Q: “What Will It Take for My Home to Stay Organized Forever?! (Or At Least for a While Longer?)”
If you truly want to get and stay organized so you can reclaim your home and your time, the solution is to focus on four major areas prone to clutter: personal organization; storage areas; paper management; and family and communal spaces.
Q: “No matter how much time and energy I devote to decluttering and organizing, my place still feels like a mess. Why? What am I doing wrong? I’m not expecting perfection, but how can I make my home stay organized longer so I don’t have to spend so much time on it every day?”
You’re not alone in feeling like your home is in a perpetual state of disorganization, despite your best efforts to keep life decluttered, organized, and productive. My company, Organize 365®, surveyed about 5,000 Americans on this topic in 2021; we found that 84% of people are trying to find more efficient ways to keep their homes organized.1
When we set out to do a big home cleanup, most of us make the mistake of organizing the first thing we see — a big problem when there is so much to organize in so little time. We set out to empty out the garage, but then we notice that our closets need attention, too. And why don’t we sort through that massive stack of decades-old papers while we’re at it? Like mice running through a rigged maze, we chase the feeling of being done, but we can never reach it.
If you truly want to get and stay organized and clutter-free so you can reclaim your time, the solution is to organize according to four major areas of your home and life. In each area, you’ll ask yourself if you need to declutter and/or add items, based on where you are in your life. Then you’ll need to set up and maintain organizing systems for those items.
1. Personal Organization
Personal space organization covers everything that you individually “own,” from your wardrobe in your personal closet to your designated section in a shared bathroom to your handbag/backpack. It can take up to six months to completely declutter, build up, and organize all personal spaces.
After organization comes maintenance. You can clean out your purse and backpack every week, and clean out your closet and other personal areas every three months.
2. Storage Spaces
From your garage and shed to your basement and attic, these are areas where you store “all of the things.” In my experience, most people keep an unfortunate mixture of “stuff” in their storage areas — broken stuff that they’re hoping to fix, stuff they can’t part with and are hoping someone in the family will want in the future, and empty boxes. If this is you, focus on purging your storage areas of these unnecessary items.
After that, turn your storage areas into your personal in-home stores. That is, put up some shelves so that all of your items in storage can be easily displayed (in bins). Before you buy anything, save yourself the possibility of buying an item you already have and creating clutter by first checking if the desired item isn’t already on your store shelf.
Pro tip: If you celebrate holidays in December and keep decorations in storage, that month (and November) are the best times to organize your storage, as a good portion of your storage store will be on display, so you’ll have space to move things around in your store. Plan to maintain your storage areas annually.
3. Paper Management
We think we’re a paperless society, but we’re far from it. There are four categories of paper that are likely in your home: medical papers; financial papers; paper related to your house; and paper related to your family. Most people keep all of these papers stored in stacks in a closet, a spare room, on the kitchen counter, and/or in filing cabinets.
Paper management is often the most daunting of home organization tasks. (That’s why we even host paper organizing retreats where we all haul our papers and organize as a community!) But once organized, paper-management systems only require monthly maintenance.
Pick a category of paper, and sort through each piece, deciding which papers to keep or toss. Then, move all saved papers for that category into a binder. Get rid of any filing cabinets. Repeat the process for all other paper categories.
Note that this system is for record/archive papers. For “active” papers (anything from bills, invitations, forms you need to fill out, to-do lists), I recommend my Sunday Basket®, a place where you’ll hold important papers and address them on a weekly basis.
4. Family and Communal Spaces
The kitchen, the living room, the dining room, and shared bathrooms fall under this area, and require weekly upkeep — far more than the other areas of home organization, especially if you have children. While you can declutter and reorganize these spaces to be more manageable, these spaces simply don’t stay organized for too long.
When you’ve set out to do a big home cleanup, leave family and communal spaces last. It’s a far better use of your time to take care of personal organization, storage spaces, and paper management first. With those areas squared away, you only have to worry about upkeep once a year (and once every couple of months for personal organization), giving you time to focus on keeping family and communal spaces organized.
Now, here is the secret to staying organized for a lifetime: You must completely reorganize these four areas of home organization every 20 years. Why? Because the organization you need in one phase of life is not the organization that you will need in a later phase, when you will likely face different expectations and obligations. Different life stages, in the end, require different approaches.
Home Organization: Next Steps
- Free Download: 22 Clutter-Busting Strategies for Adults with ADHD
- Read: Don’t Organize It, Purge It — 10 Things to Throw Out Now
- Read: How to Motivate for Cleaning House When You Really Don’t Want To
The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Your Organized Home: Functional Organization for Your Life Phase Right Now” [Video Replay & Podcast #463] with Lisa Woodruff, which was broadcast on July 19, 2023.
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