Keeping our lives and homes organized is truly a never-ending challenge—but there are ways to make the task slightly less daunting. In addition to providing a sense of calm, an uncluttered space lets your home’s interesting design features shine and architectural elements breathe. Here, we spotlight eight tips to maintain a tidy home (and a peaceful mind) from leading authors, life coaches and organization gurus.
VISUALIZE THE ORGANIZED ROOM - “When I’m decluttering, I like to take a moment to take a look at a room, and think about how I want it to look,” says author and Zen Habits founder Leo Babauta. “What are the most essential pieces of furniture? What doesn’t belong in the room but has just gravitated there? What is on the floor—only furniture and rugs belong there—and what is on the other flat surfaces? Once I’ve visualized how the room will look uncluttered, and figured out what is essential, I get rid of the rest.”
3 QUESTIONS TO ASK - With every item you encounter, Harvard-trained sociologist and O, The Oprah Magazine and Real Simple magazine columnist Martha Beck recommends asking the following three questions: Do I truly need it? Do I truly adore it? Would I trade inner peace for this? The answers should bring clarity as you are eliminating unnecessary things from your home. After all, is that old swim team hoodie really worth sacrificing your inner peace?
MEMORIZE THIS ACRONYM - Following the “F.A.S.T.” organization method can serve as a good template for getting a big cleanout going. “F” stands for Fix a Time—schedule a time that suits everyone in your household, maybe a Saturday or a Sunday, or a few hours every day. “A” is for Anything Not Used in 12 Months—if you haven’t used an item in the last year, it is unlikely you really need it.
“S” is for Someone Else’s Stuff—anything that does not belong to you does not belong in your home. Contact the rightful owner (children, relatives, ex-spouses) and have them pick it up. “T” is for Trash—don’t fear the trash can. Incentivize the throwing away and recycling process by competing with your family members or housemates to see who tosses the most. Most prolific purger gets a prize.
TAKE THE 12-12-12 CHALLENGE - Author, speaker and Becoming Minimalist site founder Joshua Becker uses this method to kickstart the clean-up process—simply locate 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate, and 12 items to be returned to their proper home. “This can be a really fun and exciting way to quickly organize 36 things in your house,” Becker writes. “On more than one occasion, this challenge actually became a quick competition between my wife and me…and your kids don’t have to be too old to participate as well.”
MAKE A PLACE FOR PAPERS - “Papers often account for a lot of our clutter,” notes Leo Babauta. “This is because we put them in different spots — on the counter, on the table, on our desk, in a drawer, on top of our dresser, in our car. No wonder we can’t find anything!” Babauta recommends designating an in-box tray in a specific spot in your home that is only for mail, school papers receipts, flyers and warranties. The idea here is to centralize the paper so that a pile-up is easier to see and address.
ORGANIZE FIRST, BUY SECOND - As tempting as it is, refrain from going out and buying lots of storage pieces and supplies before you begin the sorting process. It’s essential that new bins, boxes and baskets fit the space, hold what they need to hold, and function properly for that particular space.
DO A NIGHTSTAND MAKEOVER - Nightstands can often get overrun with stacks of books, mail, and bills. Home organizing expert Shira Gill advises clearing this bedroom item off completely and relocating any unnecessary items. A nightstand, Gill says, should contain only the essentials—like reading glasses, current books or magazines, lip balm, hand cream or anything else you want regular access to before sleep. Gill advises styling nightstand surfaces (and others) intentionally, a move that often discourages clutter piles from forming. Favorite styling objects include fresh flowers or a potted plant, scented candles, sculptural objects, a ceramic dish for jewelry and framed photos.
NO. WIRE. HANGERS. - This tip is not just for the sake of your clothes—which can become wrinkled and misshapen on wire hangers—it also helps create a streamlined, easy to navigate closet environment. Shira Gill recommends using one type of hanger (not wire, maybe slim wood designs or durably-made velvet-lined plastic hangers) and categorizing items by type, style, and color. Accordingly, select one style and color of bin or basket to store accessories in order to keep everything looking clean and easy on the eyes.