Where to start organizing your home

Many people are overwhelmed by the idea of organizing their homes. When there is so much to do, it can be difficult to know where to begin. If you’re in such a state, let me suggest four ways you can get started. Hopefully one of the methods will be a perfect match for you!

  1. Start by organizing the area you first see in the morning. If your first activity is to walk into your closet to pick out your clothes, then choose to organize your closet. If you get coffee, organize your kitchen. If you hop into the shower, then tackle your bathroom. The idea is that the first thing you see in the morning can set your mood for the whole day, so you should at least start with a sense of calm and order.
  2. Start by organizing the area you first see when you come home after work. Your home should be an area of rejuvenation and relaxation. If the first thing you see when you get home from a long day at work makes you stressed out, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Is there a mess in the driveway that could be cleared? Do you pull into your garage and curse because you can barely get out of your car? Is your home’s entrance in complete chaos? Whatever is the first place that causes you stress when you come home, start by clearing clutter there.
  3. Start with the area of your home that makes you seethe. Without putting too much thought into it, what is the one area of your home that you avoid because of its mess? Your instincts will quickly call to mind the one space that drives you nuts more than any other area of your home. Get started in that space to get the worst of the worst cleaned first.
  4. Start at the top and work your way down. In the same way that you dust before you sweep, tackle the areas up high in a room and then work your way toward the floor. Think of your work as if you’re completing an archeological dig.

As you’re working, keep in mind that even the smallest steps help your space to be more organized than it was previously and that there is no reason to be overwhelmed by the task in front of you. Good luck with your organization endeavors!


This post was originally published in May 2008.

30 Comments for “Where to start organizing your home”

  1. posted by Ann - One Bag Nation on

    I think Erin’s tips are right on. Choosing to start with a space that makes you feel bad every day is a great idea – and you’ll enjoy the results immediately.

    I’ve been posting about cleaning out my basement, which at the moment closely resembles a landfill. You can see for yourself at my blog (the posts are called The
    Basement Report) where I have a couple of photos. I don’t think they even capture how horrible it truly is.

    It’s not a space I have to deal with all that often, but clearing it out will make room for family-friendly spaces and activities that we’re now trying to squeeze into our small house – and I live with the queen of pack rats – my daughter.

    My trick is to chip away at the basement project just five minutes at a time. As flylady says, “you can do anything for 15 minutes” and as I say: “and if you can’t, try just five”.

    I’ve made more progress in the last couple of weeks than in the last couple of months, just because I don’t force myself to stay down there for very long – otherwise panic and anxiety set in and I can’t make good decisions. I think once I it gets a bit more under control, I won’t mind working for longer stretches.

    If there are areas that just make you panic, try tackling them for a few minutes every day – if you keep at it you’ll see results, guaranteed!

  2. posted by Jasi on

    The room you’re in most. For us, it’s the living room. It’s the first room you see, the room to relax in. When this room is clean, we always have a stress free place to be.

  3. posted by Dee on

    Ahhhhhh! This comes at a perfect time. Two kids + one cramped house = a need to have said cramped house re-modeled ASAP to fit said two kids and their stuff = an overwhelmed panic stricken full-time working mom who doesn’t know where to start!!!!!!!!!! We have an unfinished upper level and I can’t BELIEVE the amount of stuff that I have crammed into a floors worth of house. One would think that the logical thing would be to move it to the basement level but we’ve got that full too. I am in absolute choas and the idea of having an appraisal done on the house in this state is beyond mortifying.

    One thing I can say from experience if having clutter take up a good part of your house gives one bad karma – so the idea of clearing out what you see first fits right in with having a sense of peace. As for my particular issue. .. guess I’ll get cracking on cleaning our regular living space and then dedicate 1/2 hour every other day to moving and sorting the upper level since thats just about all I can do without going crazy. Do you think de-cluttering qualifies as a diet/work out . .. maybe I’ll be bikini ready by the end :-)!

  4. posted by Michele on

    How about starting with small projects? They can be finished quickly and with less effort which can build momentum (like when the first few pounds come off and diet motivation rises). Also, doing small projects first allows time for “decluttering muscles” to build.

  5. posted by Anna N. on

    I agree with “the first thing you see in the morning”, and to me that is “your bedroom”. I rearranged my whole apartment so that my bedroom is in a small room that just has my bed, a bookshelf, a night stand, and a cat tree (because there’s nowhere else to put the cat tree yet – when I get more decluttering done, it’ll go into a different room and I’ll have another bookcase instead).

    There is no possible way for my bedroom to be cluttered because there’s nothing else in it. No closet or dresser or anything. I know this isn’t a reasonable option for everyone (or even most people) and I probably won’t be able to do it again when I next move, but right now I love it. (Now if only I had a comfortable bed…)

    I’m working on my living room and kitchen (the rooms I spend the most time in) but it doesn’t matter how often I clean and tidy, a day or two later there’s a bunch of stuff laying around and I have to do it again. Getting tidy is one thing; staying tidy is something else entirely.

    The most stressful room is the former bedroom, which is where I shove all the stuff that was stored anywhere else. It’s just one huge pile of stuff, some in boxes, some in stacks. I go in there to get clothes and change the cat’s litterbox and that’s it. Someday I will start going through the stuff in there, one box (or stack) at a time.

  6. posted by Jay on

    The following may apply to your space or room.

    (1) In the space that you want to organize, figure out the items that you no longer want. Throw or give them away. You will immediately see results and have more room to organize.

    (2) Buy shelves, boxes/bins, etc. that you need in order to organize the particular space.

    (3) Empty out the space. If it is a room, empty it of any non-furniture items.

    (4) Put the shelves, boxes/bins, etc. in the space. Put items back in an organized way.

    We have a screened in porch that we use for storage. When we moved in, it was empty. Over the years, we added things. We put stuff where there was room. As things were added, we could not find anything. Finally, after much procrastination, I bought a bunch of IKEA metal shelves and plastic boxes, emptied everything from the porch into the yard, set up the shelves in neat rows, and put everything (that we were not throwing or giving away) back. Now, we can find things and walk around the porch easily.

    With the results, you will be less intimidated and see that the organization can be done

  7. posted by Suzyn on

    Go through your space and toss anything that makes you feel bad – the teddy bear that reminds you of your ex, the booties you were knitting for your nephew who’s now six, all the stuff you got on sale that you just… don’t… like…, your fat pants (or your skinny pants!), etc. Without all those little things weighing you down, your place will start to feel happier!

  8. posted by Becky on

    I executed Tip #2 this weekend — organize the area you first see when you come home after work. My home office (located in my living room) was a vortex of piled papers, computer cords, chaos. Every time I’d come home I’d be hit in the face with it, ugh! As I’ve been working from home more often, the time had come to make my living/work space serene and organized. I started with identifying my biggest problem — my desk had no drawers and so there were piles of stuff with no place to put them. The office also needed to “minimize” when work was done, so that my living room could *become* my living room! You can see my storage and reorganization solutions in my blog post at beckyhaycox.com/hamblog/?p=487. Thanks to unclutterer! I’ve been really enjoying what I read here. Becky

  9. posted by Mary on

    Something I do to help me get started – I step back from the room to get an overall view and ask myself what is the one thing I could pick up, put away or remove that would make the most impact? That alone is usually enough to keep me going.

    I helped my grandson clean his room that way – we divided the room into quadrants and then kept asking each other that question for each quadrant. The room got cleaned and organized so quickly – there’s a huge psychological boost to seeing your efforts pay off quickly – that sees you through to the end.

  10. posted by Bill on

    Mary, funny that you mention that.

    I used to as a kid (and still occasionally) flip a coin once to decide which half of the room I would start to clean and again to decide which quadrant I would clean. If I hit something that belongs in another quadrant I would just place it in that quadrant until it’s time to clean there. If I encountered something that belonged in a quadrant I already cleaned, it would get put away right then.

  11. posted by sylrayj on

    Thank you very much for this post. 🙂 Too often, figuring out where to begin is the hardest of all. I’m preparing for a smallish gathering of preschool children to come to my daughter’s birthday party, and I designated a ‘path of cleaning’ for us to work on, from the front entry, half-bath, into the kitchen, to the dining room, to the livingroom, we’ll close the master bedroom door and my daughter’s door, and my son’s room will likely not get much attention but that’s his issue anyway. I’m hoping to do a quick clean and tidy starting at the start, continuing until there’s a place that needs a deeper clean, and then get that done. And repeat every day.

  12. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Nice list! For some more options, here’s a list I wrote with 7 possible places to start:

  13. posted by Anne on

    Perfect Timing!

    Every morning I walk into our combo dining/kitchen semi living room and think why is that clock not on that wall?
    Because that hutch is in the wrong place and the rocker is in the way of everything! I spend 95% of time in that room and hated it.
    I dove in this morning and moved the clock and rearranged and got rid of 2 end tables…it is so much more functional now! I decluttered and made functional!
    Waking up tomorrow will bring a smile to my face as I read the newspaper in the correct corner of the room!
    You guys are kinda like a RedBull for organizers! Give me a jolt of inspiration!

  14. posted by Dream Mom DBA www.dreamorganizers.com on

    Nice post.

    I couldn’t agree more with organizing the area you see first when you come home. I think it sets a peaceful tone for the whole house as well as setting the mood.

    I also have a rule of no shoes being visible when I walk in the door. I remove my shoes immediately and put them in the closet. Having a beautiful, welcoming space is calming.

  15. posted by Brooke on

    “Post-it® Notes can be recycled by any mill that accepts mixed-paper recycling.” http://www.mmm.com/us/office/postit/faq.html

  16. posted by Angela Parker on

    I find that organizing and minimizing usually hit me all at once and I work until I’m exhausted — then I end up quitting with several projects complete and even more “in process.” This means I have unseemly piles of “it always gets worse before it gets better.”

    My solution? I’ve started deeply into my belongings. I’ve decided that too much of my life has been taken up by cleaning, organizing, making lists and contemplating how to keep my environment organized, clean and clutter free.

    The answer? Get rid of nearly everything. Seriously. And for me, the more I toss, eBay or donate, the happier I feel. There may come a time when I regret some of the stuff I’ve discarded, but so far I just feel better. More free and at peace. And, my little house is much more enjoyable.

  17. posted by Organized Chaos on

    All of these suggestions are great, especially since starting is often the most difficult step. I find that, when faced with an entire apartment that needs cleaning/organizing, it can become very overwhelming. What I try to do if I want to start with the kitchen or the living room-dining room, is close the doors leading to all other rooms (ie bedroom, closets, bathroom etc) so that I can only physically see a smaller mess.

    Also, as I have only been living with my fiance for about six months (and we’ve spent a lot of time bickering about who should do what or who actually did what), I’ve found that for a couple, a great way to tackle large messes is to divide up tasks and to work on them simultaneously. That way things get done faster, and no one person feels like they’re the only one making an effort. And, if both of you have to work to clean up, you will both be more likely to make an effort to keep things clean.

    My final piece of advice is clothing and shoes related. 1) Besides seasonal clothing, if you haven’t worn it in six months, you’re not going to. 2) Ask yourself HONESTLY, if you did lose the weight, would you actually wear that again. 3) Needs repairs (buttons, zippers, hems, patches)? If it’s been more than 2 months, you’re not going to get around to it. 4) Not everything comes back in style. 5) Getting rid of old clothes and shoes makes room for new stuff 6) If it’s in good shape DONATE!! 7) If it’s faded, lost it’s color/shape…it’s not coming back…let it go 8) Allow yourself to keep one or two treasured items ie) prom dress, university sweatshirt, etc…an organized closet can make you surprisingly happy. Sometimes I just open my closet door and look at all the folded things and lined up shoes and it gives me the strength to face the rest of my apartment.

    Good Luck!

  18. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    I’ve always found that my greatest challenge is what I call “the backwards cascade.” It’s similar to what Anne referred to above when she said her clock didn’t get hung on the wall because the hutch was in the wrong place and the rocker was in the way of everything.

    In her case, she wisely acted on the situation, but sometimes it’s easy to get derailed because every act of organizing seems to require that something else get done first. I think Jay and Suzyn have the right idea to get past this blockade: just start throwing away or donating things you know you don’t want. Then you will have made visible progress and you’ll feel better about taking on the more formidable tasks.

    I can also relate to Angela’s comment about tackling too much at once and ending up with many partially completed projects. I also agree with her solution, which I’ve been implementing over the last several years: let go of everything you possibly can — and that’s undoubtedly more than you think you can when you begin the process! It does indeed give a wonderful sense of freedom when you no longer feel weighted down by your possessions!

    Good post and comments! Thanks!

  19. posted by Sandy on

    This site is such an inspiration. I have successfully kept my dining room table clear of stuff for a month now. It used to be where I would drop papers and books and things that seemed to stay there forever. Yesterday, I donated unwanted clothing that was cluttering up the bedroom closet. My lanai is the first thing I see when I come home from work so this afternoon, I moved all of the painting supplies that had blocked my view to the garage. Soon, I hope to clear out the garage.

  20. posted by Cathy on

    I really appreceiated reading all of these coments. I am a full time working mother of 3 and my husband and I are getting ready to move into a new house. I am looking for all of the advise that I can about uncluttering our space. The house we are moving into is bigger but I really don’t think we need to take all of the stuff we have now with us. Where do I start, what is the easiest way to eliminate clutter and how do I get rid of stuff I have had for years (I guess I’m sentimental, it just is hard to get rid of stuff). Please help!!

  21. posted by Jen Smith on

    Hi Cathy – I am not moving but I became overwhelmed recently with all my stuff so when I am decluttering/organizing now I added an additional sort item so I now have 1)pitch 2)donate 3)sell/craigslist 4)keep stored 5)keep out. I have put all of my collectibles that i just cant part with yet away in a box because I really want to see how minimalist I can live. I even did this with my kitchen picturing how many dishes/pots/baking pans/tupperware I would need if I lived in an RV (a long time dream) and now everything fits with room to spare.

  22. posted by Jen Smith on

    I forgot to add – one reason to put away everything but the stuff I use every day is to see if it is TRULY something I cant part with. I mentally picture having to pay for storage for all of those items and if they are worth that fee to me, then it is worth hanging on to…

  23. posted by Laura on

    Here is the only way that works for me:

    Find 4 big boxes. Label them “garbage”, “recycling”, “thrift store”, and “keep”.

    Pick one shelf in one room. Put everything in the appropriate boxes. Move to the next shelf and repeat. Have a cup of tea. Do one more shelf. Now take out the garbage and the recycling, take the thrift store stuff to the nearest thrift store.

    The next day, start over again.

    Hope this works for you too!


  24. posted by WilliamB on

    When I’m working with someone else, I usually suggest the bathroom as a place to start. It’s small, it’s usually pretty clear what should go there, and when you’re done it’s an ENTIRE ROOM that’s organized and clean. The quick hit typically gives one a big boost to see how it can be done and what a pleasure it is to have it done.

    But I’m part of the choir here. Right now I’m taking advantage of a weekend alone by going through kitchen stuff. Sound simple? Not really. My kitchen is the kitchen and dining room with the wall knocked out, with cabinets along two of the walls. What’s in the back of all these lovely cabinets, and why if I have them do I need to store a food stockpile in the garage? There’s stuff in the attic that’s been there for about 5 years; time to unpack it and see what I still want to keep. Oh, look, *four* pitchers! And I haven’t used a single of them in 6 years. (Note to self: better check that they all belong to me before disposing of them.)

    The hardest part was finding an out of the way place to put things, such as the four pitchers, so I can see all I have before making decisions.

  25. posted by redroses on

    When I was embarking on a clean-out of our house after a major move where I didn’t have time to clear my things, I tried something a bit unusual. Also, should mention I also had acquired boxes and boxes of papers and items after moving my mother to assisted living. I read that it would be best to start in the most attractive, organized room first! Even though other rooms were worse, I did start in the spare bedroom. It was great, and gave a lot of satisfaction early on! I could always walk to that doorway and gaze at my success even when I was knee-deep in other chaos. So, it worked for me! Then, I moved to the next-cleanest area and got it done. It helps lessen the anxiety. and produces satisfaction with an early “win”.

  26. posted by Penny on

    When my daughter needed to clean her room she would panic and not know where to start. I’m sure that there are a lot of people who do the same. What worked for her was to have her pick up one thing and ask her where it goes, then have her put it there. On to the next thing, until she stopped needing to be directed. One thing at a time is something we can all do.

  27. posted by SkiptheBS on

    I suggest organizing by areas you use the most. As you work, streamline your processes and eliminate clutter. Go from there to second most used, etc.

    If possible, do this during your peak energy or cognitive hours. Organizing by “first thing in the morning” would not work for this night person in a day job. It would never get done.

  28. posted by C.Lee on

    Great post for a long holiday weekend when people are thinking about tackling this project. Great to see your name at the end of the article, I had thought you gave up the “organizing” realm almost entirely!

  29. posted by Furntastic on

    Thanks for your post. My bedroom and bathroom are the rooms which I see first in the morning. Start organizing with these two are the best idea so that fresh mood can be set for the whole day.

  30. posted by Littleblackdomicile blogger on

    And may the efforts and accomplishments of small organization become habits!-laurel Bledsoe

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