Some people were born with the organization gene—they were the kids who color-coded their Big Box of crayons. But for the rest of us, getting organized (and staying that way) remains a perennial springtime promise—as dependable as daffodils, but not nearly as pretty. Karen York, an Evanston-based professional organizer and one of those color-coding kids, knows firsthand how time consuming and often emotional an organization project can be.
“It’s more realistic to focus on one small project each day,” she says.
With that in mind, we asked York to devise a week’s worth of simple strategies to help you conquer the clutter, while developing lasting habits that will keep you organized—so it will feel like spring all year long.
SUNDAY: Make Your Bed
York recommends starting slow. Just make your bed today. And then make it every day. “Making your bed every morning before you leave the house will instantly make your whole bedroom look organized. It’s the largest item in the room – when it’s messy, the whole room looks messy,” York says.
MONDAY: Battle Your Bills
Set up a convenient bill-pay center—preferably near the front door, advises York. A basket or bin gives you a consistent place to drop bills as soon as they come in. As bills arrive in the mail, immediately write the amount due and the due date on the end of the envelope, and file into the basket in due date order. “Keep your checkbook, pen, stamps and a few blank envelopes in the basket, too,” York says.
And if you pay bills online, make sure you have reminders set up on your electronic calendar. “If you’re not using a calendar that you can access on your laptop and cell phone…start!” York says.
TUESDAY: Banish Paper Piles
Now that your bills are being paid on time, you can tackle the rest of the pile. Set up a filing system to easily sort mail as it comes in. York recommends a hanging file box (like this one from Container Store) divided into three basic tabs: “To Complete/Reply,” “Taxes” and “To File,” plus one tab for each family member. When sorting the mail, put bills into the bill-pay basket according to the system you set up on Monday, recycle anything you don’t want or didn’t ask for, shred anything containing personal info, and stash the rest under “To File” or a family member’s name. If you keep the file box, bill-pay basket and shredder in the same area, this process should only take a couple of minutes. Once a week, file the items in the “To File” section.
WEDNESDAY: De-Cram your Closet
A hardcore closet cleanout is a daunting task requiring at least a couple of hours and the help of an unbiased professional or candid friend. This week, get a head start and watch your closet clean itself! Keep two bags on the floor of the closet – one for items that need to be tailored, and one for items that can be donated. “I like to use large, handled paper shopping bags,” York says.
Then turn all your hangers backwards, so the hooks face you. Each time you wear an item, hang it up facing the right way. Whenever you try on something that needs tailoring, or doesn’t fit or look good, throw it into the appropriate bag. Follow this system for the duration of a season and you’ll have a clear picture of what you’re wearing and what you’re not. Take anything on a backwards hanger and add it to the “Donate” bag. Throw the “Tailor” bag in your car so it’s ready to go, and drop the “Donate” bag into the nearest donation bin. Replace bags and repeat. Kiss your wardrobe woes goodbye.
THURSDAY: Love Laundry… or At Least Like It Better
Coffee table covered in a mound of unsorted socks? Bathroom hamper overflowing? Break the cycle and follow this mantra: Just take it one load at a time. Wash, dry, fold and put away each load before you start the next one. “This way you won’t have unfinished work hanging over your head,” York says. It’s counterintuitive, but trust us, it works (we tried it!). While you’re at it, get everyone in the household their own (lidless) hamper. York says lids just create more work, so open hampers will cut down on time spent sorting or digging for Junior’s soccer jersey. York also recommends delegating. “Teach your kids and have them do their own,” she says.
FRIDAY: Spice Up Your Routine
Spices may be small, but they can put a mighty dent in your prep time and pocketbook. In the same way seasoning can transform a dish, a little sprinkling of organization in this area will transform your mealtime routine. York likes the Spice Stack Organizer from YouCopia, which comes in a variety of sizes and includes pre-printed labels. “Organize your spices alphabetically,” says York, “and it will never take you more than two seconds to find a spice.”
SATURDAY: Purge the Pantry
Prepare to be amazed! In an hour, you can remedy all of your grocery shopping and meal-planning headaches. Take everything out of your pantry and give the shelves a good wipe-down. Throw away expired items. “If it hasn’t expired, but you know you won’t cook with it in the next two months, bag it and take to the food pantry,” York says. Group together like items: pastas with pastas, canned vegetables with canned vegetables. Put your most-often used items on the lower shelves for easy access and stow rarely used goods on the higher shelves. For even quicker food prep, York says to try organizing pantry items by meal. Label clear plastic bins with each day of the week, and fill each with the items you’ll need for that night’s dinner.
Voila! Now that your life is organized, you’ve got time to get to the gym, right?