How to Get and Stay Organized, Forever.

picture of organized office with desk, two chairs and floating shelves

Would you like a beautifully organized home?

Do you panic when someone stops by unexpectedly? Must you tell your spouse to keep guests talking at the front door while you do the “Flight of the Bumblebee” and whisk random items into a nearby closet? Are you silently praying the closet door will shut after cramming in a basketball, craft supplies and sewing machine?individual image of orange cartoon style basketballcraft supplies including paint, glue, scissors, paintbrushes, pencilsyellow clip art sewing machine



If the thought of family or friends coming over unannounced sends your blood pressure north, I have some helpful solutions for you.  These solutions don’t include moving, pretending you’re not home, or hiding silently until your uninvited guests leave your front porch!

I consider myself a pretty organized person,

yet in the not too distant past I have experienced sheer terror at the sound of the doorbell. pale blue door My late husband needed physical reminders to help his ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) brain stay on task.  This included boxes of “stuff”, as well as stacks of paper in the entryway.  The first impression walking into my home was a pile of clutter.

When we invited friends over, the piles were moved to an unused and unseen part of the house.  I tried to keep them there permanently, but they always crept their way back towards the front door.  We gave the impression of a somewhat tidy home, however it was anything but.

I still find it amazing how powerful having guests can be in the quest to clean and organize my home.

An acquaintance I met at a financial class came to my house, to help her figure out why her budget wasn’t balancing.  I spent the morning vacuuming, going through the pile of mail on the kitchen counter, and cleared off a box of decorations that was inexplicably sitting on my dining room table.

bed neatly madeFor good measure, I made my bed, which I do 95% of the time, and put the decorative throw pillows on it, which I do less than 50% of the time.  I knew she wouldn’t see the bedroom, but it made me feel better knowing my entire home could be scrutinized, and I would not cringe.

My home looked like I want it to look all the time.  And why can’t it look like this all the time?  Yeah, why can’t it?  The truth is, it can.

As I’m writing this, my bed is made, there are no dishes in the sink, and the laundry is folded, hung, and put away.  Aside from the sweat pants I’m wearing and my hair looking like Medusa, anyone could stop by right now and I would not be mortified.

So what is the secret to having an organized home?

The old, but wise and true saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

a place for everything and everything in its place signWhile I would argue you cannot maintain an organized home when you have “homeless” items, your reasons for wanting your space clutter free are very important.

It is a lot of work to declutter and organize your home.  Figuring out your reason for wanting to do it, or your “why” is helpful.  When you get tired of cleaning, remember your “why”, and it will help keep you going.  Your “why” can be as simple as you want a safe place for your kids to play, or a stress free environment where you can relax.

Let’s circle back to “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

organized shelvesWhen I was in elementary school, every year when school started, mom went a little wild.  She’d clear out space, and instructed me and my sisters, “This is where you put your books when you come home from school.”  She was in no way unclear.  My dolls and toys had space in the hall closet.  I did not own a single item that didn’t have a designated space, or “home”.

Cleaning my room was a breeze.  There were no decisions to process.  I just put everything back where it belonged. green puzzle piece It was like doing a life-sized scale jigsaw puzzle.

If your home is disorganized, there are a couple of reasons for it.  You either have an abundance of stuff you don’t need, you have homeless items, or both.

Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions.

I had a stack of mail on my kitchen counter last week. stack of mail Why?  Because I didn’t go through each item and put it where it belonged.  I postponed making those decisions.  Mail goes into my bill paying folder, recycle bin or file cabinet.  These are not life and death decisions.  Ignoring decisions caused the pile to grow.

When my late husband passed away, after the dust settled, I was ruthless in attacking the clutter.  At the time, it felt like the only thing I could control, and it was like therapy for me.  By the time I was finished, I had filled 5 enormous dumpsters.

If you find yourself moving and shifting items

lady holding up shopping bagsback and forth, that is a clear sign you need to pare down your possessions.  We live in a world of abundance, and consumerism.  While having nice things is not evil, overdoing it is not smart.

The more you possess, the more it possesses you.

I find it helps to give myself clear criteria when paring down.

For example, if I am cleaning my closet, I may decide to get rid of everything that makes me feel ugly.  Sometimes my guideline is to donate everything that doesn’t fit (and never will!)  I also routinely get rid of clothes that are not in good condition.  I prefer these guidelines over “get rid of it if you haven’t worn it in a year”.  While that is not a bad rule, it never worked for me.

disorganized cluttered garageI cannot emphasize how much easier it is to keep the house in order when you don’t have tons of stuff anymore.  I can park two cars in my garage, where previously it was impossible to even enter it.completely organized two car garage with white storage cabinets and red tool chest


It is easy to get wildly overwhelmed in the paring down process,

especially if you don’t have a clear space in which to escape.  I recommend starting with one space at a time.  Ideally it is the area that either bothers you the most, or is the most critical room to clear in order to function.  The top three rooms that come to mind are the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

Don’t keep anything that is impossible to reasonably store

socks in drawer organized in bundlesin your home, or you can’t access easily.  We all have a limited number of clothes we can fit in our closets and drawers.  Perhaps you store clothes and swap them out seasonally.  You still only have so much space to store your seasonal boxes.

Once you are clear on how much room you have, pare down your belongings to fit in that space.  This goes for clothing, as well as dishes, kid’s toys, books, and your ankle sock collection.  The point of being organized is to easily access the items you need.

If you have trouble staying on task, work for 25 minutes,

pink alarm clockthen take a break.  Your brain will be better able to make good decisions if you are not fatigued.

If you have friends who love to organize, invite them over to keep you company.  They don’t even have to do any work.  Having someone around while decluttering can be helpful, as long as they don’t derail your work.  Keep any hoarder friends and family away.  You don’t want to hear, “You can’t get rid of that!”  You, my friend, can get rid of whatever you want!

Once you finish paring down, get your discarded items out.

When you are done with your purging session, jump in the car and drive to the nearest donation center.  Any trash bags should be put outside immediately.  There is no point in separating your clutter, only to have it never leave your home.

car trunk full of donationsI am a big fan of donating items, because I truly believe that one person’s cast offs can be another person’s treasure.  I have a few suggestions on making donations, as well as advice on paying for off site storage here.

If you are truly committed to getting organized, and staying organized, know that it will take time.  Seek a professional organizer if you need an overall plan, or help getting started.

I organized my entire home on my own.

It was exhausting, but I was able to make decision after decision until all I had were the things that I wanted or needed.

It was a different story for my garage.  Since my garage was filled with loads of items I didn’t recognize, it was very hard to make decisions.  I had several different people go through it with me to let me know what the items were.  There was a lot of machinery, car parts, and other things for which I had no idea their value or function.

organized clutter in garageOnce the items were identified, it was much easier to decide if it was worth the effort to sell, or just toss.  I created a somewhat organized garage, full of stuff I didn’t need.  The paint cans were all stacked up together.  I had shelves full of junk, neatly put away in clear storage totes.  Every time I walked into the garage to tackle it, I turned around and went back into the house.

I have done freelance organizing for other people.  I’ve gone into other’s homes and helped them put systems into place to stay organized after I leave.  I did my own home, which was super cluttered…but, I could not clean my garage.

clip art pick up truckI finally hired someone to help me.  The bonus was she loaded up her pick-up truck and hauled everything away.  I was already committed to getting rid of stuff, but I needed help with a few decisions, and the physical aspect of actually removing it from my garage.

My advice for organizing your space:

Make the mental decision to commit to it, no matter what.

Start with the space that bothers you the most.  Focus only on that space before moving on.  Once it is finished, it will quickly become your favorite room in the house!

Determine the amount of storage you have for your items in that room, closet, file cabinet, etc.  Don’t feel like you have to fill all the space.  It is OK to have half empty drawers, etc.  It’s easier to access things when they’re not all crammed together.

Group like items together.

You may find you have 17 grey t-shirts, when you only really wear 3 of them.  Get rid of unnecessary multiples.individual image of cartoon style grey polo shirtindividual image of cartoon style grey polo shirtindividual image of cartoon style grey polo shirtindividual image of cartoon style grey polo shirtindividual image of cartoon style grey polo shirtindividual image of cartoon style grey polo shirt

Put the remaining items you are keeping in their new, proper homes.  If you have “homeless” items, either designate a new home for it in another room, get rid of it, or get rid of something else to create room for it.  You don’t have infinite storage space, so use it wisely.

When you no longer have homeless items, it makes clean up a breeze.  The hard decisions have already been made. wooden front door All you have to do is return the items to their designated home.  Repeat after me: A place for everything and everything in its place.

Next time someone pops over unannounced, you can swing your front door open with pride, regardless of how you feel about your visitor!

For more suggestions on how to be organized in additional areas of your life, sign up below for my newsletter.  You will have instant access to my Freebie Resource Library with further tips on organization, as well as my other topics.  You can leave a comment on my Facebook page at Elaine’s Lane.

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