Amid the endless piles of laundry, dishes, forgotten bills, and overdue library books, you have a house. A house you would desperately love to show off with pride. It makes you depressed even to think about how to get this mess organized. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to help you make your home into a place that allows cleaning and organization to be easily achievable.
Identify the Messiest Areas of Your Home
Take a few minutes and mentally survey each room. In a notebook, jot down the problem areas in the room, putting one problem on each page. The items on the paper should be parts of the room that bug you, or that your family finds impossible to keep neat. Some examples of typical problem areas include:
- Shoes in piles next to your front door
- Tables in the entryway piled with mail
- Magazine racks overflowing with books, magazines, and pamphlets
- Outerwear piled in a heap next to the entryway closet
- Junk drawers
- Medicine cabinets
- Storage, including attic, basements, crawlspace
Carefully (but quickly) analyze each room in the house in this way, making a list of the areas that need improvement.
Analyze the Reasons for Clutter
For each of the problem areas you've identified, determine the reasons for disorganization and mess. It's best to do this when you are actually in the room you are surveying. Usually, there is more than one reason why an area of your home is continually unorganized.
- Why are there shoes piled up next to your doorway? You like people to take off their shoes when they come in. No one in your family wants to take their shoes to their rooms, and there is not enough room in the closet for all the shoes to fit.
- Why are magazines overflowing? You may realize that you have saved entire magazines when all you want is a single recipe. Or you may discover that your partner saved a series of old magazines for a long-completed project.
- Why are there so many coats and mittens stacked in the closet? Often, when parents buy their children new coats they forget to give away the older, outgrown coats. It's not unusual to save single mittens assume the second part of the pair will turn up sooner or later. And it's hard to give away gift scarves, even if you'll never wear them.
Continue this process for each of the problems in the room. Write down the reasons for each problem in your notebook, then move to the next room. When you’re done analyzing all your problem areas go on to Step 3.
In some cases, there are easy fixes to clutter problems. For example, an over-the-door shoe organizer in the entryway closet could solve the problem of piled-up shoes. A few extra coat hooks might eliminate piles of jackets. Try to brainstorm ideas for each problem.
While one family member can initiate this process, it's important to enlist your family’s help to find out what would enable them to organize more effectively. If you hold a family meeting where everyone has a voice, you may find that those slovenly family members have good ideas. Make decisions about what you are going to try in your own home. Write down the solutions you’ve decided on.
Typically, decluttering will require both organizational tools and behavioral changes. Keep in mind that the best organizing system of shelves, hooks, and labels does no good if it is not utilized. Your job, therefore, will be to identify a solution or set of solutions that are appropriate for your family, your home, and your daily life. For example, if the junk mail is piling up on your table you can select from a wide range of possible solutions.
- A mail sorter may be a good solution if you receive a fair amount of mail through the post office which should be saved and attended to (bills, invoices, personal letters). If, on the other hand, you receive many junk mail, there's a good chance that a sorter will be ignored or stuffed full of useless offers for products you don't need.
- A basket for mail is useful if you know the members of your family will check the basket, grab their mail, and deal with it appropriately. If your family members are likely to ignore the basket, however, important bills may quickly be lost under piles of magazines.
- A new process for managing mail may be in order if organizational tools are unlikely to help the situation. Consider making it a habit to immediately sort and separate mail when it comes in, tossing junk in the recycling bin within minutes of its arrival. Be sure to institute a process for setting aside and quickly coping with bills or other important mail.
The solutions you choose should reflect the realities of your lifestyle and space limitations. Even the most attractive "organizer" can become yet more junk if it's not used or is used incorrectly.
Implement and Maintain Solutions
Begin by making a list of the tools needed from your lists of solutions. Buy the tools that you need and set them up in their new home. You must also start to implement the behavior changes associated with keeping the mess clean. You may need to figure out a way to motivate your family to clean (prizes or gold stars are often effective for young children; more substantial motivators may be necessary for teens or adults).
You may find that initially, some family members find it annoying that their routine of keeping their things wherever they happen to throw them down is being interrupted. Be patient. The relief of always knowing where these items are will win them over in the end.
Keep yourself and your family honest by reviewing the room with your list in hand once a day. It may be best to do this at the same time each day. Discuss problems or successes: have you kept up with the changes needed? Have others? Evaluate yourself daily until new behaviors become routine.
If you have multiple problem areas, it may be necessary for you to pick one room at a time to overhaul. For example, you may have to set aside a Saturday to go through and remove junk, put together and install shelves, and organize items on the shelves. Try to involve your family as much as possible.
Add other rooms and areas of your home as you see how you and your family maintain the ones that you’ve begun. If you are diligent there may be a day when someone says, “Have you seen my…?” and you’ll be able to answer, "Yes!”