I love being organized. I’m not saying this ironically, either. I really do love that feeling of everything having its place, especially if that means I get to buy items to organize it. The thing is: I kind of suck at keeping things organized. I have great intentions, but keeping up with things is hard for me when there’s so much other stuff I’d rather be doing. So here are some things that help even unintentionally messy people stay organized.
Have a system in your closet. What works for me may not work for you, but I like to sort my closet by item – so, long-sleeve blouses go together, dresses go together, etc. Others might sort by color. There’s no “right” way to sort your closet, as long as it works for you.
If it’s not working, change it. When I still lived at home, I felt like everything needed to be hung in the closet – so when I moved out, I stuck to that mantra, hanging my leggings, my tank tops, my under shirts. Yet those items always ended up on the floor, even if they were clean. So I invested in some shelving and cubbies that would let me toss my items where I felt like it, but still remained organized.
Match your wardrobe to the season. Whenever there’s a shift in the weather, I go through my closet and re-evaluate which items I’ll need for the upcoming season. So, going from winter into spring, I will fold up my heavy sweaters and instead break out my lighter cardigans. Winter clothes get stored elsewhere – for me, that’s in a plastic container (the kind you can get at Target or Walmart) – until that season comes back around again. Switching up your clothes to match the season help make your wardrobe feel new, even if you’ve worn the item 100 times. It also helps you to…
Recycle! Re-evaluate your items. If I’m packing away a teal sweater that I didn’t wear once that winter, I usually try it on and ask why. Was it the cut? The color? Did I not feel great in it? Did it get shoved in the back of my closet? More often than not, it’s time to just let it go. My general rule of thumb: if I haven’t worn it in the last three months, and I didn’t miss it, I’m not likely to wear it again.
If you can’t decide whether to keep something or toss it, do the hanger trick. I’m not sure that’s what it’s called, but I needed something pithy to end that sentence. Anyway, hang the clothes you’re unsure of, but make the hanger face the opposite direction as the rest of your clothes. After a few months, take a look at your closet. Anything that is still on the backward hanger is an obvious sign you haven’t even considered wearing that item.
Donate. By the time I’ve finished going through my closet, I’ve usually got a decent pile of clothes, which I put in a bag (garbage bag is fine) and bring to my local Goodwill. Remember: there’s no point in keeping clothes you don’t wear – so get rid of those jeans you’re hoping to fit back into and buy something you can wear and feel good in now!
Plan your meals. It’s a pain, but knowing what you’re going to eat ahead of time – or even just having a very rough idea – is super helpful. It helps you know which items you’ll need to pick up at the grocery store and it saves that conversation of “what do you want to eat?” – “I don’t know, what do you want?” (AKA the story of my life). Bill and I use a shared Google calendar to plan our meals out for the week. It also helps us juggle chores.
Make frequent grocery trips – with a list. I don’t know anyone who LOVES grocery shopping. I used to make huge grocery trips and just grab things I wanted. Half the stuff I bought ended up going unused or bad. Now I go to the grocery store armed with a list (made after I’ve finished planning!) and I try not to stray from it. Also, how badly does it suck to have to carry a ton of groceries in at one time? If you can swing it, weekly grocery trips will make for a much smaller load. It also makes getting fresh items, like fruits and veggies, much more doable.
Purge, purge, purge. I don’t see the point in holding onto things I don’t need just because I might need it at some vague point in the future, maybe. If it’s not in use now, and it won’t be used again in the foreseeable future (like Christmas lights or something), then toss it.
There’s a maximum amount of sentimental items we all need. And I breach that maximum regularly. But if I’ve learned anything from my “Hoarding: Buried Alive” marathons, it’s that memories lie within us, and not within our stuff. So toss that stack of notes from middle school. It’ll be okay.
Keep like items together. I have “holiday” boxes clearly marked. Sharpies are my best friends. As things go into a box, I clearly mark what is inside, so there’s none of this guesswork the following year when I’m looking for my Halloween decorations. Keep everything together, labeled, and packed away nicely. You will thank yourself later.
Organize intuitively. Think about where you need items, where you use them, and where they’ll be most useful – and store them there. Your shoes may look nice in your closet, but if you come home and kick them off right when you walk through the door, then storing them near the door is far more practical.
For documents and paperwork, invest in some folders. You can get them for 25 cents or so, especially around back-to-school season. Label these and stick to your labels. I have one folder labeled “apartment paperwork” that has the receipts from the money orders Bill and I used to put a security deposit on our first apartment – three years ago. That’s a bit excessive, but you get what I mean. Keep passports, birth certificates, visas, etc. together. Folders are your friends.
Get a wall calendar. And put it somewhere you’ll actually look. Write everything on it, including doctor’s appointments, dinner plans, nights out, and even chores. Fill it out in advance, if you can, so you know what’s coming up and what to plan ahead for. I find this really helpful, especially when I decide to utilize my Google calendar (which, thanks to cell phones, can go with you anywhere).
Keep a list of important dates. Birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions should all be stored somewhere safe. If you have a big family like me, this will be one of the best items in your arsenal.
To make shopping for those events easy, also keep a list of people’s interests. This works for families, friends, and even co-workers. I keep a running list of things people are interested in, as well as favorite colors, items they’ve mentioned, and things they don’t like. Scrambling to find a gift at the last minute is a pain, and it’s stressful, so having a few suggestions to look back on can really help.
How do you stay organized?
25 to Life is an ongoing column that chronicles Crystal’s life as she prepares to turn 25. See her previous columns here.