If “get organized” is one of your New Year’s resolutions, you’re not alone. And if you’re like most people, you might find New Year’s resolutions are hard to stick to for more than a few weeks. Two professional organizers and time-management experts share their tips for getting—and staying—organized in 2015.
Avoid Common Organizing Mistakes
New York City-based professional organizer and author Julie Morgenstern sees families make the same classic mistakes when it comes to getting their homes organized. The first is what she calls “all-or-nothing organizing.”
“You can’t organize your whole house at once,” she says. “You don’t have enough consecutive time. When you have an all-or-nothing approach, it’s so daunting. You don’t know where to start, so then you don’t start.”
A similar mistake is what Morgenstern calls zig-zag organizing, where you’ll start organizing a closet, find a game that belongs elsewhere and then start organizing the games without having finished the closet. In this scenario, nothing ever gets completely organized.
Her solution for both problems? Start small and focus on one space at a time—one drawer, one closet or one room—and completely finish it before tackling the next space.
A third mistake Morgenstern frequently encounters is buying containers or throwing things away before creating an organization system. “I’ve never seen that work,” she says. “Containers are not a system. You have to design a system before you shop, and you have to design a system before you throw things out.”
People may think being organized means having less stuff, but Morgenstern says that’s not necessarily true. “Organizing is about identifying what’s important to you and giving yourself easy access to it, so it has a home and you know where to find it and you know where to put it away,” she says. “You can have a huge volume of stuff that’s important to you, but if you can find it and you know where to put it away when you’re done using it, you’re organized.”
Straighten Up Home Hotspots
Both Morgenstern and Buffalo, N.Y.-based professional organizer and author Jennifer Ford Berry agree that people should make organizing the home “hotspots” a priority, as they’re the most frequently used areas in the home. Getting these areas ship-shape will feel like an instant accomplishment.
Hotspot #1: The entryway or mudroom
Berry refers to this area as the “family launch pad,” as it’s where family members leave and enter the home, and it usually houses items such as backpacks, coats and shoes. First, Berry says, tailor the area for the particular season, and rotate items seasonally. For example, don’t store winter coats and mittens alongside flip-flops and pool towels.
She likes shelving units for shoes to conserve space and make footwear easy to see and access. (She uses the Seville 3-Tier Utility Shoe Rack from Walmart.) Keep only everyday shoes in this area, with the rest stowed in bedrooms. Provide a hook for each child’s backpack and coat, and a container for sports, dance or other accessories. “Give each child a designated area and make them responsible for keeping that area organized,” Berry says.
Hotspot #2: The kitchen
Two main spots to tackle in the kitchen are the counters and the inside of the refrigerator. “The kitchen is the hub of the home,” says Berry. “If you could get one room super-organized between January and March, it should be the kitchen.”
First, Berry says, limit the amount of visual clutter on the counters. Stow small appliances that aren’t used every day in a cabinet. Thoroughly sort kitchen gadgets, and toss unneeded duplicates and ones you just don’t use.
Morgenstern says when people’s fridges are overstuffed and in disarray, “making food is a disaster, and it steals time.” In a couple hours, you can get the fridge totally cleaned and organized, which will make meal prep a snap.
Hotspot #3: The playroom
One of Morgenstern’s organizing concepts is based on the typical kindergarten classroom, which is divided into clear activity zones: a reading zone, an arts-and-crafts zone, a music zone, etc. Each zone dictates the activity that takes place within it and also where items get stored after use. This concept can apply to any room of the house—especially where toys are kept. Toys, books and games can be located in more than one room in the home, as long as they’re stored where they are used. If crafts are done in the playroom, store all art supplies together there.
“What you want to avoid is the same toy could be put in any one of those rooms,” Morgenstern says. “Every object should have just one home.”
Hotspot #4: The mail or paper zone
Berry recommends dedicating one shallow basket or bin—no more than 1 or 2 inches deep—for all incoming mail and school papers. At least every other day, go through the stack of papers and sort them into categories: bills to pay, school papers to sign, etc. Each category should have its own separate space. “The papers you’re keeping need a designated home,” she says. “It has to be very specific. You should be able to quickly say, ‘All the school papers I have to tackle here.’”
Get a Grip on Your Time
Using time efficiently and coordinating schedules are two of the biggest time-management challenges for families, say Morgenstern and Berry. Here are some ways to beat the clock:
Sync your schedules: Both Berry and Morgenstern and real-life parents, like Mia Joelsson, of Maryland, use Google Calendar to share and keep track of work and family calendars. Plus, Morgenstern says, it’s compatible with all sorts of other calendar systems. Apple’s iCal was a close runner-up.
Keep one to-do list: Mom of three Jen Brown, also of Maryland, uses Wunderlist to keep track of all sorts of tasks, including grocery lists. She can also share lists with her husband so they can “divide and conquer.” Berry uses Evernote for her to-do list, which she can quickly access on her phone or computer without keeping track of slips of paper.
Plan meals: “You don’t have to get fancy every week, and you don’t have to keep looking for new recipes,” Morgenstern says. “Come up with 10 meals that are go-to dinners for your family, and make a master list of all ingredients so you have a recurring shopping list. If you can shop online, all the better.”
Streamline mornings: Berry suggests making a list or a laminated picture chart with each morning task “so your child gets in the habit of going to the board and seeing what has to be done next. That enables Mom and Dad to get other things done.” Another winning tip: Prepare as much as you can the night before to make mornings run more smoothly.
Schedule restorative time: According to Morgenstern, the one thing parents don’t do that they should is take time for themselves. Just as you would with lacrosse practice and client meetings, build this time into your schedule. Both parents, she says, should choose something they love doing every week that doesn’t take much time—a manicure, a Pilates class, coffee or a drink with friends—and schedule it.
Stick With It—Really!
Now that you’re ready to organize, here’s how to keep that resolution for real this year:
Make a New Year’s to-organize list: The start of the year is a perfect time to call a family meeting and determine what spaces should be better organized, says Berry. The family should work together as a team, so designate duties to each member, and determine a time frame for each task.
Use SPACE to complete tasks: Morgenstern created a simple organization acronym to know where to start and when a project is finished. “You’re not done until you get to E,” she says.
- S = Sort and group similar items together
- P = Purge items you don’t use or need
- A = Assign a home to each item
- C = Containerize with shoeboxes, baskets or new containers
- E = Equalize by creating a daily maintenance routine, such as straightening up before dinner or bedtime each day
Don’t make perfection your goal: Space out your organizing projects, start small and focus on what you’ve accomplished instead of what you haven’t. “Don’t try to be perfect,” Berry says. “That holds people back. Focus on an efficient home. That gives you more time to live your life with your family.”