Home Organization Tips and Tricks

I was only ever grounded for one thing.  My room!!  It was a complete disaster.  You could pretty much only see the floor in a narrow pathway from the door to my bed in between the piles of clothes, books, and whatever else you find in a teenager’s room.  My mom tried everything she could to get me to clean my room and keep it that way.  No matter what the threat, I couldn’t manage to keep it clean.  It was only after parenting a child whose room was far worse than mine and discovering I have ADHD at the age of 46, I realized just how hard it is for those of us who are “organizationally challenged” to both create and maintain a system.
Ironically, from the time my middle daughter, Ali, was born, she had to be on a schedule and the only place she could sleep was her crib.  Gillian would sleep anywhere but.  Gillian’s room looked like a bomb went off, Ali’s room was always organized and tidy.
When I began working side by side with organizers on the Silver LInings Transitions team, I realized we function differently. While training a new hire on packing, I saw how I struggled to effectively pack -not for safety but for efficiency.  She could pack boxes like a Tetris game and I used paper to fill boxes. Consequently, we’ve had very few items break due to packing and even our clients who have us pack for long distance moves write how pleased they are when they unpack. (The photos from this home office happen to be mine.  I routinely have my team come in and get me organized.)
Just like our team, many households have “pilers” and “filers”.   We have been called in many times when one spouse has “had it” and has begged their loved ones to get it together.  Clutter is hard.  It takes a toll on our mental health and disorganization is a huge time suck.  Statistics actually indicate the average person will spend 153 days of their lives looking for lost items (umm…that’s six months!!).
Our issues around disorganization have become more pronounced during Covid with people spending more time in their homes and dealing with more mental health challenges.
Right now, society is experiencing both extremes. In San Diego, donation sites are becoming too full to take donations from all the home organizing projects.  At the same time we are going into clients’ homes who’ve accumulated more items from online shopping and hoarding items out of fear and boredom.
As someone who is both organizationally challenged and comes from a family with hoarding tendencies I’d like to offer the following advice if you or a family member is chronically disorganized or may have hoarding tendencies.
  1. Ultimatums will not work.
  2. Part of the challenge is the physical discomfort of throwing things away.
  3. There’s usually a method to the chaos – often they want to dispose of items properly.   Recycling and donating where appropriate.
  4. With a daunting task, they become immobilized.
  5. Don’t make them feel badly about the situation.  Almost always they are also suffering and a triggering event (like Covid) has made the problem worse.
  6. Recognize their talents and validate them.  I’ve never met anyone with hoarding disorder who wasn’t incredibly bright and creative.
  7. Someone with ADHD or hoarding disorder does not see space the same way. We are not able to see a space and determine what will fit and what won’t.  This makes it challenging to unpack or organize.
After having my second daughter, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and became uncertain if I’d have more children.  At the same time a needy family was looking for a crib and I had pregnant friends who could use my baby clothes.
When I had my third daughter five years later, friends gave me a crib and replaced just about everything I’d need for my baby.  I find the universe works that way.   If you’ll hold onto this thought when releasing items you aren’t really using, it will make the process easier.
There are also wonderful ways to recycle items including www.Freecycle.org and Facebook groups like Buy Nothing.
Here are some additional tips to organize on your own:
  1. Perfect is the enemy of done.  Momentum is far more important than anything else.
  2. When you start the process, envision the life you want to have in the space.  Then when you are going through the process, remind yourself of your intention.
  3. Do a brain dump of all the areas you want to organize and rank them with the easiest task first.  Then commit to doing one task a day and check it off your list.
  4. Set a time for 10 minutes a day and get two bags, one for donations and one for trash.  This breaks the task down into manageable chunks.
  5. Use a system to break down each room.  We use colored stickers = donate, sell, gift to a loved one, trash.
  6. Try and keep only the items you love or “spark joy” taking a page from the Kon-Mari method. If you are holding onto an item out of guilt, allow yourself permission to release it.
  7. If you are holding onto an item because of what you paid or what you think it’s value is, look up the item under sold items on www.eBay.com or use an app like Google Lens.
  8. When organizing, gather items together, eliminate duplicates and broken items.
  9. Create systems – gathering items you’ll use together and finding a space that makes sense to store them. For example, putting stationary, pens, stamps and an address book in a bin where you’re likely to write letters and pay bills.
  10. Sometimes another person can see your space with fresh eyes.  Consider doing an organizing swap with a friend.