Real Simple readers share their tricks for keeping everything in order.
After you pick up your mail, run, don't walk, to the receiving bin. Don't drop it in your bag, don't put it in the front seat of your car or set it down. Go through it on the spot. Get rid of it before it makes itself at home.
Huntington, New York
I wrap my holiday gifts in groups by paper: silver for my sister, gold for my brother, and red for my in-laws. I know exactly what to grab when we’re heading out.
I bought a shoe holder to store charging cables and the small accessories for my cell phone, MP3 player, digital camera, etc. I hang it over a closet door and simply label each pocket.
I use a pant hanger with rubber-covered rungs that swing out to organize my jewelry. I slip rings on the first rung, bracelets on the second, and necklaces on the third. I just swing out a rung to take the item of my choice.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Quite by accident, I developed an almost pleasant way to declutter: I learned to putter. I loaded my iPod with songs I like (that’s key) and just walked around picking things up, tidying, humming, and dancing like a fool, but getting things done―and at a faster pace than I had expected. Puttering is productive, it doesn’t seem like work, and it sounds so much better than “cleaning house.”
Last Christmas my friend and I decided to forgo the usual gifts and give each other five hours of our time instead. I helped her clean her bedroom closet, and she helped me clean my basement. We had fun, saved money, and made a lot of progress.
I keep a bag in the trunk of my car, and I slowly fill it with items for charity. When I run across a pair of shoes or a toy my children have outgrown, a shirt I no longer wear, or a paperback I’m ready to pass on, I take it to the car and drop it in the bag. Sometimes it takes a week, sometimes more, but the bag eventually gets filled and dropped off at the nearest donation site. My children are aware of the bag, and I think it has provided them with a valuable lesson in giving and recycling.
With a family of six, I find a dry-erase calendar essential. Each family member has a different-color marker so we can see at a glance who needs to be where and when.
Marry a tidy man. Organization rubs off.
San Antonio, Texas
Each of my kids has a bag―the kind used to wash sweaters in the washing machine. All their dirty clothes go in their bags, then I throw them in the washer and dryer. After they come out, the kids sort and put away their things. I have less work to do, and the dryer ends up eating fewer socks.
Anne Katherine Smith
When clutter gets the better of me, I use a three-things-at-a-time plan. I pick up three things in a room that belong somewhere else and go put them away. When I’ve put the last thing away, I look for three more. Little by little, the clutter disappears. If something comes up and I have to stop, it’s not a big deal. I just resume the plan the next time the mess is driving me crazy.
I love to travel and always end up collecting maps, notes, and business cards. When I get home, I go straight to the scanner to capture my nostalgia on file. That way, I can discard all the little pieces of paper and keep all my memories in an easy-to-reach spot. It also makes it simple to share my special finds with friends who may be going to one of my visited destinations.
White River Junction, Vermont
I live in a family of men, but we all wear white socks, so sorting laundry used to be a pain. To keep our socks in order, I buy each family member a different type or brand of white socks. My husband gets Jockey regular socks, my oldest gets Hanes, my youngest gets Fruit of the Loom, and I get white socks with pastel trim. Guess what? It’s easy to sort all those white socks!
Charlotte, North Carolina
I keep a small canvas basket in our laundry room for each child’s sport or activity. For example, shoes, shin guards, socks, shorts, and a jersey are kept in the soccer basket. The kids take everything off in the laundry room, then pick up their equipment there after it has been washed. That way, there are no last-minute hunts for shin guards or socks. The items never have the chance to get lost.
Don’t move stuff around. Put it away, throw it out, file it, whatever. It takes the same amount of time to put it in the right place as it does to put it in the wrong place. A pile of homeless clutter just makes you sad!
Highland Park, Illinois
If you’re finished with it, put it away. If you can’t use it anymore, give it away. If it’s used up, throw it away.
Walnut Ridge, Arkansas
Because I find it impossible to be completely clutter-free, I have designated an end table as a place where I can drop things without feeling guilty. Whenever I find myself with a bit of time and am feeling vigorous, I sort out the pile. The table’s proximity to the couch means I can work on the pile during TV commercials.
When my three artists were in their creative phase, I found a way to organize the artwork. I hung their pieces on the refrigerator and, with the child standing beside them, snapped a photo. This allowed us to part with most of the originals. Standout pieces got framed and displayed in the stairway landing gallery, but the photos of the others were placed in albums for later reminiscing.
Garden City, Idaho
My best organizing tip is to label, label, label. I have found that simply by putting the names of objects on shelves, drawers, baskets―anything that holds anything, for that matter―I have solved a lot of the “Honey, where are the (fill in the blank)?” questions.
Morro Bay, California
I keep three inexpensive plastic baskets in the refrigerator that hold everything needed to make a packed lunch for my son to take to school. Even on the most hectic mornings, all we have to do is reach in and grab something and everything is there―cold cuts, fruit, crackers, cookies. I even keep the resealable bags there. There’s no more frustration while searching the refrigerator or cabinets, and I always have a snapshot of what I need to buy. My son also knows these baskets contain approved snacks that he can help himself to without asking.
Upper Arlington, Ohio
For decades the lazy Susan has been my hands-down best easy organizer. I have a 12-inch one under the sink; a few 10-inchers throughout my kitchen cabinets for nuts, seeds, grains, dried fruits, vinegars, bread crumbs, and spices; and a version for glasses and mugs and small bowls. Without them? Chaos.
I bought each of my girls a bulletin board that hangs in the basement stairwell. I use these to hang their assignments, school and sports calendars, and other important papers. There’s also room for artwork. Things don’t get misplaced, and they can always find what they’re looking for.
New Windsor, New York
My advice for the easiest way to stay organized is to communicate your organization method to those who share your living space. What’s the use of having separate laundry baskets for whites, darks, lights, and delicates if your husband throws his hiking socks in with the delicates? Motivation is the key to getting organized, but communication is the key to staying that way.
Hammonton, New Jersey
We have a “school basket” at our house. Other than graded work, it’s where we keep everything that comes from or has to do with school. Permission slips, newsletters, menus, absence notes, calendars, etc. In 11 years, I’ve never lost a document.
Organize it yourself. Nothing is worse than having someone else organize your items for you and then spending hours looking for that receipt or telephone number that a housekeeper or well-intentioned spouse organized for you.
If it doesn’t make you smile, toss it out.