Browse social media, turn on the TV, do a quick YouTube search — home organization ideas are everywhere. And for good reason. For a lot of us, all it takes is a quick glance at some before and after photos to suddenly feel motivated to take on those overflowing junk drawers and stuffed closets once and for all. The reality, however, is that tackling a home organization project can easily become overwhelming. That’s why a lot of people turn to the experts for assistance.
Professional organizer styles vary, of course. Some focus on the whole home. Some prefer to take things one room at a time. Others are devoted to specific areas, like garage or closet organization. The main objective, though? They are all devoted to helping you effectively and efficiently gain some control back in your life through decluttering and organization.
Naturally, we wanted to gain some of this expert insight into effective home organization — the name of our blog is “Containing the Chaos,” after all. So we talked to Katherine Lawrence, a Certified Professional Organizer, KonMari Consultant, and owner of Space Matters, an organizational consulting service.
Katherine knows it all because she’s seen it all. She’s been in the organization industry for 20 years and is a consultant on the A&E series “Hoarders.” Katherine talked to us recently and shared some tried-and-true home organization ideas that she uses with her clients. Here are seven steps she suggests taking to achieve organizational success.
Step 1: Get in the right mindset
You can’t make progress if you don’t want to make progress. Sounds simple, right? In actuality, it can be tough to have the right attitude for organization.
Maybe you’re moving to a smaller home and need to downsize. Maybe you’re moving a family member from a home to an assisted-living facility. Or maybe you just want to have more order in your home. Katherine calls these “breaking points,” and they’re what inspire you to change your behavior.
Take a look at Katherine’s Instagram page, and you’ll see that she prioritizes a positive mindset. On top of the “breaking point” inspiration, she says you need to be emotionally prepared to let go. To organize properly, you’re going to need to get rid of some things. It’s an essential part of the process. If you’re not prepared to do that — and you don’t start the process with a positive mindset — you’re going to waste time spinning your wheels.
Step 2: Make a plan
Some people think organizing is as clear cut as selecting a room or space in need of reorganizing and jumping right into the project. Katherine argues that organization should be viewed as a whole-home experience.
For example, say you want to clean out your kitchen. You clean out the pantry, go through the fridge, and start rifling through drawers. What if you find paperwork? Where is it going to go? Perhaps you relocate it to the office. Once you move those papers from the kitchen to the office, do you have a paper filing system? Or are those papers going to fill another drawer? You can see where we’re going with this.
“Your home is an ecosystem,” says Katherine. Rooms are meant to flow together and work in harmony to create a cohesive environment.
Step 3: Cut the clutter
The time has come. Your plan is ready, and you want to start organizing. The first thing you need to do, though, is declutter.
Often, people rush out and purchase organizing products and materials before decluttering, only to find that the problem isn’t what to do with their stuff but the fact that they have too much stuff.
There are some people who love getting rid of things and others who have trouble with goodbyes, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle. You may not realize how much extra stuff you have lying around, but once you start the cleaning-out process and see progress, it’s going to inspire you to keep going.
Here’s Katherine’s decluttering advice:
To get started, look for big wins: Get rid of large items that you no longer use or need. This may be broken furniture, appliances, lawn equipment, stacks of books and newspapers, and more. When you see big pieces go, you’ll see big progress in a short amount of time.
Focus on what you love: As you work your way down from bigger items, start looking for things you no longer find enjoyable or useful. If you’ve stopped golfing and don’t intend on picking it back up, ditch the heavy bag of clubs. If you don’t sew anymore, find someone else who would love the machine as much as you used to. On the other hand, if you’re a tennis player, don’t stress about the racquets and cans of balls — just find a place where they can be stored out of the way. When you prioritize what’s most important, it makes the unnecessary more evident.
Save sentimental items for the end: It can be tough getting rid of mementos. We’re not suggesting you throw away your marriage album or anything. But ask yourself what has emotional significance and what’s cluttering your home. That old macaroni necklace your kid made 20 years ago may be cute, but could you keep a photo of it instead? It’s time to make some tough choices. But we know you can do it. Still, this step is easier to tackle at the end, once you’ve already gotten into the swing of decluttering.
Step 4: Don’t default to garbage
Too often, Katherine sees clients toss unwanted things in the garbage can post-declutter. She always urges people to think of other ways to get rid of those items, like donating or recycling them. “Try to keep things out of a landfill,” she says.
She notes that you’d be surprised at how much and what you can donate. You just have to know the right places to look. From scrap metal to tires to electronics, there are myriad ways that your trash can become someone else’s treasure.
You know what? This is a great opportunity to tout some benefits of using organizing professionals. Not only can they help you develop your decluttering plan, but they can also project manage the endeavor and find creative ways to discard your things. If you’re like some of us, you may have created different stashes of stuff with grand ideas of eventually selling them in a garage sale (which has, thus far, never happened). Bring some an organizer around, and those stashes? Outta here. Talk about a weight lifted!
And don’t think professional organizers are only for the uber wealthy. Many are actually quite affordable. Some charge by the hour, some charge by the project, and some work on retainers. According to HomeAdvisor, as of April 2021, you can expect to pay between $55 and $100 an hour for their services.
Step 5: Think of short-term storage solutions
No, Katherine’s not suggesting moving some of your stuff from one location to another and then pretending like you’ve decluttered — and simultaneously paying a monthly storage fee for an indefinite amount of time. Instead, she actually points out that a temporary portable storage unit comes in handy for large-scale home organizational projects. She says they’re used often on the “Hoarders” sets, and they have many other practical uses for homeowners, as well:
- You can move your lawn mower and other large lawn equipment out of the way if you’re cleaning out your garage.
- If you’re having trouble deciding what things should stay and what needs to go, you can put items that fall in the “maybe” column in the unit until you reach a final decision.
- If you want to get rid of large items but they haven’t been picked up for donation yet, you can get them out of your house quickly and easily.
Step 6: Maximize your space
You’ve followed your plan and you’ve decluttered like a pro — it’s finally time to purchase some organizational products (the fun part!). This should be your last step, according to Katherine.
However, she suggests that you don’t go crazy.
“The best organizational products are the simple ones,” she says, “Photo boxes, art boxes, file drawers, shelf stackers. Think of ways to make the most of your drawers, closets, shelves, and other household storage spaces. Unless you have an intricate hobby, like scrapbooking or quilting, you don’t need elaborate organizing equipment.”
For important documents, Katherine recommends digitizing as much as possible. Everything else can likely fit into a file cabinet.
For outdoor equipment, like camping gear, or other things that aren’t used often but need to be protected from the elements, she suggests using large, clear storage bins with weatherproof locks or seals.
Step 7: Focus on maintenance
Organization is a mindset, not a one-time thing. Funny how it comes full circle, huh? If you go through your whole home, donate or recycle unwanted items, and organize your space, the positive results won’t last if you keep bringing more things into your home.
To make lasting change, you need to modify your behavior. Sometimes people buy more than they need. And, when they bring something new into their homes, they don’t move something out. This is how the clutter builds and eventually becomes a problem.
Katherine sums it up best when she says to “be conscious of your consumer mindset.”
“One in, one out.” Organizational words to live by.
Now stop watching those “Hoarders” episodes and put these steps into action. Katherine’s cheering you on!
LB Gabriel is a freelance writer who lives with her husband, daughter and Golden Retriever in Memphis, TN. A frequent PODS blog contributor, she's a sucker for any tip she can find on downsizing, cutting clutter, or minimalist living. When she's not on a deadline, you can find her on a tennis court or golf course.