How to Keep a New Year's Resolution to Stay Organized

Professionals dig into why it's hard to stay on track and offer advice to help

Overwhelmed by clutter

Lisegagne / Getty Images

No day is more full of hope and resolve than New Year’s Day. Coming off a season of excess, many people make bold decisions to make improvements, do better, live differently. One of the more popular resolutions is to “get organized,” however that looks. Such strong determination pushes people to action, and resolutions start out strong. But often, by the time spring has sprung, the resolve has fizzled and people slide back into old habits. We spoke to seven professional organizers who offer some advice to keep you on track year-round.

Meet the Expert

Start With the Mental

The first step in a successful resolution begins before you ever clear out a single drawer, and it starts in your head. Holly Blakey, founder and owner of Breathing Room Organization in the San Francisco Bay area, says even a seemingly simple change can make a big difference. “Mental is such a big part of organization. It’s the same concept as when you get up in the morning and, before you leave, you make the bed,” she says. “The energy and mindfulness when you come home has so much more levity if your bed is made.”

A huge reason people want to get organized in the first place is to find some peace. “We're all looking for space and levity and lightness, and our environment really has a lot to do with that,” Blakey says. “For some, it is a more minimalist space and for others, it is really having functional and efficient systems. It doesn’t matter what things look like, it’s the system that works: getting kids out door, having a night-time routine. It’s important for each person to understand what brings them that space and lightness.”

organized pantry

NEAT by Meg

Frustrating Parts Go First

Living in cluttered chaos can not only be frustrating, but it could give you more anxiety as you struggle to find what you're looking for and put things away. No one wants to associate their home with negative feelings, and often, the desire to bring that peace and calm makes it difficult to start. ”When a client wants us to organize their whole home and does not know where to start, my first questions is always "what frustrates or overwhelms you the most?" And that is where we begin,” says Meg Markland of Houston’s Neat by Meg. “Organization helps save time and money, and once you see the benefit of it, I think it is easier to tackle the next project.”

Consider Your Needs

When you have a picture in your mind of what systems you need to streamline your home and your life, consider your family’s needs. “Think about how you actually want to live in your home; what activities you need the space to support, and how you want your space to feel. Use this as a basis of what to keep or edit out,” says Laura Cattano of Organizational Design. “This method is more meaningful than the old 'if you haven't used it in a year' nonsense. It's more important to know why you haven't used something so you can not buy it again in the future.”

organized command center

Mika Perry

Tackle Small Batches

With a clear picture in your mind of what “organized” looks like for you and your family and how you live, it’s time to start! Try not to do it all at once, the experts caution. Joanna Wirick of Joanna Organize, says: “Think about a specific space you’d like to transform or a habit you’d like to change. For example, you could focus on organizing your kitchen or pantry or you could focus on tidying up common spaces at the end of each day. Make a plan and set a deadline. I love quarterly goals/resolutions because they’re time-bound and allow for some flexibility.”

Starting small also helps you gain confidence, which in turn, strengthens your resolve, says Shira Gill, organizer and author of Minimalista.

“It’s better to get a bunch of small wins under your belt than to bite off more than you can chew and do nothing,” she says. “Do one 15-minute project a day for 30 days.” Once you see the fruits of your efforts, you might be ready to move on to something with a larger scope. 

“Do one room a month until you are done and you feel good,” says Gill. “Running from one room to another is overwhelming. Say, ‘In January, I am getting my home office in order. In February, the bedroom,' etc., so you know you have a plan to hit every area but you aren’t trying to tackle it all at once.”

Plan for a Weekly Reset

Sometimes, despite the best of intentions and a lot of prep work, life gets in the way and people aren’t able to keep up with their new organizing habits. What do you do when you notice the clutter and disorganization creeping back in?

"First of all, this is totally normal! Even the most perfect spaces require maintenance,” says Louisa Roberts of NEAT Method New York City. “I’d set aside a weekly ‘reset’ time. Whether that means going through a pile of mail, refolding your t-shirt drawer, or removing expired foods from the refrigerator, I find that dedicating a quick 15 minutes to refresh the space is really rewarding and the best step to getting back on track.”

Resetting your resolution isn’t a failure, says Erica Thompson of Organization by Design. “ If you find yourself slipping into your old ways of being unorganized, first, give yourself some grace. Second, see if there is something going on in your life to trigger your former clutter habits. Third, remember you had it in you to get organized and you can do it again,” she says. “Know that being organized isn’t a black-and-white concept. It’s fluid, and there are times where you will be more organized and times when you will be less than perfectly put together. It is an ongoing process.”

Bringing yourself back to the beginning of your organization journey mentally can help give you the push to pick it up again. “Remind yourself of the why,” Blakey says. “What is the real root behind this need to get organized? Usually it’s the internal state. Their mornings are chaotic or they aren’t able to get organized at work. They feel like the brunt of everything is on them because the systems are not set up to be effective so other people can contribute.”