The 20 Best Organizing Tips We’ve Learned Over the Past 20 Years
As Real Simple celebrates its 20th anniversary, we're taking a look back at the most life-changing organizing tricks we've discovered over the years.
Over the past two decades, Real Simple editors have shared and learned countless organization tips. From the secret to a tidy closet in record time, to how to organize the most impossible things (yes, even that cabinet full of food containers), we've tackled every single corner of our homes. With methods to wrangle the worst clutter hotspots, as well as strategies to keep them organized for longer, we know that keeping a tidy home is a marathon, not a sprint. Here, we've rounded up the best home organization tips we've discovered over the past 20 years—and that we expect will continue to serve us well in the next 20.
1 Make storage labels.
When our book The Real Simple Method for Organizing Every Room was released in 2018, we had a chance to review organizing advice we'd been dishing out for years. One favorite that still stands the test of time: create labels. For bins, inside drawers, on file folders—really, anywhere. Especially if you live with kids, a partner, or roommates, these labels will encourage others to return items where they belong.
To create the labels, consider investing in a label maker, or even colorful washi tape and a marker can do the trick. To label plastic bins, try a paint marker.
2 Follow the one-in, one-out rule of organizing.
It's a simple concept and if you're a longtime Real Simple reader, you've likely heard it before: for each new item you bring into your home, one has to leave. The secret to preventing clutter is to not let the amount you introduce exceed the amount that leaves. For example, if you buy a new coat, it's time to donate an old coat.
3 Open your mail every single day.
It's an all-too-familiar habit: you bring in the mail and decide you'll deal with it tomorrow. But when tomorrow comes, the pile continues to grow. Instead, avoid this common paper organization mistake and commit to opening and sorting your mail every day. It only takes five minutes, and will feel far less daunting than a towering pile of papers.
4 Swedish death cleaning isn't as morbid as it sounds.
Based on the 2017 book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson, Swedish death cleaning is the thoughtful process of letting go of your possessions “when you think the time is coming closer for you to leave the planet.” While it may sound overwhelming at first, one writer who tried it reported feeling less stressed, knowing that their affairs were in order and wouldn't one day become a burden to their family.
5 Try the tray trick to organize cluttered countertops.
In her kitchen, our editor-in-chief, Liz Vaccariello, introduced a storage tray to corral clutter on the kitchen counter. When items begin to overflow off the tray, it's a signal to tidy up. Try this same trick to organize spices on your kitchen counter, cosmetics on your bathroom vanity, or office supplies on your desk.
6 Use clear bins in kids' rooms.
For the best chance that kids will help tidy up their own belongings, only use transparent bins to store their toys and art supplies. When kids can see what goes inside each container, it's easier for them to put things back where they belong. In the January 2018 issue, we also suggest keeping the bins relatively small, since "bigger bins become dumping grounds."
7 Let go of the guilt of letting go.
Over the past few years, Marie Kondo has had a big influence on how we organize our homes. Besides teaching us to only keep items that "spark joy," she's also given us a strategy to let go of guilt. In her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo recommends saying "thank you" to an object you've decided to part with. This simple expression of gratitude for the object can make it easier to let go.
8 Keep your citrus juicer on the top shelf.
In the June 2016 issue, our home director, Stephanie Sisco, called out 10 habits of highly organized people. Habit #4: they reserve prime kitchen real estate for their most-used cooking tools. "Look over the tools in your kitchen and consider how often you find yourself reaching for each. Standbys, like a vegetable peeler and measuring spoons, should stay close at hand, but an immersion blender used only sporadically needs to move up high."
9 Move the castoffs to the car.
In that same story, Sisco points out another game-changing organization tip. Instead of letting your donation bin take up space in your closet as you procrastinate dropping it off, transfer it to your car. Not only will you save closet space, but it will encourage you to actually donate the clothing the next time you drive by your local Goodwill or Salvation Army.
10 Use a turntable to store condiments in your fridge.
In the October 2015 issue, we recommended moving those condiments stashed on your fridge shelves to a lazy Susan set on the middle shelf, "so you can find the soy sauce with a quick spin."
11 Organize according to your personality.
Nearly a decade ago (back in the June 2010 issue), we recommended using tidying techniques that work for you, depending upon whether you're right- or left-brained. Here's how to find out which side you're on. Then, implement organization strategies that work with, rather than fight against, your way of thinking.
12 Store your knives like a chef.
Tossing your knives into a kitchen drawer can cause them to dull or chip (not to mention, make them more dangerous to grab when you need them). If you have the counter space for it, pro chefs recommend investing in a knife block. But if you're lacking in counter space, a magnetic knife rack is your next best bet.
13 Stop stashing harsh chemicals under your sink.
Part organization tip, part safety warning, in 2019 we called out four things you should never stash under your sink. Rather than store chemicals under the sink, relocate them to a locked basement or garage, out of reach of small children. What else should you clear out of the under-sink cabinet? Flammable products, like paints and thinners.
14 Organize food so you can see it.
This basic rule applies to both the pantry and the fridge. You're more likely to eat (and less likely to waste) food you can see. So invest in transparent bins that let you peek inside, and opt for shelf organizers with levels that serve as stadium seating for your spices and condiments.
15 Install wall hooks (and lots of them).
One of the most basic goals of organizing your home is simply to keep items off of the floor. Wall hooks can help in that mission. Whether it's a swivel towel hook, a coat rack, or a Shaker peg rail, wall hooks keep everything from bathrobes to coats to handbags off of the floor.
16 Switch to matching hangers.
Want to know the quickest, most satisfying way to make your closet look more organized—without a complete KonMari overhaul? Just switch out all of the hangers in your closet for a matching set. Whether you choose sleek velvet hangers or luxe wood ones, you'll feel instantly more organized.
17 Don't underestimate drawer dividers.
Whether you have a chaotic junk drawer or a cluttered utensil drawer, this problem is almost impossible to solve without investing in drawer dividers. Look for adjustable drawer inserts that can be shortened or extended to fit your specific drawer.
18 Stop stashing off-season clothes in your closet.
If you're keeping your winter coats and bulky sweaters in your closet all summer long, you're wasting valuable closet space. Instead, invest in zippered canvas storage bins you can stash under your bed or use vacuum storage bags so your puffer coats will take up significantly less space. Follow these steps to get your winter clothes ready for storage.
19 Store shoes toe-to-heel.
Instead of lining up your shoes so they all face in the same direction, store each pair toe-to-heel so they nestle together and save space on the shelf or shoe rack.
20 Maximize vertical space in your shower.
Vertical space is the key to organizing all types of small spaces, including the shower. Order a hanging caddy that clips onto the shower head, a pocket caddy that clips onto the curtain rod, or an expandable pole organizer that fits neatly into the corner of the stall.