Thursday, September 2, 2010

27 You Asked: Where do I Begin?!

Getting organized doesn't happen overnight.  It doesn't happen in a day.  In a week.  In a year.  It's a life long process that continues to build over time.  Hopefully the more organized you are, the more you will have time for the things you enjoy in life.  Whether that be your kids, family, friends, work, traveling or hobbies, it's all about filling your life with what makes you happy.

I find that I thrive in an organized space.  It takes less time to accomplish daily tasks when everything has a place to go, and I also despise spending time searching through piles when it's time to snag something in a rush.  It's all about creating a lifestyle that is easy to maintain and simple for the family, giving us more quality time for one another!

A stat that I read and now think about ALL the time because it was so jaw dropping to me was this, "American women spend 55.2 minutes a day looking for things, according to a study Real Simple conducted in 2003.  Those 55.2 minutes per day add up to a staggering 14 days per year."  - Real Simple The Organized Home.  OOFTA!!

As I mentioned, getting organized takes time.  And it's not for everyone, some people thrive on getting organized, others dread the tasks that get you there.

Bringing me to an incredible question I received from a reader.

Marian wrote:

Hi Jen,
My name is Marian from Florida. I just want to say how much I really admire your simplicity in everything and the way you organize things.  I wish you were living in Florida and do organizing and interior design for others. I would have hired you in a heart beat. But for now I would love to hear from you. I am in loss of where to start in you have a game plan for each space or how do you do it?
Let me know? I know it is such an open question but may be you can lead me on the right path.

And here is what I had to say back to Ms. Marian...

Hi Marian!

You have an extremely wonderful question, one that I am sure a lot of individuals face when looking to start either one project, or a zillion of them. 

Organizing can very quickly be extremely overwhelming.  I know, I have been there, and I tend to freak out when too many places or zones are losing order.  But the most important thing to do, is to take one little space at a time.  It really does help.  I start by focusing on one room or zone per month, and then when I have a spare hour, day or weekend to devote to that room, I attack it with a plan.  Picking which room to start with can also be a challenge.  I would recommend starting easy, don't tackle the worst first, because you might lose the energy to keep going.  Start small, then go big.  One small project is just as important and accomplished as a whole room update.

How do I plan?  I spend at least 15 minutes in that room, taking it all in and letting my ideas flow.  How do I ultimately want the space to function?  What is holding it back?  What do I love about the space?  What don't I love?  What is my budget?  What do I have around the house that could work in this room?  I start writing down all of my ideas in a notepad. 

Next, I start sorting.  Paring down and simplifying is one of the best ways to gain a cleaner, more functional space.  I look at a lot of the items residing and ask, do we use this and how often?  How will life change without it?  I also try to take mental note of anything I am getting rid of and why, so next time around I am not investing in things that I don't need or won't be happy with months down the line.  It's very eye opening when sorting, how much money could be saved by buying only things you truly love and save for and will cherish.

I tend to try to sell anything that I believe can be of use to someone or that is still in decent condition, to earn some money back for the room or my savings.  I have used Ebay and had garage sales, and am planning on listing some of my first items on Craigslist this week.  Anything that doesn't sell, is then donated.  I do my best not to be wasteful, there are times when things can be put by the curb with a sign "Free" instead of throwing it away....

After pairing down goods, I look at what's remaining, and again, keep in mind how it will be used.  I group "like" items and look for containers that will fit the items {hopefully I have things laying around the house, like empty boxes, soup cans, baskets or bins}, and locate them in places that are easily accessible.  The whole purpose is to make the space more functional when I am done with it.  And I am so lucky, I have been finding, the more organized I am, the more time I have to do more organizing!  But really, little bits at a time are key.  Don't try to do a whole room in an entire day or weekend.  Realistic time lines are key and really help ensure you don't get a feeling of being overwhelmed and flustered or discouraged.

Once you finish one or two projects, you may {and hopefully will} find that the amazing feeling that rushes over you, will be uber addicting and you will want to go back for more.  And then when life is easier because of the time you invested, you will find benefit and motivation to continue. 

You will do great.  If you need any specific advice on any project, please feel free to shoot me a note and ask.  When I hit roadblocks, I literally just spend extra time taking in the space and scour the blog world, my magazines and the internet for some added inspiration. 


So to sum it up quickly in a few bullets, here is how to get 'er done:

1.  Pick a space/zone - Start Small
2.  Make a list - Prioritize Projects
3.  Sort belongings
4.  Sell/Donate/Recycle/Toss
5.  Organize - Place items where it makes the most sense
6.  Pat yourself on the back, do a little dance, give a high five... feel accomplished!! 

To be honest, I find a lot of motivation from accomplishing projects that reap rewards on my time investment.  Seeing my kids and family benefit from the energy I have put into, is the biggest reward of all.  But I also find motivation from seeing the benefits others have found from their projects as well.  You all inspire me with your notes and stories every day.  Reading through blogs and magazines also inspire.  Inspiration is EVERYWHERE!

Because we are all so different, and different things work for different people, I gotta know, what works best for you when getting organized?  Anyone have any additional ideas or advice for Marian and the rest of us readers, that seem to work well for you?  What is your biggest organizing success and why?  I can't wait to hear from you incredibly talented readers!


  1. Thanks so much for these tips; all great advice!

    I have been in the "mood" to organize and get things cleaned up around the house lately, but I do like you said and try to take too much on at a time and just get freaked out, overwhelmed, discouraged, and end up crying in the corner {kidding...sort of}. I do things like - hey, we're going to be home all weekend so I can get the guest room fixed up, the office organized, the bathroom cleaned, and all the clutter picked up! You know what ends up happening? A weekend will float by and NOTHING got done.

    Hopefully with some of your tips, I can get a move on things. It's great to hear I am not the only one who gets overwhelmed with these things sometimes!

    1. I'm exactly the same! My excuse is always "well, it was a free weekend" yea right! It was just because I planned way too much to get done! One room at a time...

  2. I would specific ideas and maybe pictures of what others do about disguising toy/kid stuff storage in common areas. I have 1 and 3 year old.

    Love this post btw. I am printing it to put in my household binder!

    1. I use a big storage ottoman/coffee table.

    2. I limit what toys are available overall and rotate them so not all toys are out at once. Limit just a couple or so in common areas. If they want to get out more then the others get put away first. Have a basket, box or small chest of drawers or even a cupboard that can house them in the common area. Work with the kids to put them away before bedtime (or other appropriate time). They'll eventually learn to do it themselves and if you make it routine it will become second nature.

  3. The best way for me to keep my house organized and to jump start a project so that it doesn't end up being overwhelming is to go through my house usually on a weekly basis and see what I can get rid of that I am not using. Sometimes it's as small as old dried-up pens, papers that need shredding or tossing food out of the fridge. Other times its clothing and toys to donate and things I might want to sell to make extra cash.

    I try to stick by the one thing in/one thing out rule but that is not always practical. I keep a notebook of what I purge and it gives me motivation to get rid of more stuff that I don't use. I once found a blog where this woman tried to get rid of 365 things per year and she kept a blog journal about it. It was so neat at the end of the year to see what she got rid of. Some was small (magazines, broken toys, etc) and some was more substantial.

    The goal is that when you find a big chunk of time to organize and hopefully decorate, you aren't wasting time sorting through the things that aren't important to that room.

  4. Do you have a good reference list of your favorite "organizing books"? I went to the container store today, and thought of you! :)

  5. Hi Erin,

    I have done a couple of posts on toy storage, my biggest advise is storage ottomans, they look great and are great at concealing anything inside!

    Here are my posts: {}



    Hope that helps a little!


  6. Hi Toni!

    That is a great question for an upcoming post! I am writing that down and will make sure to get on that one right away! I have boatloads of organizing books and IHeart them all!


  7. Thanks for your list. I am feeling overwhelmed with all I want to do. Just this week I was standing in my messy den/catch-all room that is the 1st room you see from the front door. I really want to turn it into a dinning room. Of course I want this to happen over night. It hit me this week how I could divide up the mess into sections and I could start sorting and purging a little bit at a time. Then when it really is time to move the 'den' we wont be moving a mess, only what we really need. It has amazed me how quickly I found things that were just trash taking up space!

    Now if I can get used to: Clean Desk, clear off shelf, clean desk...again.


    Jen H

  8. Hi Jen,

    Great post and love the action-oriented bullets at the end. :)

    One specific thing I could really use help with organizing are all of my various cords and chargers. Camera, phone, iPod, laptop, yadda yadda. I have tons.

    How do you keep your cords and chargers out of the way? Any tips for a gadget girl?


  9. Hi Whitney!

    I agree cords can become crazy since I am totally a gadget girl myself! One way I keep my misc gadget cords in one place is by keeping a bin in my coat closet just for cords {} I am also known to use cheapo white Ikea planters upon shelves to tuck away additional gadget cords... that way it's as easy as pulling down a planter to snag the right one, but when the cords are up and tucked away, the planter acts as a room accessory! Lastly I am a huge fan of charging stations, I have them for our cell phones in our living area, for my cell phone next to my bed and in my son's room for his DS and MP3 player... they wrangle all of the cords out of site and make it easy to plug in and charge at any time.

    Hope that helps!

    Happy organizing, xoxo!

  10. I almost missed this post! And this is exactly the info I need.

    I get overwhelmed when it comes to storage. I stand in the container aisle in Target with no clue what to buy, or I keep staring at my closet not knowing what to do, other than hating the height of the shelf that's there!

  11. THANK YOU (yet again)for posting this! I know where to start-get my camera out and take pics of my basement and send to you for her style board inspiration. I can't even sleep tonight because I keep thinking about all the possibilities. I'm up typing in the dark in my baby's room. lol

  12. Jen,
    Thank you, after days searching I found your great site. Now I know where to start!
    warm regards
    from malaysia

  13. I seriously need help here!! i just started homeschooling my 5 year old and have 2 other little ones at home with me-(ages 2 and 7 months). Needless to say, with all of the new books and supplies piling up, I need to get organized! I have very little time to do it and don't know where to even begin. Right now, most of our materials, books, games, etc are sitting on the the dining room table because I am running out of room to store them and I need them to easily accessible,(bc we use them everyday!). Any thoughts? Inexpensive tips?? Thanks so much!!

    1. Libby,
      What about a cart or a set of plastic drawers on wheels? You could stash it in a closet at night and roll it out in the morning for school?

  14. @Libby - Hi Libby!

    First, I would make a list of items that you want to get organized, and prioritize that list and tackle little bits at a time. It always takes time.

    I love using wall space for books, here are a couple of cool things I have seen:

    Storage ottomans rock as do bookcases for games and materials. Here is my favorite storage ottoman: and bookcase:

    Hope that helps!


  15. Wow, thanks for your advice. I get so bogged down on where to start, but I love your bullet list on where to begin.

  16. Thank you so much! I have been reading your blog for about the last week trying to take it all in and pinning your pages on pinterest like crazy. You are motivating me to make my living spaces easier to manage and more beautiful. Thanks for sharing :)

  17. Hi Jen! Your fantastic enthusiasm in organizing reached the Philippines! I really enjoyed reading through your blog. I donate the clothes that doesn't fit, out of style or I just don't want anymore every December. My only problem is that I can't seem to sort-out my papers, I have papers everywhere, receipts, old notes, my son's drawings, etc. I got affected by your organizing energy and I wanted to start de-cluttering our room but I got stuck at "What to do first?". Then I saw this, now I know I have to tackle those papers first. Thanks for your very great and useful blog. I'm looking forward to your next projects.

  18. I feel the same way: overwhelmed. I think I could be a weel of stories for hoarders. Everytime I get ready to 'organize' its just too much. I start and then stuff needs to go somewhere else that is equally messed up. I am going to try your ideas and hopefully I will get somewhere before school starts.

    1. You're not the only one!! Today my doctor told me I am depressed and seem overwhelmed by everything in my life and I believe that my clutter is not helping with my current frame of mind.
      Today I started sorting my clothes by doing one section at a time. I managed undies, bras, socks, t-shirts, vest tops, shorts and leggings before I got fed up. Plenty in the e-bay pile and charity bag. :-)
      I really felt like these steps helped me get that far and actually finish the task I had set myself so I feel like I've achieved something. Start small is the best bit of advice!!! Good luck.

  19. My friend showed me your sight on Pintrest and this is exactly what I have been looking for! I have been wanting to get organized for so long and every time I start I get over whelmed because I want to do it all at one time!! Thank you so much for taking the time to post your ideas!!!

  20. hi Dear Jen,

    i m just fulltime FAANNNN of your blog and really everyday i visit to see your home.... n dreams for my home like yours i feel u have great creative mind. u r my Organization GURU.... yes i do.

    we r family of 4 1 baby girl , husband, me n my in laws and have a rented home(2bhk) as we move may be around 2-3 yrs so its really hard for me to search for Flexible organizational tools.. still i m trying... bt i can't drill the walls,i can't paint them,i always look for over the door options.. i can't change the closet structure i can't invest much money in a home when its not stable.. so i desperately need your help for
    1. solutions (decor)for white walls n furniture colour suitable(contrast may be)(i have black furniture as for white walls but it feels so boaring... i like little more colourful)i really like your behr's colour bt hmmmm cant't us it
    2. flexible and adorable organizational solutions.. for bathroom,kitchen,closet laundry room
    3. i would like to do some DIY projects which i never did so could you provide any BASIC DIY project list with paints,tools.
    4. it will be really grateful if you provide me any special organization with decor plan for typical apartments. we don't have garages so we have really small place in just closets (2 linen)and 2 walk in

    so pls pls pls help help!!! I hope u would understand i m really frustrated....(almost since last year.)

  21. Thank you so much for opening your home and organizational life up to those around you (like me) who can benifit. I am on a mission to be more organized in every area of my life. I recently started, and upon braggiing, got asked if I was pregnant and "nesting", lol. That should give you an idea how often I attempt to organize. But, I'm tired of always being late to appintments because of my disorganization...I WANT to change and you are helping me do it! Thank You!

  22. I have been meaning to get organized for a long time but I always get stuck. Thank you for your tips. There is just one problem I am such a hoarder and I don't like to get rid of things. Any tips I would love your help! :)


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