Organizing a room, clothes closet or kitchen cabinet can be a tedious activity — one that requires a lot of decision-making brainpower. That’s why, before you start, “eat a well-balanced meal and drink lots of water,” advised Jeannie Holmes, a professional organizer and owner of Clean Sweep Organizing. “And take a five-minute break every hour.”

But getting started might be the hardest part. Many people (you know who you are) procrastinate because the idea of having to take a day off or devoting a whole weekend is a huge roadblock. To get motivated, “break it up in small pieces, and the feeling of accomplishment will keep you going,” advised DeeDee Welles of Details Organizing It All. She suggests zeroing in on a small hallway closet, a few drawers or one cabinet in the kitchen. “It’s amazing what you can get done in 15 or 30 minutes,” she said.

Focus on the many benefits of decluttering — from making it easier to find stuff to bringing order to a chaotic closet or mudroom — to propel you to sort, toss, contain and file. The best reward? “Organizing makes a room functional,” said Diane Gambrel of Smarter Spaces, “and easier to clean.”

Here are more tips and strategies from local pros.

Getting started

• Begin with one small task, such as a drawer, a box or a desktop. Then declutter by sorting and placing items in one of three empty clothes baskets designated for trash, items to donate/sell and items to keep.

Many people have an emotional attachment to their belongings, Welles noted. “Ask yourself — do you love it, and are you using it? Don’t keep it out of guilt.”

When donating items, consider sources such as churches, shelters and schools. “Homeless shelters like art supplies for older kids,” said Gambrel.

• Shoebox-size clear bins work for many storage needs and are inexpensive at Target and big box home-improvement stores. But it’s smart to assess and measure the drawers, cabinets and shelves where you are planning to store stuff before going container shopping.

• Choose from a variety of products for identifying containers, from label makers to a roll of removable tape.

• Set a timer for when you want to take a break.



• In primary cabinets, store only what you use on a daily or weekly basis. Move seasonal items to the back of a cabinet, to the basement or donate them. “A panini maker you never use takes up half a shelf,” said Welles.

• Follow the “like-with-like” rule by storing similar items together — such as pasta, glass jars and canned goods in the pantry, and small electrics on a shelf. Place floppy packages and items that can disappear inside a deep pantry into a cake pan that you can pull out.

• Think in zones, for example, placing spices and cooking utensils near the stove.

• Place same-height glassware and dishes on shelves.

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

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


• Organize products by use, type and season in labeled clear bins, and store in closet or vanity. “You can pull them out and find items quickly,” said Holmes.

• Hang a clear plastic shoe organizer on the door to hold hair and beauty products and everyday items.

• If you’re tight on space, place each family member’s personal toiletries in an ice cream bucket to carry to and from the bathroom and then store in the bedroom.

• Replace the mirror above the sink with a mirrored medicine cabinet for additional shelves.

• Maximize wall space by using adhesive hooks to hang towels and robes and to hold a storage shelving unit.

• Winnow down cleaning supplies, and group in bins.


• Declutter first by weeding out colors you don’t like to wear and clothes that don’t fit. Think about the last time you wore something, and if it’s been a while, consider pitching it. “Be ruthless about what you love and wear,” said Welles.

When cleaning out a child’s closet, “make sure the child is there to give input,” said Gambrel. “They learn this skill and the idea of donating.”

• Double or triple your usable storage space by adding shelves or another rod on which to hang shirts and shorter clothing.

• Organize clothes by type, not color.

• Gather shoes in melamine cubbies, on racks or over the door organizers.

• Use products such as scarf hangers, wall hooks and shelf dividers to save space and keep things tidy.


• Place separate “stuff” containers for each family member on a shelf .

• Designate bins or hang a shoe organizer on the door for gloves, hats and scarves.

• Install hooks on the wall for backpacks and jackets, and make them height-appropriate for kids.

• Create drop spots for mail, keys and electronics.

• Place offseason coats in a labeled bin with a lid to keep them dry, and store them in the basement.


• The key is setting up a system to deal with the incoming daily paper. “I open mail in the garage and toss what I don’t want in a recycling container right away,” said Welles.

• Use vertical dividers in a file box for bills, school notices, etc., to keep paper piles off the counters and desktop. “Use a quick filing system to slot it now, and sort and move to main filing at a later time,” said Welles.

• Don’t keep unnecessary paper in desk files. “You don’t need your Comcast statements from the past five years,” said Holmes.

• When possible, pay bills online to reduce the amount of incoming paper.


• For a list of organizers, how to reduce junk mail and places to donate, recycle and sell stuff, go to the National Association of Professional Organizers’ Minnesota site at

• 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 a pantry to an entire garage.