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How to start getting organized

Stuff. It does add up, doesn’t it? Suddenly, you find yourself unable to find what you want, because there’s just too much stuff.

You start to feel overwhelmed with the chaos, disorganization, and mess. Maybe you even feel embarrassed to invite people into your home.

Time to bring a little order to the chaos, but where do you start?

How to Start Getting Organized

If you have an overwhelming organizing project, sometimes you just don’t know where to start. Or, you may find yourself starting repeatedly, but you just can’t seem to make any real progress to finish the project.

Here are five tips to help you start winning the battle against clutter.

Understand your motivation

I asked Certified Professional Organizer Denise Allan, owner of Simplify Experts, for her advice about dealing with clutter.

One of the first things she does with her organizing clients is to help them understand their motivation for getting organized:

I spend some time with my clients on their reason why they want to get organized. You need clarity on this issue to keep you motivated. Sometimes there is a lot of pain mixed up in that, embarrassment or shame, or the desire to have someone over to visit. Sometimes life is crumbling down and it’s a sense of control.

I was chatting with a colleague, and we also think the political climate has given some people a sense of chaos, and it feels good to come inside to their homes and control the environment that they can.

Choose your reason that is intuitively you – a sense of calm, beauty in your home, or pride of where you live. What’s your vision for the space? Put it on a sticky note on your bathroom mirror.

I try to remind my clients of their why before we start each session – set the intention and the decision making  and motivation are much, much easier.

Start with the spot that causes you the most stress

Organize a desk

Even though I’m usually a pretty tidy person, there are times when little piles of clutter build up around me.  I find that I have a hard time focusing, because I’m distracted by the “stuff.”  Something as simple as clearing off and organizing my workspace can make a world of difference to my peace of mind.

As you look around your home, is there one mess that causes you more stress than others? That’s where you should start.

Getting that first spot into shape will bring a little peace into your life, and who couldn’t use a little more of that? Also, it will likely make you feel motivated to tackle more spaces.

Break it into smaller chunks

Is the entire garage a mess? Start with just one wall, or organize just the garden tools.

Is the family room overrun with clutter? Start by organizing just the DVD’s, or just the kids toys.

By breaking a big space into smaller chunks, you will be much less overwhelmed. Now it’s not so scary to start the project. You can start that section, knowing that it is a size that you can successfully finish.

Once you’ve successfully finished one section, you can plan to start on the next another day.

Get rid of items you don’t need, don’t just relocate the clutter

If your idea of cleaning out a space means just moving all the stuff out and putting it somewhere else, you’re doing it wrong.

Good organizing starts with taking an inventory. You have to know what items are there, before you can know how to store them.

  • Throw away any broken items.
  • If there are duplicates, keep the best one, and get rid of the rest.
  • Only keep items you actually use.
  • Group like items together. (It is acceptable to move some things to other parts of the house, if you’re going to organize those parts later, and it makes sense to keep those items in the same area.)

Get rid of clutterMake a pile of things that can be donated to charity. If it’s hard for you to get rid of things, imagine someone else getting good use out of the items you’re donating. You’ll be helping someone out, rather than being stressed by clutter.

If you need more help with learning to let go of things, check out this post on Breaking Emotional Ties to Clutter.

Be sure to get a tax receipt for your donations. Then you can write off the value of the donated items on your income taxes.

Get support

If you’re not making any progress on your clutter, maybe you need to have a friend or professional organizer come in to help. I asked Denise Allan about this, too.

Denise says:

You are so right that clutter can be overwhelming. It creeps up slowly and then one day you hit the tipping point.

If you try to dig in by yourself and feel you are making tiny or no progress, or are so frustrated, then it is time to get help. I tell new clients who call for the first time that they have just done the hardest part, they have asked for support.

Having someone to help you, or hold you accountable, can make all the difference.

If you can’t seem to make progress with your clutter on your own, ask for help.  Maybe a friend can help you get organized, and you can return the favor.

Just make sure to get support from the right person.  Don’t bring in someone who’s just going to try to throw all your stuff away, or come in like a tornado and make you feel even more overwhelmed.

Create a manageable system, and teach your family to maintain the order you created

It’s incredibly frustrating to spend hours of time and effort getting a space organized, and then having it get messed up again within days. It’s enough to make you give up organizing all together.

Communicate with your family what you are doing, and why. Show them how you organized the space, and make sure they put things back the way they found them.

By starting with just one small area, it will be easier to “train” them. Habits of putting things away can be built as you tackle more areas of clutter.

Clutter control checklist

Now that you have started getting things in order, download your free copy of our Clutter Control Checklist to help you keep the new order you’ve created.

The checklist has daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly reminders for tasks that will help you win the battle with clutter.


Denise AllanDenise Allan is a Certified Professional Organizer who started her business, Simplify Experts, in 2007 to help clients bring balance and control in their homes, family and lives. Denise and her Simplify Experts associates create customized organizational systems that are easy to use and maintain.

They work with clients in the Seattle area, or you can follow them on Facebook.


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2 comments on “How to Start Getting Organized”

  1. Absolutely wonderful! Thank you and Denise Allan so much. The advice on understanding our motivation for organizing was simply an eye-opener for me!

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