The #1 Shortcut To a More Organized Home

A More Organized Home: is this your New Year's resolution? The experts' take on how to get one all boils down to one word. Read here to learn what it is.

Organized Home. Hah. How many of us have grand plans (especially around January 1) of Getting Organized This Year? E.g.,

  • This is the year I’ll FINALLY get organized!
  • This is the year I’ll FINALLY have a Clean Home!

Which, for me, inevitably leads to:

  • This is the year I’ll FINALLY have a More Organized Home!

I have had more long-distance chats with my dear friend Raiah (who lives in another country from me, mind you!) about this than I care to count. Not to mention chats with my dear friend Keisha, with mamas in my local Meetup mommies’ group, with mamas at Baby Consignment Sale, etc. etc. etc.

Well, a couple of years ago I went on a book-buying spree, and scooped up a big stack of reading on the subject. Including the smash-hit bestseller The Magic Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Which was the starting point for Netflix’s recently-dropped reality series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (which Dear Husband refers to as “Organizing Porn”).

Armed with my new stack of books a few winters back, I quickly learned that this particular subject was NOT a good bedtime reading topic. Instead of winding me down for bed, reading books along these lines made me want to stay up half the night cleaning/organizing my house!


A More Organized Home: is this your New Year's resolution? The experts' take on how to get one all boils down to one word. Read here to learn what it is.

Ready for their top secret on how to get a more organized home?

I’ve now worked my way through most of the stack. (See the end for more info on the books I read, in case any of them sound like something you’d find useful).

And you know what? If you had to boil them all down to a single useful tip for how to guarantee yourself a cleaner home today, for the long-term, they would all agree on one thing:

If you had to give someone a single word of advice on keeping a home neat and organized, it’s this:


That’s it. Easier said than done, though, I know. But that’s the one piece of advice that resonates the most with me, after reading all these books.

The one-word shortcut to a more organized home is this: PURGE. That's it!Click To Tweet

What makes it so hard? Simple: Clutter can build up in the most unexpected places, and shedding things that our lives have outgrown takes time and energy – more of both, the longer it builds up.

Case study #1:

Ever since becoming a parent, I’ve been purging things I no longer need from my former teaching career. The residue is down to three boxes of books in my garage, a filing cabinet’s worth of papers, and three or four more boxes of papers on my office floor.

That may sound like a lot, until you consider that I’ve already purged over three dozen boxes’ worth of books and journals, and enough paper files to fill at least three five-drawer filing cabinets. When we moved into our current home almost a decade ago, this rubble formed a five-foot-high, six-foot-wide, four-foot-deep mountain in the center of my home office! (And that’s not counting the boxes piled alongside/into my office bookcases. Or the floor-to-ceiling boxes along one wall of our garage!)

A More Organized Home: is this your New Year's resolution? The experts' take on how to get one all boils down to one word. Read here to learn what it is.
Office Mountain.

This purge has been low-priority compared to parenting and, more recently, running this blog. But whenever I get a few “free” hours to chip away at it, I do. And every time I bring a carload of boxes to one of our local thrift/reuse stores, I get that same sense of relief.

Ditto for bringing a truck full of no-longer-needed kiddo gear to Baby Consignment Sale. Either way, I know that I’m making room, in my home and my life, for what’s current and upcoming – not what’s yesterday’s news.

And at the same time, freeing myself and my family from the no-longer-needed means that someone else can benefit from its use. Someone else who needs it more than we do right now.

Case study #2

For most of 2018, I wanted to go through my closet and drawers. It seemed like both were bursting at the seams. Yet I noticed I was wearing the same small selection of clothes over and over again. If I wasn’t wearing most of my wardrobe, then why did I still have it?

Things got even worse last May when our basement flooded. We’re talking only an inch of standing water in half the basement. Enough to require a complete renovation, but not enough to destroy any of our belongings. (Many of which were already stored in large plastic bins anyway.)

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But as I was packing things up to move to the garage until the renovations were complete, I realized that some of the large plastic bins of “out-of-season clothing” were actually labeled “work clothes.” As in, clothing from the days when I used to teach.

A More Organized Home: is this your New Year's resolution? The experts' take on how to get one all boils down to one word. Read here to learn what it is.
Clothing I have not worn in at least a decade.

I haven’t been at the front of a classroom since I was pregnant with my nine-year-old (at which point I was wearing maternity attire, versus anything in these bins).What are the chances that any of the items in said bins (which are still buried in our garage under other boxes-to-unpack)

  • still fit me, and/or
  • are still in style, and/or
  • are things this work-at-home mama would actually wear?

How can purging make a difference?

If you’re still not convinced, think of your kids’ biggest trouble-spots when it comes to keeping their toys tidy. As one example:

  • A friend of mine named Nika has elementary-school-aged boys.
  • Last time I was at Nika’s house, she apologized for the fact that an entire room of their house had been taken over by the boys’ Lego habit.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, far as I’m concerned. If the kids like Legos (and what kids don’t? – I spent my Sunday afternoons as a kid building elaborate Lego houses each week), then by all means they should play with Legos.

The problem, as I see it, is NOT a kid who loves their Legos. The problem is when all the kiddos in your house are old enough for big-kid Legos, but you’ve still got the huge box of Duplos hanging around as well as the even bigger collection of Mega Bloks.

You just know that as long as those Duplos and Mega Bloks are still available, your kids are gonna keep hauling them out – and then, most likely, losing interest five minutes later and leaving them all over the floor.

That’s why I try to keep an eye on what toys my girls have grown beyond. A few, like the wooden blocks I played with as a child and the favorite childhood storybooks my own mother saved, get tucked away for posterity.

The rest get cleaned up and moved on, to some other child who will get more pleasure from them than my own are at present.

HOW to Purge Stuff for a More Organized Home (a.k.a. Where to Start)

If you’re so overwhelmed by the clutter surrounding you that you can’t figure out where to begin, you’ve got choices for how to get started. Here are a few approaches to try:

A. The Three-Container Method

  • Many experts suggest starting with several large boxes or trash bags: Donate, Recycle, Trash.
  • Start small: a 30-minute declutter of your desk, an afternoon on a single cupboard or closet, or whatever fits the chunk of time you can devote.
  • Schedule the time, attack that one small place for starters, and figure out what needs to stay and what can go. Use the momentum from that small “win” to spur you on.
  • When you’re done, keep/donate/toss accordingly. Then put all the “keep” back where it belongs.

B. The “Homeless Items” Problem

  • Do you have a clutter problem with things that don’t have a home? (your kids’ school bags and shoes that get dumped by the door every day, or the mail pile that takes over the countertop?)
  • See if you can find – or make – a new “home” for them, near where they end up, so you don’t end up with duplicates all over the place. (Like our shoe rack by the door, or a recycle bin next to where your go through your mail when you walk in the door.)

This is the life-changing magic in the favorite book from my stack of purchases, The House That Cleans Itself by Mindy Stearns Clark. Her bottom line: If everything in your home has a place where it belongs, your house will automatically stay neater. And, bonus, you won’t constantly need to buy duplicate items because you can’t find things; this will reduce clutter naturally.

C. The KonMari Method

If you’ve been living in a cave since Netflix recently dropped Marie Kondo’s hit new series: The KonMari method is what she calls her signature organizational/decluttering system. At its heart is a simple guiding principle: We should only surround ourselves with things that “spark joy.”

To KonMari a section of your home, take out all your clothing first and pile it on the bed. (ALL of it.) Then pick each item up, one at a time, and decide whether to keep it based on one simple criterion: If it makes you happy to hold it, then it stays. But if something doesn’t “spark joy” when you hold it in your hands, then you need to thank it for its service and let it go.

Then you repeat this process with all your books. Next with all your papers. After that, every other miscellaneous item in your house (kitchen items, decorative knick-knacks, etc.). And finally, with sentimental items (photographs, souvenirs, etc.).

By getting rid of all the excess items that no longer “spark joy” in our lives, we will automatically pare our homes down to only that which we want, need, and love. (And will therefore take care of, by putting each item away where it belongs.)

Which all returns to the bottom-line guiding principle that all these books have in common: Get rid of what you don’t need/use/want anymore, to make space for only the things you DO need/want/use.

D. The Big-Picture Method

Still stuck and/or overwhelmed on how to even begin? Maybe you need to try the “big-picture” approach:

  • Break the project down into tiny bite-sized chunks.
  • Then figure out which tiny chunks need to be done first.
  • For example, if you can’t even get to the “Donate-Recycle-Trash” stage because you’re out of trash bags (and you’ve been using that as an excuse NOT to get started), then step #1 is simple: Go buy more trash bags.

This is great for those of us who are BuJo addicts, because we can make all our teensy-tiny-job lists, and keep coloring in tasks as “completed,” one at a time.

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And speaking of the big picture:

While you’re purging and decluttering, don’t forget to keep your eyes open for larger systems that are no longer working in your home. Redoing those “trouble spots” into something that works for you and your family now is worth the effort.

Sometimes clutter reflects a “system” problem:

  • Kids always dump their coats and shoes on the floor, right inside the door? Add a few hooks and a shoe rack to that spot, then insist that they use them.
  • Have too many extra mittens and hats because your kids keep misplacing them? Get a clear over-the-door shoe hanger to hang near the entrance your kids use, then insist they use it. That way, everyone can easily store, see, and find what they need.
  • Do shoes pile up at the main entrance to your home? Get a multi-shelf shoe rack to put there. Each family member gets one shelf. Whatever doesn’t fit on the shelf has to go somewhere else.

Getting your family to buy in:

If your kids are struggling to take care of their own stuff and they’re preschoolers, NOW is the time to start training them. Trust me, their preschool teachers make them put things away where they belong, all day, every day. So yes, they ARE capable of doing this.

Older kids may instead need RETRAINING. There are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Things that they don’t take care of (i.e., put away where they belong – dirty clothes in the hamper, clean clothes in the drawer, their bike or helmet in the yard, the toys all over the living room) go “on vacation.” We have had great luck with this. If they don’t miss the “on vacation” items, or they keep leaving out the same items, these often go on “permanent vacation” (i.e. to a thrift shop or Baby Consignment Sale).

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  • Perhaps your kids have developed a sense of entitlement, expecting that you’ll pick up after them because you always do. If so, you need to read – and implement your own version of – the incredible book Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma. It chronicles one mama’s successful effort to get her kids to stop treating her like the maid, so the burden of keeping their house tidy and organized no longer rested solely with her.

Your turn:

  • Have you undertaken any organizing/decluttering/purging projects since the new year began?
  • Has Marie Kondo’s Netflix series inspired your efforts?
  • What technique has been most useful to you so far in organizing/decluttering your dwelling space, and keeping it that way?
  • What has been your biggest obstacle in trying to work toward a more organized home?

Let us know in the comments!

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A More Organized Home: is this your New Year's resolution? The experts' take on how to get one all boils down to one word. Read here to learn what it is.

A More Organized Home: is this your New Year's resolution? The experts' take on how to get one all boils down to one word. Read here to learn what it is.

 A More Organized Home: is this your New Year's resolution? The experts' take on how to get one all boils down to one word. Read here to learn what it is.

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The #1 Shortcut To a More Organized Home