How to systematically organize and declutter any area

It always amuses me how many people get inspired to get organized come the New Year.  It’s as if 1/1 somehow had a magical connotation.  What was wrong with 4/16 or 11/8?  For whatever reason—POOF all of a sudden you’re ready.  But, hey, at least it’s getting done, so bring it on.

What you don’t want to happen, however, is a massive shopping trip to buy bins, baskets, gadgets, etc., if you have no plan on how to use them and implement your system.  Your new organizational tools can now create more piles and even more clutter.  Clutter is not always a problem that can be solved by bins.  That can make it even worse.

Here’s how I would systematically declutter an area.  Get five sturdy boxes.  Label them:

1.     Put Away—items that are out of place and should be put away

2.     Give Away—items that are in good repair that you no longer want, need, or use.  Give to charity, sell, or swap items

3.     Store—items that are going to be used again in a reasonable amount of time, but you don’t use on a regular basis

4.     Toss—items that are broken, old, worn, or in bad repair

5.     Belongs here—will go back into the room, drawer, closet, or cabinet you’re organizing


THEN (and only then) determine your storage solutions for item 3.

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Then take one item out at a time and put it into the appropriate box.  If you’re going to organize for 1 hour, set an egg timer for 50 minutes.  When it buzzes, use the last few minutes of your organizing session to put items away, put the charity items in the car, throw out the trash, or put boxes into storage.  The time investment made in getting organized will repay you over and over in reduced stress, decreased frustration, and more time to spend with friends and family.

The New York Times has a great article on this called A Clutter Too Deep for Mere Bins and Shelves, which reports on the health effects of disorganization.



  1. The best way to de-clutter an area is to dump EVERYTHING out and make a huge pile that’s in your way. Don’t let yourself move anything out of this intrusive pile unless it’s going to the RIGHT place.

    I find this to be the most effective way to really whip an area into shape, as it forces you into action, and to take stock of ALL that you have in your kitchen/closet/bedroom/wherever.