When your home is cluttered and chaotic, it can be difficult to muster up the energy needed to tackle even the smallest of chores. The worse it gets, the harder it is to find both the time and strength to put things to rights. But all that disorder is actually doing you harm. Research has shown that living and working in a clean, orderly environment is beneficial to our both our mental and physical health. Well-organized spaces lower our stress levels, increase motivation, improve sleep, and even encourage healthier decision making.
Organizing and cleaning a cluttered house may seem like a colossal task, but if you break it into smaller pieces, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. Here are four small(ish) projects to get you started:
Put Your Closets in Order
When your household closets are well organized, everything is so much easier to find. No matter what kind of closet you’re looking to tackle, the following six steps should help you straighten things out:
Gather your materials. You’ll need some basic cleaning supplies and boxes for sorting.
Empty the closet of all contents.
Wipe down the shelves and sweep/vacuum the closet floor.
Sort the contents of the closet into three piles: keep, donate, and trash/recycle. If you’re having trouble deciding whether something is worth keeping, ask yourself, “Have I worn/used this in the last year? If my home burned down and I lost everything, would I replace this?”
Assess your storage needs and make any adjustments necessary, such as installing shelves or making use of baskets and bins.
Organize the closet contents by grouping similar items together. Place the items you use most often in the most accessible area and seldom-used items toward the back of the closet or on a high shelf.
Once your closet is properly organized, keep it that way by maintaining it throughout the year.
Straighten Up Your Files/Records
Whether you use your home office for work or for managing your household's most important documents, you can't get much done if your files are a cluttered mess. Fortunately, putting things in order shouldn’t be too difficult!
Tools you’ll need: a shredder, a scanner, and a recycle bin.
Start by coming up with a system to organize your files. It can be alphabetical, numerical — whatever makes sense to you. Then, set up folders for each type of document being filed. For instance, you might have one folder for medical forms, one for tax documents, and one for household manuals. By constructing a clear and straightforward filing system, you’ll always know where to look for important documents.
Next, gather up everything in the house that needs to be filed. Make sure to grab any mail tucked away in various nooks and crannies, documents or manuals that were randomly pigeonholed, and odd papers strewn about on tables and counters. Sort the documents into four piles: urgent, file, shred, and recycle.
Once your papers have been sorted:
Place your “urgent” documents (like high-priority bills) in an obvious spot on your desk. It may help to have a tray specifically for this purpose.
Digitize all documents you plan on keeping. There are many reasons to scan your records, but chief among them is that it’s far easier to back things up. Name the files appropriately and then move them to the applicable folder.
For physical copies you need to hang onto (i.e. birth certificates), place documents in a flood/fireproof safe.
Collect all items for disposal. Shred anything containing account numbers, birth dates, maiden names, passwords, pins, signatures, or Social Security numbers. Recycle what’s left.
It’s paramount you back up of all of your important files. Natural disasters and computer crashes seem to happen when we least expect them, and you don't want lose anything you need. Backups can be kept on an external drive, in cloud storage, or in a safe.
Catalogue Your Photos
Like your household documents, organizing your photos begins with gathering them all up into one central digital or physical location. As you do this, be sure to preserve any existing organizational structures—such as digital folders, paper envelopes, or albums — as these often provide information about a group of photographs. Then you can get to work!
For digital photos:
Review and edit: Delete duplicate, repetitive, and poor-quality shots. Edit what’s left by cropping and rotating, removing red eye, and touching up exposure and contrast where needed.
Create folders: Choose a method for organizing your photos on your computer. You can do it chronologically, by theme, or even by person/pet.
Rename and file: Rename each photo and place it into the folders you created.
Backup: Back up each batch of photos as soon as they’ve been organized into folders using at least two of the following methods: an external drive, the cloud, an online storage service, or physical copies.
Delete: Erase the photos from your camera or phone to avoid accidentally downloading duplicates and to create space for your next photo opportunities.
Keep it up: At least once a month, download photos from your camera/phone to your computer to avoid them being lost.
For physical photos:
Be prepared: In order to properly organize your pictures, you will need to invest in a large set of photo albums as well as some photo boxes.
Sort: Arrange your prints into groups by year, event, or subject.
Record details: As you sort, write an identifying description on the back of each photo with an acid-free, photo-safe pen. You can record details such as the date or who's in the photo.
Cull: Throw away photos that are blurry, poorly exposed, or are of something you'd rather not remember.
Digitize: Scan your prints and sort them into your digital folders. This will serve as a backup should anything tragic happen.
Display: Put your favorites into an album or frame!
Photographs need special care to survive the passing of time. Storing your photos properly is incredibly important to their longevity. Albums with acid-free plastic sleeves and specially designed photo boxes are the best way to keep them safe. Since temperature, humidity, and light can negatively affect photos, keep them stored in a cool, dry area — and avoid storing them in basements or attics.
Whip Your Garage Into Shape
If you've accumulated a gargantuan amount of clutter in your garage, you are not alone. Garages often become a dumping ground for all those items we don’t know where to stash. If you’re ready to take on the giant project that is your garage, here’s how to go about it:
Tools you’ll need: heavy-duty trash bags, broom, shop vac, and plenty of storage bins.
As with your closets, you’ll need to start by purging the garage of its contents before you can start to organize. Arrange your bins, baskets, and trash bags beforehand. Lay everything out on your driveway and being to sort it into categories (e.g. car supplies, tools, sports equipment, lawn and garden). Once you’ve done that, you can separate the items you wish to donate, sell, or throw away.
Clean your garage well, making sure to dust shelves, sweep out cobwebs, and wash the floor. Assess your garage storage needs and decide how you’d like to utilize your vertical space (peg boards, cabinets, shelving, etc.). Once everything is properly installed, you can move items back into the garage and store them in their proper homes. Place frequently used items closest to the garage door. If you have children in the house, make sure household chemicals and other dangerous items are stored in a locked cabinet.
As you get better at organizing, you can start creating “centers” around your home, such as a homework center, or a recycling center. Sectioning your home in such a way can help you to keep clutter at bay and use your space to its fullest potential.
Organizing your house doesn’t have to be a titanic-sized operation. By breaking big jobs into bite-sized tasks, you can squeeze a little bit of organization into a few hours of your time. And believe it or not, finishing even the smallest of these projects in a weekend will put you in a good mood for the rest of the week.
By: Liz Greene
Liz Greene is a feminist, makeup enthusiast, and anxiety-ridden realist from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. When she’s not writing, she enjoys eating fancy cheeses, fantasizing about what life would be like if she had an Iron Man suit, and re-watching Venture Bros. episodes for the 100th time. You can follow her latest cosmetic misadventures on her blog, Three Broke Bunnies or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene