{organizing with style} 10 Steps to Get Organized and STAY ORGANIZED

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On Monday, I shared an ambitious list of decorating and organizing projects that I hope to accomplish in 2015. Among the projects on the list are numerous areas of our home that I've organized {and reorganized} in the past, but that need attention again because they just aren't working for us. So before I tackle these spaces yet again, I decided to take a step back and figure out why some of our spaces stay so well organized while others continue to be problem spots.

After taking the time to really evaluate the spaces in our home that are working well and that have remained organized for long periods of time, I realized there are a few things I've done differently in those spaces that have made all the difference.

I've come up with 10 steps that to not only get organized, but, more importantly, STAY ORGANIZED! I'll be referring back to this list throughout the year as I tackle some of our problem spots, and I hope these steps will be helpful to you as well!

1. Don't be in Too Much of a Hurry

This is first on my list because it's so important, and so hard! I tend to get really motivated to organize a major space - like the pantry or a bedroom closet, and then half way through the process I get impatient. Maybe we are having company over for dinner and I don't want a mess laying around, or maybe the piles are simply overwhelming me... but too often I end up putting everything away just for the sake of cleaning up the mess I've created, rather than allowing myself the time needed to really get the space properly organized. And you know what? It always ends badly!

If you are going to embark on a major organizing project, you need to give yourself the time to do it right. Maybe that's a couple days, or maybe it's a week or more {especially if the time you can dedicate to it is limited to kids' nap times!}. But the reality is, in any organizing {or decorating} project, it always gets worse before it gets better. I call it "the storm before the calm," and you have to accept it as part of the process in order to get to the fabulous end result of a truly organized space.

So don't be in too much of a hurry! If you want a well organized space that is going to stand the test of time, it requires a little patience. Allow yourself the time you need to come up with the right organizing system - even if that means piles all over the counters and floors for a few days - and you'll find that the extra time invested up front will pay big rewards when your space is still organized years later!

2. Empty the Space Completely

Ok, so now that you are prepared to be patient with the organizing project you are ready for step 2 - completely empty the space. Trust me here!

It can be tempting to simply start rearranging things, but whether you are reorganizing a closet or just a drawer, it's better to begin by taking everything out. There are two reasons that this is so important. First, you might be surprised what you find hiding in the back corners! And second, with the space empty, you'll be able to start with a clean slate - both literally and figuratively. Not only will you be able to give the space a deep cleaning {wiping down shelves and sweeping in otherwise inaccessible corners}, by seeing the space empty you'll also be better able to brainstorm new and better ways to organize without being limited by how the space was used previously.

3. Make a List, Categorize, Then Decide What Belongs and What Doesn't

With everything removed, make a list. Write down everything that came out of the closet, and use the list to begin identifying categories.

Now you can begin to determine what belongs and what doesn't. This is the time start purging items that you don't need, or simply don't use - think donation, recycling, and trash {in that order}. And of the items that you are keeping, some of them might be better stored in a different location. Just because something came out of a closet or drawer doesn't mean it has to go back in to that same space. The opposite is also true...

Go back to your list, take another look at the categories you've identified, and consider whether there are items that fit those categories that are currently being stored elsewhere in your home. Here's an example: I recently organized all of the gift wrap supplies in my guest room closet {a project I'll share next this week}, and my list included the ribbon and decorative tapes that I use for wrapping gifts and mailing cards. I realized that I also had a separate stash or ribbon and decorative tapes down in my craft closet, and I decided it made more sense to consolidate all of these in one place, so I relocated those items from the craft closet to the gift wrap closet.  

I also keep a running list {in the notes app on my phone} of the items in our home that never seem to have a place and those that most often become clutter! For us, over time those items have included purchases that need to be returned, items that we intend to donate, and batteries and ink cartridges that require special recycling. Each time I organized a new space, I refer back to that list to see if there is a way I can create a place for those problem items.

4. Consider How Your Needs Change Throughout the Year and 
Leave Room for Growth

After you've determined what will go back in your space {and what won't}, there is still one other important consideration before you can formulate and organizing plan - consider how your needs and the use of the space change throughout the year. This doesn't just apply to closets where you store seasonal clothes. If you are creating a system to organize your mail and incoming paper, for example, keep in mind what you'll do with all the tax paperwork that arrives in January, or how you'll file all the paper that comes home with your kids during the school year.

Or if you are organizing your pantry, consider how your buying habits differ throughout the year. You may grocery shop differently during the school year when you are packing lunches, or when you are preparing for guests or holidays. If you organize your pantry to only accommodate the food in your house on the day you organize - what will you do the next time you come home with a few extra bags of groceries?

Here's another example of a system that adapts to changing needs - I created a great storage system for all of our boys bathtub toys, but since we bathe them in the bathroom attached to our guest room, I wanted to be able to easily swap things out when we have guests staying with us. The same rail that holds the bins of bath toys can quickly be swaped out to hold bath essentials for guests on a moments notice.

You also need to leave yourself some room for growth. You've probably heard the organizing mantra "one in, one out," meaning that if you bring something new into the house, you need to purge something else to make room. And while that's a good method overall for not accumulating too many things, it's not realistic all the time. As a crafter and a DIYer, I am always adding new tools - but just because I bring home a new tool doesn't mean I am always ready to get rid of another. So when organizing my craft storage, I have to be sure to leave some space for future purchases.

5. Measure Twice and Make a Plan

Now we are getting somewhere! Once you have determined everything that you need to fit into your closet, cabinet or drawer, it's time to formulate a plan. Start by taking detailed measurements of  your space. When measuring shelves in your linen closet, for example, measure not only the width of the shelf, but also the depth of the shelf as well as the distance between shelves. And if your shelves have brackets or supports, take those into account as well.

Probably the trickiest spot to measure is under a sink with pipes going everywhere - so draw yourself a sketch if you need to.

With this sketch in hand, I was able to find drawers that allowed me to take full advantage of the space under my kitchen sink, including to the side of and below the garbage disposal.

In addition to taking measurements, it also helps to plan the space by doing some rough sketches of how you might use the space. Here's an example of the first sketch I made for our hall closet, where I illustrated {in really basic terms} what I wanted to store on each shelf. This sketch, together with my measurements, allowed me to effectively shopfor baskets and bins that would fit the space and serve my needs. {This hall closet organizing project is in the works, and I'll share it with you as soon as it's complete.}

6. Use Every Available Space

As you are planning how to organize, think about every available space. Don't forget to take advantage of the available wall space, floor space, and space on the back of doors! Wall space can be used to hang bulletin boards and paper sorters, you might want to install hooks for hanging accessories or cleaning supplies, and baskets or narrow shelves mounted to walls can add even more storage {just to name a few possibilities}. Over door basket/shelving systems and hanging shoe bags can be used for many purposes and allow you to utilize otherwise wasted space on the back of doors. I use a hanging shoe bag on the inside of my coat closet door to hold scarves and gloves - so think creatively!

And this doesn't just apply to organizing closets, it applies to cabinets as well! Under my kitchen sink, I hung baskets on the cabinet "walls" above some hoses that were making the "floor" space unusable.

And I used an over the door paper towel holder and towel bar to utilize the real estate on the inside of the cabinet doors.

Here's another example: A couple of Command brand velcro strips allowed me to attach a small metal bin to the inside of my boys' bathroom cabinet, adding much needed storage to a very small space.

This step also goes beyond just using every available space inside your closets and cabinets. If you are short on storage space - think of ways you can create more! My boys' bathroom is very small, with only the one tiny cabinet under the sink. While I was able to make good use of that cabinet, it certainly wasn't enough for everything... so I added a cute piece of furniture in the hall outside of the bathroom, which provides a lot more storage space within close proximity!

7. Use Containers, and Containers within Containers

Contain, contain, contain! Once you've categorized the items you need to organize,  it's imperative that you contain the items in appropriately sized containers. If everything has a designated space, it's almost easier to put thing away than to not - and the easier it is, the longer your space will stay organized!

Dividers and bins help keep shallow drawers neatly organized...

...while larger baskets and bins are great tools for organizing items on shelves. However, small items can quickly become disorganized inside large baskets - which is why I always recommend using containers within containers. In my pantry, I use small wire baskets inside the larger plastic baskets to corral small items, like granola bars and oatmeal packets.

I used the same tactic to organize inside the drawers under my kitchen sink. The drawer in the photo below has four small bins within it, which helps to keep items separated and prevents small bottles from tipping over.

Using containers inside of containers can make the difference between a system that stays organized, and one that quickly gets out of hand.

One more key thing to keep in mind when organizing shelves is to find baskets or bins can be easily stacked. Stackable containers allow you to take full advantage of the height of your shelves!

8. Add Labels, but Keep it Flexible

I often have friends laugh at my love of labeling, but I can't emphasize enough how important labeling is in the organizing process. Take our pantry, for example - imagine how hard it would be to find anything if there were no labels on the bins and drawers! I have a pretty good idea of what is where, since I organized it to start with - but my poor husband and kids would never be able to find things, and certainly wouldn't be able to help put groceries away without things quickly becoming a disorganized mess. Labels are one of the major reasons the pantry still looks exactly the same today as it did a year ago when I first organized it.

In the pantry I labeled the bins themselves, but it can work just as well to label the shelves. In the closet where we kept all of our baby supplies, I used washi tape to line the front of the shelves, and then used my label maker to add clear labels on top.

As important as labels are, there are situations where you'll want to maintain more flexibility. In our nursery closet, I created a set of clothing dividers that simply hang on the rod to label different sizes of clothes. I can easily move these dividers around as need be, removing the ones for outgrown sizes and adding ones for sizes my boys be growing into the next.

In this same closet, I use chalkboard tags to labels the bins of different sizes of clothes. By doing this, I can easily erase and update as we pass outgrown clothes on to friends and family and fill the bins with other sizes.

In the pantry, the labels for major categories of food are more permanent {printed, mod podged onto chip board, and tied on to the baskets}, while the labels on snack containers are created from adhesive vinyl, which can be written on with a bistro chalk marker, and then wiped away and rewritten as the contents change.

One final example of maintaining flexibility in labeling is the paint organization in our utility room. I labeled the top of each jar of paint, but since I know the contents of the jars will change over time {as we use up some colors and purchase other colors}, I printed out a bunch of extra, blank sticker labels and placed them in a bag with a marker to make it quick and convenient to relabel the jars over time.

The moral of the story here is that if you take a little extra time on the front end, you're organizing systems will be more likely to be successful for the long haul. By investing the time to add labels, and by finding ways to make the labels easy to update over time, you'll be helping the whole family to keep things organized day in and day out! 

9. Make it Pretty to Keep it Pretty

Clearly, this an optional part of the organizing process, but, in my experience, this extra step can be a great motivator. When I take the time to make my organizing a bit prettier, I am much more likely to keep things in order to so that it will remain pretty. If you've had trouble in the past keeping up with your organizing systems, I highly recommend spending a few extra minutes to dress things up a bit and you might just be surprised at how it motivates you to put things back where they belong so that you can continue to admire the beauty of your organized space.

We've already talked all about labels, which are a great way to make your space look nice. Shelf paper is another quick and easy way to make things pretty - and it can be used in many different ways. In our pantry, I lined the wall behind the shelves in chevron shelf paper.

In our bathroom, I lined the drawers with leopard spotted shelf paper, and then used silver shelf paper to cut pretty labels for the bottom of the bins.

Whether its as simple as choosing coordinated storage containers and adding colorful labels, or going the extra mile to dress things up further, strive to create a space that makes you smile and you'll be more motivated to keep it organized!

10. Alternate Between Big and Small Organizing Projects

I acknowledged at the outset that big organizing projects require patience, and sometimes take days or weeks to plan and complete. But there are just as many small organizing projects that you can complete in the time it takes to watch your favorite show or chat with your mom on the phone.

Each week, I post a series called Five Minute Friday, where I share a quick and easy five minute project - many of which are organizing related. Take my baking drawer for example. It only took me about five minutes to pull together all my baking items, which were previously spread between three drawers, and consolidate them in one place. It was quick and painless to organize, but it makes things so much easier when I am baking.

It seems that sometimes it's the small spaces {especially drawers} that become disorganized the fastest, so tackle small projects in between the big to keep the whole house on track. I do a quick clean up of my kitchen junk drawer every few months while waiting for dinner to cook, and I save the major organizing projects for weeks when I know I have more time to dedicate.

There you have it! These 10 steps will help you {and me} not only get organized, but stay organized - and that's what we're all really after, isn't it?! Here's the list in graphic form in case you want to save it to your computer or pin it for future reference.

No one wants to spend a lot of time organizing a closet just to see it become a mess again months later! So, before you tackle any major organizing project, remind yourself that it always gets worse before it gets better. Push through! Take the time necessary to come up with a good organizing plan on the front end, and you'll be amazed at how much longer you'll be able to maintain and enjoy organized bliss!

Looking for more organizing inspiration? Check out these popular projects:

You can also find a complete list of all my organizing projects here. Happy organizing!


  1. You had me at #1. I get sidetracked in the middle of a project ALL THE TIME. Great suggestions! I need to get to IKEA & CONTAINER STORE! laura

    1. Oh, I know, Laura! It's so easy to get sidetracked, or simply overwhelmed!

  2. What a fabulous job you've done with all the organizing you've done...and it looks gorgeous too!

  3. These are such great ideas! I just love how organized your house is! I'm a type-A organized person too, so I always love seeing how others do it. Thanks so much for linking up at Think and Make Thursday :)

    1. Thanks, Erica! I only wish my whole house was that organized! :) But now that I've figured out what is working in some of our spaces, I hope to apply my 10 steps to our problem spots to get the rest of the house whipped in to shape in 2015 :)


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