The Secrets Professional Organizers Use to Stay Sane & Clutter-Free

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Whether you are trying to keep a resolution to stay organized, got inspired by The Home Edit’s Netflix show or are already being swallowed by school papers, sports gear and the like, to finally get your home organized takes a healthy dose of trust and courage—much like jumping off the high dive at the local pool. But fear not, we’ve reached out to our favorite organizing gurus, aka moms who are also professional organizers to help you tackle the job once and for all. Check out the tips below and get ready to experience the rush of feeling organized—you may be surprised how good it feels.

1. Set Expectations & Goals

Julia G. Raz, Ph.D., professional organizer and founder of Organizing by Julia, uses her Ph.D. in Communication to work with her clients by empowering them with confidence in their own voice—guiding them in a non-judgmental way to understand what their needs are, and help them "become the best version of themselves through decluttering and organizing—all the little things in life that can weigh us down." Adding, "At one point in my life, I decluttered about 80% of my belongings because I was overwhelmed by how cluttered my life had become." For Raz, it's important to stress for new organizers to understand that, "Decluttering is not a one time be-all, end-all. Instead, decluttering has to be an ongoing part of your life." She also points out that organizing is a skill that may new for some and may take time to develop or you may need help to learn it." The takeaway? Set realistic expectations and realize that to stay organized, there may need to be a change in your behavior, and that could take time, so be patient with yourself and the process.

Online: organizingbyjulia.com

2. Keep It Simple

Joni Weiss and Kitt Fife, Co-Founders of Practically Perfect, believe in order for an organizing system to work, it must be age appropriate. "The number one mistake parents make is to have a system that’s too complicated for their kids! Staying organized is about maintenance and accountability, and that means kiddos have to be able to pick up after themselves when playtime is over. It’s imperative to consider the age plus stage of your little ones when you consider which organizational system will work best for your play spaces."

Regardless of your organized state, after the past year and a half of chaos and uncertainty, everyone is probably feeling unsettled. Their advice (that can be applied pre and post pandemic) to maintain an organized space? Try and not control everything, learn to roll with changes, create a routine (and stick to it), and update your entryway drop zones as well as dedicated zones in the fridge and pantry for handy snacks and the like.

Related: Check out more Practically Perfect organizing tips for your kid's room here

3. Start Small

For Beth Penn, founder of professional organizing business Bneato Bar, motherhood has upped her game. “As a new mom myself, it's about starting small. In my book The Little Book of Tidying is this quote: ‘Tidying is not a quick-fix solution; it’s a practice, a daily intention, an approach to living.’ Us moms can be very hard on ourselves when we look at everything that needs to get done. Now, more than ever, prioritization and simplifying life is key. What does this look like? Taking distracting apps like Facebook and Instagram off my phone, joining a group that promotes not buying stuff I don’t need—small tweaks like these really add up in keeping my home organized.”

Another way Penn recommends starting small that can make a big impact? Choose environmentally-friendly products when you are organizing. Choose a white board with a dry erase marker for your DIY command center to reduce your use of paper. 

Online: bneatobar.com

4. The One-Minute Rule

NYC-based best-selling author of The Happiness Project and more, Gretchen Rubin, rocks writing, parenting two daughters, and an in-demand speaking schedule. She has also found a way to be highly organized. A spin on her “Power Hour” idea (working once a week for an hour on a given chore), she suggests abiding by a rule all organized moms can follow: the one-minute rule. “With any task that can be finished in one minute, do it without delay. Hang up your coat, read a letter and toss it, fill in a form, note down a citation, file a paper, put a dish in the dishwasher…and so on. Because the tasks are so quick, it isn’t too hard to make yourself follow the rule—but you’ll see big results."

Online: gretchenrubin.com

5. Don't Put It Down, Put It Away

This concept is perfect for the one-minute rule. Practically Perfect's Joni Weiss and Kitt Fife say if you commit yourself to do this each day, you'll remember how good it feels to be organized. "Changing habits can also be key, and we encourage carving out a small amount of time each day put items away. And labeling can help!

6. Love It or Leave It?

Raz, of Organizing by Julia says, "I usually have clients first pick the things they love the most. Once we’ve found all of those items in a particular category, I’ll ask them 1) do they use it, 2) do they need it, 3) would they buy it again if they saw it in a store? This method is inspired by The Minimal Mom—a YouTube channel I’ve been following for years. She adds, "Decluttering is the best way to stay organized. There is no bin or storage system that can make too much clutter work. Lessening the number of items to what is reasonable for you is what makes all the difference."

7. Channel Your Inner KonMari

Since her bestselling books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy have become must-read tidying tomes, Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method has sparked serious joy across apartments and suburban homes everywhere. SPOKE contributor Lynn Laplante Allaway put the KonMari method to the test with a modified pace for her family of six and a whole lot of humor along the way. She jokes about calling it something of “the AllLyn Method,” if you will. We love her takeaways on socks, the sentimentality of children’s books, and suburban closet space.

RELATED: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: How I KonMarid My Butt Off

8. Clean & Clear Seasonally

There’s neat, and then there’s NEAT Method, which creates personalized systems for each client’s unique needs and lifestyle. After being founded in San Francisco by friends and organizing entrepreneurs Ashley Murphy and Molly Graves, 32 NEAT cities nationwide now help on-site with home projects (like making room for a new babe), while online packages are available to all. As the moms behind the method told us, their secret to success goes right along with the seasons: “In order to keep things NEAT as a mom, it is crucial to set aside a few times every year that you will clean out your children's toys! Get your kid involved and make a donation and a toss pile. A perfect time to do this is after a birthday or holiday when likely a lot of new toys have entered the playroom.”

Online: neatmethod.com

9. Embrace Open Shelving

Open shelving can serve an awesome purpose when it comes to toy storage, according to Crystal Sixta, mom and organization/décor blogger over at My Blissful Space. “In my experience," Sixta says, "if you organize toys in containers that you can’t see through or that don’t have photo labels on them, kids are more likely to forget they’re there and ignore them.” Her other helpful hint on how to handle the madness? “One thing that helps tame the toys and also keeps the kids interested is to not give kids access to all their toys all the time. Put some away, leave some out, and cycle the toys regularly. When you bring toys out of storage, the kids will treat them as if they’re brand new!”

Online: myblissfulspace.com

RELATED: 28 Genius Toy Storage Hacks That’ll Give You More Space

photo: Abby Banks

10. Find a Home for Every Last LEGO

Does the lid no longer fit on that one bin you dedicated to all the LEGO pieces? Time to designate a little LEGOLAND of your own at home. We’ve already done the heavy lifting with a round-up of 14 storage ideas you’ll totally want to try. We’re talking color-coded bins, tackle boxes for the tiny stuff, hanging buckets, and even an all-in LEGO Table and Storage Unit. If LEGO isn’t your kid's thing, several of these organizing ideas would translate well to other multi-part toys (Shopkins Shopville storage, anyone?).

11. Be Your Own Assistant

The daily grind of work inside the house and out can get tedious, and things like mail can literally pile up. For Texas-based pro organizer (and mother of four!) Mary Johanson of Creating Mary’s Home, that very pile is actually the secret to her success. “Set an appointment with yourself once a week to do the boring adult stuff,” she recommends. “I pile mail into a basket throughout the week. During the time I set aside weekly, I act like my own secretary. I go through the mail, pay bills, RSVP to parties, file or scan important stuff, make phone calls, and whatever else needs to get done. This weekly appointment keeps mental clutter out of my mind, not to mention paper clutter off my counters!”

Online: creatingmaryshome.com

12. Just Meal Prep (& Swap) Already

Minnesota-based professional organizer Sara Pederson of Time To Organize shared her two top tips for saving time when it comes to cooking. First, “set aside a little time on the weekend to plan out five dinners for the following week. Take a quick peek in the pantry and fridge to see what you need to buy in order to make those meals happen. Jot a list and shop on the weekend so that weekday meals can be as quick and easy as possible.”

Then—and here’s where you get a whole night off cooking, people—set up a meal exchange with another family in the neighborhood! “Pick a specific day each week to double whatever you’re making that night and drop it off so your friends can enjoy an effortless, home-cooked meal. In exchange, that family will provide a meal to you on another pre-planned night. It takes virtually no extra effort to double a recipe, saves money, and connects two families in a fun way.”

Online: timetoorganize.com

RELATED: 40 Make-Ahead Meals That Are Perfect for Busy Weeknights

13. Apply the Four-Stop Test to Toys

When it comes to clutter, it’s all too easy for kids to keep us swimming in it. SPOKE contributor Marisa Svalstedt has a genius method for categorizing and downsizing your home’s personal toy department. “While clothing is easy to discard at the appropriate time as children grow out of them so quickly, toys are another story,” Svalstedt writes. “The toys in my household go for a sort of ride through our home before either settling or making a permanent departure." From keeping current favorites well within reach to storing well-loved keepsakes (you’ll adore her easy and affordable storage hack!), and on through to the end of the line, where the definitively outgrown is donated or sold, you’ll want to hop aboard this train.

RELATED: How to Organize All of Your Clutter

14. Map Your Time

Laura Gaskill is a San Francisco Bay Area-based mom and writer who offers e-courses to help folks clear the clutter at home and in life overall, so there’s time to focus on what matters most. Gaskill suggests charting a “Time Map,” which she defines as “simply a record of how you actually spend the hours of your day. The key word here is actually!” she writes on her website. “When we make guesses about how we are spending our time, we tend to underestimate how long we spend on not-so-great things (like browsing social media) and overestimate the amount of time we spend on positive things (like playing with our kids).” And as she points out, “getting a clear picture of how we actually spend our time is the first step if you want to change things.”

Online: lauragaskill.com

— Jennifer Massoni Pardini & Andie Huber

Feature image: Sarah Brown via Unsplash

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