We all get frustrated when we can’t find bills, a favorite shirt or an ingredient hiding in the pantry. And it’s hard to face that office desk covered with paper. So why don’t we get organized to make life a little easier?

“Organizing requires discipline, and is not a fun activity,” said Stephanie Rasley, a professional organizer who calls her Edina business the Duchess of Order. “People are tired when they get home and would rather watch TV or spend time with their family.”

Sheila Dingels of Successful Simplicity in Minneapolis agrees. “Our daily lives affect our ability to get organized because we’re so time-crunched, and what happens at home is the lowest priority.”

Procrastination, feeling overwhelmed and inability to make decisions are some of the hurdles people can’t overcome, say the pros. “My definition of clutter is a delayed decision,” said Shannon McGinnis of Organized4Success in Minneapolis. Her suggestion? “If it takes less than a minute, do it now.”

We gathered other organizing tips and strategies from the three local pros, who agree they would never leave the office without the one tool everyone should have: a label maker.

“You don’t need a fancy one,” said Rasley, who swears by the P-Touch labeler sold at office-supply stores. “Just one that makes big labels so you can glance at them quickly.”



• Set a timer for a short period — a minimum of five minutes. “It’s about breaking the inertia and getting into action,” said Rasley. “After the five minutes is over, challenge yourself to 15 minutes.”

• Begin with one small task — for example, a drawer, a box or a desktop. “Don’t look at the entire house, but one section that’s bothering you,” said Dingels. Sort and place in four piles: trash, recycling, donate/sell and keep.

• If you like lists, write down each step, such as “purge shirts,” using 5-minute increments.

• If possible, invite a buddy to help you stay focused. “Have them block the door so you can’t get a snack,” said Rasley.




• Think in zones. Group and store like items together, such as a cutting board next to knives. Place spatulas and tongs next to the stove. Organize tools and utensils in drawers with dividers.

• Create a kids’ area with bowls, sippy cups and plates in a lower drawer so they can help themselves.

• Move items rarely used, such as a gravy boat or seasonal dishes, to the back or high up on shelves. Hang a list inside the cupboard door so you don’t forget what’s there.

• Label all the pantry shelves for ease in putting groceries away and making a shopping list.

• To prevent food waste, organize products by year. “Label two shelves 2014 and 2015, and at the end of the year, move things up or throw them out,” said Rasley.

• Audit food-storage containers every six months, and toss the ones without matching lids, or repurpose them for other uses.

• Place mini shelves under the sink to store items vertically in labeled containers.


• Organize products by use, type and season in labeled, clear stacking bins, such as “First aid.” Store sunscreen and bug spray together, likewise shampoos and conditioners. The more you sort things by function, the less likely you are to waste money and add to the clutter by buying duplicates, said Rasley.

• Attach a magazine rack on the inside of a vanity door to hold hair dryers and curling irons.

• Maximize vertical space. Install a shelf unit above the toilet or above the door. Stick adhesive hooks on walls to hang towels and robes. Hang a shoe organizer on the back of the door to hold hair products, brushes and everyday items. “Kids can keep their stuff down low, and the adults up high,” said Dingels.

• Corral the cleaning supplies in a caddy under the sink, and have disinfectant wipes handy to keep the bathroom clean and germ-free.

• Assemble a toiletries basket for guests, and to use up travel-sized products.


• Purge clothes regularly. “Ask yourself, ‘If I were in a store right now, would I buy this?’ ” said Rasley.

• For less hectic mornings, designate a section of clothes, using rod dividers, that are clean, mended, ironed and ready to wear.

• Organize clothes by type, not color.

• Use open shelves that accommodate shoes of different sizes and styles.

• In entry closets, remove the high shelves, raise the coat rod and install a second one below for kids’ coats.

• Not sure which sheets are queen or king? Label shelves in linen closets, and store sheet sets in one of the pillowcases.

• Place rolled up towels below and on top of wire stands.


• Install designated hooks, baskets and a boot mat for each person in the family for backpacks, shoes and coats. “Make the hooks height-appropriate for kids,” said McGinnis.

• Use labeled bins to store sports equipment and other gear on shelves or a bookcase along a wall.

• Designate drop spots for mail, keys and electronics.

• Hang a shoe organizer on the door to hold sunglasses, gloves, dog leash, so you can grab and go.


• Move trash can, recycling, file cabinets and shredder within arm’s reach of the desk. “Once you decide what you want to do with the paper, you can complete the task,” said McGinnis.

• Sort papers by category — active, reference and archival — and group them together in designated folders. File the archival papers in drawers in a color-coded system. “But don’t fill cabinets with tax returns you never look at,” said Dingels. “File them in banker’s boxes, and store in the basement.”

• File active papers in horizontal trays labeled in front so they’re easy to access.

• When possible, pay bills online to reduce the amount of incoming paper and avoid late fees.


• Follow the “one-in-and-one-out rule.” “If you buy a new pair of jeans, throw or donate an old pair of pants,” said Dingels. “Allow yourself only a certain amount of space for your stuff.”



For a list of resources on where and how to winnow your possessions, go to the National Association of Professional Organizers site at www.napominnesota.com/resources.

Better Homes and Gardens “Organize Your Home” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.99) offers room-by-room instructions and color photos illustrating how to organize everything from spice drawers to an entire garage.