How to Get Organized (and Keep It That Way)

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I’m not sure if I’ve ever witnessed so much pressure on a new year to be better. It shouldn’t be that difficult for this year to improve in more ways than one after the low bar of 2020. Maybe for you, part of that improvement plan is organizing the space you’ve spent so much time in recently. With that in mind, I thought I’d tackle two of the most frequently asked questions I hear about organization: Where do I start? And once I do the work, how do I keep it that way? 

Getting and staying organized can feel overwhelming, and we often procrastinate if we’re looking for the exact “right” answer to these questions. But the thing is, there is no right or wrong answer. The most important thing is to just get started.

First, it takes time to organize. Schedule this on your calendar, and give yourself a solid block of at least two hours. It’s worth pointing out that things often get worse before they get better. There’s nothing more discouraging than pulling everything out of a closet but not having time to put it back together. Gather your organizing tools, such as bags or boxes, some sticky notes for categorizing and a good sharpie. Then turn on your favorite music, have a snack handy, and dive in.

You can start small with a simple junk drawer or an area of your kitchen countertop. Or you can tackle a closet or a dresser in your bedroom. Some people do best when they organize a public space because it’s motivating to receive positive feedback when others notice a job well done. Others may benefit from doing a personal space such as their bedroom because it’s the last thing you see when you go to bed at night and the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning. There isn’t a wrong place to start.

The more important question is why get organized in the first place. Spend a few minutes setting an intention and telling yourself why it’s important to do this work. Will it save you time? Would it help you get dressed more easily in the morning? Will it make it easier for you to invite people over (because, yes, one day we’ll do that again)? Perhaps it will save you money because you won’t purchase duplicates of items you’ve misplaced. Say your “why” out loud to stay motivated and engaged. 

The other frequent question I hear from wannabe declutterers is, once I do all of this work, how do I keep it this way? Won’t it just get messed up again? Well, it might, but here are a few ways to keep your organizing systems in check and create lasting change. 

Start by creating a one in, one out policy. Going forward, if you want to purchase a new book, you must first get rid of an old one. Fancy a new pair of shoes? Donate an old pair before you buy. Eyeing the latest, greatest kitchen appliance? Let go of one you haven’t used in years first. Set this rule for yourself so clutter won’t accumulate, overwhelm you and send you back to the starting line. 

You can also keep future clutter at bay by setting up simple systems for letting things go. This may include keeping an empty shopping bag in your closet so you can place things in there when you realize you no longer wear them. Or keeping a box in the garage for tools or household goods you no longer need. At least once a month, schedule a time to stop by your local thrift shop and drop these items off. 

Build a schedule around regular maintenance. Some jobs may be daily (and should take 5 minutes or fewer) such as clearing off the things that land on your kitchen countertops each day. Other jobs may be seasonal, such as clearing out the clothes you didn’t wear in the last season. And other tasks may be annual, such as cleaning out file folders and shredding documents you no longer need to reference. Capture this schedule in your calendar or planner and make it a regular part of your routine. 

Finally, have an organizing mantra to keep you motivated. Just a little phrase you say to keep your “why” present in your mind and help you maintain your systems. One of my favorite clients always said, “I’m living in the present, I’m not living in the past.” This simple phrase helped him remember why this work really mattered to him, allowed him to let go of things he was holding on to and kept him organized going forward. 

Happy 2021 (finally!) and may this be your most organized year yet!

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Perri Kersh

Perri Kersh is the neatest, and sometimes freakiest, at Chapel Hill-based Neat Freak Professional Organizing, LLC. She works with individuals, families, small business owners and students to help them get and stay organized. When she’s not organizing for others, she frequently shovels up after her husband and children. In 2019, she was elected president of the North Carolina chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. You can read more about Perri on her website,, or reach her at 919-824-8196.
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