How to Feel More Organized: Start with These 10 Things

Disorganization and mess cause stress. When the environment around us is dirty and cluttered, our mental productivity, social choices and health habits suffer. A messy home and work space make us feel anxious, overwhelmed, and paralyzed. And this stress can contribute to high blood pressure and poor lifestyle choices (smoking, inactivity, overeating) – all of which are risk factors for heart disease. How you react to stress can make all the difference and getting organized is a step in the right direction.

Some people seem to have it all – their house is pristine, their social calendar is always full, they regularly have time to cook and they constantly look stylish. How is it that they always seem so put together and never miss a beat? It’s because they are in control of life’s everyday commitments. They have functional systems in place that streamline routine aspects of life so they can worry less about mundane tasks and focus on the that really matter. Organize your life and become the CEO of your household with these tips that will increase your productivity and help you make the most of each day.

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1. Start with a Calendar

First things first. If you don’t have a calendar in your life, get one. There’s no way you can commit all of the important meetings, appointments, birthdays, holidays, events, trips and key deadlines to memory. Whether you choose to use a digital or print calendar is up to you, but find something that works for your lifestyle. A digital calendar that syncs to your smartphone allows you to have your calendar at your fingertips at all times, but a printed calendar that lives at home can help a large family stay on track with shared responsibilities.

Take Action: Enter every appointment, meeting, birthday, holiday, event, trip and key deadline you can think of for the upcoming year into your calendar. 

List of 10 ways to organize your life

2. And a Daily To-Do List

Once you have a long-term record of everything to come in the year ahead, you need a short-term to-do list to help you organize immediate needs and tasks. Your daily to-do list can be a simple pad of paper kept on your desk, a sticky note on the refrigerator door or a digital task managing app on your smartphone.

Take Action: Make a list of everything you need to do for the month ahead. Then pare down that list to a few items that need to be done this week. And finally, prioritize the things that need to be done today to ensure you tackle the most important items first. Nothing is insignificant, write it all down. If something doesn’t get done today, it goes at the top of the list for tomorrow.  

3. Create a Command Center

Create a place in your home where you can accomplish simple routine tasks like mailing letters, writing notes and sorting mail with ease. Having an organized command center that houses life’s miscellaneous needs (pens, scissor, stamps, tape, batteries, etc.) is a must. Your command center can be a telephone nook, a small table in the entry way or a catch all junk drawer in the kitchen. The key here is to keep it organized with everything in its place and easy to find what you need in an instant.

Take Action: Determine a location for your command center and make a list of everything that needs to live there – address book, pens, pencils, highlighter, permanent markers (of various writing weights), notepad, sticky notes, paperclips, stapler and staples, tape (scotch, masking and packing varieties), super glue, Goo Gone, twine, spare change, scissors, box cutter, rubber bands, alligator clips, zip or twist ties, sewing kit, eyeglass repair kit, flashlight, matches/lighter, tape measure, screw driver, batteries, envelopes, checkbook, gum/mints, link roller, hand sanitizer, label maker (with extra cartridges), a small accordion file for stamps, return address labels, coupons, receipts, gift cards, etc. and a catchall container to collect keys, wallets, sunglasses and cell phones when you walk in the door.

4. Know When to Tidy and When to Clean

Cleaning is the physical act of removing dirt and dust that accumulates from nature. Tidying it organizing clutter – returning objects to their designated place. Regular cleaning schedules for time-consuming tasks (vacuuming, sweeping, wiping down dusty surfaces, cleaning toilets and tubs) and quick ones (wiping down counter tops, taking out the trash, doing the dishes) that remove dirt and dust from your home will help you keep your home clean and organized year-round. Time-consuming tasks can be done once a month while quick cleaning tasks and tidying can be done daily or weekly.       

Take Action: For a zen-like approach, look to organizing expert and Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo for inspiration on how to declutter your home with the KonMari Method of cleaning and tidying. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up takes tidying to a whole new level and can help you clear clutter from your home in a way that ensures the things you own bring you the most joy. Looking for a more OCD-style approach? Clea and Joanna of The Home Edit reinvent traditional organizing by merging it with inspiring design and interior styling. The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals will help you put functional systems in place that not only last, but also look incredibly chic.

5. Start a Budget

Putting a functional budget that allows you to save money and enjoy life takes time, but is a crucial exercise in organizing your life. Not only does a budget help you save money for emergencies, retirement or that trip you’ve been dying to take, but it also helps you track spending habits to ensure you aren’t spending money you don’t have.

Take Action: Identify a budgeting system that works for you (ledger, spreadsheet, or digital service like YNAB or Mint) and stick with it for a full calendar year – iterating along the way until you are hitting your goals regularly and have a well-oiled budget system in place.   

6. Minimize Your Wallet

Your wallet holds important items (credit and debit cards, cash, IDs, metro cards) that you use every day. But it also holds a lot of unnecessary bulk (rewards cards, old receipts, expired coupons). Avoid dumping your entire purse out at the checkout counter and take a close look at what you actually need to carry around with you on a daily basis.

Take Action: Identify the items in your wallet you use nearly every day (credit cards, debit card, metro card, ID, cash, gym membership card) and organize them separate from your secondary items – those you only use once and a while (retail credit cards, library card, insurance cards, loyalty rewards cards). A slim card case, sticker pocket for your smart phone or vintage cigarette case work great for holding your daily needs whereas as more robust zip-around wallet is perfect for all the rest.

7. Set Up a Home Filing System

How long would it take you to find an important document (a passport, a birth certificate, a medical record, tax documents) if you needed it right now? Putting a functional and flexible filing system in place will not only ensure crucial life documents don’t get lost, but it will also help you stay organized for any and all lifestyle changes that come your way in the years ahead.

Take Action: Identify a place in your home where you will file your important documents (filing cabinet, file box, portable accordion file, binder). Label files with various categories that you can add individual folders to throughout the year: Financial (bank account information, retirement records), Identification (social security cards, passports, birth certificates, marriage license, licensures), Health (medical records, bills), Insurance (medical, life, car, renters, home owners, property) Employment (contracts, pay stubs), Real Estate (lease, mortgage), Car (title, registration, service information, maintenance receipts), and Academic (transcripts, loan records, diplomas).

8. Declutter Your Digital Life

In today’s digital world, it can feel like your entire life is stored on your computer and smartphone. The number of digital files, photos, applications and emails can be overwhelming, so it’s crucial to keep your online life free of clutter. Just like your physical office, maintaining an organized digital office space can increase productivity and decrease stress.

Take Action: Clean up your desktop by filing all computer documents and photos into appropriate folders. Practice inbox zero – maintaining an empty (or nearly empty) email inbox at all times by archiving important messages, deleting old ones and unsubscribing from junk mail. Analyze the apps on your smartphone – deleting those you never use and organizing those you do into categorized folders. Lastly, establish a password management system (either written and locked away or digitally via LastPass) to keep all the passwords to your online life secure and easily accessible.

9. Clean Out Your Closet

This is a biggie, but worth every minute of the work you put in. The mantras here are less is more and quality over quantity. Your wardrobe should consist of high-quality pieces you love that all (more or less) can be mixed and matched in minutes to create a stylish outfit you feel confident in. With an organized closet, you’ll never say I don’t have anything to wear again.

Take Action: There exist a variety of experts, programs and strategies to help you achieve a clean and organized closet. Anushka Reese of The Curated Closet provides detailed step-by-step instruction to help you discover and refine your personal style, overhaul your closet and learn how to shop smarter. The Oprah Winfrey Closet Hanger Experiment – hang all your clothes on hangers; after you wear an item, change the direction of the hanger when you return it to the closet; assess your wardrobe after six months – can help you part with underused pieces. And Project 333 provides a minimalist capsule wardrobe strategy that encourages you to mix and match 33 items (clothing, accessories, outerwear and shoes) for 3 months.

10. Detox Your Kitchen

The food and cookware in your cupboards, pantry, refrigerator and freezer guide your cooking activity and eating habits. These kitchen resources should reflect the way you and your family eat. Keeping your kitchen stocked with the right appliances and healthy pantry staples can help simplify meal planning, streamline your grocery list and foster creativity in the kitchen.  

Take Action: Empty out all of your kitchen cupboards and assess each appliance, pan and cooking utensil. First toss or donate any cookware or appliances that don’t reflect your cooking style. Remember that less is more and you can cook just about anything with only 50 cooking essentials (read more). Second, analyze the food and beverages in your pantry, fridge and freezer. If you frequently go on grocery spending sprees only to find yourself throwing everything away in exchange for takeout, this healthy pantry staples list can help you maintain a balanced foundation of ingredients to make quick and tasty meals any day of the week.

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