Amid the typical New Year's resolutions, getting organized is an oft-promised, seldom-achieved goal that plagues busy parents, office workers, college students and everyone in between. Clutter and a messy environment are proven causes of distraction and increased stress levels, both of which prohibit creativity and productivity. Despite our best efforts, staying organized is a big challenge when life gets hectic and tossing our belongings wherever they fall trumps storing them where they belong (assuming they have a designated home at all).
Those seeking a more streamlined lifestyle this year are likely influenced by the rise of the minimalist movement, the allure of tiny houses and the surprising popularity of such texts as Marie Kondo's bestseller, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." These trends are not simply strategies for enhanced organization; they're lifestyles that espouse a more intentional approach to living. Underlying the need to be organized, after all, is a desire for more control.
"Organizing is about making decisions," says Alison Kero, owner of ACK Organizing in New York City, adding that it's ultimately about wanting the best for yourself. Consider these steps toward a more organized and intentional life in 2016:
Toss or donate what you don't need, use or love.
Decluttering is a natural first step in getting organized, but experts agree tossing things you don't want isn't just about making space for more stuff. "It's more about becoming aware of what you're choosing to bring into your life and making a decision to keep it or let it go based on what's best for you and what you really like," Kero says. Practically speaking, it's best to group like items together before you start purging so you can easily identify duplicates and keep your favorites.
"Start by doing an initial sort," says Sandra Schustack, owner of Clear Your Space East in Manhattan and New York Chapter Board Director for the National Association of Professional Organizers. "Only keep what you use and love; the rest is taking up precious space."
The idea of your space being "precious" or valuable is key to keeping sentimentality from sabotaging this process. "If you don't love it, need it, or use it, then it doesn't deserve a place in your home," says Janet Bernstein, Certified Professional Organizer and owner of The Organizing Professionals, LLC, in Philadelphia. "I keep my clients focused on this mantra as we're decluttering," she says. "It speeds up the process when you're forced to categorize your possessions in this way."
Experts also note that getting organized takes time, so don't expect overnight results. Remove items room by room, starting with the area that bothers you most. That way, you can carry the sense of accomplishment you feel in tackling that room to others throughout your space.
Find a home for remaining items.
Putting back items you've decided to keep is not as simple as tossing them into a storage container. In fact, rows of clear plastic bins with expertly-applied labels simply disguise chaos as order, and don't provide for long-term organization.
"The reason so many people find it hard to stay organized is that they do it once, dismantle it when they need something stored at the bottom of the bin, and then don't have the energy to put it all back together again," says Holly Rollins, minimalist and blogger at HollyLaurel.com. Instead, determine the proper home for items based on when and where you need them, so access and storage are both intuitive and practical. Moreover, continue the "like with like" grouping strategy you employed during the decluttering process so you always know where to find (and store) batteries, light bulbs and even important documents.
Keep functionality in mind when shopping for storage solutions.
Most experts agree storage containers are worthy investments, but purchasing these items before deciding how they'll be used is a waste of money. "I see far too many potential clients purchase organizing products believing these items will solve their clutter woes," Bernstein says. "What they don't realize is they're putting the cart before the horse."
Placing all your cosmetics in a decorative box under your bathroom cabinet may be tidy, but it's neither functional nor sustainable. Since you use these items frequently, they will likely end up strewn about drawers and countertops more often than tucked behind cabinet doors. Instead, organize your makeup by type within the top drawer of your vanity for easy access. "Get some shallow square and rectangular trays from the dollar store," suggests Alison Warner, owner of Prepped to Organize, LLC, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. "Stick Velcro tabs on the bottom of each tray to adhere them to the drawer. No more rolling items every time you open the drawer!"
This strategy can be applied elsewhere in your home, including the "junk" drawer in your kitchen or the utility cabinet in your garage. The trick is to organize spaces well enough that replacing items once you've used them becomes habit.
Maintain organization with self-discipline.
It doesn't matter how organized you become; the moment you start to accumulate more stuff, you'll be surrounded by the very clutter you sought to eliminate in the first place. Before you buy anything new, remember the criterion you used during the decluttering phase. "Keep only what you use, what you love, and what you need," Rollins says. "If you make and keep this promise to yourself, you'll never have organization problems again."
Kendal Perez is a spokeswoman for CouponSherpa.com, a popular source for online, in-store and mobile coupons. She also blogs at Hassle-Free Savings and enjoys yoga, decluttering, craft brew and obsessing over her dogs.
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