went to retrieve a spare pair of reading glassed but could barely open the drawer. I watched as he apologetically fought with the contents. We put the discussion on hold so I could put his small drawer in order. Twenty minutes later we were back at the table reviewing the plan with easily found glasses. He still brings up that drawer despite me completing a total basement overhaul in his home.

Sort, Declutter, Purge

In that order. You can’t begin to re-home items in your house (or get rid of them altogether) if you don’t really know what you have in that space.  Take everything out of storage spaces, cabinets, shelves, and drawers. Basically destroy what little sanity you have left – just kidding… kind of.  Sorting is probably the hardest thing because it tends to be so messy. You can be near the end only to realize the last few items create a new grouping. So you have to sort a little more (screaming internally).  Be careful not to get too detailed in this phase. Sort your items into similar groupings but keep it broad enough that you don’t end up with too many small categories. You can always add more detail when you put things away. This part is about seeing what you’ve got rather than organizing it.

Cluttered Closet

Now you’re ready to declutter.  Remove extra items or duplicates. Do you really need ten towels in your bathroom? Keep a few in the room and store the rest in a linen closet. Is your kid really going to read an entire library worth of books in one sitting? Keep 10 or 20 in their room and store the rest in a larger bookcase. Whatever your organizing, limit the clutter by only storing items that are being used in that space regularly.

Here is my favorite part: purge! I get it, your grandma gave you that hideous holiday towel so you feel bad donating it. It is better to go to someone that will actually use and enjoy it than let it sit in your home taking up space. Give yourself permission to let go of the stuff that you’re not using and will never use. Don’t worry about how much money you spent on it or who gave it to you.  It’s taking up space in your house and weighing you down mentally to shuffle it around from room to room. Let it go!

Return misplaced items but don’t get distracted

This goes along with decluttering.  Even the most organized person with fantastic systems (cough, cough me) can’t escape the dreaded object migration.  Things have a home but they get used so they end up left out. In another room. Sometimes for days (gasp)! Return those runaways to their rightful home but – I can’t stress this enough – don’t worry about putting them away. Too often people get distracted when they return items and start organizing that space.  It leads to a vicious cycle of starting to organize and never finishing.  If you can easily put it away, do it. If not, leave it in the room and run for your life go back to your original task.

Evaluate The Space

You can’t be all things to all people and your room can’t do all things for every part of your life.  I love multifunctional spaces but no room is a Swiss Army Knife. Think about how you use the room now and what is really going to work in that space. It can be tempting to dream up multiple uses for a newly organized space but multiple functions translate to more clutter. Pick one or two purposes for the room and remove items that are not related to that activity. And be careful not too keep the purpose to broad. Defining the space with function will prevent the room turning into a catch-all for items from other rooms.

Don’t complicate things

I once created a spectacular Lego storage for my son with all items neatly segregated by different categories. No more running to me looking for a wheel or a flat piece when I’m in the middle of something – high-fives self! It lasted for about two days. And I’m pretty sure one of those days we weren’t even home.  Now his Legos go into 3 bins and that’s it.  If he wants to find a wheel, he can spend 15 minutes digging for it.

I often work with families that have purchased a thorough and expensive storage system because they thought it would solve their problem. They struggle to keep things in the spots designed by the system and end up feeling like they are just not “organized people.” These systems are made to fit a variety of needs and can be too detailed for more than one person to maintain.  Think about how you and your family function and create storage based on your lifestyle. Use containers to group like items but don’t stress about the way things are stored in those containers. Don’t worry about labeling things unless it’s something important like different family members medications. And for the love of all things tidy, please don’t color code unless it’s truly necessary – “I want to play with only yellow trucks today” said no child ever.

Finally, Pace yourself

Unless you’re going to move your entire family into a new house, you still have to exist in the space you’re working on forever while you organize it. It can take take multiple days to finish any size project so set a realistic timeline and don’t fret if it takes longer than you had planned.  I updated my master closet and my plan of three days turned into two months. Choose a small area or task and work on that in between daily life when you can’t dedicate a large block of time to the project. Don’t let the fact that you can’t complete something in one sitting discourage you. Do what you can and keep coming back to it as frequently as possible. Getting organized is much easier to accomplish when you break it up into small tasks and stick with it.