Five simple ways to easily organize your things

When organizing items in your home, it’s best to use systems that make the most sense to you and are simple to use. You should look at your cupboards, files, closets, or shelving and instantly know how objects can be returned, retrieved, or added to their storage space. The easier it is to store something, the more likely you are to put it in its place.

It’s almost always a good idea to store like things with like things. Your board games should all be in one closet on one shelf. Your pots and pans should all be in the same cupboard, and your wrenches in a single toolbox. Once grouped with similar items, your objects should be stored in the most convenient place for where you use the objects. Dog food should be stored near the dog food bowls, office supplies should be in your office, and spices should be in your kitchen in a dark and dry cupboard or drawer near your food prep area.

When you have like things with like things, you may need to organize the objects even more. This is especially good for things where there are more than three objects of a kind — such as papers in a filing cabinet or books on your bookshelves. The following systems are extremely obvious, which means you’re more likely to remember the system because it is so simple:

  • Chronologically. You can put things in order of oldest to newest (a good idea if you want to use something up, like breakfast cereal) or newest to oldest (great for filing bills). Chronologically also works well in some people’s closets when they want to make sure they are regularly rotating through two or three week’s worth of clothes.
  • Alphabetically. Great for organizing files, your address book, and other items with words on their labels (like spices in your kitchen). Alphabetical order is what people assume you will use as an ordering method whenever letters are involved.
  • By size. When stacking, it’s usually a great idea to put the largest items on the bottom and the smallest items on top. You can order from largest to smallest or smallest to largest when working with objects where size is relevant to its use, like drill bits and hex keys.
  • Seasonally. Objects like holiday decorations and outdoor apparel can easily be stored based on what season you use or wear them. Ordering by season means that you’re less likely to find your Fourth of July decorations in with your Thanksgiving items.
  • By occasion. Similar to seasonally, when you organize by occasion you group things based upon when you use the item. This is a great idea for organizing all of your soccer supplies in a single duffel bag so that everything is together in a kit when you’re ready to head to soccer practice.

If you store textiles (like yarn for knitting or paper for scrapbooking), you might also consider ordering items by color or materials. However, color and materials don’t work well for filing things like memos — all memos printed on yellow paper were probably just printed on yellow paper because the person making the copies couldn’t find a ream of white paper. When color or materials add meaning to the object, it’s okay to consider using them as an ordering system. When the color or materials don’t add meaning to the object, it’s best to use another organizing method.

What systems do you use when organizing your things? Could using a more simple organizing method increase the likelihood that you will put things away after you use them? Not only does simple organizing make your life easier, it also makes it easier for others to return, retrieve, or add objects to a system when you’re not there to supervise.

22 Comments for “Five simple ways to easily organize your things”

  1. posted by Anon on

    What about genre? Non-fiction books together and separate from fiction, jars of nuts & seeds on a separate shelf than jars of grains, etc.

  2. posted by Celeste on

    One year I got really interested in storing tools by purpose. I wanted to get away from junk drawers and certain things really needed for one use, not being where I wanted them.

    What I learned is that I just needed to have doubles of some things so they are always where I need them. I like having a tape measure in the kitchen as well as in my sewing toolbox. I like having junk scissors (that can cut paper, tape, or anything else) in my sewing kit to handle things I don’t want my good scissors used on. I like having a timer for the bathroom for haircoloring or an alarm on a busy day so I don’t have to worry about bathroom germs in the kitchen. I like having a pair of readers stashed in the bathroom cabinet so I can read medicine labels.

  3. posted by WilliamB on

    I do a lot of grouping by use. My baking ingredients are in one cabinet, my sewing kit in the TV cabinet since I use them at the same time, my books by … well, I call it category and it makes sense to me but probably not to anyone else.

    I disagree about storing wrenches all together. Better, I think, to have basic tool kits (screwdriver, hammer, nails, picture hooks, masking tape, blue tape, tape measure, sharpie, glue, scissors, razor, etc) spread through the house – how many depends on the size of the house. If you have more than that, by all means keep those in one spot.

    Another decision is One Central Depot vs Distributed Use. Frex I prefer to keep all the TP in one place so I know when we’re about to run out. Roommate prefers to distribute it evenly across the bathrooms so there’s always some where you need it.

  4. posted by Sarah on

    I store fabric yardage by fiber content: linens and cottons are in one space bag, wools and silks are in another. Scraps that are big enough to be used for something in the future have their own tote or go into the appropriate container if they are already earmarked for a project.

  5. posted by gypsy packer on

    I’m scanning memos on problems into OneNote by family member name–same as genealogy memos. Often they’re one and the same. Cross-reference big memos on big problems under problem names. Pper books are organized by genre only, since I’m trying to eliminate all except secondhand light reading. Ebooks are a major problem, since I have no known means to transfer Nook to a central non-wi-fi-dependent e-book file (Stanza). Need to research this. Hand tools go into a single tool box, battery-operated into a second box. I keep a small multi-tool, SwissTech’s Utili-Key, on my key ring for basic use. Sewing is in two places–a hand-mend box and a machine box. Scissors are in the tool box, hand-mend, and in my nightstand.
    Electronics used frequently are in the washstand which holds my stereo equipment. Infrequently used electronics have their own cute little wallpapered suitcase. Portable hard drives, MS backup and rescue, etc. are in a fireproof safe. Identification has a CD, files on my computers and portables, a file on my thumb drive, and paper documents–useful, since someone’s gotten into my purse & stolen my Social Security card and my birth certificate recently, probably to buy meth chemicals.

  6. Avatar of

    posted by chacha1 on

    Like Celeste, I store tools by purpose. Jewelry-making tools are all stored together. Some of them are duplicates of tools we have in the main tool cabinet. Office supplies for dealing with mail are in the den where we deal with mail; a whole ‘nother set is in the home office. Etc. :-)

    Books I mostly shelve by genre, though admittedly I have art books pretty much everywhere. No one bookcase could support the load!

    Beads and other art supplies are sorted by color. I tried sorting by material but went insane very quickly.

  7. posted by Matt P on

    Nick Hornby describes the main character in High Fidelity organizing his records autobiographically, as in the order in which he got them. It’s described ass “the ultimate” because of the memories and soul-searching that are required to achieve it.

  8. posted by priest's wife on

    I really really really need to be better at grouping like things AND putting my purse and keys in the same place every time (yesterday, I found my keys in the empty cooler in the garage courtesy of walking baby :)

  9. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Matt — It’s interesting that you mention HIGH FIDELITY because I organize almost all my playlists on iTunes autobiographically. I even have a playlist that is the entire history of my life so far, as told through music.

  10. posted by J on

    Many times I have seen the advice to keep all pots and pans together, but I find it’s a lot more convenient to keep pots by the sink – pots are going to need water added (eg boiling vegetables), and pans by the stove because they are going to go directly into the oven. And if it rarely gets used (like my cake pans – for birthdays only), I keep these in yet another location. My kitchen is large, and those numerous daily treks from stove to sink to stove to cook veggies were driving me crazy!

  11. posted by Ramblings of a Woman on

    Oh I have such a long way to go in this! I guess I try to group things by type, but then whatever items they are get put in a drawer or piled in a box or basket. I am working on it though. I cleaned my closet and almost all my clothes out (just have my workout clothes to go through now!) and got rid of more than 2 garbage bags full. This was after doing a previous purge a few months ago. I folded all my delicates and t-shirts and those are neatly organized.
    Next I will be tackling my jewelry collection!
    Bernice

  12. Avatar of

    posted by Another Deb on

    Hubby and I have duplicate desks and each has a short file cabinet at knee-side which holds the duplicate sets of tape, scissors, pens, tape, etc. It works well and neither of us has to scrounge around (and mess up) the other’s workspace.

  13. posted by Jonathan Manor on

    Hey Erin, first time reader, recent commenter.

    What’s your thoughts on a minimalist way of life?

    Minimalists are people who live with the bare minimum of things they need. I know a guy named Colin Wright who currently owns 55 things and lives out of his backpack. What do you think about that?

  14. posted by Amanda on

    This post gave me the extra push to switch the contents of two kitchen cabinets. I had been thinking about do so for awhile. I guess this is organizing by purpose. Thanks for the gentle push unclutterer.

  15. posted by Kelley on

    I just recently reogranized DH’s office. We have one 4-shelf bookcase of books that we like and/or want to read. I actually sorted them by binding color. Now, this might not be helpful for everyone, but it gives a very calm, organized appearance and we do not use the books regularly enough to need to find one quickly. Again, not for everybody, but with all the business in life, i found the organized LOOK very helpful to enjoying that room.

  16. posted by Keenie Beanie on

    I recently reorganized my storage shelves and placed items in plastic bins labeled like the aisles in a store. That way I can “shop” my storage before determining what I need to actually shop for.

    I plan to apply this to my pantry shelves also.

  17. posted by nj progressive on

    In the kitchen, the organizing principle for most things is frequency of use: everyday dishware and glasses are on the shelves easiest to reach, the fancy wine goblets and the teak salad bowl set that we only use with company are on the top shelf of the cabinet. The same is true in the pantry cabinet, too. Cooking oils, the cruet with our everyday balsamic vinaigrette, spices, cereal, crackers, and rice are all on three shelves. A fourth shelf holds the canisters with essentials like flour, tea, coffee, pasta, and sugar. The bottom shelf, near the floor has baking supplies, since that is something that we do infrequently. Even the bookcase shelves are arranged by frequency of use.

  18. posted by Jacquie on

    @ Jonathan
    So off topic that most people will ignore your post. Look at the forums if you want to discuss minimalism.

    Most recent discussion I can remember about people with so few things was that they can only usually get by because they freeload on other people’s possessions; friend’s sofas to sleep on, showers to wash under, and dishes to eat off. I’d be interested in hearing about someone who has total resposibility for his life with only 55 things.

  19. posted by adora on

    I also suggest organize by the Order of Use. (As in 5S)

    Like putting toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, face wash, toner, sunscreen, moisturizer, eye cream… in order of use next to one another. Not only does it streamline your morning, you will also notice immediately what you don’t really need (i.e. clutter) or when something is running out.

  20. posted by My Great Garage on

    Check out this site for Garage Cabinets to make any garage great.

  21. posted by SUZAN on

    I KEEP ALL MY CLOTHES IN COLORS IN MY CLOSET, KEEP THEM STARTING WITH SLEEVELESS, SHORT SLEEVE AND LONG SLEEVE.
    I ALSO TURN THE HANGERS THE OPPOSITE WAY ON THE HANGING POLE ONCE I WEAR THEM SO I KNOW WHAT SHIRTS I HAVE WORN THAT SEASON.
    WHEN I GO SHOPPING IF I BUY A SHIRT IN ONE COLOR, I TAKE ONE OF MY EXISITING SHIRTS THAT ARE HANGING IN THE CLOSET OUT & DONATE IT BEFORE I HANG UP THE NEW SHIRT IN THAT COLOR.
    I ALSO KEEP ALL OF MY PANTS THE SAME IN COLORS,AND CATEGORIES. BY KEEPING YOU CLOTHES IN COLORS IT MAKES IT ALOT EASIER TO GET DRESSED IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO COORDINATE A CERTAIN OUTFIT.
    I KEEP ALL OF MY CANNED VEGETABLES IN ALPAHBETICAL ORDER AND BY TYPE SO THE ARE EASY TO FIND.

  22. posted by Kevin Mark on

    I have such a long way to be like this, I guess I try to group things by type,but I didn’t do much for that kind of things,always forgot to do so.

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