Real Simple readers share their easy tricks for keeping everything in order.
After I fold my sheets, I stuff the set into one of the matching pillowcases. That way, there are no messy piles in my closet, and I never have to dig through the closet to search for a missing piece.
The only way to get my family out the door in the morning is to organize everything the night before. Backpacks, lunches, outfits, after-school-activity items, my pocketbook, coats, hats, gloves, etc., are placed right by the front door on our catchall ottoman. In the morning we get ourselves ready, then just grab our things and go.
River Edge, New Jersey
I toss my keys on the same table every time I come into my house. Even if they end up under something, I know they’re there.
A few months back, my family decided we wanted to actually eat at our kitchen table rather than using it as a central drop spot. I conquered this awful dilemma by sorting through the pile, putting bills with bills, shredding junk mail, and so on. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the pile diminished. But that was not the hard part―the hard part is maintaining. Every day I immediately go through the mail and sort paperwork as it comes in. Whatever papers or bills I need to keep around for a bit, I store in a hand-painted wooden tray on my table. It keeps everything together and looks neat.
North Kingstown, Rhode Island
I keep one folder on my desk for every kind of unfiled paper, whether it’s a recipe I want to save, a parking ticket to be paid, or an invitation to RSVP to. Having it all together and not scattered on my desk makes it look easier to tackle.
Throughout the year, I make sure to keep track of documentation for tax preparation by filing my receipts diligently in Manila envelopes. On the outside of each envelope, I glue a blank spreadsheet that has columns for dates and amounts. Separate envelopes are created for individual categories, such as medical expenses, business expenses, home equity, and so on. Along the way, I total the columns for the spreadsheets and add the numbers to the outside of the envelopes. Because I file and log totals regularly, the task of tallying totals is less cumbersome at tax time.
On the day the grocery store starts its weekly sale, I make a weekly shopping list and menu. It saves money―and my family knows what’s for dinner and has even been known to start cooking if I’m not home yet. If you spend an hour once a week thinking about what to cook and looking to see what you need as you make the list, the week runs so much more smoothly. No more getting the water boiling for pasta, then realizing there is no pasta.
Marie Grass Amenta
I create a premade grocery list, categorized by aisle. As you shop and go down the aisles, you know everything you need and don’t have to run back and forth through the grocery store.
I often tear out magazine pages that feature a recipe or cooking tip I’d like to try. Until recently, the pieces of paper would inevitably end up in my junk drawer, never to be seen again. I bought a three-ring binder with clear plastic inserts to keep the recipes splatter-free and dividers so I can separate appetizers, main courses, side dishes, and desserts. Now when I’m trying to find that recipe I read about, I know exactly where to look.
Winter Garden, Florida
I use a one-page-a-day planner that has space for a to-do list, appointments, and notes. It provides an organized way to plan and keep track of your life, plus one place for all your important notes. (You don’t have to worry about misplacing a bunch of little sheets of paper with daily notes.)
Keep a pad of paper on the refrigerator so family members can jot down what they would like from the grocery store. This becomes the weekly grocery list.
Morristown, New Jersey
I have all my file labels in the same handwriting or font. It stops me from being distracted when I need to find something, and it looks more organized than it might otherwise be.
Every six months, I go through my wardrobe and take out anything that I haven’t worn in the last year. Experience has shown me that if I haven’t worn a piece of clothing in that time, I won’t use it anymore. I give those clothes away to family members, friends, or charitable organizations, and my closet is never to the point of bursting. It also helps to see the clothes that I am actually wearing and not be surprised by pieces of clothing that I forgot I owned.
I made an earring holder by gluing a piece of screen between two wooden picture frames. I put the frame on the wall and hang earrings on the loops. My handmade earring holder gives me instant organization and style.
I love lingerie and wouldn’t want to leave the house with a mismatched pantie. To avoid wasting precious time in the morning rummaging through my not-so-organized drawer, I make a point of hooking each bra to its matching pantie right after taking it out of the dryer. This way, no matter what I grab from the drawer in the morning, I’m sure its partner follows―and I can start the day feeling glamorous.
Hoboken, New Jersey
My husband likes to make piles on the dining table, the kitchen counter, or basically anywhere. These piles consist of magazines, catalogs, mail, a box of nails―whatever. I got tired of constantly asking (OK, nagging) him to move his pile out of the way, so I gave my husband a small box for his stuff, just large enough to fit his miscellaneous items, and set it on a shelf by our phone. If his pile is in the way, I place it in his box (along with his wallet and keys, which he leaves in various places), and he always knows where to find it. This saves a lot of time and frustration.
We moved about a year ago, and we lived among mountains of boxes for a while. After our big move, we created a system to help us find that one thing we needed from each box. Using an Excel spreadsheet, we labeled column one “living room 1,” for example, and typed in its contents below. So if you want to find that DVD, you press control and F, type in the name of the movie, and find which box it is located in by looking next to the highlighted name. Make sure you label the box the same way you do in the spreadsheet. This helped tremendously.
State College, Pennsylvania In my hall closet, I keep canvas “occasion” bags packed and ready to go. One is a swim bag filled with swimsuits, towels, sunscreen, and beach toys. Another is a park bag with a blanket, a ball, bubbles, sand toys, and wet wipes. My favorite bag is the Grandma bag, which contains pajamas, a change of clothes, a baby doll, and a few toys perfect for those surprise offers by Grandma to keep my daughter overnight.
I organize my finances using the “bucket” method. In the beginning, I would take my paycheck in cash and put it in envelopes labeled rent, food, etc. Now I do the same thing by employing Quicken and savings goals. I put my money in the “bucket” and empty as needed. I seldom, in all my financially responsible years, have had to dip into one “bucket” to pay another.
Linda Beattie Inlow
In my kitchen, I have a desk that’s like a magnet. When I know company is coming, out comes my laundry basket and in go the collectibles. Presto! A clean desk.
Oak Ridge, North Carolina
Alphabetize your spices. Before I did this, I could never find the basil, so I kept buying new jars. Then I realized I had three jars of it. Now that I’m alphabetized, I don’t purchase spices until I need them.
Every Saturday morning, I blast Patsy Cline and take stock of which parts of my organizational system are working (what stayed clean and tidy) and which aspects aren’t (what looks like a shelter area for enraged wolverines). Sometimes an organizational setup that functions in one area can also be made to work in another.
I follow my mother’s instructions, which vary only slightly: “Put it back where you found it” and “Put it back where it belongs.” Either way, you always know where to find it when you need it.