How to finally get organised – 5 key secrets to finding your way

by Debra Dane on January 31, 2012

in Home Life

Often I hear people say they are not naturally organised and they sound like they have resolved to just accept a chaotic house and life. Personally, I am naturally organised as my brain is just so insanely logical- and I combine that with an extraordinary passion for stationary and organising supplies that started in primary school. The good news is you can really learn to be more organised even if it is not your natural state. I have seen it time and again in organising books and blogs where the well- known writer shares they were not always organised. In an interview I did with Nicole Avery from Planning with Kids she also stressed this fact in her own story as she has “grown into” being organised. I want to share with you some basic premises that will get you on the road to being organised.

Do not organise your clutter

This is one of the big mistakes people make when they get fired up to “finally get organised”. They start following advice and tackle room by room – putting things in bins, straightening up tables etc. Before a single thing is tidied away or labelled you need to get rid of what you don’t need or no longer love or use.

Why spend three hours organising a closet and putting back on the shelf items that have been sitting in there, buried and unused, for two years? Sort through your stuff first and see what can go – recycle, donate to charity or freecycle type places, give to friends you know would love them, or sell to make some much-needed cash. This also lets you see what you truly need in terms of supplies and space. You might think you don’t have enough storage space, but really you just have too much unneeded stuff.

Find a system that works for you

This is the longer version of my “find your simple” philosophy. Often people who most desperately need guidance and encouragement to get organised are the ones to latch onto cookie cutter advice. You find a site or book telling you step by step how to get your house and life “in order” and then apply like a prescription. Two weeks or two months later you are back where you started. It is similar to detox and restrictive diets where you follow it for 12 weeks, lose the weight, stop, resume regular life and regain it all. Without the constant instruction you cannot sustain it because you have not learned how to think about it for yourself.

I can tell you how to declutter your wardrobe or how to declutter, sort and organise a closet, but how you actually organise things has to come from you after some reflection on your preferences, what resources you have, the spaces unique to your home, etc.

Group “like with like”

This applies whether it is how you sort your clothes in your closet (put all jeans together, short sleeve tops, long sleeve etc) or any other space in your home. The only way you will know what you own and make use of it is if you can see at a glance what you have in any given category of items. This is the way to avoid duplicates (or more) of things you don’t need multiples of. How many of you declutter only to find you actually own 7 pairs of scissors or 25 different tea lights and other candles when just the other day you were sure you had none?

Everything has a home

Following on from keeping things in groups, the biggest way to have an organised home is to assign places for these things to live. If you have a designated spot to store candles you will know when you need to replenish your supply and anyone in your house will be able to find them at a moment’s notice (like when the power suddenly goes out).

Look around your home and see what is always lying around in your “clutter hot spots” and you will find the things in your house that most likely have not been assigned a home. Your hot spots tell you what needs work and a system or storage spot created!

Keep it as simple as possible

While still being organised try to keep it simple. It is often overly complicated systems or inaccessible storage spots that are to blame for lack of follow through. If you need to get a ladder and move two other boxes just to put away something you are more likely to just leave it somewhere – possibly right near the storage spot just taunting you to put it away. If your system is complicated you will leave actioning items until the last possible minute because mentally you are already thinking it is “too hard” and you need to clear a big block of time for the task.

As an example of this I was a classic non-filer. Firstly my husband likes to hang on to paper longer than I think necessary. Second – we were using a binder filing system for years. We had different binders for different groups of bills and paperwork that we were keeping. I had to get out the right binder, possibly punch holes in the papers, put them in the binder and then put it away multiplied by however many things needed my attention. Instead I let the papers pile up in our in-tray and handled them altogether every 3-6 months.


One day I decided to rethink the system my husband had created since I was the one actually doing the filing. I found an accordion file carrier not in use in the house. I labelled the sections according to our needs and made it a drop in filing system with the current page in the front of the section.. It is portable, takes up little room and I have not been behind in filing for the last six months. Simple and easy and I know it will take me less than a minute to do the current batch of filing.


So what are you waiting for? What has been holding you up so far?

If it is sentimental clutter read my tips for dealing with that difficult decluttering.

Find your simple,



Image credits – Entryway shows several simple ideas

IKEA bookcase turned into bench seat


I am linking up with Jess for I blog on Tuesdays – go check out the other great blog posts on her site.

also linking up with

The Organised Housewife
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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Mummycando January 31, 2012 at 8:18 am

I thought I was good at letting go/ getting rid of stuff until I read the first point – lol! I de-cluttered my wardrobe about 6 weeks ago & looking across the room now, it is a terrible busy mess! Still too much stuff. Thanks for your post. Baby steps for me!
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Di-licious January 31, 2012 at 8:35 am

Great post Deb (and a timely reminder for me that I need to sort first then create my system).
I have a drawer in my desk (which is in the dining room) for all the papers that need to be filed. Its chocka block! The filing cabinet is in the study at the other end of the house. Clearly I need to improve my system…and make a 5minute commitment once a week to file things away. Little steps….
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 11:14 am

For some that might not be a stumbling block, but yeah for me having the filing cabinet/system far away from the papers would make me keep thinking i will get to it someday … Baby steps are the best ones as they are the steps that stick!
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Di-licious January 31, 2012 at 8:39 am

oooops…have updated my Twitter handle…
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Julie (The Useful Box) January 31, 2012 at 8:40 am

Great advice Deb, and I totally agree with you. I’m a lucky “born organised” person too, but I still find I need to re-think and re-work my systems from time to time as circumstances and “stuff” (and children and their parents!) change. Sometimes I need to remind myself it is okay to “let go” of my old way (especially if this is something I spent a lot of time on in the past). Great reminder to do what works for you!
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 11:15 am

That is one point I left off and will cover more in my follow up post – organising is an evolution not a revolution! (ha ha i just made up that saying!)
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Marita January 31, 2012 at 8:49 am

I’m emailing this to my husband!

Been suggesting we use an expedit shelf as a bench seat in my 8yo’s room. Hopefully this will inspire him.
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 11:16 am

Expedit has got to be one of the greatest gifts IKEA has given the world ! we have them all through the house and just built the desk form the range for my 8yo!
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Sarah January 31, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Deb, isn’t the bookcase in the Pinterest photo from the Lack range?


Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Ah yes with the legs is Lack, it says on the post there with the expedit you can do it without adding legs because it is wider / deeper
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sarah February 1, 2012 at 5:31 am

Oh great would be more practical for me without legs, less dusting underneath you see! lol


Ai Sakura January 31, 2012 at 8:58 am

Great tips on organization. I struggle in this area too. Mainly at the first point where we need to declutter and throw first because I am a little “hoarder” :p
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 11:18 am

Baby steps here too – don’t push yourself to breaking point, but do push yourself out of your comfort zone a little at a time. It gets easier the more you let go of stuff. I will cover this more in the follow up too. xx
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Yvette @ DTlilsquirts January 31, 2012 at 8:59 am

I have given up and gotten use to my chaotic lifestyle.. I hate it… I want to change and really have no idea where to start.. we don’t have much storage space.. but alot of clutter.. I am a hoarder… I must change! Thanks for the tips!
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 11:22 am

Thanks for commenting Yvette – big hugs to you as i imagine that is very stressful. I will write more on this tomorrow or Thursday – for now try to tap into why you want to change the situation – finding your why gives you the motivation to take action.
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LisaW January 31, 2012 at 8:59 am

Great post! I have way too many hot spots in my house. A couple of weeks ago, I donated 8 bags of clothes to charity and took an overflowing trailer load to the tip. I’ve started another charity bag and the trailer is half full again. If it’s not nailed down…it’s going! lol.
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 11:26 am

That is awesome Lisa – keep it up! Hot spots are definitely talking to us. I could not sort out my #1 hot spot until a few weeks ago I had a brainwave that has worked – I posted on the facebook page, but the idea was to put a “marker” in the spot I was struggling with – in my case the end of my kitchen counter. I cleared it off and put my new mixer there and that worked for 2 weeks. This week I moved the mixer and now have a photo in a frame, my cookbook stand and my pretty bin for onions and garlic that my hubby bought me for Christmas – I want to see those things so now I am less inclined to cover up the spot. Same idea on a dining table is to set it or put a big vase or decorative item in the middle. i think we see the blank spot and think “dumping spot” but when we look and see “something nice” we look elsewhere – so mark those spots that are usually “hot” and force yourself to find homes for the things.
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Annaleis Topham January 31, 2012 at 9:07 am

Yesterday I started in my bedroom! We tend to dump in here because we can close the door! I hate it being like this! Sofar I have cleaned out my husbands wardrobe and rearranged an created a small scrap booking area on my dressing table which was a place we dumped on. I had 3 bags to get rid of in just two parts of the room! More to happen today!
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Jenny Graves January 31, 2012 at 9:48 am

Great post… sometimes you wonder why it took so long to figure out something simple… I did it with the fridge and put the mustards and condiments in the one door shelf … so much easier thatn searching everytime and you know when you need to restock.


Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 11:27 am

Exactly! Those times the fridge gets cluttered we forget there are leftovers to eat or we already have X opened etc.
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Veronica @ Mixed Gems January 31, 2012 at 10:20 am

I do bits of what you’ve outlined but I do get a bit sentimental at times and keep what i shouldn’t.

I am also willing to take an extra step or two to whole punch that paper and then dig out the file to file it. Hubby doesn’t. I try to work to his lowest common denomintator to make it easiest for him but paperwork is just not his thing.

Anyway, I do what I can with the rest of the house but I am feeling the need for a big right now just to simplify. I remember how liberating it felt living in only a few clothes whilst pregnant.

One thing I realised a while back but never finished my post about it is that I am more orderly than organised, if that makes sense. I need more of the latter.
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 11:28 am

I am going to talk about sentimental clutter next time so stay tuned.

Go on and write that post about orderly vs organised as I personally would love to read it and understand more.
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Sonia @ Life Love and Hiccups January 31, 2012 at 10:41 am

ohhhh Deb – you inspire me hun :)
By the way, I am loving the simply your life and reading everyone elses. I am not doing mine on my blog, but in a journal all for myself. i have learnt so much about myself and I am so grateful to you for taking us on this journey. :) xx
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 11:29 am

Thank you so much Son – glad to know you are doing the challenge in your own way and that it is helping you. xxx
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Erin @ Lohtown Life January 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I love to be organised too & I’m constantly working towards it. But I do find it hard with little people to keep everything in its home. Sometimes it feels like a constant process of returning everything to its home ;)

I really appreciate your point about just dumping stuff places because its home is too hard to access. I might need to rethink some organisation in my garage :)
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Grace January 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm

These are great tips, Deb ! I have a terrible tendency to organise clutter then wonder why everything’s in a mess the next day. Good point on grouping “like with like” So logical. Off to sort out my desk now ! :)
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lulu January 31, 2012 at 1:08 pm

We move in April into our brand new house {and in Japan, at least for us, this will be the house we will be in forever. Unless we make a permanent overseas move} and while I have to get started on the decluttering and organizing I know that I WILL do it before we move and while we are moving. I do not want to take anything we don`t need to the new house {and luckily the new house is about 50m away}.

I am also working on a household binder but just getting things ready, printed, jotted notes etc because I know I can`t do it for our current apartment and have it work for our new house {well menu planning and schedules will stay the same but other parts will be different} so it is a work in progress that won`t be finalized til we move.

I feel a bit in limbo because of this though- like I could be so much more organized but I am waiting. Seems a bit of a cheats way out to be honest.

I am a big believer in the everything has a home and put like with like. We already do that. Or I already do it. DH often needs reminders of where things are kept/put back to :DDD

The house we are moving into is twice the size of anywhere we have ever lived in Japan. We have been in 4 different apartment since we met eight years ago and 2 of them were with the kids. The kids will have their own room, I will have a pantry {something I have never had in Japan} and we will have a ton of built in closet space as well as a loft for extra storage. I can not wait!

Lets hope my motivation to declutter and keep things organized carries through to our move and beyond.
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Having moved lots it is the best motivator for decluttering successfully if you start early. If you leave it until you are actually packing you slow yourself down and can get to the point of being stressed about packing so just pack the clutter. If you start now you will be down to what you want to take with you. It is amazing though how you always fill whatever size home you have (at least most people do) – congrats on the new home by the way xx
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Stacey-Lee January 31, 2012 at 2:48 pm

I feel so much better in my home when things are decluttered and organised. Everything having a home is definetly the key for me, currently on a label spree cos it’s one thing for me to know where it belongs – the hubby and kids is entirely different. So true that a system that works for others may not for another, I have lost count of the amount of times I change things until I find a spot or system that really works for me/us. Just recently had a brainwave that although it seems right to have all my papers located at our only desk (that also houses our desktop computer) I rarely am able to access due to everyone else being there, so I never get to it when I want to – time for another change!
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 3:42 pm

That there is what I am talking about – find YOUR simple, not just what works for 1000 other people. I bet the first person to put a desk in their kitchen was deemed crazy and now look at blogs and pinterest – the kitchen desk is here to stay!
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Katie January 31, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Great tips. I am on a get-organised journey and am really happy with how I’m going. Life is so much easier with a little bit of organisation. Adopting the principal ‘Everything has a home’ has made such a big difference.
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Blythe January 31, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Debra, fasntastic post and so timely! It sounds like we currently ahve a similar filing system as the one you used to have – folders for everything. I would so love to simplify this, it takes up so much space and time to file! The accordian file sounds like a great solution, but it’s the next step that I struggle with it. Do you simply file all “stuff” in there for one financial year, then start a new accordian file? Or do you have your individual binders put away somewhere, and at the end of the FY, do a huge batch file of each divider in to the appropriate accordian file, eg. the Car or Medical binder?
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Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 7:53 pm

well it has not been a whole year yet but my plan would be to shred / get rid of most of it as we don’t need to keep bills forever (what I am teaching my husband). he maintains binders for the car, taxes and mortgage / anything legal (and the deal was he keeps the binders and has to file that stuff then). my stuff is things that don’t need to be kept long term (like water bills, credit card statement etc). I have been trying to explain to him that if it can be re-accessed online or requested if needed we don’t need to keep it. perhaps a long term folder for tax things etc
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Leanne @ Uber Simplicity January 31, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Great advice Deb! I’m a neat freak too, everything has to be in its place or I fall apart LOL!

I also learnt the value of what to keep and what to discard after our home burnt down when I was 19. If it doesn’t get used, it’s out!
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Mrs Savage January 31, 2012 at 5:18 pm

I love throwing stuff away, if only my husband would get on board. Such a hoarder! Loved this :)
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Amy @ MahliMoo January 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Great post Deb! And great tips.

I am the same as Mrs Savage, I love throwing stuff away, but it seems my husband inherited his mothers hoarder gene. I tend to throw stuff out when he isn’t home, I don’t think he has noticed that often.

But I do need to clean out my wardrobe. There are clothes there that I haven’t worn in a VERY long time.
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Chantelle @ The Fridge Door Blog January 31, 2012 at 6:32 pm

PERFECT timing on this post – I’m trying to re-organise my studio/craft room/home officer/etc. and I stalled today thanks to a lack of… ahem… enthusiasm.

I always seem to forget the most important part of that – getting rid of clutter first! Oh well, I suppose it’s time to head back into my excuse for a studio and continure

Note to self: re-read this post with a notepad & pen before attempting to organise any more rooms!

Thanks for a great post!
(Found you via the IBOT link up)
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Sarah January 31, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Organization around the home is something that I am slowly realizing I need to tackle full on; this post couldn’t come at a better time for me.
My biggest problem is paperwork; the idea of an accordion file will work really well for me, great stuff Deb!
In some areas I am incredibly organized i.e. wardrobes, children’s toy storage, my kitchen, so putting things away in these areas is a doddle.
But I have a nasty little pile of papers on the worktop in my kitchen that damn near haunts me… I systematically neaten its edges like a newsreader shuffling her script, I bung it into the laundry cupboard when we have guests for dinner and I regularly splash water or cleaning products on it!
Tomorrow I am buying an accordion file and that sucker is for the chop!
P.S. That Ikea bookcase is fab, we are redecorating the children’s bedroom, gonna have to steal this!


elf January 31, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Is that a photo of YOUR front/back door system? I have been reading about bag nooks- I want THAT at my front door! I am not ‘naturally organised’- feel like I go 2 steps forward and 1 step back- but that still puts me in front- so that’s ok, right! Good reminders about de-cluttering!


Debra Dane January 31, 2012 at 8:02 pm

no – i wish – the pinterest link is at the bottom but I followed the trail and the original blogger moved sites and i could not find the details. The blogger who wrote about it said she had it custom built though.


Jess January 31, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Where do I start? :)

We have a store room which is driving me mad at the moment cause it has just become a dumping ground.
What I struggle with is there is so much stuff we sometimes use. Like camping gear, or a serving platter. You don’t use them often, but just enough to justify keeping them. That’s what I get frustrated with because in the meantime they just take up space.
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Lee January 31, 2012 at 8:25 pm

I need to get a filing cabinet. I have been deluding myself that folders are better because they are prettier, but really the most functional thing would be to get a filing cabinet. Now to find a pretty filing cabinet!
Thanks for this advise, it rings very true. xx
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Jayne January 31, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I love a good declutter, but my husband is a non-filer despite the accordion file under his nose. Most of our clutter is his pile of paper work and creative kid mess. We definitely need more shelf-like places for things.
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Misha - The Bling Buoy January 31, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I need to keep on my de-cluttering project. I really, really do. Thank you for the reminder. Because until I’ve done that, the rest is hard to do.
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Anna February 1, 2012 at 2:41 am

Every time, I decide that I want to make some order in my chaos, I get rid of some cloths, for example, and then I have for 1 month a terrible mess (clothes, that I wasn’t sure if I want to get rid of them)..So ever organization needs time!
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Julie February 1, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Help! My whole house is a ‘clutter hot spot’. It’s not something I’m happy about, but as much as I try to find homes for everything it doesn’t always work as we don’t have enough storage. Our old junk room/study is now my youngest’s bedroom, which still has stuff in it that needs sorting/throwing out.

Of course hubby’s idea to tidying the house is to throw everything out, but that’s not always an option!

Thanks for your ideas ;)
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Debra Dane February 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Big hugs – your hubby is not too far off the mark – get rid of what is not needed any more and see what you are really left with, work on reducing what you bring in, and I would investigate clever storage options since yours is limited – think double and triple duty items. Think outside the box. I have shared on here regular round ups of organising with non traditional items (you can see my whole board on pinterest here

I was thinking of doing a post on organising in spaces with limited storage / small houses and apartments. If you email me a few of your challenges I might find ideas to include in the post to help you specifically at the same time… Willing to try at least.
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Christine Hall February 2, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I really like that you have addressed an issue which is not about the physical organizing, but the emotion in letting go of sentimental things. It makes me feel terribly terribly spendthrift to declutter. I paid for all these things, I work hard to earn money, and yes, why do I have so much stuff? The money issue makes me crazy. Why give or throw away a perfectly good item just because it doesn’t work ‘today’? What do you think?


Debra Dane February 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I have addressed the money issue with my husband as he grew up with parents who had survived rationing in England through the war – they just did not “waste” anything after that. I explained to him that whether we eat that extra food even though we are full or put it in the bin etc it is already paid for. We don’t gain anything by getting a stomach ache and it does not bring back the money spent. Instead we need to buy more appropriate amounts of food, cook food that can be saved as leftovers etc.

With “stuff” it is the same idea for me – the money is spent no matter what – i personally have worked it out for myself that if it is 1) in horrible condition it should be trashed rather than hanging out at my house, if it is in great condition and i just don’t want or need it i try to sell it on ebay (have made good return on my items that way and even a profit on many kids things I bought at good prices) and 3) if it is in between those 2 I donate it and think about how I am helping others (since we cannot afford to make tons of cash donations) – i hope that helps a little. I do save SOME things for future use (like for a hobby if i have room), but keep it under control – that is where setting limits comes in – keep the best of the stuff at the very least and let go of the imperfect or things you can recoup some money (not all as you will have used it some time)
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Rebekah @ Justfordaisy February 5, 2012 at 7:41 pm

What a fabulous post! So helpful! :) Thanks for sharing such fabulous tips! I’m going to revisit this post during the week to get myself even more organised! I’m a natural organiser too and love stationery and the like! We’re moving house soon so I have to get things organised and want to start our new home WELL! :)
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