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7 Golden Rules of Organization, According to Experts

A neatly organized kitchen space

Naked Kitchens

Whether you're frustrated with how cluttered your home always seems to look or you can never find your spatula or that stash of AA batteries, you know how exhausting it can be to live in a disheveled space. No home is perfect–messiness is a sign of a lived-in space—but putting in the time and energy to organize your space is worth the effort. Organizing not only results in a neater, more efficient home; it's also more enjoyable (not to mention relaxing) to live in a space created with intention.

That said, organizing—even if the outcome is positive—can be an arduous process, and depending on the state of your home, it can be tough to know where to begin.

Need some advice about how to organize your home? Here are the golden rules of organization to follow on any project, according to two experts who help people tidy up their homes—and keep them that way—for a living.

A neat, organized living room with built-in shelves

House 9

Be Realistic

If you're overwhelmed by the state of your basement storage or kitchen pantry, it's only natural to hope spending some time organizing will result in a complete 180. The problem is, just as it took time to achieve a state of disarray, it'll take time to get things back in order. Before you start any project, Ben Soreff of H2H Organizing suggests being as realistic as possible about how much time you can dedicate to it so you don't end up more overwhelmed than you were at the start. Plus, idealizing how much you can get done in a given timeframe (or hoping for a perfect end result) will only disappoint you and zap your motivation to finish what you started.

Meet the Expert

  • Ben Soreff is the owner of H2H Organizing in Connecticut.
  • Caroline Solomon is a professional organizer based in New York City.

Break It Down

One way to keep yourself motivated throughout the process? Rather than trying to organize your entire home in one weekend, break it down into bite-sized chunks. "Don't pull everything out of the closet and then quickly shove it back in when the phone rings for a work emergency, leaving it worse off than if you hadn't 'cleaned up,'" says Soreff.

Start by making a list of everything you want to get done, then, break that master list down into smaller tasks. Soreff recommends setting your smartphone timer and focusing on 15-minute sessions aimed at specific goals, such as tackling your junk drawer or one shelf in your pantry.

Declutter First

Tempting as it is go out and splurge on every bin under the sun, Solomon says it’s essential to clear the clutter before investing in organization products. "Clutter prevents you from appreciating the items you truly enjoy and treasure while perpetuating the cycle of a disorganized space," she says. "When you get rid of items that no longer serve you, you’re much more likely to keep a neat and tidy space."

Now’s the time to toss those dried-out markers, sell books you haven’t cracked open since college, and donate the jeans that don't fit. Once you’ve decluttered, you can then assess what kinds of storage solutions make sense for your space (just make sure you measure the dimensions first). 

Trust Your Own Organizing Style

Just because open kitchen shelves and minimalist countertops are trendy doesn’t mean they will work for you. Everybody has an organizing style, and Solomon says it's important to consider what yours is before jumping into an organizing project. For instance, if you often lose track of items when they’re completely out of sight, avoid storing items in opaque bins. On the other hand, if seeing everything out at once is a total sensory overload for you, it’s best to create hidden systems that are easily accessible (for example, storing your KitchenAid mixer on an appliance lift instead of directly on your countertop).

"Keep in mind that your organizing style can vary across different rooms in your space; you might be at peace with a little countertop clutter in your kitchen, but piles of sweaters in your closet might be an eyesore," she says. The main takeaway: to maintain sustainable organizing systems, do what works for you, even if it means bucking the trends.

Get in the Zone

While it sounds terribly boring, Solomon says the key to maintaining an organized space is to create zones for your items. This goes for the jeans in your closet as much as it does the rubber bands in your junk drawer. Group like items together, then give each category a home with containers or labels. If you’re disciplined enough, or would rather avoid labels and containers altogether, commit to putting things back in the same spot.

This way, you’re much less likely to lose track of what you have or buy duplicates and unnecessary purchases of that item. "I recently organized a woman’s closet and she was flabbergasted at how many white t-shirts she had," Solomon says. "She continued to buy more t-shirts under the presumption that she was running low." The lesson here is that creating zones for your items is often half the battle in terms of upkeep.

Balance Pretty With Practical

If your systems aren’t easy to maintain, your Pinterest-worthy pantries and closets will crumble before your eyesFor instance, storing your sweaters in wicker baskets might look nice on your closet shelf, but it’s impractical to reach for the whole basket every time you need a sweater. In this case, Solomon says you’re better off organizing your sweaters with shelf dividers, or storing them in drop-front sweater boxes. On the other hand, it’s important not to skimp on style, otherwise, you won’t be as motivated to keep your space neat and tidy. "If your systems are the perfect blend of form and function, you’re golden," Solomon says.

A dining room with beautiful wine storage

Ann Living

Leave Guilt at the Front Door

Whether it’s an expensive item you purchased and didn’t end up using or a gift from your best friend that’s collecting dust in your closet, don’t let guilt get in the way of a clean and tidy space. Not only are these things taking up physical space, but they’re also taking up a lot of headspace. "If you spend a lot of time staring at objects you don’t actually like, this can take its toll on you on a subconscious level," Solomon says. "Going forward, just treat any misguided purchase as a learning experience and move on. When it comes to gifts, as the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts."