It has taken me a long lifetime to learn that a clean and organized house where real people live will never look like those wonderful houses on HGTV and beyond. Real people are messy, and the secret of an organized house is that neither messiness nor obsessive order are allowed to intrude on the joy and peace of mind of the people who live in it.
Overwhelmed by the amount of work that it will take to put my house in order, I turn on Hoarders to enjoy a moment of schadenfreude–a secret pleasure in someone else’s misfortune because, I say, “There, but for the fact that I am not a TOTAL nut case, go I. “Then I flip on Fixer-Upper to indulge another sinful pleasure–coveting one of Joanna Gaines’s beautifully staged fixed-up houses before the lucky owners move in and mess it up.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for getting organized. If it works for you, then it works. If, however, you have a feeling that “it” (whatever “it” is) could be working better, you may benefit from learning a few principles of organization and having a few rules of thumb to help you along. I’m not going to teach you those principles and rules of thumb because you can find them in abundance in books and blogs, but I am going to share a few tricks and tips that have worked for me and hope that maybe they will work for you to help you cut down on the time you spend searching for lost objects, re-organizing and cleaning, and spend more time doing things you really love to do.
- Ditch those pictures in your head. Look honestly at what you and your housemates do at home and maybe some things you would like to do if you had the right space for it. Then decide what you need so that you can happily do whatever those things are.
- Start small. If you’re the kind of person who can pull everything out at once and then put it in order without getting overwhelmed, you can ignore this suggestion. I like to make a huge mess and then clean it up, but the truth is that this method doesn’t work for me, so I’ve learned to work on one space at a time–whatever I think I can finish in the time that I have. It may be a bathroom, a drawer, or a corner. Finishing something, however small, gives me a sense of accomplishment.
- Acknowledge that you’ll never “get caught up.” For much of my life, I’ve lived in the fantasy that someday in some mythical future, I would finally “get caught up” and then life would be marvelous and I could get some rest. Life, it turns out, is always a work in progress. If you think you are caught up, you should start a project so you don’t get bored. However, if you work on getting organized, you can have more stress-free days no matter what you’re doing.
- Identify and deal with clutter before you start organizing. If you still have issues to deal with about letting go of material things and you have a reasonable amount of available space and a fair number of boxes, quickly clear away things you don’t use and pack them in boxes. A little proactive procrastination can help you get to the more urgent business of organizing things you use before you tackle harder issues involving sentimental clutter.
- Designate places for everything you need, use, or want. “A place for everything and everything in its place” is an old saying. If you have a place for everything, putting it away is much quicker and easier. Things that are used often should be within easy reach. Infrequently used objects, like Christmas decorations, can occupy less-convenient spaces. Before you buy anything at all, mentally give it a place in your house. If you don’t have a place for it, you probably shouldn’t buy it!
- Use containers and labels. The Container Store is one of my favorite business establishments, but I try to avoid the temptation of spending way too much money there (1) by minimizing the possessions to be contained and (2) by re-purposing used commercial containers like coffee cans, shoe boxes, and sturdy plastic containers. Labeling is a real time-saver and well worth the time it takes!
- Get professional advice (but take it with a grain of salt). I can’t afford to hire a professional organizer, but I do look for advice online and in books and magazines. However, advice should always be tailored to your needs and wishes. Marie Kondo, who has a lot of good advice to give, says thirty books are enough. I say, “You don’t know me, Marie!”