There are lots of organizing books and methods out there, but they generally have a few main elements in common, even if they're called by different names (or catchy phrases/alliteration). Organizers may vary in the order in which they do some steps, in how much the client is involved, and in how long each step takes. We are of the school of thought that there are many great methods out there, even if ours varies slightly. The important thing is that there is a method, a process, a systematic plan of attack so that you can be the most efficient and also most effective in creating lasting results. We also have learned from experience that sometimes you have to adjust the plan, or customize it, to a specific client or need. So being rigid isn't our M.O.. We use a general plan of attack and adjust where needed to make it work for the situation. Our founder, Christina, was trained by Certified Professional Organizers and learned several methods in her education and years working for another organizing company. So she's had time to try things out and see what works well and what didn't. Based on those experiences, she's come up with the following method. Remember that when it comes to the specific solutions within the method, there is no one size fits all! The method allows for (and even requires) customization of solutions within each step. So use this as your general outline and get creative to find the right fit for you and your situation. And, of course, if you get stuck or need another set of hands, you know where to find us!
Plan it // Sort it // Love it or let it go // Zone it // Contain it // Maintain it
This is the vision & prep step. Before you tackle your house, a room, or even one specific area you need to know the vision for the space. The room might currently be storage, but how would you like the room to function? What is the dream for the space? What functions does the desk need to serve? Write down your vision for the space (you could even tape it to the wall!) and how you want to feel when you walk in the room. This will be your motivation and your guide as you make decisions: ie Does this fit my vision for this room? Does this help this space become what I want it to be? Keep your vision handy and review it when it's time to decide what needs to leave the space.
Also included in this planning step is prep. Make sure you set aside ample time to really see a dent (for small projects that might be 30 minutes, but for most I'd say start with 3-4 hours), have some Post-it Notes and a Sharpie handy, as well as trash/recycling bags/bins and some boxes or large black trash bags for donation items. Turn up your favorite music. Take some "before" pictures (you'll thank me later). Okay, now you're ready to go!
This is arguably the most important step, but also the one we see clients struggle with the most. Doing this step well will make all the rest much easier and will make your solutions last longer. This step will show you where you have abundance or lack. What we mean by "sort" is to put like with like. Make categories. Imagine your room is like a Target: there's a sporting goods section, a decor section, personal care, clothing, etc. Pretend your room is a Target and create a section for each category. This won't be the final resting place for your stuff, so don't stress about where you put each category. Depending on how much stuff you're dealing with and on what room of the house it is, you can either do a BROAD sort or a FINE sort. Broad means you stick to those large Target categories: office supplies, kitchen, bathroom. A broad sort is good when the room is very disorganized and very full, and/or when there's a lot of stuff that doesn't actually belong in that room (like tools in your kitchen). This gets you a basic framework and then you can move each section into the room it belongs in before you fine sort. A fine sort goes further, ie office supplies breaks down into smaller categories: highlighters, paper and index cards, shipping supplies, scissors, etc. This is good if you're truly only dealing with a few large categories and it's all stuff that belongs in that room. Use your Post-Its to keep track of what category is what- especially if you have a helper working with you!
Here are some examples of common categories you may create (but feel free to call them something else or create different ones!):
Clothes: short sleeve, long sleeve, tanks, jackets/blazers, dresses, skirts, dress pants, underwear/bras/socks/tights, tees, PJs, loungewear, workout tops, workout bottoms
Kitchen: dishes, pots, pans, gadgets, spatulas/etc, glassware/cups, stemware, barware, flatware, baking, serving/entertaining, foil/wrap/etc, measuring, Tupperware, etc
Garage: sports (fine tune: basketball, hockey, ski), tools, home improvement, gardening, kids outdoor toys, cycling, storage, etc
On this step don't worry about deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. Just sort. This will allow you to make an informed decision in the next step because you'll be able to see ALL of the mugs/shoes/screwdrivers you have at one time.
Love it or let it go
Now that you have all your categories separated you can make an educated decision. Look at each item and determine if it fits the vision for the space. Ask yourself if you love it, use it, or need it. You can use Marie Kondo's question: "Does it spark joy?" This is great for a lot of categories, but when it comes to that snow shovel it may not spark joy, but you sure do need it! Whatever criteria you use, be honest with yourself and give yourself the freedom to let go without guilt. If someone gave you a gift they did so to make you feel happy and loved. You can keep the sentiment without keeping the gift, and you don't have to feel guilty! Only keep what fits your vision.
This is where you might realize where you overbuy or what you gravitate towards when you're shopping. You may find that you have 8 long sleeve button down tops. Unless that is part of your uniform or you literally would wear 7 in one week, you probably can sacrifice some to make room for more variety and for things that fit your vision better. Here some clients of mine have said, "Well, it's not hurting anybody. Let's keep it." What they don't realize is that it actually IS hurting them. Their space is crowded and things are hard to find. When you have multiples of the same thing, you're sacrificing valuable space and your longterm goals. If you really use them all on a consistent basis, great, but we've found that's rarely the case.
There may be things you encounter that you want to keep but that either A) can be stored elsewhere to make more room here (like taking your luggage out of your hall closet and putting it in the basement), or B) you want to keep but just for memorabilia. These things can be hung on walls or removed from the space and stored safely with other memorabilia so they aren't taking up prime real estate for the things you actually use.
Sometimes you'll hear people say there's a specific order in which you have to process these categories. We're of the school of thought that you should start with the easiest category where you'll see the biggest impact and feel energized to continue. We also recommend leaving papers for the very last because they are so time consuming and often stall progress. But do what works for you! Maybe set a timer for a category to keep yourself moving along.
Having trouble letting go: Consider the tax benefit of donating, donate to a cause you support (ARES Thrift Store in Boulder gives vouchers to women and children from a local shelter for victims of domestic violence), and/or sell your stuff (Poshmark/Thread Up/LetGo, consignment stores for clothes/decor/furniture, or Craigslist (be safe!).
Yay! You've combed through all your belongings and now only have what you love and need! This frees up space and now you can make an informed decision about where in the room everything should find it's "home." Sometimes you're restricted by the size of categories or select items within a category, or by the size and shape of the room/closet/desk itself. You might draw out a space plan of the room and write down where each category should go to make sure you think through everything before you start moving things. Create a "zone" for each broad category: baking zone/food prep zone, sports zone/gardening zone/tool zone, accessories zone/shoe zone, etc. Fine tune within each of those zones, but work within the larger categories to make things easy to remember and to make it easier on your family members!
Here are some important things to remember here:
Keep categories together (Don't put some of your blazers in one spot and the rest in another section (unless they are truly separate categories/worn for different purposes). Keep like with like.)
Make sure everything has a home. If all of your hair clips don't fit in your ideal spot, find somewhere where they do all fit (or get rid of a few more). Don't leave random items out that don't have a spot.
Think about your daily processes and where you want to reach for things. What needs to be handy at your desk? What are you always looking for? What do you always need on your bedside table? What do you reach for most while you're at the stove? What items do you usually use in conjunction with each other? Let the answers to these questions determine where you should put things.
Once you've determined where each zone will belong you can figure out the details of how it will fit there. This is the Tetris step. How can you arrange the items within the zone to all fit comfortably with ease of access? You might find that you need some organizing supplies- a set of drawers, some drawer dividers, a turntable for an awkward cabinet. As much as possible, get things into the right cabinet/drawer/spot and make note of what product you might need to make it functional/perfect. We recommend taking a picture of the drawer and what needs to go in it, taking measurements, and bringing both with you to the store (The Container Store will help you find the right thing if you show them the picture and measurements!).
Make what is used most the easiest to grab. If you only use foundation and primer every day make those easy to grab and put the special eye shadow in the harder to reach spot since you only use it a couple times a month.
Don't cram. If stuff is too packed in it gets hard to take out and put back, so no one does it and you're just going to end up with a mess again. This is especially important if you have a spouse who's disorganized or if you have kids. They won't take the time to put it back if it takes too much effort. Make it easy!
Label it. Keep everyone on the same page for where to find things, but especially where to put them back. Labeling (and working within zones) eliminates the classic excuse, "I don't know where it goes."
You'll note that we didn't say to pick up supplies before getting started. Once again, going through the process allows for informed decisions and usually saves you money on supplies and/or a return trip to the store. There are exceptions to this, but 85% of the time it's best to wait until you actually know exactly what you need. Then take a much needed break and head to the store and to Starbucks before doing the fun part of putting all the stuff where it goes!
Hallelujah, everything has a home! Your space is beautiful, efficient, and functional. Everything fits your vision and supports your goals. Job well done!
Now the trick is keeping it that way. This is actually easier than you think. Click here to view our top pointers we sent to clients upon job completion!
Take some "after" pictures and celebrate!
Now that you have a method to tame the madness, you're ready to go! It's time consuming and can be hard work, but it is so worth it! And remember, wherever you are in the world you can contact us for virtual or hands on help! Also feel free to send us before and after photos of spaces you organized using this method! We'd love to feature you on our blog and social media!
Good luck and happy organizing!