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!


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!)

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.

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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77 thoughts on “The #1 Shortcut To a More Organized Home”

  1. If I could even convince the husband to make a START that would be a win haha. I purge mine and the kids closets and the office once every 12 months but leave the shed to him. Maybe I will try some of your techniques on him and see how I go.

  2. I am constantly decluttering and purging at my house. I also like to rearrange things to find better ways to store them. Thanks for sharing this blog.

  3. I love this post. I’ll be bookmarking this to read again when I finally get around to clearing/sorting & redecorating the attic & spare bedroom!

  4. Purging makes my soul happy! Thanks for this post, there are some really great ideas here and I love that you mention getting the family to buy in…it only works if everyone participates!

  5. I laughed out loud when I saw you are a former teacher – I have gradually weeded out those files and boxes too. But what really spoke to me about your article is being able to see the sewing machine sparkling in its space!!

  6. My biggest challenge is feeling overwhelmed. For example, I have 3 full file cabinets of old office files that need to be scanned and shredded. I like your idea of breaking the project down into smaller tasks. I think I’ll work on one file drawer a day. And most importantly – put it on my schedule. Thanks for the tips!

    1. You are so welcome! Tiny steps and mini-goals can really make a HUGE difference in overcoming that procrastination on just getting started already 🙂

  7. Great article! We downsized last year and moved to another city. We went from 4,200 sq. ft. to 1,200. It was hard to start but once got going it was easy. We started the year by getting rid of more “stuff” it’s amazing how much we accumulate in a short amount of time. Donate, donate, donate there are plenty of people who need something that we don’t anymore.

    1. ABSOLUTELY! I so love giving a new life to something by passing it along to someone who needs it more than we do!

  8. Great tips! Love the comment about making sure everything has a home to stay more organized. Sometimes I find myself hanging on to things for far too long!

    1. It’s so easy to happen, but the start of a new year is a great time to revisit this challenge and work on it anew!

    1. If you’re by yourself, do all you can to put work on the back burner and block this out! If not, do all you can to work with other family/household members to make this happen! I just spent the week over New Year’s, per arrangement with my husband, literally holed up in our back hallway (a small room that had become a dumping ground instead of a functional family home office/project space), removing all/repairing walls/repainting all top-to-bottom. Alas, it’s still not resettled, but without his taking care of all the cooking and childcare for that week, it just would not have happened! And the resettling I can do in smaller stints now 🙂

  9. We have a big declutter in the spring, have a good clean out of stuff that ain’t being used, it makes the house so much clearer and cleaner, with 4 kids we get rid of a lot of stuff lol.
    Thanks for sharing this blog , great read!!

    1. You’re so welcome! With spring children’s consignment sale season coming up, I’ve also been sorting through the girls’ castoffs and divvying them up into sell, donate, and toss. So satisfying!

  10. My home tends to get super messy then I will have bursts of tidying and organizing and not long after I let it get back to how it was, especially my office. I also hate throwing things away, because I’ve always been sorry later when I needed the stuff I thought I wouldn’t be needing. Any advice?

    1. A good purging tip for those I-might-need-it-someday things is: if you can replace it in 20 min or less and/or for $20 or less, toss it. Others will say, if it’s something you haven’t used in at least a year, toss/purge. Yet another tip is to box those things up for a set amount of time (either 6 months or a year), then if you have not retrieved from the box after that time, purge/toss. As for your office in particular, it sounds as if you just haven’t yet found an organization system that actually WORKS. One method, providing you have the space/time/tolerant enough cohabitors (spouse/partner, kids, roommates, etc.) is to take EVERYTHING out of that space, and then only put things back as you need/use them. When you put them back, try to do so thoughtfully, with a mind to what is the best place for where you actually need/use that item. These should help you put back only what you need/actually use, in the places that make the most sense. After that, it should be lots easier to keep up the space. Every time I redo a room or a space along these lines, it has generally stayed that way until we’ve had a major life-shift that makes the system need some adjustments anyway (e.g., when we could finally ditch the last changing table in our house).

  11. I am a purger, sometimes to a fault where I get rid of too much without really realizing I probably still need it.
    In my mind everything has a place and a use. These are some great tips I will keep in mind as I consider what needs to go.

    1. YES! For our family, the “everything has a place” is definitely the harder half of that equation, but it’s SO much better when you can get to that point!

    1. LOL I know what you mean! I’m just finishing redoing a back hallway (fresh paint on ceiling/walls, redoing/rehanging shelving, and purging contents), and in the process I’ve realized my basket of tools/screws/nails/anchors/etc needs a good purge/reorganize/restock, my painting supplies ditto, the paint closet ditto, the furniture refinishing tools (which include my sanding tools, which I used in wall repair before painting) ditto…So yeah, given that your workshop is no doubt that x100, I can just imagine! 🙂

  12. I did a huge purge when I downsized and again when I emptied the storage locker. It is so freeing to do this and then look at the things you keep and take pleasure in them because they are no longer lost in the clutter.

    1. I know what you mean! With the New Year upon us/the holidays over, I’m already excited to do another grand purge of the latest layer of things-no-longer-needed 🙂 …

  13. My biggest obstacle to purging certain kinds of items, especially clothes that still fit (at least sort of) for years and years has been my financial situation. I take out an item, think “I haven’t worn this in 5 years,” usually because my life in the last 5 years hasn’t required it (like your work clothes), and then think “but if I did need something like it again, I can’t necessarily just run out and buy it.” Inexpensive things I can let go of more easily, but anything I paid more than $50 for . . . back it goes.

    1. Super Mom Hacks

      Oh, dear. You are still working “outside the home,” though – whereas I – dear husband has periodically said, “oh, you WILL be back in front of a classroom someday,” but I have watched that ship sail away with no regrets. So – yes, I still have crates and crates of no-longer-needed research papers in my crawl space (as I confirmed literally hours ago), BUT the several plastic tubs’ worth of “work clothes” that are still in our garage since last May’s basement flood are only awaiting me carving out the time to go through them and send the contents off to their next home. Which, let’s face it, is a prime thing to do in about 4 weeks when Spring Baby Consignment Season is in the bag (the first spring sale starts next week!) and I’m still in that “purging” spirit LOL…

  14. Oh my goodness, I’ve been purging for years, but it seems something always takes its place. Here’s a suggestion for all of you. Decide (as we have) we are going to live and work from an RV, and you’ve got to get everything into that small space. All our stuff has been posted on Ebay or Offer Up, I’ve cleaned out my closets, and if I can get hubby to keep his pile off the counter I’ll be a happy camper! #heartandsoullinkup 🙂

  15. I love your A-D suggestions. D is a big one for me. I get the most done that way. I am sentimental, but I’m surprisingly UN-sentimental when I look at clutter. Either it has a home and a purpose, or it doesn’t. I love the idea of only having things that spark joy. Thanks for sharing at #heartandsoullinkup

  16. I have not watched the Netflix series yet, I think I’m afraid to! We have ROOMS that are dedicated junk rooms!
    I find myself unemployed this semester so I guess now is the time for me to start implementing some of your suggestions.

  17. I’ve been doing a lot of purging because of our move but I still feel like there’s more that we can purge! Clothing wise, though, I’m pretty good. every six months I purge what I haven’t worn in the past year.

  18. I love purging. That’s one of my great joys in life so organizing isn’t too difficult. Every weekend I pick one little corner of my house and throw out/give away anything that’s not needed. It feels so good. Thanks for all these wonderful tips.

  19. Having stuff that don’t have a home is the toughest thing in our home. Evertime I take the time to find a home for random stuff 10 more pop up! Lol

  20. Yes! I love getting rid of stuff! I have a hard time with my kids’ stuff right now with the possibility of having another kid in the future, but I can’t wait to finally get rid of all that bulky baby stuff! Great advice, limiting what you own to only what adds value is a great way to stay organized!

  21. Wow, lots of great info! I’m pretty good at keeping my house de-cluttered but I’m now inspired to find more stuff I can donate. I just got Netflix and will be watching Marie Kondo’s show before the day is over.

  22. I haven’t fallen victim to the KonMari method, but I have developed my own way of purging the clutter and slowly but surely making my home a more inviting place to live. You just have to do what works for you. One method isn’t the right answer for everyone.

  23. I am on a decluttering mission this year and we are doing most of these things! Definitely just get started even just 30 minutes. I still have my clothes to purge but I have made a start on my shoes. We’ve done the big main areas of the house but still have the kitchen to tackle. We will get there though. What’s getting me through it is the thought that once we’ve got it sorted we can just keep on top of it and it will be much easier to maintain – I hope!

  24. I had a mega purge when I moved house recently- I was dreading it but it was actually therapeutic! My new house is uncluttered- I’m determined it’ll stay that way (especially as my children are now a lot older & toys are no longer of interest).

    1. Doesn’t it just feel fabulous? A move is a huge incentive – here’s to keeping it up now that you’re settled in!

    1. I know exactly what you mean about that frustration level. Hopefully this can give you tips and inspiration to give it another go this year 🙂 …

  25. My stuff is super organized, but I still have way too much of it! I’ve been slowly going through and purging. It’s a long process, but it really is life changing!

    1. Isn’t it, though? My own mama despairs that I will NEVER get there – but every time she comes to visit, I can show her one more area I’ve tamed since she last came, so that is a definite way to mark progress. And I know just what you mean about “organized clutter” – when I was in college, I would periodically call home and ask her to paw 2/3 of the way down in (for example) a several-inches-high pile of paper on my desk at home, pull out a particular piece of paper, and read or mail it to me. She was constantly amazed that what looked like a heap to her contained exactly what I said it would, WHERE I said it would be.

  26. Purging what no longer serves us in all areas of our lives is not a bad thing. Of course, getting there takes work… we need to buy in, feel ready and then do it.

  27. Oh my goodness Flossie! This is like the compendium of Purging!! I love it that you expose different methods and I’m going to pin your post down and apply them next spring. I take a week off each spring only for this purpose!

    1. A week? Wow, I’m impressed! Granted, I don’t just quit blogging and work at this for weeks/months on end until I’m finished, but my purging projects often stretch out way longer than that! (Then again, I can only do so much at a time before a) the kids interrupt me or b) I need a break!)

  28. I have been cleaning and purging like crazy. I’m definitely going to use your tips too! I hate having clutter everywhere, and I can totally relate to having “homeless” items. It drives me crazy!

    1. I was really skeptical when I first read _The House That Cleans Itself_ because she swore that dealing with the “homeless items” would go a long way toward solving clutter problems permanently. But I have to say, as I’ve made progress in this area, little by little over time, I am amazed to see that the systems that truly work STAY! – they don’t disappear under a pile of mess again! And I know they work because my whole family uses them, not just me! – meaning it’s easy for EVERYONE to keep up 🙂

  29. This year I tackled the bathrooms after getting frustrated with my husband pile of product on the counters. Now there is nothing let on the counters and it is so much better. Purging and finding an organized style has made such a difference.

    1. Oh, I can totally relate! Alas, I have contained my hubby’s bathroom clutter as best I can, but the next step for us is buying a medicine cabinet, and I’m loathe to part with our huge mirror. But I keep working on the kitchen counters, and someday I’ll get him to keep them up once I’ve cleared them off! 🙂 (horizontal clutter does not faze him but drives me NUTS! – I’d much prefer to hang things on the wall, but vertical clutter is what drives him batty LOL!)

  30. Well done. I started purging about 5 years ago. I know do big clean outs every few months and I am ruthless about what goes now.
    You will be surprised how much space you actually have in your home when you start clearing out cupboards!

    1. Oh, I totally agree! If only because you can A) find things again and B) no longer purchase duplicates all the time! Having only ONE of something instead of three, four, five, six really frees up a lot of space!

  31. I am constantly decluttering and purging at my house. I also like to rearrange things to find better ways to store them. My mom laughs because every time she comes to visit something has moved in the house! I do the 3 bins but I also have a 4th for things that belong in another room so I can get things put away.

    1. Oh this is too funny – I can relate to EXACTLY what you are talking about – except my desire to constantly “optimize” spaces and “systems” gets checked by my dear husband, who is a creature of habit. I have to try not to rearrange things too often, because it drives him nuts! 🙂

    1. Agreed! My home is definitely still a work in progress, but every time I get one more area done, it is definitely a huge weight lifted – refreshing is the perfect term to describe the feeling! 🙂

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