The Organizing Secret No One Wants to Hear

We all welcome a magic bullet, a hack, a shortcut that takes something hard or time consuming and makes it easier and fast tracks our success. What’s the secret to parenting, a happy life, or…an organized home? I’ll pass on weighing in on the first two, but I do have some things to say about the last one. This organizing secret may not be popular, though. It may not be what you want to hear. And, I don’t particularly love sharing it. That’s not true. I do love it, but I tend to tread lightly here. Any guess what it is?

Most organized homes have common components to them…effective systems, daily maintenance, healthy habits. But THE number one thing that makes getting and staying organized easier is to HAVE LESS STUFF.

So, why would no one want to hear that? Well, it could be interpreted as a directive, or a judgment…on decisions you’ve made, money you’ve spent, lifestyle, habits, priorities, emotional attachment to things, etc. But, it’s not. Why? That wouldn’t be helpful and it’s often not true. Also, people often judge themselves enough with others doing it, too. So what is it? It’s simply an objective look that acknowledges having less = less time and money spent on the purchase and maintenance of said stuff. Less stuff = more open space. Less stuff = less opportunity to create clutter. And, less stuff = more ease. And I want ease for you.

It’s also just simple math. If you compare the amount of space you have to the amount of stuff, and stuff > space, that equals excess. And excess can be organized at a snapshot in time, but it’s very challenging to keep organized over the long haul. Adding one more thing to a taxed overflowing space and the system falls apart.

You many be thinking easy for you to say. You don’t know MY situation. True. There are many reasons for stuff… lots of kids, multiple hobbies, a tiny home, no pantry, not enough storage, or inherited stuff. I don’t want to diminish the reality that some circumstances make it harder to “just own less” than others. However, if we come back to the notion that, emotions aside, less stuff = more ease, we can at least more easily see the attractiveness in scaling back.

Desire is one thing, but commitment and taking action is another. Commitments can be hard. But, really, is there a decent alternative? Continue to bust at the seams? Continue to have stuff take up your precious space, maintaining it, fixing it, moving it? Continue to feel burdened for…ever? At some point, cut your losses. EVEN THOUGH your stuff cost $, EVEN THOUGH you thought you’d use it but you didn’t, EVEN THOUGH it was on sale, let it go because it’s not serving you.

So, if there’s even a tiny part of you that thinks that you have too much stuff and you’re ready to part with some things, now what? First of all, start small. Get rid of a few ______ (fill in the blanks) and see how it goes. If you’re still standing ( you will be!), dig a little deeper. There are levels to decluttering and we can only tackle what we’re ready for. Step aside and come back in an hour, a day, a week or a month. When you’re ready for more, you do more. Whenever your mind resists you…”But I paid good money for it.” Or “But it was a gift”, remember your goal of ease, and remember that memories are not in things. They’re in you. All that being said, by all means keep your grandmother’s china. Keep what you value.

This isn’t about minimalism, which often gets a bad rap. A middle ground is available! You can have a life that doesn’t involve deprivation or lack, but includes owning what you want, need, use, and have space for. There’s no universal answer as to how much is too much, not enough, or just right. But, some clues you may have too much are….feeling stressed in your environment, having trouble finding things, piles that just grow bigger not smaller, time consuming clean ups. So, chip away one item at a time, one decision at a time. Move quickly, without overthinking. You will make progress. It’s inevitable. To quote the wise Joanna Gaines from her book The Stories We Tell “letting go reveals what else our arms were made to carry”.

8 Do’s And Don’ts To Kick Clutter For Good

The holidays tend to bring on next level busyness, stress, & overwhelm, all of which can be exacerbated by a cluttered home. It’s extra important now to pull back on our environment…make it extra calming, err on the side of less rather than more.

I’ve seen lots of approaches to clutter, and some seem to work better than others. I developed a list of do’s and don’ts not to be prescriptive or imply a right or a wrong, but to be tactical and helpful. To give you a guide that works, help you use your time effectively, make lasting progress on something that matters, and to be that list you pick up when you’re trying to get the motivation to start – especially when you don’t really feel like it or know how to begin.

At the end of the day, cluttering should not be a dreaded chore. Quite the opposite. It can be incredibly freeing, without much thought or effort once it becomes a habit. Here are my 8 Clutter Do’s and Don’ts:

1. DO Keep What You Love. You will need to make choices and define priorities, but absolutely keep what brings you joy! If you have the space for it and love it, it’s not really clutter! 1. DON’T forget you still have the memory. The main value isn’t in the item, but in the memory surrounding it.
2. DO Keep What You Have Room For. Let a container be your parameter. Keep what fits, part with the rest.2. DON’T Overfill your spaces or containers. It’s very hard to keep an overflowing space organized or to see what you have.
3. DO Give everything a Home. Golden Rule of Organizing! Clutter is often comprised of things that don’t have a home, so give them one today! 3. DON’T do the “Clutter Shuffle”. Moving clutter from one spot to another doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s inefficient, doesn’t address the problem, and just shifts it elsewhere for you to deal with yet again.
4. DO consult an outside perspective. Ask the opinion of someone you trust, who can help reframe how you look at your things and can support you in the decluttering process.4. DON’T consult a “yes” person. You know, the one who will want you to keep everything and won’t nudge you in the direction you’re committed to.
5. DO declutter frequently. There’s always another layer to uncover once you’ve addressed the low hanging fruit and realized “I’m ok. I got rid of xyz and it feels great. I don’t miss those things and I’m ready for more”. 5. DON’T ever stop. Decluttering is most effective when it’s a recurring habit, a mindset that says “I’m committed to sticking with this and I’m making everyday choices that will set me up for success”.
6. DO set a timer. It’s a great motivator. You’ll be amazed what you can accomplish in 20 min. 6. DON’T make the timer too long. You’re better off setting two 15 min. timers than one 30 min. timer.
7. DO set a specific goal. Declutter one drawer, find 10 things to donate, find 5 things to throw away, or declutter as much as possible with a 15 min. timer.7. DON’T make your goal too lofty. Yes, it’s great that you want your whole house decluttered. But, if you think and move room by room, you’re more likely to start AND to establish the momentum needed to accomplish big things.
8. DO act now. Remove donations/trash out of your home immediately. Once you’ve made a decision about an item, stick to it.
8. DON’T delay. If you set too many things aside, you’ll delay progress (“I’ll see if Great Aunt Martha wants this” or “I might try to sell that”). The main priority at this point is action and progress. You can do it!

Organizing the Hard to Organize

*Disclosure: Links included in this post are amazon affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Certain items and spaces lend themselves well to being organized. And, others are notoriously challenging. The truth is, any area can get and stay organized, but organizing shouldn’t take lots of time or be too fussy. Here are my recommendations on how to organize the hard to organize…

1. Fitted Sheets

I just cannot with fitted sheets. Solution to maintain neat and tidy? Contain sheets in a bin! Just do your best to do a quick fold or roll (nothing fancy), put them in a labeled bin, and move on with your day. Let good enough be enough. You’ll know where to find the sheets, and they will not look like an eyesore because they’re not even visible!

2. Swimsuits

Folding swimsuits into itty bitty units seems more trouble than it’s worth. Again, container to the rescue! All my swimsuits live in a bin on my closet shelf. I know where to find them, and they’re all contained. It works! And, a system that works is a good system.

3. Pantry Staples

Individual bags and packages of food loose on a shelf is a recipe (ha ha) for looking organized at a point in time, then getting messy as soon as the next grocery load arrives. I recommend 1 or a combination of the following: 1. Transfer food into a food storage container like an OXO, discarding the original packaging. OR 2. Contain boxes and bags of a certain category together in a large labeled basket or bin (snacks together, breakfast items together, etc).

4. Food Storage Containers

Find matches, discard the rest. Use drawer dividers like the below photo, or store with lids on. Why? Yes, you can fit fewer in a drawer, which I actually don’t mind, as it forces me to pare down. But, it solves the single biggest issue with food storage containers, which is not having bottoms and lids that match and/or not easily locating the pairs.

organized kitchen drawer

5. Shoes

Shoes, shoes everywhere! With a multi person household in a 4 season climate, you’ve got rain boots, snow boots, sandals, athletic shoes, water shoes and everything in between!

Storing shoes in a combination of places works well. As much as I’d like all the shoes to live in bedroom closets, it’s just more convenient to have a few of the most often worn pairs near the front door or in or near the garage.

Bedroom closets work great with shoe shelves and for containing the pairs not worn as often. By the doors, I prefer shoe shelves or baskets. The key is putting a limit on it. I give my kids 3 pairs each to be by the door, which is plenty. Why 3? It’s what we have space for, and it’s sufficient. It’s a daily process to run the extras upstairs (anything above and beyond 3), but it prevents the area by the garage from getting overcrowded.

6. Messy Drawers

Step 1: Purge. Step 2: Install drawer dividers or drawer organizers so that everything has a place in the space. The end. No need to overcomplicate it.

7. Any Other Spaces

There’s a repeatable formula that works no matter the space….pare down until you’re left with an amount that fits within your space, group like items together, contain, label. It sounds simple because it is! Simple doesn’t always mean easy. And, yes, you have to put in the work. But, there’s no need to overthink it. And sometimes, good enough is just right. When your space is edited down, the items are contained, you’re good to get on with the rest of your life.

How I Cut My Wardrobe in Half

In HALF? Drastic, huh? I sincerely believe that most of us could easily and happily live with half of what we currently own – across all categories, not just clothes. But, we’ll focus on clothes here. Let’s dig into what approach I took, and why anyone would want to do this in the first place.

I did NOT set out to cut my wardrobe in half! It’s just where I naturally landed because that’s what worked for me. My end game wasn’t to check a box or pat myself on the back for arbitrarily choosing a goal and achieving it. It was the long game of deliberately building, cultivating, and maintaining a wardrobe that was a good fit for me. One that focused on quality over quantity, pieces I like to wear, that meet my needs and fit my lifestyle.

flatlay wardrobe

WHY I reduced my wardrobe

It’s helpful to find YOUR why….It may be that you’re exploding out of your space. It may be because you don’t fit in many of your clothes and just need to release the “weight” of the clothes that no longer work for you. Finding your why helps to keep you motivated. This was mine:

1.I had a lot I didn’t wear

Having lots of pieces I didn’t wear, or didn’t wear very often, felt like a waste of space to me. I was disciplined about regular clothing purges, but I like to be intentional with what I own, and I’d rather have fewer pieces that are worn more often.

2. It was hard to pull outfits together

I would try to manage this by selecting my clothes the night before, but I had lots of disparate separates. I wasn’t intentional with noticing a wardrobe gap and filling it, but would instead purchase what caught my eye. I knew I could do better.

HOW to reduce a wardrobe

1. Edit gradually

Wardrobe editing does not need to happen overnight! The process took me well over a year, and, in reality, there’s no real end point. It’s a continual watchfulness to keep an eye on what I have, what’s coming in, and what I’m ready to part with.

I often do a pass through my closet, editing down all that I think I can. Then, I go back another day and easily find more. There are layers to the editing process, and a gradual approach allows you to get to those deeper layers, as you realize the previous edits have not left you lacking, but motivated.

shirts on hangers

2. Start with low hanging fruit

Find what’s broken, stained, looks worn, or doesn’t fit, and get them out!

3. Intentionally ADD pieces

I didn’t just purge, but added choice pieces as well. I still do. This may sound counterintuitive, but the point wasn’t to just have fewer things, it was also to have workhorse pieces that mix and match well, and will stand the test of time – both from a quality and a style perspective. Sometimes, this involves thoughtful additions.

It also gives those of us who enjoy clothes room for trying trends here and there, and bringing some pieces in. And, you know yourself best. If you think this would be a slippery slope for you, don’t go here! But, for me, it has worked fine – as long as I release items if something new comes in.


4. Remove temptation

What are those hot buttons for you? Fashion influencers, who, in fact…”influence” you? To buy the thing you don’t need or even really want? Well, unfollow them! Or, limit your exposure.

If it’s trips to the mall, limit that, too. You can still have a treat now and again. But, think about your goals. If your goal includes a smaller wardrobe, or freeing up money for other things, think twice before you fall into an old habit that may not support the achievement of your goal.

5. Consider seasons

If you’re purging in the summer, and you’ve been wearing exclusively shorts and tanks for the last couple of months, don’t get rid of all your pants! Again, go gradually, and let yourself get into the next season to see what you wear. On the flip side, transitioning out of summer season would be a great time to look back and edit out your summer items that you didn’t wear all season. If you didn’t wear it this summer, you probably won’t next summer.

It will become a habit to periodically check in with your closet, and continually revisit what gets worn and what doesn’t.

6. Give yourself a timeline

Anything that has not been worn in a year or more can be a contender for going bye-bye. You’ve been through all the seasons, and unless there’s a really compelling reason to keep something (for sentimental reasons or a special event coming up that warrants keeping that cocktail dress), ask yourself why you would keep it, and what else you could do with that space or the money you could get from selling the item.

7. Set small goals

If I originally set out to cut my wardrobe in half, it wouldn’t have happened. But, setting and achieving small goals on a daily basis is easier to swallow. I often target the number 5. Find 5 things today that you no longer need. Achieving small goals works. It matters. Just like starting the day by making the bed. It gives you a small sense of accomplishment and productivity for the day that builds.

8. Begin with the end in mind

As you embark on this journey, it’s helpful and motivating to keep your end goal in mind – whether it’s financial motivation, peace of mind, or freeing up space. Keep going, a piece at a time, day after day. Getting rid of 20 pieces is great. 5 pieces is great. Any number is great.

If you’re motivated by rewards, think of how you’ll treat yourself WHEN (not if) you achieve your goal. The treat doesn’t need to cost money, but it could. I recommend being deliberate about what you do with anything you make from selling items. You could start a trip fund, a holiday fund, or whatever helps to keep you moving forward. It’s all about progress!

The 3 Best Organizing Products Under $25

*Disclosure: Links included in this post are amazon affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

There are certain organizing products (you know – containers, bins, baskets and the like) that I find myself turning to again and again. Their versatility, price point (under $25 – say what?!) and utility earn them blue ribbon status in my book. Whether you’re organizing a bedroom, craft room, linen closet or anywhere in between, you’ll get the most bang for your buck from these 3 organizing products.

1. Drawer Dividers

Messy dresser drawer? Cluttered utensil drawer? Drawer dividers to the rescue! They’re such a simple solution, yet sometimes overlooked. Drawer dividers come in lots of sizes and materials – bamboo, plastic, clear acrylic. They divide your drawer either lengthwise or widthwise and create delineation between items.

Dividers are affordable, easy to install – many are spring loaded and adjustable – and stay in place well. Just be sure to measure your drawer height and length to be sure you’re getting dividers that fit.

drawer divider in use
drawer divider in kitchen

2. Multi Purpose Bins

The Container Store is the mecca of all things organization. There you will find Multi Purpose Bins which come in different colors and sizes and are great for organizing almost anything! I love putting different categories of cleaning products in them and stowing them under sinks or using them for coloring books, paper, and kids’ artwork, per the 3 center clear bins in the below photo. Can’t beat the price point, either. They’re less than $7 even for the largest size.

multi purpose bins for organizing

3. Lazy Susan Rounders

These spinning containers allow easy access to things in cupboards or pantry corners – great for housing oils, vinegars, and other round items. They’re also ideal for holding personal care and beauty products. The below rounder is divided, which can be helpful – depending on your needs.

Rounders are available with high sides to contain taller products without tipping, or with lower sides. Materials include clear acrylic, many colors of plastic, and even pretty bamboo. You can find small ones for tight spaces or very large diameter rounders.

I’d encourage you to consider one of these space solutions for one of your problem areas. Endless versatility and they won’t break the bank. Win-win!