5 steps for organizing your life

Have you ever read something at a sort of perfect storm moment? When it seems like it’s the ideal time to read it and it makes you reevaluate your whole life? I read a post on the Alt blog a couple of months ago called “Staying Creative Over the Long Haul.” There were lots of great tidbits in the post but one part totally resonated with me—and totally blew my mind.

One of the tips was “Keep your life organized.” The blogger (Rebecca Beach from A Daily Something) talked about how messiness made her less motivated. Simple, really. But it totally opened my eyes.

I’m the kind of person who generally has six different projects going on at once, two kids climbing her like a jungle gym, and a house that looks like the epicenter of an earthquake. With so much going on I generally don’t know where to even begin. I start things, my mind racing about all of the other things on my list, and stop in the middle of it to tackle something else that might (might) be more important.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if something as simple as organization could completely change my little universe? I knew I had to at least attempt it, so I accepted this new mission and sort of changed my life in the process.

Here’s a little glimpse at what I learned along the way…

5 steps for organizing your life

1) Say goodbye.

I am a chronic holder on-er. Anything that I might possibly be able to use or reuse or repurpose at any point gets stashed away. This includes anything from scraps of paper and egg cartons to broken dressers and outdated psychology textbooks.

I decided simply and without much fanfare that it was time to let go. Time to weed through closets and drawers and a jam-packed basement full of junk. If you haven’t used it or thought of a magical way to repurpose it in the last six months, get rid of it! Toss it, donate it, sell it. Whatever. But declutter. You’ll be surprised at how refreshed you feel when you’re not swimming in a pool of your own junk.

2) Stop making piles.

I am a pile making queen. Mail comes? Throw it in a pile. Daughter comes home from school with an overflowing folder? Throw those papers right on top. Folded laundry? Throw it on a pile on top of the girls’ dressers. I was making piles everywhere!

And then I started losing track of what was in the piles. I missed deadlines. Bills didn’t get paid. I lost crucial slips of paper. I was a general mess.

So now? I’ve made it my mission to fold and put away clothes as soon as I take them out of the drier. When I get the mail, I take an extra minute or two to go through it immediately. If there’s something in it that I don’t have time to give attention to, I’ll file it on the side and promise myself I’ll get to it as soon as possible (and, more importantly, I actually do).

It’s not always easy to keep up with this, but I’m making progress!

3) Turn it into a game.

Games are fun, right? So even if it’s something that’s not considered fun (cleaning) but you call it a game, it has to up the fun factor at least a little bit.

There are lots of ways to do this. You can go with the age-old trick of plopping your kids in a room and seeing which one can clean the fastest (or, if you only have one kid, have them try to beat the clock). If you’re looking for a more long-term solution, you can have your kids compete against each other in an Epic Battle of Cleanliness. Put together a little check list of some of the things that are important to you (toys put away, dirty clothes in hamper, bed made, etc.) and do random checks. Whichever kid has the most items checked off on the list gets a point and once a certain number of points are reached, there’s a reward. Obviously this will work better with some kids than others, but the point is to get creative!

Believe it or not, this tactic can work just as well for grownups. I don’t know about you, but I’m generally up for a challenge. If my husband thinks there is no way I can get something accomplished before he gets home from work, you better believe it’s going to get done so I can throw it in his non-believing face.

Another tactic that works is setting a timer for a certain amount of time (say ten or fifteen minutes) and seeing how much you can get done. You will seriously amaze yourself when you see how much organization you can get done when it’s your primary goal. Try it. And then come find me and tell me what a life changing trick it is. I accept gifts of chocolate with open arms.

4) Make organization pretty.

Everything is more fun when it’s pretty, even cleaning. Seriously. It’s so much easier to lay back under my favorite sherpa blanket with a nice warm cup of tea and unwind when I’m surrounded by uncluttered pretty.

Now, pretty can mean different things to different people. For some, it’s clean lines and absolutely no clutter. Other people might like to throw things in storage baskets that help hide their kids’ mess.

Figure out what works for you and make it happen. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. It may mean running to the dollar store to pick up some cheap storage or moving an unused dresser to the entryway to store all of your winter necessities (something that I just did and am continuously patting myself on the back for).

bins for toy organization

5) Take care of things as they happen.

This one is major. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with the whole no more piles business, but it’s so much more. I can’t tell you how many times a morning will go by and I turn around and am all “WHAT HAPPENED HERE?!” My kitchen looks like it’s been ransacked with dirty dishes and crumbs spilling everywhere and cabinets still open and a filthy high chair tray taking up half the counter.

No more, my friends. No more. You know why? Because I clean my dishes as I use them (or at least rinse them off and throw them into my dishwasher). I put things away when I’m done and I don’t leave half eaten breakfasts and the filthy trays they lay on sitting around soaking up sunshine.

It is so much easier to go on with your day and focus on one thing at a time when you get rid of all of the unnecessary mess. It will just sit there like background noise, distracting you from any other tasks you have to do. Taking care of it all and not having anything waiting is like a breath of fresh air after a stinky, overcrowded elevator ride. It’s amazing.

Confession: I don’t remember to follow my own advice all of the time. In fact, right now as I type this, there is a box of diapers sitting in my living room from my shopping trip yesterday and piles of papers sent home from school on my dining room table. I’m not even close to Miss Perfect. Sometimes I slip back into old habits, but this is a process, not an immediate metamorphosis into a new and fabulously organized Martha Stewart clone. The important thing is that I’m taking baby steps. And that’s a heck of a lot better than the running around in circles that I was doing.

Written by Jennifer Garry
Jen is a freelance writer and girl mom from New York. When she's not knee-deep in glittery crafts and girl talk, you can probably find her sprawled across her couch in the middle of a Netflix marathon with dark chocolate smeared on her face. The struggle is real.