How to Become Organized, One Minute at a Time

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It might feel overwhelming to look at the clutter in the kitchen "junk drawer," the hall closet or the spare bedroom -- but don't despair. You don't need a TV show like "Mission: Organization" or "Clean Sweep" to clear out your mess and set things to rights. Here are some tips for tackling any mess.

Things You'll Need

  • a chunk of time (10 min., 30 min., 2 hours, an afternoon -- your choice)
  • a focused mindset
  • at least three bins for sorting (optional)
  • garbage bags
  • Other supplies such as hangers, file folders, labels, storage boxes, etc. as needed
  • Focus on a particular area you want to organize: a drawer, closet, a room -- even a corner of a room. Organization seems daunting if you become overwhelmed by the mess or the thought of dealing with it, so reserve a chunk of time for the task and tell yourself you'll do whatever you can in 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour -- whatever you choose. Remember, you're in control here, not the mess! Turn on a kitchen timer if you want to make it official.

  • Each space has a purpose, so decide on yours. If it's a hall closet, are you storing linens and medication, or fishing and craft supplies? Is your filing cabinet meant for bills and school papers? If you're working with an entire room, is this a bedroom? An exercise room? A mix of home office and guest room? You need a purpose before you can organize.

  • Here's the tough part: With the purpose of your space in mind, weed through every item in the space. That's right -- every item. Put out at least three bins. How you sort items into these bins depends on what you have and how you want to use the space. If you're going through a filing cabinet, for instance, label the bins according to the papers you have: mortgage, auto, school, medical. If you're sorting through a closet, you can divide by pants, shirts, dresses, jeans. With a child's playroom, sort by puzzles and games, videos, dolls, trucks, and so on. Have an "everything" room? Divvy up the bins by larger items, like exercise gear, CDs, DVDs, craft supplies. *Too much junk to be so specific? Divide everything into three chunks: things to keep, things that belong in another place in your house, and things to toss or donate.

  • In general, if you haven't worn it in two years or used it in three, get rid of it. If something is a family heirloom or has high sentimental value, it should have a place of honor in your home or be kept in a special manner. If you haven't been doing this, make it a point to do so, or think of another way to honor the memory. (I once saw on a program a woman who had a small throw pillow for the bedroom made out of her wedding dress, which she had never preserved.)

  • With your space pretty much sorted and empty, here's the fun part: shopping and putting things away! Remember how you want to use the space. If you want to store extra linens and bedding in a hall closet, how about some wicker bins or inexpensive shelf dividers (kind of like plastic bookends) for corralling wayward towels? In a clothes closet, you might need to buy more hangers, put up a shelf -- or get creative. For instance, you can store and sort shoes in their original boxes or ones of similar size; stack 'em with a Polaroid on front of what's inside. Pegs on a cloth message board are an attractive way to store necklaces. In a child's room, expandable mesh hampers (available cheap) can hold dolls, balls and other odd-shaped items.

  • Whenever you put something away, take a moment to focus and return it to the new home you've created. If you slack off a little, take time each week to reorganize.

Tips & Warnings

  • Break down a large mess into smaller bites, then break those down further.
  • Assign each space a purpose, and put only items that fit that purpose in that space.
  • Toss items that you haven't worn in two years or used in three years. If an item has sentimental value, find a way to honor it (for instance, in a frame or album).
  • Don't be overwhelmed thinking you'll never tackle your clutter.
  • Don't break off more than you can handle in a day (or a 10-minute time frame).
  • Don't be discouraged easily. You will see the progress.

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