WHEN I MOVED from a shared apartment into my own apartment years ago, I reveled in the luxury of being able to leave dishes in the sink and mail on the counter without worrying if it would bother anyone. The place was all mine. But, eventually, the mounting pile of mail in the kitchen started bothering me. So I put it in a garbage bag and hid it in the few feet of space between the sofa and the living room wall. This became a routine. Whenever the mail outgrew the kitchen counter, I tossed it in a garbage bag along with other miscellaneous items that didn’t have an assigned place. This would have been okay if I actually did what people are supposed to do with garbage bags: throw them away. Instead, I kept them hidden around my apartment behind the sofa, in my closet, under my bed, wherever there was room.
Basically, I had the worst organization system ever. When I finally decided to sort through everything (mainly because I didn’t have space to hide any more garbage bags), I felt I was digging myself out of a hole. I spent weeks combing through the junk I had accumulated. It was not fun. I was beyond annoyed with my former self for holding on to things I didn’t need and for not keeping track of the things I did need. It was time for a change.
While your experiences might not be as extreme as mine (or, who knows, maybe you’re even more disorganized than I was—but that’s doubtful), you’ve probably found yourself wishing you were more organized. Maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions was to organize your home (and keep it that way). Here are four tips I use every day to make sure I never have another garbage bag in my home again (unless it’s in a trashcan).
- Find a designated place for junk. Unless you’re Marie Kondo, you probably have things in your home that you don’t need but don’t want to part with either. Being organized doesn’t mean being a minimalist; it means having a place for everything. Keep a storage bin under your bed for miscellaneous items that you don’t use, like the snow globe your friend brought you from her trip to Iceland. Finding a designated place for junk does not mean finding a designated place in every room of your house—it means one place. Period. If you live in a two-story house, try picking a place upstairs. You might be more inclined to throw something away if saving it means lugging it upstairs. As a general rule, if a piece of junk is too big to fit under your bed, get rid of it. You don’t need that lawnmower you haven’t used since the 1980s.
- Reduce migration. Some things you probably wish you could discard, like bills and receipts, but you need to keep them (at least until after tax season). One way to reduce having these items scattered throughout the house is to store them near where they enter your home. Keep a small filing cabinet (or something more attractive) near the front door or wherever you open your mail. Carrying a few bills from the kitchen to the den doesn’t sound like a big task, but let’s face it, we don’t always follow through. Reducing migration increases the chances that your paperwork ends up where it needs to be.
- De-cluttering and cleaning are two different things. De-cluttering is removing unnecessary items. Cleaning is scrubbing, mopping and vacuuming (basically, it’s the only thing less fun than de-cluttering). While you probably don’t need to clean as often as Martha Stewart says you do, it’s important to be specific when you do. Whether your to-do list is written on a pad of paper, typed into your iPhone or stored in your memory, it should be more detailed than “Clean house.” The problem with large tasks is that they’re vague and can feel insurmountable, making them more likely to be abandoned. Try breaking down large tasks into smaller items, like “Mop kitchen floor” or “Vacuum bedroom.” This way, even if you aren’t able to clean the whole house, you at least have a clean kitchen floor and/or bedroom floor.
- Invite company. Hosting a get-together is an excellent motivator to keep your home organized. We’re all probably guilty of passing up opportunities to invite guests because our homes were in disarray. While your home should be your sanctuary, it shouldn’t be your hiding place. Opening up your home to your friends and community can be a joyful experience as well as a practical nudge to stay committed to your goal of staying organized.Whether you live in a McMansion or a studio apartment, keeping your home organized can sometimes feel like a challenge, especially this time of year. March is the sophomore slump of New Year’s resolutions, a time when the initial excitement of new aspirations begins to wane. When the challenge starts to feel overwhelming, keep these four tips in mind to help you stay committed to your New Year’s resolution all year long.
Aliza Epstein lives in Arlington, Va., and spends her free time writing and . . . organizing.