Every time the calendar flips from one year to the next, millions of us resolve to lose weight, quit smoking or reduce debt. But have you given much thought to getting your house in order? Are you tired of staring at all of those boxes crammed with clothes you haven’t worn in 10 years or with toys your kids haven’t touched in five years?
“The new year is a perfect time to stop procrastinating, and start organizing your home and life,” said Donna David, a professional organizer in New York City.
Here are 12 tips to help you get your new year off to a well-organized start.
1. Start Small.
Simply put, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
“People usually make a resolution that says something like, ‘I’m going to get my home and office totally organized this year, and I will never misplace anything again’,” said Maria Spetalnik, a professional organizer in the Washington, DC, area. “This is not only unrealistic but would take so long that they usually run out of steam before they even see results. Then they are frustrated with themselves and have often created a bigger problem than they started with.”
To prevent that frustration, Spetalnik said, make resolutions like, “I will do my shopping using a list rather than trying to remember what I need.”
2. Use One Calendar for Everything.
This includes reminders, vacations, tasks and anything else “to help you kick forgetfulness,” said Amber Kostelny, a professional organizer in Chicago.
Kim Oser, a professional organizer in the Washington, DC, area, said your calendar must be portable, whether it’s in paper or digital form. That way, you can mark down appointments and other calendar-worthy events when you’re on the go.
3. Establish Daily, Weekly and Monthly Routines.
“Creating routines to accomplishing tasks will make sure even the mundane things get done around the house,” Kostelny said.
For example, make your bed daily, pay your bills weekly and clean out your wallet monthly.
4. Set Manageable Goals.
Either at night before or in the morning, jot down your three most important tasks for the day, Oser said.
“There may be more than three but these are the three things that must get done,” Oser said. “It allows you to build them in to your day rather than panicking at the end of the day.”
5. Divide and Conquer.
Rather than taking on a massive organizing project, break that project up into pieces, like getting the corner of a room into shape, not the entire room, said Beth Giles, a professional organizer in Portland, OR.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that a room can be transformed into an organized area in a matter of minutes,” Giles said. “Most rooms or offices do not become disorganized overnight but rather over months or years, so it will require hours or days to work through the contents of a space and restore its order.”
6. Find a Home for Everything.
Don’t bring anything new into your home unless you know where you’re going to keep it, said Barry Izsak, a professional organizer in Austin, TX.
7. Stamp Out Piles of Mail.
Every time a piece of mail or any other paper comes into your home, act on it right away, and then either file it or pitch it, Izsak said.
8. Enlist Help.
Delegate organizing tasks to every member of your household, said Donna David, the New York City organizer.
“Everyone needs to be involved,” she said, “and take ownership of completing their responsibilities.”
If you and your family lack motivation, consider hiring a professional organizer.
“That person will not only de-clutter your home, but bring some sanity to your life,” David said.
9. Make a Long-Term Commitment.
Organizing doesn’t end when you’ve completed the first sweep of your home. Organization is an ongoing process, said Beth Giles, the Portland organizer. For instance, you’ve regularly got to pick up stuff around the house and put it in its proper place.
In addition, you’ve got to be flexible with your organization plans.
“Just as our lives and schedules continually change,” Giles said, “the way we organize our homes and offices will also need to be re-evaluated and changed.”
10. Take Advantage of Nifty Tools.
All sorts of technology is available to simplify home organization. For instance, a company called HomeZada produces home management and organization software. The online software lets you create a home inventory, set up a home maintenance calendar, manage home improvement projects and track household expenses—all in one place.
11. Track Your Progress.
“Mark down each day that you make successful strides toward keeping your resolutions,” said Bob Sadowski, marketing manager for PR and social media at ACCO Brands Corp., which sells At-A-Glance, Day-Timer and Day Runner calendars. “Put a big red ‘X’ over that day on your calendar. By seeing the chain of success, you’ll be motivated to keep it going.”
12. Celebrate Your Success.
“Set monthly milestones where, if achieved, you can treat yourself to something fun,” Sadowski said. “Make it a fun reward, like a night out to enjoy dinner and a movie.”