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7 Simple Steps to Tackling That Physical or Digital Organizing Project

So, your New Year’s resolution was to “Get organized!” Woohoo! Way to go, you. But where do you begin? If there’s an area of your life that desperately needs organizing, it can be overwhelming. Facing a mountain of (physical or digital) stuff is a challenge. But you can relax. All you need to face right now is the next step. And since you’ve already identified that there is organizing needed, you’ve actually already taken step one: identify the problem. Success! High five!

Now we’re on to step two. Here’s where the paths may diverge, depending on whether you’re dealing with physical or digital clutter. For physical clutter, step two is always: remove everything from the space. So, if it’s a closet, take everything out. Like, evvvvverything. When you finish this step, you will be looking at a completely empty closet/junk drawer/room. Barring any built in fixtures or items too heavy to safely move on your own, you want a clean slate. It will be tempting to leave the items that you are pretty sure you want to keep, but our brains are good at overlooking problems when we’re too familiar with what’s there. So, to give us a chance to see each item with fresh eyes, we need to remove it all.

If the particular mountain you’re facing is digital clutter, however,  there is no easy mechanism to clear out the space you’re working in. With digital clutter, we can move straight to step 3: delete the junk. In a physical junk drawer, this is anything broken that cannot be fixed, a part for something you no longer have (orphan Tupperware lids, I’m talking about you), or anything you’ll never realistically use (like those twist ties you’ve been saving for no discernable reason). On your computer’s Desktop, this is any screenshot you no longer need, that folder marked “photos for Grandma” that you already sent off to her, and the “install” folder for that app you downloaded two years ago (or one week ago – dude, the second after it’s installed you no longer have to keep that!).

Step four: identify categories. In any pile of things, digital or physical, you will see different categories arise. Like in a closet: sweaters, leggings, socks. In an email inbox: emails to do with family, or work, or medical info. Make a bucket and start sorting. No decisions about keeping vs. tossing required – you’ve already deleted the obvious junk. So, at this point, just sort. Moving items into categories helps you discover where you have duplicates and identify what kind of storage solutions you might need based on how much you have in a given category.

Step five: Do another sweep for things to let go of. You already deleted or removed the obvious garbage in step 3, but there are likely many more items that have become more obvious candidates for the pile of “things I don’t really need and no longer want to store” during the sorting process. This pile of stuff is a great pile to donate/pass on to someone who may need it, and there are many options for how to do that, including thrift stores, clothing swaps with friends, and local buy and sell/freecycle sites and apps. But regardless of where it’s going, get that pile out of your house, even if it just means moving it to the trunk of your car until you have the time to donate/recycle/swap it. These types of items tend to just be reabsorbed into your space if you leave them too long (I’m looking at you, kids toys and extra office supplies). If you’re doing digital organizing, these types of items might be meeting invites you no longer need or that email newsletter that you actually never read – in which case, delete! Unsubscribe! Save “future you” the work of dealing with this stuff later.

Step six: For physical spaces, this is the part where you identify storage solutions that fit the actual amount of stuff that is going back into the space and put it all back! Things to consider: specific containers for specific categories, like a basket for all your socks, or a tray in the drawer where all the Sharpies can live together in permanent marker harmony, never to be confused with a whiteboard marker again. But don’t get too worried about the perfect storage solution – even Marie Kondo, of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up fame, says just use what you have for now, even if it’s that cardboard box you have lying around. You want to get your items back into the space so you can have the joy of Checking. Off. That. Box. And seeing your new uncluttered space. Then if you determine you’ll need a hanging rack for your sweaters or a drawer divider for your kitchen tools, you can make a shopping list and get those things later. But you don’t have to wait for the best possible solution to enjoy your work. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Step seven: maintain the system. Now that you’ve identified the things you use and like and discarded the excess, and you’ve found solutions to store similar items together, it’s going to be a lot easier to maintain your space. Remember, though, you will need to take a few minutes every day (or at least every week) to just put things where they go, and continue to discard unneeded items. This way, no big cleanout will be required again, and you’ll get to keep enjoying the beauty of not having to search for every little thing, every single time. Baby you’re worth it!

This is far from a comprehensive guide to decluttering and organization, but I hope there’s something helpful in here for anyone who aims to bring just a little more peace and order to their lives. Best of luck!

— Virginia Percy, Optimization Professional, Adeptus Marketing