It’s a safe bet almost everyone wishes they were a little more organized or that their home or office space were just a little cleaner. If only I had the time, we think. Well if you have 15 minutes, you can get more done than you might think. Professional organizers share their tips on how to use small chunks of time to make a big dent in your cleaning goals. Here are 12 spaces you can sort out in around 15 minutes.
Meet the Expert
1. Under the Sink
Shira Gill literally wrote the book on breaking big organization jobs into smaller tasks. Her book, Minimalista, offers a ton of great tips. She is known for her “15-minute wins,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Take charge of your clutter, a quarter-hour at a time. One of her ideas for a fast refresh is tackling what lurks under the sink in your kitchen or bath.
“Get rid of anything that is gross and nasty or things that are duplicates and you know you won’t ever use,” Gill says. “You can donate to a local nonprofit. If there are things that are toxic and you know you won’t use them, you can put them in a “to be disposed of” box and when it’s full, drive it to a hazardous waste site. But you are at least getting it out of your prime real estate.”
2. Ditch the Junk
Everybody has a junk drawer (or two), even if they don’t call it by that name. A place where you stash things you either don’t know what to do with or things you are sure you will need someday. Just looking at it can make you anxious.
Holly Blakey, founder of Breathing Room Organization, has a plan for taking the “junk” out of the drawer in no time. ”Take out receipts, sort the paper clips, just take out everything that isn’t being used or is trash and then sort the rest, like with like, everything has a home,” she says. “Find little jewelry boxes around the house for the time being and sort them if you don’t want to spend money on [organization containers] right now.”
3. Unpack Your Bag
Wallets and purses tend to fill up quickly. “Purses tend to be full of things that need to go back to the office or medicine cabinet or random things kids handed you,” Gill says. “Things that need to be filed in a combination of trash or recycling and put things back where they go.
This is a perfect task to undertake while you are waiting at the gas pump or even watching a little TV. Gill calls these tasks that take very little time and chip away at a larger organizational goal “15-minute wins,” and who doesn’t need a win here and there?
4. Clean the Counter
Joanna Wirick, a professional organizer based in the Midwest, sets her sights on the kitchen countertops for a quick fix. “The kitchen is the heart of the home,” she says. “It’s a space that everyone in the family uses multiple times a day, and clutter can easily pile up.”
Wirick suggests that you pick 1-3 things to permanently remove from the counter. Then wipe everything down, load the dishwasher, and voila! “Even if the drawers and cabinets aren’t top notch, everything that’s out for the world to see is top notch,” she says.
5. Nightstand Spruce
Your bedside table is another spot that seems to attract the detritus of your day. Giving it a quick clean can do wonders for your state of mind, says Gill. “Even if you do the top surface only. I look and say, 'What do I actually want to stare at when I wake up in the morning?' I have seen so many nightstands filled with trash and kid stuff.” Gill suggests that once you have removed the trash and other things that don’t belong next to you when you slumber, you should add one pretty thing on the table to greet you when you awaken.
6. Pick Your Problem
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is get an irritant out of the way. Louisa Roberts of Neat Method’s New York City location, says the best area to give a quick clean depends on where you are at the time. “If I have a 15-minute opportunity to organize, I ask myself, 'what’s bothering me the most right now or what could I declutter that would simplify my life?'” she says. “My biggest pain point right now is a few of my closet shelves. I’d take the brief time to refold my sweaters and jeans so they’re neatly arranged in uniform piles and color coded.”
7. Piecemeal Pantry
The kitchen pantry is a hotspot for organizers and those of us who aspire to be organized. It can be a big job, though. “The pantry is really overwhelming for people, but set a timer and see what you can do,” Gill says. ”Maybe relocate things that don’t belong, then use another 15 minutes later to get rid of expireds.” Gill says you could also use 15 minutes to organize just a section of your pantry, by setting up a baking station, a kid snack station, or something similar that fits your life and interests.
8. Best Foot Forward
Sort through your sock or underwear drawer. “Doing an edit and reorganization is so easy,” Gill says. “Get rid of anything that you wouldn’t put on your feet, like socks with holes or that are mismatched or a style you know you won't wear.” She suggests taking any outcasts and donating them to a homeless shelter or, if they are beyond use, donating them to a textile recycling center. ”Pop in drawer organizers, and your drawer is good as new,” she says. “Organize by style and type or color.” Same process applies to your underwear drawer.
9. Laundry List
Any room that is out of general public view can be a magnet for things that really should go elsewhere. The laundry room is a prime example. “All you really need in the laundry room is detergent, a stain stick and maybe a dryer ball,” Gill says. “People tend to have so many things clogging up that space.”
Gill also recommends that you reconsider what you use to clean your clothes, and anything else for that matter. You can buy multipurpose products that will take the place of all the cleaners and detergent you currently have cluttering up your space.
10. Good Medicine
You might be sensing a theme here, but a medicine cabinet is the perfect place for unused things to hide. The last thing you want when you aren’t feeling well is to hunt for the pain reliever or cough medicine, combing through bottles and jars of medicine you haven’t taken in years. Gill says just a few minutes is all you need to toss expired medications. If you have time, you could organize the medication that remains by the person who uses them.
11. Gem of an Idea
Looking for the other earring or untangling necklaces when you are trying to get out the door is no fun. Save yourself time—and headaches—later by taking 15 minutes now to sort what you have and set aside things that are broken or no longer suit your style.
“Most nonprofits will take jewelry, especially the fun costume stuff,” Gill says. “If you have things that are worth a lot, you can consign them at a local store or the Real Real online.” You could also donate pieces you no longer want to a community center or theater or to schools that do dress-up activities.
12. Beauty Edit
Cosmetics expire about six months or so after they are opened, notes Gill. Perfume also goes bad after six months to a year. “Once you have cleaned up and are starting fresh, invest in fewer, better products,” she says. “Use them all the way up before you treat yourself to a new one.”