Secrets Personal Organizers Would Never Tell You for Free

Want to expand your living space—without taking a sledgehammer to the walls? Make the most of every square foot with these expert organizing strategies.

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Top view a young woman in casual clothes stacks things, sorting them by colors and folding them into a metal mesh basket. Concept of smart tidy and cleanliness in the house
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20+ Professional Organizer Tips

Create five piles

When you’re organizing, you should sort everything into five piles: move to another room, donate, give to a specific person, throw away, and, finally, the “marinating” pile. Pack up the marinating items, and label the box with a date that’s six months to a year later. If you never open the box before that date, you can safely discard those items.

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Tidying Sorting Fashion Clothes And Shirts. Purge Concept
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Make rules and stick to them

Create rules about what you’re keeping and what you’re discarding. In your closet, for example, you can decide to give away any clothing that’s not between size x and size y, that’s stained, or that needs to be repaired. With magazines, you can decide not to keep anything that’s more than a year old.

In need of some motivation? Here are 10 Netflix organizing shows that are sure to inspire.

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Plan your time accordingly

Sorting through a box of personal papers will always take you far longer than you think it will.

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Plastic Storage Containers: Close Up; In Shop; On Shelves
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Avoid lids

Avoid lids on laundry baskets, bins, and other containers. They just make it harder to put things away. For other items, I’m a huge fan of clear sweater boxes. Not only do they hold sweaters in your closet, but they’re perfect for holding beans, rice, and pasta in your pantry, kids’ toys, and more. They fit on almost any shelf in any home and can hold most of the stuff in your house. I order them by the case.

Find out the kitchen organizing mistakes everyone makes.

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Professional organizer tips - man organizing bookcase
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Sort first, then store

People who think they’re disorganized always run out and start buying baskets, containers, and hooks. You come home and try to use them, and they’re not the right type or size, because you didn’t sort through your stuff first. That’s just backward. All those new containers just end up adding to your clutter.

Find out 18 things professional organizers never buy.

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Stack of magazines on coffee table
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Don’t keep what you don’t need

The whole idea of a paperless society is a complete myth. People are seriously scared to get rid of it. Remember, 80 per cent of the paper you get you don’t need to keep. So it’s imperative to keep weeding out every single day, whether that’s magazines, catalogues, mail, receipts, or anything else.

Here’s expert advice on how to organize digital clutter.

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flea market. Vintage stuff. Aesthetics. Fair of old things. Sale of unnecessary things. Garage sale. Weekend Market. Dishes, souvenirs, teapot, cups, spoons, figurines. Antiques. Second hand
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It’s the memory you cherish—not the item

If you’re keeping something that doesn’t fit in your home for sentimental reasons—say, Aunt Jenny’s blue recliner or Grandma’s chandelier—recognize it’s the memory you cherish, not the item. Then take a picture of it and give it away to someone who actually has space for it who will love it. That said, if you really love that paperweight collection, grandma’s old photographs, or that heirloom quilt, why are you letting them get ruined, moldy, or eaten by moths in cardboard boxes in the attic? Honour your favourite keepsakes by getting them out and displaying them.

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Organizing and cleaning home. Man preparing orderly folded t-shirts in drawer.
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Finish what you started

Sure, you could sell that item online…but are you interested in finishing your organizing project or starting a new career hocking used stuff? Unless you sell online all the time or need the money, I recommend just giving things away so you can move on.

Pressed for time? Check out 30 things you can organize in under 30 minutes.

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Pink roses in big glass vase standing on the floor
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Declutter with decor

Watch out for flat surfaces, which can quickly become drop zones for clutter. When my clients have a dining table that is always getting covered with junk, I’ll have them clear it off, put a flower arrangement in the middle, and set it with place settings. That usually prevents them from parking stuff there.

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Suitcases and bags in trunk of car ready to depart for holidays
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Yes, you can store things in your car

Anything that needs to go somewhere should be kept in your car, not in your house. Keep your coupons there in a clear folder so you have them if you need them. Get an errand basket to hold items that need to be returned. Use crates to store kids’ toys and emergency supplies. Also, a car trash bag is a simple thing—get one!

Don’t miss these clever organizing tips for your car.

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Business writing for working and schedule this month. Planner of meeting plan job.
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Put everything on your calendar

Even errands, exercise, cleaning the house should go on it. Then make sure you prioritize the things that are important to you. If it’s not on your schedule, it’s not on your life.

These cleaning hacks can help take the hassle out of housekeeping.

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Close Up of dirty dishes.
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Don’t wait for later

Don’t procrastinate. If you postpone things that take a few minutes, it adds up and suddenly you’re looking at several hours to clear your clutter. Always open your mail right away, do dishes right after you use them, and put things away as soon as you’re done with them.

These pantry organization ideas make meal prep so much easier!

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An old yellow wireframe filing tray, piled high with documents and folders, on a light wood veneer desk against light blue background.
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Piles of files aren’t going to cut it

If you have lots of piles of papers you’re always looking through that’s a big time waster. Here’s what I suggest: every time you look at a piece of paper, put a red dot on it. If you’re ending up with 10 or 20 dots on one piece of paper, you need a new system to deal with your paperwork.

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Close up of handsome man opening padlock on door of self storage unit , copy space
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Please, get rid of that storage unit

You could buy all the stuff that’s in there for the price of the annual rental fee—and that doesn’t include the cost of the moving truck and your time. Plus, I’m sorry, but the items you own are almost never worth as much as you think. And even if they are, who cares? That’s still not a good excuse to hold onto things you don’t use.

Find out which items you should never buy in bulk.

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Assortment of glass jars with cereals on shelves
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If you don’t use it regularly, it shouldn’t be on your counter

Adjust cabinet shelves; it can create a lot more space. Also, get that popcorn machine, bread machine and the other huge appliances off your counter. If you don’t use it every week, store it in the attic or basement and get it out only when you need it. And do you really need all those plastic containers? Most people have cabinets full of them, but they only ever use a few. Figure out which ones you really use and donate the rest.

Make sure you never store this in your garage.

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Horizontal photo of female hand putting in glassware to be washed by dishwasher with blue, red, clear, pink glasses and white bowls in background
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Think ahead

Always load the dishwasher in an organized way. So instead of throwing all the silverware into the utensil box, put the forks in one area, the spoons in another, and the knives in another, and then when you’re unloading you just grab all the spoons and put them in the drawer.

Psst–this is the best way to arrange utensils in the dishwasher.

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Different clothes on hangers close up
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Hang everything in your closet backward on the rod

Once you wear something, hang it the normal way. A year from now, if you still have some things still hanging backward, you’re obviously not wearing them, so get rid of them.

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Professional organizer tips - types of clothes hangers
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Stick with one style of hanger

Switch to one type of hanger. It makes a huge difference. If you have varying kinds, they get caught on each other, they’re not the same height and you can’t see everything as well. I especially love the thin hangers that are covered in velvet. Because they’re super slim, you can fit more into your closet, and your clothes won’t slip off them.

Here are 20 home organizing mistakes you’re probably making (and tips on how to fix them).

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Modern wooden wardrobe with clothes hanging on rail in walk in closet design interior
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Maximize your closet space

Put in an extra tension rod so you can hang shirts on top and skirts on the bottom, and always add hooks to hang jewelry and scarves if you have extra wall space. You can even put a chest of drawers in there if you have the room.

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Shoe rack hanging on a wooden door, storage for shoes close-up
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Try hanging storage bags

In addition to shoes, I use them for gloves and hats in winter, for sunblock, sunglasses and goggles in summer, and for crafts, toiletries and makeup.

Here’s expert advice on how to organize your nightstand (and why you should).

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Professional organizer tips - woman painting wall
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Small changes make a big difference

You’re going to be more motivated to get an area organized if you make some changes you can get excited about. When you’re doing your closet, for example, throw up a coat of new paint, put down some cool floor tiles or a rug, or add a beautiful fixture. It will make you want to keep it organized.

Be sure to avoid these renovation mistakes that could send your home’s resale value into a tailspin.

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House move concept. Carton boxes on tile floor background
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Ditch the cardboard

One client asked me to help carry a bunch of cardboard storage boxes into her newly renovated house. As I opened the first one, out came hundreds of cockroaches. That’s why you should never use cardboard. You name the pest; I assure you it loves cardboard.

Check out the 10 most disgusting house bugs (and how to get rid of them).

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Dartmoor, England. June 2020. Kitchen drawer with essential items. Car keys, mobile phone, cash and notes, postage stamps. Purse. Phone chargers. Face mask. tape measure, House keys. In various boxes.
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Junk drawers are OK—just make sure everything has a home

Being organized doesn’t mean everything is in its place; it means everything has a place. If you can get your house ready for a surprise guest in 30 minutes, then you’re organized. Believe it: I have not one, but two junk drawers in my kitchen—and I sleep just fine at night.

These clever kitchen organizing ideas will save your sanity.

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Close up of an album and ancient family photos
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Label things for later

Your kids will be so grateful if you label and organize your photos now and if you stick a note on keepsakes explaining their significance. We settle a lot of estates, and it’s frustrating to the next generation when they don’t understand why something was left to them.

Now that you’ve got these professional organizer tips in your toolbox, check out the home organizing hacks that’ll help you conquer clutter.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

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