Organizing 101: Declutter, Containerize, and Create a System

We have had our home listed for a few months and are actively looking for a new home in a different community, so I have been very motivated to get my home organized.  In fact, over the past year or so, I’ve probably gone through my entire house 2 – 3 times, decluttering, organizing, etc.  And to be honest, it’s probably time to do so again.  Why? Because I really like the results of decluttering.  I end up with more room for the things I truly do love and use, which also means that I end up using them more!  Did I mention it is much easier to find things now that there is less “stuff” to look through?  Decluttering also makes the rooms of my home easier to keep clean and organized after I’ve gone through them and put a system into place.  Once things have a home, it’s easier to put them away when we are done with them.  Hence, a cleaner home.  Win-win!

So where do you begin?  First, get prepared for decluttering and organizing (find out how to here).  Once you are ready to get started, there are a few things I suggest:


  1. Find something that you will look forward to listening to. That could be a new audio book, a great podcast, or an energizing playlist or Pandora station.  Whatever it is for you, only allow yourself to enjoy listening to it when you are decluttering and organizing.  This will help with motivation.
  2. Another item that helps some people with motivation is a timer. Sometimes it is easier to do something that we do not want to do (or feel overwhelmed about) if we know we only have to stand it for a certain amount of time.  I like to start with 15 or 20 minute intervals, but you start with what is comfortable for you.  Most people find that once the timer goes off, they want to continue anyways because they’ve built up some momentum and energy and want to see a finished product ASAP.  If that’s not you, when the time is up, you are done for now.  Decide when your next decluttering and organizing session will be and start the timer again, this time for 5 or 10 minutes longer.
  3. Lastly, if you are still struggling with continuing or completing this task, you can set up rewards for yourself. Just please make sure your reward matches the amount of work you’ve done.  (No new furniture for organizing one drawer in your kitchen! Haha).  Maybe you will treat yourself to a gourmet coffee or a new magazine once you’ve filled up one large garage sale or donation box.  Or maybe once you’ve completed one room, you get to buy one new item for the space you’ve just organized.  Choose whatever you know will work for you, but also keep it realistic and tied to the amount of work you have completed.

Now let’s get started!  Have a few containers near you before you begin: a trash bag or can, a box or basket for items that belong elsewhere in your home, and the garage sale or donation box you chose in the previous post (if it’s the garage sale box, have your marker and tape ready to go).

Put on your choice of listening pleasure, empty out the contents of the drawer, cabinet, or closet you are working on, and get started.  First throw away all obvious trash (expired items, packaging materials, broken items, etc.).  If you pick up an item and know right away that you want to keep it but that it doesn’t belong in this drawer, cabinet, or closet, put it in the “elsewhere” box or basket.  If you know right away that you are ready to get rid of something, place it in the garage sale/donation box.  Anything you are unsure of, can stay here for now.  Once you’ve gone through all of the contents and thrown away the trash, and placed the “easy” items into the boxes they belong in, go ahead and take some time to actually throw away the things in the trash container, put away the items that belong elsewhere, and price the items you plan to sell at a garage sale.

Hopefully at this point you have less items to return to the original space. So what do we do with what’s left?  The first thing I like to do is group like items.  This has two purposes:  the first thing this does is show us if we have duplicates of things.  If you have 4 hair dryers, maybe you can downsize to two?  The one you use at home and the one you take on trips?  If you have 3 whisks, can you downsize to one?  How many do you really use?  These are questions I cannot answer for you.  Only you know if you really use all the duplicates or if you are just keeping them “in case.”  If you decide that you do not need all of the duplicates you have, go ahead and add them to your sale or donate box.  This should leave you with even more room in your space.

Second thing to do with like items, once you’ve decided everything you are keeping, is to find a container for them.  If you are cleaning out a drawer, maybe you can choose a few drawer dividers that work with the items you have left.  For a closet, it may be a few pretty boxes.  For a kitchen cabinet, maybe you need a few add-in shelves or organizers.  This does not necessarily mean that you need to go out and buy supplies.  Try to use something you already have at first until you are sure the setup works for you (cardboard boxes are great at this point).  If you’ve used the arrangement for a few weeks, or even months, successfully, then you can put a little money aside and buy the fancy wicker baskets with the labels or the clear Rubbermaid containers so you can see what is inside. But always try out your new system for a while first, just in case you need to tweak a few things.  You don’t want to have buyer’s remorse over your brand new organizing supplies because you didn’t foresee an issue with the new system.

As I always recommend, wipe down all surfaces with a great multipurpose cleaner (I love Thieves) before returning the now-organized items to their home. It’s worth the extra step now while everything is out of the space already.   Now try out your new organizing system for a few weeks and notice what’s working for you and what’s not.  Make changes as needed.  Once your system is working for you, you can go ahead and label your groups of items or color-code groups of items, but that step is not really needed at this part of the process.  Check back over the next few weeks for some great before and after pictures of a few areas I’ve been working on.

If this has worked for you, let me know in the comments below. Trying this out for the first time?  Ask me questions or share a before picture for us to give you encouragement and an after picture to motivate others.  Let’s share our successes!


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