Thursday, April 18, 2019

20 The Best of the Best: My Top Organizing Tips!

I am back with part two of a four post series I am putting together with the best of the IHeart Organizing best. It's been a long time coming to take everything I have learned over the years, whether it is working in my own home or working with others, and compiling it all in a single place here on the web.

The four-part series will include:

Gearing Up for Your Next Organizing Project with a FREE Printable Kit!

Need helping getting started or prioritizing where to begin? What is the plan of attack? What is currently working well and what isn't? What storage do you need? Trying to get rid of things, but finding it hard to decide what to keep and what to pass on?

I have put together a great printable kit to help you prioritize, sort, and navigate your way through your next organizing project(s), which includes a total of TEN free printables!


My Top Organizing Tips!

Instead of digging through years of my archives to find individual tips, I am going to compile the best of the best in a single, very informational post! It's going to be a whopper and a really great resource for projects of any size.

Labeling 101: Quick & Easy Labeling Techniques

I have tried almost every type of label on the market, from vinyl to label makers to stickers and chalk markers, and they all have their place. But what are my tried and true favorites? What do I reach for with almost any project due to time, cost, practicality, and ease? I will be sharing three labeling techniques that haven't failed me yet, and that you won't need any fancy tools to utilize.

Practical, Everyday Storage Solutions!

If I have learned anything from raising three boys and organizing along the way, it is that storage can be expensive and that our needs are constantly evolving. Gone are the days where I purchase pretty bins and baskets to decorate with. Although I will always appreciate beautiful storage, it has to be versatile and it has to last! With that in mind, there are a few storage products that I have found that continuously work hard for me in a variety of situations, so they end up being the types of products I gravitate toward when working on any new projects. For the final post in the series, I am putting together the ultimate storage source list with tips and products that I have fallen in love with over the years.

So let's dive in with part two of the four-part series: My Top Organizing Tips!

Below you will find 20 Tips and Tricks that I have learned over the year and have been crucial in setting up our home, creating more family time (what it's really all about), saving money and sanity, and even encouraging better habits by all of us.

(I touched on a few of these tips in the printable post, however, they are important enough that they are worthy of the repetition).


Before you start an organizing project, it is a really good idea to reiterate why the project is so important to you. Everyone has their own "why", but I encourage you to do it because it will make your life easier, it will save you time, it will bring you joy, it will reduce your stress, save you money, and because you truly understand the positivity that results from organizing. Avoid striving for perfection, comparison traps, or thinking that organizing will ultimately solve all of life's messy problems. Stay intentional and do what is best for you to get the biggest reward for the time that you invest.

In the image above you can see that we have invested in organizing our fridge, and do our best to maintain it on a weekly basis. Our "why" is that we are able to promote healthier and easier snacking, eat more meals at home, waste less food (and money), etc....


Sometimes I think getting yourself motivated can be the hardest part! Just getting started can be really overwhelming. And knowing where to begin can be even more daunting. You may feel like you have plenty of areas you want to streamline, but my first tip is just to take it one small project at a time. My recent printable post offers tools to help prioritize where to begin, and to summarize I typically recommend ranking your projects in terms of what is costing you the most time, money, and sanity. But also start small just to get the momentum going. Once you finish one project, you should feel some natural endorphins and also reap some immediate benefits.

It is also important to know what motivates YOU! There are definitely times that I look at a mess and feel overwhelmed, so I personally find a way to put a creative twist on it. Getting to the creative side of the project feels like a fun reward to me (making labels, lining drawers, wallpapering, painting, etc...). The excitement I feel for the fun part of the project is what keeps me going during the messier moments.

Are you wanting to get into a good book? Allow yourself to listen to a recording while you are sorting. Behind on your favorite television season? Sorting and organizing is a great time to binge watch something. Try researching some inspiration and #goals to get yourself visually stimulated. We know why organizing is so important, but sometimes that isn't enough, so look for your own ways to get jazzed up and excited about it!

Most importantly, sometimes you just have to force yourself to start. When I am feeling sluggish or really dreading a project, I try to just push myself to take the first step to get it started. I am often surprised how quickly I can get invested, and that it is never as bad as it seems. You just need to get the blood flowing and adrenaline running. Do a little cardio, turn on some good music, and move your body... it is all SO helpful and really important.


I find myself reaching for a few common items on a frequent basis, so I toss a few of these things into a small, portable bin to keep handy while working on an organizing project:

  • Phone:  I use my phone for time management and listening to music/podcasts.
  • Headphones:  I prefer to utilize headphones while sorting to keep me focussed and drown out distractions.
  • Sorting Signs:  These are great for identifying specific sorting piles (download free here). I also like to keep a couple of empty cardboard boxes to pair with the signs and keep the sorting piles corralled and portable.
  • Cleaner:  Spray cleaner/wipes are key to giving yourself a clean slate. I always like to wipe down all of the surfaces of the area I am clearing out, as well as items that haven't seen the light of day for some time.
  • Rubber Bands:  Rubber bands work well for bundling/corralling small items like cords, pens/pencils, papers, etc...
  • Zip Bags:  Just like rubber bands, zip-locking baggies also inexpensively corral and categorize smaller items. I find them especially useful when organizing craft supplies and small tools/hardware. 
  • Scissors:  Scissors are helpful for snipping loose strings on linens and garments, opening packages and boxes, and cutting ties/bands.
  • Notepad, Flags, Pen, and Sharpie:  The notepad and flags are really great for jotting down ideas that arise during sorting, or for making a quick list of labels that need to be created (the sticky tags can also act as temporary labels mid-project). The pen is for note taking, while the Sharpie is nice for labeling boxes and baggies.
  • Label Maker:  I am going to dive deeper into my favorite label making tools in my next post, but having a basic label maker on hand is a household essential in my book. 


As you begin, I recommend removing everything from the area you are focussing on (cabinet, drawer, closet, fridge, etc...) to give yourself a clean and blank slate. There are a few benefits in doing this key exercise:
  • It allows you to give the area a good cleaning.
  • It requires you to touch everything before putting it back.
  • It encourages you to re-think how you are setting up/using the space.


This tip comes in two sizes; small and large!

Starting with the bigger picture, try organizing and sorting your belongings based on categories. This can be a little challenging to wrap your mind around, but if you are sorting items in a bathroom, then bring all of the items from ALL of your bathrooms together and sort/pare it all down accordingly. This gives you a bigger picture of what you already have, what should live where, what can be condensed, what you need to add, etc... This concept applies to linens, clothing and outerwear, kitchen items, office supplies, medications/first aid, tools, etc...

The same idea should be used while you are loading up your cupboards, drawers, and closets. You will want to create categories of similar item types and group them together in the space. This will help you (and others) to recognize and locate the items quickly and easily.


Whenever possible, it is always better to keep specific item types in as few places as possible around your home, which will ultimately cut down on the time it takes to hunt something down. For example, you may keep charging cables in your living room, entryway, automobiles, bedrooms, etc... When the time comes for needing a charger, suddenly you are looking in multiple places. In that situation, I would recommend creating a zone in your home where all of your tech lives, which would not only include charging cords, but may also include batteries, tech cleaners, keyboards/mice, media, remotes, etc... With everything within that category stored in one specific place, everyone should naturally fall into the habit of checking that one place when they need something tech related. We are generally groomed to practice this concept in the kitchen (dry items go in a pantry, silverware goes in a utensil drawer, etc...), but the same idea should be implemented all throughout the entire house.

Zones can be created in bookcases, cabinets, drawers, closets, nooks, etc... It is just used as a general term for an area in your home where everything with a similar responsibility is stored.


Bottom line, clutter happens when things don't have a home, or when we aren't disciplined enough to put things away. While organizing, everything you sort/touch needs to be assigned a proper home. When you run out of space, that is when it is time to purge. And when something new comes in, it is a really good rule of thumb to let something go right away. It is a good idea to know how and where you are going to store your belongings prior to adding them to your shopping cart.

If you notice piles/items consistently out of place, first assign it to one of your home zones. Go from there to find a way to make it fit. Paper piles? Give yourself an inbox to corral mail until bill paying day. Returns need to be done? Put a basket in your coat closet or car to hold those returns until you are out running errands. At the end of the day, if an item doesn't have a proper home, it will cause a trickle effect of frustrations.


I have never been a minimalist, but I have seen first hand the problems that come from owning too many things. Not only do you run the risk of creating piles and clutter (which can ultimately lead to emotional distress), you also carry the responsibility of having to maintain every last item you own. That means keeping it clean and fixing it if it becomes worn out. When it comes to linens and clothing, if you have multiple options, you may be less likely to keep up on washing duties. You may also spend more time contemplating what to wear each day. More items require more space to store those items, and space usually equates to dollars. Dollars in home size, containers, closet systems, etc...


The sorting process can really be daunting and be the one act that slows us down while organizing. We become emotionally and financially invested in our belongings. Eliminating our items can overwhelm us and even deter us from finishing our projects.

Last week I shared a list of sorting questions that can be really helpful in aiding you through the process of letting things go (download free here). I like to keep it laminated and use it as a tool to help myself and others stay on track during the paring down process.

The biggest roadblock is typically those sentimental items; belongings we received from a special someone or tied to specific memories. A few tips for handling those situations:

  • I am typically pretty good about understanding the benefits of paring down and letting things go. But I am also a sentimentalist. I frequently tell myself that items do not equal memories, that memories live in my mind and heart. However, items can draw emotion and connection to moments in our lives. These days we are really lucky that we have the technology to help us retain those items without having to necessarily hold on to every last birthday card. Sometimes I think tech is taking over the world, and I miss the days of paper book pages and magazines, face to face conversations, and tangible items that are real and nostalgic. But tech can also be a blessing. We now have the ability to photograph our belongings, so when they are passed on we still have some sort of visual record of them. We can also scan our children's artwork, letters from our pen pals, and old photographs of our grandparents. Take advantage of technology and use it to store your memories digitally vs. in boxes around your home.
  • Assign each member of the household a special box for memorabilia. These boxes could be considered a bit of a time capsule or treasure chest of sorts. It allows us to hold on to the most special of items but also encourages us to keep things pared down to a single container.
  • Collections are best displayed in a grouping vs. spread out around the home. If you (or someone you love) collects specific items, group the best of the best on shelves or in a display cabinet. This creates more of a statement and also pays tribute to the passion while reducing the amount of clutter spread throughout.
  • Which brings me to my next point, what good are your memories and belongings doing living in boxes in your basement or attic? Why not get them out and enjoy them, or pass them along to someone that will. Put old photos into an album or frame them on the walls. Display grandma's china or grandpa's camera collection on your shelves. Create shadow boxes of children's clothing, artwork, or clay creations. Make a blanket out of old textiles. Pay tribute to your family history in tasteful and creative ways.
  • Finally, if you just can't decide, I recommend using a bin or box as a holding cell. Pack up the items you just aren't sure about, put the box away on a shelf or in storage, and set a reminder on your phone or calendar for three months down the road. In that time, if you have not reached for or thought about those items, then you will probably be OK letting them go for good. Don't use this as a crutch for everything, but it is a useful way to really decide before doing something you might regret. This works especially well when sorting down your child's toys that they are insistent they can't live without.


If you are organizing for more than just yourself, then make the process about everyone involved. It might be as simple as brainstorming and asking for suggestions, but I also recommend getting the individual(s) active with the sorting, moving, cleaning, and organizing. This will get them invested in the process and increase the success rate of maintaining things going forward. 

Also, be sure to consider everyone's existing habits when setting up your systems. If your spouse has a habit of dropping their change, keys, and wallet in the same place each day, then maybe consider adding a decorative tray in that exact spot to corral it and make it look more intentional. Sometimes it is easier to create a solution based on the habit than it is to change the habit itself.

In the image above I worked with my son to organize his work area in a way that caters to his study style. He needs a larger, empty surface to spread out on, so giving him wall organization allows him to keep his desk clear. He does best when there are fewer distractions so we kept things fairly basic.


The easier it is to put things away, the more likely we are to do it! One of my most basic tips is to use open-top bins and baskets as often as possible. If you have to remove a lid or move an item to put something back, then you may be less inclined to keep up on it. Only stack lidded bins that are not utilized frequently. If stacking is ultimately the best solution to make the most of a space, consider using pull-out drawers instead of lidded containers, which will allow you to quickly access (and put away) the contents inside.

You can see more of how I encouraged this concept throughout this entire client kitchen here.


I file anything and everything I can. When I open a drawer or closet door, I don't want to have to move a pile of items to see or access something at the bottom. Filing items will allow you to better see everything at a glance, and quickly grab from the front, middle or back. Not only can you file clothing such as sweaters, jeans, t-shirts, etc... But you can also file linens, movies, baking sheets, cleaning supplies, foods... The sky is the limit!


It may seem like an organizing cliche, but add dividers to your drawers whenever possible. There are a few different benefits for doing this, but the two primary reasons are:
  • Dividers hold your items in place and prevent tipping or shifting when the drawers are opened and closed, and that means less rummaging and searching.
  • Dividers encourage you to stop and think before stuffing random things away. If the contents are organized and divided, then it is harder to stash and dash. The dividers should naturally aid you in keeping your drawers tidier.


    Space is typically maximized when you can make the most from floor to ceiling. Do this by adding storage to walls via pegboard or wall organizers, utilizing tall and narrow bookshelves, and taking advantage of the backs of cabinets and doors.


    Your organizing solution does not have to be traditional, or what everyone else typically does. There is so much creativity in the world, who is to say what is normal and what isn't? Organize based on your routine, your lifestyle, your home, your schedule, and your style. What works for me might not work for you, and that is OK! Some of the best ideas and trends are formed when people go down their own path.

    An example of this is the family closet concept. Typically speaking, folks have a dresser/closet in their own bedroom. However, I have seen families create a community closet used to store the clothing for the entire family in a single place. This cuts down on the time needed to do and put the laundry away, streamlines the process of getting multiple kids ready for school in the morning, and offers quick packing and planning for vacations. It may not be the way most families do it, but it doesn't make it wrong. In fact, if it makes your life easier, then it is absolutely RIGHT!

    In the image above you can see how we set up a small document retention area in our storage room. Not typical at all, but it offered us a place to store our unsightly and bulky items like our paper shredder and waterproof/fireproof document safe


    Whenever possible, it is best to look beyond the stock shelf and hanging rod that is originally installed in most closets. Although I always appreciate a solid floor to ceiling closet system, I know they aren't always in the budget. Great closets can still be maximized by adding in a dresser or shoe rack below the hanging items, multiplying shelving with the help of a bookcase, adding a second rod halfway down the closet to double hanging space, etc... There are a lot of wonderful mix-and-match closet organizers for great prices at most department and home stores, and they can easily be paired with existing storage pieces to really maximize your overall closet functionality.

    Our teen boy closet organization post can be found here.


    Labeling is another personal preference that doesn't have a one size fits all rule.

    The overall purpose of labeling is to create identification. Generally speaking, it is best to label for safety purposes or to keep your household on the same page.

    • Label food containers to indicate a specific ingredient (or lack of ingredient) due to allergies and sensitivities.
    • Label food containers/leftovers with dates to prevent serving expired and spoiled eats.
    • Label to indicate if an item is fragile or hazardous.
    • Label to identify the contents of a solid container or bin.
    • Label to differentiate multiple items that appear similar.
    • Label to help children identify where to find things/put things away (toys, snacks, clothing, etc...). 
    • Label to identify the possession of items between household members.
    • Label to create consistency or understanding between household members.

    Again, it really comes down to how your household functions and the dynamic of everyone who resides there. Labels can be extremely helpful but are not always necessary.

    The next post in this series is all about my favorite labeling tools, but this label maker can take on just about any labeling task. If you are looking to label something temporarily, consider dry-erase options.


    The act of organizing is FREE my friends, because organization happens naturally when you pare down and categorize. 

    But we would all be silly to think that storage containers are not a beneficial part of the organizing process! There are endless benefits to utilizing dividers, bins, and baskets to separate and store our belongings, and they ultimately encourage us to maintain our systems while also providing accessibility and space maximizing advantages.

    There are quite a few ways to save money on storage, but the biggest is to just wait. Once you have gone through the sorting, purging, and categorizing process, I encourage you to live with it for a bit before investing in containers. This ensures you like what you have done so far, and reduces the chances that it will be changed out in the upcoming weeks/months.

    Also, you may realize that you don't need as many containers as you initially thought, and you might even find some extra storage around your home as you continue to check projects off of your list.

    Bonus Tip: Once you do purchase your organizers, don't remove the tag/label right away. Tuck the receipt inside and take the storage for a spin before fully committing. This makes it easier to return if you find it isn't working out as originally planned.

    Deep pantry organizing tips can be found here.


    I have met quite a few organizers in my day, and I still don't know a single person who gets it right the first time, every time. So if you find something isn't working out, I encourage you to be forgiving, stay positive, and try again. Also, remember that your needs are constantly evolving and changing. That means that your systems and home need to change with you. Organizing is a process and a journey and never a one-and-done. And if you feel like you have exhausted all options, don't be scared to ask for help and advice from friends, family members, and experts. Where there is a will, there is a way!

    "A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new!" - Albert Einstein

    In the image above you can see how our awkward coat closet went through multiple phases to finally get us to a place of easy maintenance and organization.


    click HERE to download your FREE copy of the Clutter Clearing printable

    Now that you have put in all of the energy organizing that closet or setting up a new system, you are halfway there! Only halfway you say!? What's left!?

    The key to any successful organizing project is to get into the habit of using it and maintaining it. An inbox is not going to keep your documents organized if you still toss them on the counter, or if you don't get in the habit of clearing it out on a frequent basis.

    No matter what, keeping a neat home takes a certain level of discipline. This is why some of the tips above are so important; especially a less-is-more attitude and keeping your storage solutions as simple as possible. Dishes, clothes, and papers are not going to put themselves away, but once you get your systems set up and give everything a proper home, tidying up will become easier and easier.

    It truly takes time to create new, healthy habits. And it can be especially challenging to encourage positive changes out of others. We have found this Habit Tracker to be extremely helpful in maintaining our systems and encouraging better habits in our household. A few ways we have used it is for the boys to put their belongings away after school, for my husband to get his clothes into his hamper each day, and for me to keep our bathroom counter clear of beauty products. The goal is to begin doing these things naturally as part of our routines, and the tracker is a really wonderful way for us to stay motivated and accountable.


    WOW! Talk about A LOT of information! Obviously, this is a subject that I am passionate about. This post started out as 8 top tips, then went to 15, and ended at 20! And I probably could keep going!

    And I have even more to come! 'Stick' around because next up I am chatting all about labeling and my no-fail labeling products!


    1. Love this! I always always love seeing your posts and I feel like even in the midst of a huge organizing trend lately, your blog remains one of my favorite! Your pictures and your journey are unique!

    2. where do i can find your plexiglass chromebook storage solution?it's amazing!

      1. Hello,
        It is actually a document organizer/letter tray! I purchased mine on Amazon:

    3. I'm in the process of purging, organising and packing up every room of our home before our long awaited whole-house reno - and I'm excited and so grateful, but I was also feeling overwhelmed and anxious - so this morning when your post popped up in my reader I was SO happy! It was exactly what I needed, and reading through your words and scrolling through your images really reassured, inspired me and reset my motivation - it felt like it was just for me. Thank you so much - honestly!

      I refer back to your old posts anytime I'm planning a new project or feeling stuck - and I was reading through your one room challenge posts about your family room from a while back. It really helped me to remember that everyone struggles sometimes - thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I was wondering if you have any advise on making big permanent decisions when the deadline is approaching but you've not been able to find something that feels 100% perfect, and also how to avoid and/or make piece with sometimes making a decision that you don't love as much as you thought you would? I really enjoy choosing the finishing touches - but those big decisions (like layout, flooring etc) are intimidating me!

      Thank you again for your posts - both old and new! They are such a valuable resource. Amy xXx

      1. Hi Amy,

        Thank you so much for this encouraging comment! I related with it on so many levels, and completely understand that anxious and overwhelming feeling you mentioned.

        And goodness, those are really great questions. I feel like I planned so much leading into our renovation, and I still learned so much and changed so many things. It was such a stressful time for me, being someone who really thrives on organization and planning and deadlines. It really taught me that things will go wrong, to practice patience, to speak up and trust my gut, and to be OK trying and returning things. I decided that sticking with more classic materials and finishes on expensive things (like counters, cabinets, floors) and playing more with accents and accessories made the best sense for my sanity and wallet. Deadlines are important to getting the job done and staying on budget, but I also made peace with taking my time, not settling, and reminding myself a home doesn't happen overnight. We are STILL working on finishing touches three years later. It also helps me to watch design shows and read design books and hear that even designers and professionals experience setbacks, mis-measures, and even sometimes just make the wrong choice. We are all learning and human right?

        Every mistake I made (and I made a lot), I chalked it up as a learning experience that will help me grow and make better decisions next time. Most things can be remedied, don't be scared to ask for help/advice from people you trust, and work with businesses and stores to try before you buy (or be sure you can return) whenever you can. Also, as much as you space plan and tape things off, anytime you can actually bring things into the space (or find items similar in shape/size/scale) is best. I also recommend walking through open houses, model homes, parade homes, etc... The more you can see your ideas in person, the easier it will be to make decisions.

        I am rooting for you! And wishing you all of the best as you go through the renovation process! ♥ And thank you again!

    4. Thank you for a beautiful post! :)

    5. Great advice and information for organizing a home and for many areas of life.
      For example, making mistakes & learning from them, getting motivated, creating good habits, being prepared for work/projects, questioning & evaluating skills, and so much more...
      Thanks for sharing your BEST! You're a natural at teaching!

    6. This is an amazing compilation! Thank you for taking the time to corral all these ideas into one easy-to-find spot. I've been following your blog for several years, and you continue to do everything with excellence. I'm always impressed by people who do a great job and continue doing it for years and years. I don't know if that's a sign of a super strong work ethic or just doing something you love (or both!), but either way, great job, and thank you for keeping up the good work! :)

    7. I am loving this series! Sometimes life takes a totally different path and it takes a while to get your footing. That has felt like my last three years. I have followed you forever and loved your blog. I am ready to implement these strategies and feel a fresh start in our home. Thank you for sharing your talents! I appreciate all the visuals. I noticed some great snacks in your fridge and I am always looking for inspiration. Do you have a food prep day? If you are ever trying to think of blog ideas - I would love to see how you are organizing your menu these days and definitely some breakfast, lunch, and snack ideas. Your the best! Thanks again!

      1. Thank you so much Ann! Life can be a tricky thing sometimes, but I am glad to hear you are excited to jump in and do some organizing and refreshing!

        We do have a food prep day. I find it really helps us with our busy weeks when I spend some time chopping and prepping snacks/meals. I would love to write more about this in the near future, and try to share our process and any shortcuts that I can come up with.

        Thanks so much!!

    8. I've been a follower since the beginning and your blog is still one of my very favorites!

    9. Happy to see this great post! As always, I love your simplicity and authenticity.

      When I help others organize their homes, I discovered one question I ask my friend if she can't decide to keep that expensive but rarely worn blazer or a child's old favorite toy...

      "Is there a woman just starting her career who would love this blazer to wear to her first job interview?" Or "Is there a less fortunate child who would love this toy as much as yours did?" Almost always, the joy of giving to someone in need overrides the desire to hold onto something past its usefulness. (I am a huge fan of donating to resale/charity shops for items in good shape).

      "Loving your neighbor" sometimes makes hard decisions easy!

      Thanks for sharing your gifts, Jen!

      1. Couldn't agree with you more, Connie! I always encourage the same, and feel the same when I donate. ♥

    10. What an amazing post, Jen! Love love love every tip. Your posts are ones I look forward to most often because they are packed full of super useful information and you are always teaching me something new! I also love the links to old posts because I could spend hours going back in the archives to re-read everything (and I often do!). Also - loved your tidbit about getting your husband to put his clothes in the hamper! Guess it's not just my husband :)

    11. Hi Jen! I'm a long time fan and reader of your blog. I just want to thank you for this organizing series. Your posts are always very informative and useful. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and the printables. I'm prepping for a garage organization project and your printables give me a starting point. Blessings, Angie

    12. Where did you purchase the clear containers you have under your kitchen sink? In the picture you have trash bags, detergent pods, etc. Thank you!

      1. Hi! They are shoe drawers that can be found at The Container Store:

    13. Goodness I'm excited and encouraged to begin tackling some areas of our home I've struggled with. You've not only provided great ideas, also upbeat and encouraging posts. I've just found your website and have already placed as my #one go to. Thank you for your dedication to making home a great place to be. Also it appears that the whole family can learn and contribute. We're tremendous fans of "Family Activities Together". With better organization our youth will be a healthier generation. I believe we'll all find the difference between need, want and space available..


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