Cleaning and organizing does not come easy to everyone. If you’re hoping to improve your methods and attack some cluttered areas, you’ve come to the right place. I have a passion for cleaning and organizing, but that didn’t always come naturally to me; I had to work at it over the years. Now that I’ve found some shortcuts and tips, I love sharing them to help others. Here are the 5 main ideas I use when first attempting to clean and organize something.
Number 1: Break it Down
This idea applies both to physically breaking things down to fit into the space better and to breaking the job down into manageable pieces. For example, if you want to organize a whole room, start with the closet. Even that might need to be broken down even further (i.e., organizing clothes before other items). This idea can take an overwhelming project and turn it into bite-sized pieces. Dedicate your time and energy into doing things carefully and slowly. Be aware of the fact that a project like a whole room might take several C&O (cleaning and organizing) sessions. Typically, I dedicate myself to one project per weekend since that’s the only time I can really focus on a task.
In regards to breaking things down physically, this is definitely the first thing I do when I approach a project. Is there anything being stored in this area that could be broken down to take up less room? My most recent project was a closet stuffed full of baby items that we’ve grown out of in our current stage. This included things like a bassinet, a jumper, a baby swing, a high chair, etc. Some of these items were made with built-in storage features like collapsable legs or removable covers, but many of them can be broken down further. If you have no plans to use these items in the near future, breaking them down to their easiest-to-store size can be a huge help to you in the meantime. I go in to better detail below in number 4 about breaking items all the way down and the best way to store them.
Number 2: Vertical Space
Vertical space often goes overlooked and underused. If something can be stacked upright as opposed to laying down it can create a lot of extra space. You can also store items in stackable boxes. Depending on how large your items are, you can typically find shoebox-sized plastic bins at the dollar store that work great for stacking to make use of your vertical space. And make sure to label, label, label! Check out the last section, number 5, for more information on that. If you’re storing things like books or folders, make sure to stand them upright. If you still have some vertical space above those books or folders, look into making or buying small shelves that can create another shelf for stacking above them. Refrain from stacking books or folders on top of one another. This makes it extremely difficult to access books on the bottom should the need arise. And if you awkwardly pull something from the bottom, and it knocks down the whole stack, now you have a new mess on your hands. It’s better to think ahead for the sake of accessibility.
Number 3: Out With the Old
Holding onto something “just in case”? Chances are, if that case ever happens, your feelings and circumstances might be different enough that you may not even need the thing you’re holding onto. For example, sometimes I hold onto some shirts or outfits with a plan that I’ll wear them again someday after I magically lose weight and gain confidence. In reality land, if the stars aligned and I was able to wear those outfits again, I’d most likely be more excited to buy new clothes because my tastes change over time as well as my budget and the available styles. As a personal rule, if I haven’t worn something in 6 months, I consider donating it. If I haven’t worn it in a year, I do. This rule can apply to anything you’re storing. If you don’t have a specific plan for the item, consider donating it after storing it for 6 months to a year. This will help keep your storage levels at a more manageable level and make room for newer items that may need storing.
Number 4: Keep it Together
This idea goes along with breaking items down. If you take something apart or break it down into smaller parts, think ahead to a time when you may need to reassemble it. Before I take things apart, I always make sure I have three things handy (other than tools): a small Ziploc baggie, a permanent marker, and tape (packing tape works best, but most tapes will work). As I remove small parts, screws, nuts and bolts, I place them all in the baggie. Then I label that baggie with the name of the thing I took apart and tape the bag to one of the larger pieces to make sure they stay together. Just throwing the small parts baggie in with the larger pieces creates a risk of losing them. Make the effort to keep the parts together. This method also works great if you’re disassembling furniture when moving. Labeling the baggie and taping it to the piece of furniture has saved me from losing the small parts several times.
Number 5: Label Now, Find Later
Labeling things is a labor of love. It takes a lot of extra work and planning to keep things organized in the long run. I find it best to label things as I go and to commit to finishing the job completely, which means labeling things as best as possible before moving on to another section. Too many times have I started to label things only to get distracted by another section that needs my attention, and when I come back to where I was originally working, I’ve forgotten what I’ve packed in which bin. I find the easiest way to label is to use a white duct tape or colored masking tape and a permanent marker. This is the fastest, cheapest way to label. If you’re looking for a more polished look to your organization, you can always take things a step further and invest in a label maker or, better yet, use a vinyl cutting machine to stylize your own personalized labels. But unless you’re hoping to get a lot of likes on Instagram and saves on Pinterest, I suggest going with the quick and easy tape and marker method. It’ll keep you from hating the whole process and giving up before you finish.
These methods only scratch the surface of deep cleaning and organizing, but they’re a great place to start. They’ll help you tackle any clutter, great and small. Just keep in mind that breaking your C&O jobs down into smaller chunks is the way to go. If the stuff you’re cleaning and organizing hasn’t gone anywhere in years, there’s no real rush if it means things don’t get done right.