5 Organizing Secrets Only the Pros Know

Jane Douglass September 11, 2018

We professional organizers have many secret tools and tips. And when our clients pay close attention and ask us questions, they obtain the magical key to unlock their clutter dilemma.

But more often than not, amateur organizers often set out with the best of intentions. They see an idea in a magazine or the internet. They run to the store for organizing products they haven't completely considered. Suddenly, they find themselves at home opening their latest purchase and realizing this new gimmick isn't going to solve their organizing problem either.

Does this sound familiar? Avoid clutter curveballs and organizing burnout with five secrets only the pros know.

1. Create the vision before you organize

How many times have you said to yourself “I'm going to organize my closet,” only to be left frustrated by the experience before you are halfway through?

The solution here is to create your vision first, then organize. Visioning is a bit like planning. It's when you take the time to think things through before you begin doing the work.

Before you dig into the closet, ask yourself some questions:

  • How do I want to use this space in my closet?
  • Will I store just this season's clothes here, or just those that fit me currently? Or will I use half for clothing and half for memorabilia storage?
  • How's the lighting?
  • Do I need a step stool to reach the shelves?
  • Do I want to keep my hamper in the closet or move it to the bathroom?

Take the time to write down your vision first and then - here's the secret bonus - get someone to help you.

Having someone assist you is a secret the pros know well. Human behavior studies have shown that when two people (rather than one) are working on a project it gets done faster - not just because of the extra pair of hands, but because of the synergy between the two people.

There's a flash of motivation that bounces off one person onto the other that gets us through these projects much more quickly.

2. Play hooky

No, not the skipping-work kind.

Professional organizers know that getting organized doesn't necessarily mean having custom shelves built to clear the cluttered corners. We look for practical solutions with an aesthetic flair first. It’s not necessary to answer the organizing dilemma with an expensive or time-consuming project.

My secret tip? I use hooks as my first line of defense. Here are a few places hooks come in handy and common items they can hold:

  • Bathrooms: blow dryers and curling irons
  • Kitchens: brooms, aprons and towels
  • Bedrooms: large hooks for backpacks and purses, small hooks for necklaces or belts
  • Home office: cords, headsets and chargers

3. Use really simple math

It's called the "subtraction method." You've heard of dividing your stuff into keep, sell and donate bins, but when the clutter seems overwhelming, I favor an easier approach with just one master box, which is what I call the "somewhere else" bin.

With your intention set toward subtracting items from a particular room (rather than having to dust them and organize them again), start with one spot - say, the dining room table - and remove items that don't belong there, placing them into your bin.

The pros use this secret strategy to help reduce both the clutter and overall overwhelm. It's a great way to begin organizing a certain area, and you can return to the box later when you’re ready to deliver items back to their proper locations.

4. Create drop zones

A drop zone is a secret tip we use to give each family member a place for dropping their stuff.

Every member of your household should have their own drop zone. For example, you can set up a table right inside the garage as your child's drop zone. When you pull into the garage, they’ll know to go directly to the table and drop off their sports uniform and backpack before entering the house.

Do this for yourself for your own briefcase and gym bag too.

5. Shut down the distractions

One of the biggest reasons why my clients don't trust themselves to get organized is because of the distractions they face.

If you can learn to master these distraction devils on your own, you are well on your way to making your organizing projects a simple and easy experience.

Here are my secrets:

Ignore interruptions

When organizing, ignore the dings and rings that alert you to text or voicemail messages. One text can derail an entire morning reserved for organizing the kitchen cabinets.

Avoid diversions

Organizing means sifting through a bunch of stuff. But flipping through a book you meant to read, trying on a blouse to see if it still fits or researching a vacation destination when you come across the brochure - it all sends you down another path. If your intention is to organize, you must stay on task.

Dabble with discipline

The biggest complaint that we organizing pros hear from our clients is paper pileup. Paper (especially lists of things we wanted to do) can really send us into a tailspin.

Remember: When tackling paper, you’re just organizing it - not acting on it. These are two very different actions. Your job is to collect like items together to make paying bills easier or sitting down to read more peaceful.

Outsmart the temptation

We all have a natural inclination to match the missing sock, reunite the pen cap with its pen or dig through the pantry to match the lid to its rightful water bottle.

Trying to match up these long lost companions will sabotage your organizing momentum. Avoid the temptation to fall into the matchmaking process, and instead toss items into a clear bag and label it with a black marker. Store all the bags together in a "missing parts and pieces" box and move on. They are likely to be reunited down the road.


Originally published September 23, 2016.

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