Organization for a New Year: Start with a Plan

Make organizing and your life less stressful this year with a good plan.

So here we are at the end of 2017. What a year it’s been! Our family did a ton of traveling, including a two week trip to Europe at the beginning of the summer, followed by two weeks at the beach, Hilton Head in the spring and then back for Thanksgiving, up to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to visit my 90-year old aunt, and many trips to Williamsburg to visit my family. I’m sure I missed some of our travel adventures, but you get the point. Couple all those trips with my son’s various school activities and his understanding that homework now suddenly has become much more intense and important this year, plus my marketing job with The Parker Avery Group that I love, volunteering to help run our neighborhood’s beautiful new clubhouse, and Gustin Creative taking off full speed ahead…needless to say: we’ve been busy!

Often I find that super busy people have little time for the “boring” household activities like cleaning, window washing – even grocery shopping – which is why so many people have started using services that handle these tedious tasks: InstaCart, Hello Fresh, mobile dog groomers, and more. One activity that often falls to the wayside is organizing and cleaning out all of those closets, drawers, pantries, attics, etc. We as a nation are consumers – big time – there are stats that show how much more Americans consume vs. the rest of the world, and it’s mind-numbing. We often have a difficult time letting go of our “stuff” – whether it’s for sentimental reasons, the fact that we paid beaucoup bucks for an item (albeit long ago), we’re convinced this is the year we WILL fit into those skinny jeans, or otherwise.

More stuff = more stress. We all know that stuff is just lurking in the depths of your closet, but you are almost afraid to uncover or unleash it because it just may open up a Pandora’s box of emotions, questions, etc. that you simply do not have the time, energy, or patience to handle. So you leave it.

But that stuff is still there. Waiting.

Go ahead and re-read the first sentence two paragraphs ago (I bolded it to make it easy to find). Let that phrase sink in.

Think about how you’ll feel by eliminating some stress. This is not to say you’re freeing up space so you can put new stuff in its place. It’s about letting go of things that truly no longer hold value and are unlikely to ever be of use to you again. It's about only holding on to the items that you truly love, use, and that are worth keeping.

Easier said than done, right? Not exactly. Remember the antidote about how to eat an elephant? (Although I’ve often wondered: who really eats an elephant?) Anyway, the answer is: “One bite at a time.” Don’t look at your house (office, car, garage, whatever) and think “it’s just too much for me!” and get overwhelmed – that will lead to more stress, which goes against the premise of this discussion.

Start with a plan. My dad used to tell us, “Plan your work, then work your plan.” It’s sage advice that applies across many many aspects of our lives. To underpin my dad’s wisdom, I suggest the following:

1. Write down all the places you want to declutter / organize / clean. Go old school: take a piece of paper or several pieces and and write these all down. It should look something like: pantry, my closet, laundry room, garage, kitchen cabinets, etc.

2. Prioritize this list using the following criteria:

  • Impact on your daily life (i.e., is the stuff often in your way? remember the phrase, “elephant in the room?” I’ll bet you have several!)

  • Utility (i.e., how often do you use the items in that space? do you really, honestly expect to ever use most of them again?)

  • Age (i.e., how long ago has it been since you last organized it or how old is that stuff?)

3. Schedule your list according to the priorities you established, and yet have a realistic understanding of all the other things you and your family has to do. Look at your calendar and take into account your normal life activities, and then write down exact dates when you can tackle one space at a time. The idea is to plan out your organization so it doesn’t become a burden. If you have a physical calendar that you can hang in a conspicuous place, where you see it every day, you will be more inclined to ingrain this organization plan into your mindset. Doing this, your plan has a much better chance of becoming a reality. Also, winter is typically a slower time for family activities, so use this time wisely.

4. Go for it. This brings it all to fruition. This is “working your plan.” Enlist the family, your spouse, your significant other, a friend, someone who will help ease the burden and give an honest, unemotional opinion of what to save or get rid of.

Here are some tips to make this process go quickly.

Make three piles: keep, donate, and trash. Actually I recommend using a box for “donate” and a garbage bag for “trash.” You are not allowed to have an “undecided” pile. Put the box and bag right near where you’ll be working. Then make some coffee, put your game face on, take a deep breath, and dive right into that first space. Start picking things up and quickly assessing which pile/bag/box they belong in. Key word here is quickly. Don’t get re-attached to any of the items you’re picking through that really should no longer exist in your space. You still have those memories, you just don’t need the physical evidence, do you? Once something goes into trash or donate, do not (let me repeat: do NOT) let it come back out.

Make a clean break. Once you’re done organizing that space, as soon as possible, take the trash and donate boxes and get them out of your house. Many people will try to sell things they no longer want on Craigslist or various social media sites. This is fine if you really need the money, but keep in mind, most people that shop those sites are looking for a bargain. Do you really want to spend your time taking pictures, posting them, and dealing with arranging to meet strangers who may give you $4 for that old pair of candlesticks? The reason you got into this quandary of too much stuff is your lack of time, remember? Unless you need the cash, you’re better off taking those “donate” boxes to Goodwill, your church, or some other charity. Get a receipt and write off the donation on next year’s taxes – it’s a lot less of a hassle, and those boxes are instantly GONE, plus you have the satisfaction of giving a bit less for the government to waste. Making a clean break also helps eliminate some of the emotions of regret and rethinking whether or not you should really keep those skinny jeans.

Now that you have a plan in place, I wish you much luck, happy organizing, and a wonderful new year. I'm going to start organizing my studio for my upcoming DIY wood sign workshops.

If you have any questions or need help, please don’t hesitate to email me at


#interiordesign #newyear #organization

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