What are the habits of highly organized people?
January 16, 2020 1:34 PM   Subscribe

What sorts of things do you do to keep your home and family organized? I'm very organized at work but home can get a bit messy and chaotic. Partly because of living with others (including spouse and kid) in a small space, and not having a particular system in place (like the filing cabinets and supply closets at work), plus I think I am generally a bit impatient with my own home and mess. How can I be better at this?

I would prefer suggestions that don't require buying more stuff (i.e., X storage system or Y filing cabinet), but am open to hearing about the Z that changed your life, or how important it is to buy nesting Tupperware. On the flip side, no suggestion is too simple. I'm not looking to Marie Kondo, exactly, but more ways of thinking about approaching my life admin a bit better.

I'm thinking of things like setting out your work clothes the night before or refilling the diaper bag when you come home (rather than scrambling the next morning) to make life a little less chaotic, but also things like "just nest the measuring spoons back together so the drawer closes neatly and you don't have to rock it three times to get it closed."

Bonus points for general approaches/overviews for how to be more organized and zen about this sort of thing are also appreciated. I suspect that this might have to do, for me, with being (im)patient and a bit anxious about this stuff, which will probably be another Ask!

Thanks for any tips!
posted by stillmoving to Grab Bag (39 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
I have two principles:

1. Every object has a designated home.
(Corollary: Don't own more things than I have space for.)

2. If I keep neglecting to put something away, it means that its designated home isn't convenient enough.

Straightening my house is now an easy task because I don't spend time thinking "Oh crap, what do I do with this? I don't know. I'll just leave it here for now." I just pick things up and put them away. This "system" has made my life so much easier.
posted by mcduff at 1:51 PM on January 16, 2020 [30 favorites]

Thanks for that! Won't threadsit, but I would love to hear more detail/explicit suggestions. Like, "I got rid of all of my extra rubber bands and put the rest in a coffee can." And what do you do with the stuff that doesn't really get used often but you can't get rid of, like your clothes iron, or your duct tape?

We live in a tiny apartment without much storage space, and don't have much stuff, but it still tends to explode by the end of the day and accumulate over the week/month/year. We do regular toy/clothes purges and try to invest in stuff that grows with kiddo, but I guess I have a tendency to be a bit lazy/impatient (plus regular old tired) when it comes to the nuts and bolts of keeping a house and a household running. Would love to hear even the most basic suggestions (like, you fold your socks when they come out of the dryer rather than chucking them in the basket to be folded later). Things that can save me time and bring me a sense of peace and calm when I do them, and that smooth the way for other things to be organized as well.
posted by stillmoving at 2:00 PM on January 16, 2020

Why do you think you don't want to KonMarie? I had "not much stuff" and I still got rid of a third to half of it doing KM and have stayed at that level in the years since. It definitely makes housekeeping easier, and creates a more peaceful space. The book(s) also cover some tips more like you're looking for about folding clothes and dealing with refilling bags. There's a shorter version and a manga version now if the original book seems like too much.
posted by momus_window at 2:09 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I try to create systems that work with my laziness rather than against it. Some things I do that might work for you:

-- My around-the-home clothes and pajamas are worn multiple times before washing and they kept ending up on the floor (because I didn't want to put them back with unworn clothes). I added hooks along the sides of my closet and they get hung up there. Hanging the clothes on the hooks is easy and feels satisfying. (Bonus: maybe your kid will enjoy hanging their PJs on hooks as well?)

-- I put boxes in my drawers so, for example, I don't feel the need to fold underwear. I just dump all of my underwear from the laundry into the box. This can work for socks as well. Consider buying only one color/type of sock so you don't have to pair them after washing.

-- I have a box for recycling inside my front door so junk mail, receipts, etc. don't make it into the house, just to sit on tables and taunt me.
posted by mcduff at 2:13 PM on January 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

The thing is to figure out what works for you so you can do it every day/week/etc. Some specific things, in no particular order:

1. Putting laundry away got much quicker when I decided t-shirts and underwear really can just be shoved into drawers. (But towels and napkins must be folded. I contain multitudes.)

2. A family tidy-up time before/after dinner. Just five to ten minutes of just putting stuff away can make a huge difference. Can be everyone, or just kid plus whichever parent isn't preparing dinner. Things don't necessarily have to go into a closed container, but can just go in a designated spot or shelf.

3. Open mail (and recycle most of it) the day you receive it.

4. A grown-ups tidy-up time after kid's bedtime. Again 5-10 minutes.

5. Break chores down into small chunks and do a five minute chunk before you leave for work, when you get home, before bedtime, etc. It only takes me five minutes to fold all the napkins.
posted by ewok_academy at 2:14 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

i have multiple laundry baskets in the floor of my closet so i don't have to sort things right before doing laundry, they've already been sorted by basket.

i do find the hanger trick helpful when purging.

for things likes socks and hangers and silverware and whatever else, just buy one or two styles. then everything sits together nicely, you don't have to spend time pairing things up with their mates, and things generally look more serene when you're just looking at one style/set/color of a thing.

use wall space. get hooks and hang things. install shelves. sure, you're not supposed to use nails/screws, but that's what spackle is for when you move out.

if you have a ton of remotes, get a remote caddy. all the remotes live there. change the volume? put it back in the caddy. switch inputs? put it back in the caddy.

get an appropriate number of item X. for instance, i live alone and have a set of 4 plates, 4 bowls, etc. i do not even need that many. i certainly don't need two or three sets of dishes because then i would use them all and have to wash them all. but, i like having a fresh washcloth for my face every morning, so i bought like 24 and keep them in a basket on the toilet, so i don't have to do laundry all the time to have a fresh cloth (i do not have my own washer/dryer). more dishes make more work, but more cloths make less work.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:16 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

And what do you do with the stuff that doesn't really get used often but you can't get rid of, like your clothes iron, or your duct tape?

In my life, that's what the basement is for. Does your apartment have any shared external storage space that you're entitled to? Presuming not, the best approach I've found to a lack of storage space is to go vertical. Shelves installed near the ceiling don't take up much of the "volume" of a room, and they can hold a LOT of that infrequently used stuff. This strategy does require you to be willing/able to climb on a ladder/stepstool/chair to retrieve and replace the items, which may not be easy or possible for everyone.
posted by slenderloris at 2:17 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

6. Designate a tote bag or box as Stuff To Donate. If you are doing regular tidying, you may come realize your storage space is going to things you aren't really using. Put those things in the box as soon as the idea of getting rid of it crosses your mind. Collect things and then donate once a month. Reassess at donation time.
posted by ewok_academy at 2:19 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, CLOSET DEATH MATCH! A criminally under-favorited comment, IMO.
posted by slenderloris at 2:19 PM on January 16, 2020 [28 favorites]

I find that if I announce "ten-minute family clean-up" on a weekend day and blast music, we can get a surprising amount of tidying done, get rid of those onorous piles that just make our (tiny) home feel messier than it actually is, and enjoy ourselves (via the blasting music) so it doesn't feel so horribly painful to do this chore. Two focused adults + one teenager not working very hard can actually make a huge difference to the living space in 10 minutes.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:24 PM on January 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

Toys go away at night.

Laundry lives in the laundry basket, is washed, and then goes away straight after it dries. We don’t have an ironing basket or any other kind of receptacle for clean laundry aside from “in the cupboard”.

Ditto dishes, though “not having a kitchen big enough for a dishwasher” helps there.

Stuff like duct tape has a home, in a box with other similar stuff like the drill and screwdrivers, on a shelf. Most things are sorted into boxes, so putting stuff away means “putting it in the right box”.

We also have a storage unit, and seriously being able to rotate out stuff that you don’t want to throw out but have no space or use for, it incredibly liberating. We probably could throw out most of the stuff in there (baby clothes! Vases! A pasta-maker!) but it’s nice stuff and if we ever have a house big enough I would love to bring it back into use.
posted by tinkletown at 2:29 PM on January 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

The absolute biggest help for me was decluttering. We were forced to get rid of a lot of stuff when we downsized from 1400 square feet and 3 bedrooms to 925 square feet and 1.5 bedrooms (the 0.5 is too small to legally be called a “bedroom”). And it’s now SO much easier to keep things tidy.

Basically, we no longer keep things “just in case” or “someday I might use it” or “maybe I’ll get back into that hobby.” If it doesn’t get used in our real life as it is right now, then we can’t justify the space for it.

After doing that big moving declutter, I have also tried the Kon Mari method. I’ve found that for me, it is a useful way of thinking about what is actually something I like to use in my daily life (“sparks joy”), vs. what is something I’m keeping because I feel guilty about not using it. It might be worth trying it out.

We also try to reduce friction in putting things away whenever possible. Shoe cabinets right by the door, with plastic tote buckets on top for me to throw my purse into. Coat stand also at entryway so we can toss coats, hats, scarves right onto it. Where things naturally get dropped, try to find them a home there if at all possible.
posted by snowmentality at 2:31 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have been playing closet death match and never knew it! Yes!

My cleaning trick I love is those magic erasers. It makes cleaning the bathtub a 5-minute, mild energy job instead of 20 minutes of elbow grease.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:36 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Laundry sorting:
I don't have a laundry room and there's not a lot of "hidden space" in my house, so dirty laundry goes in a big basket in this weird closet-y space in the bathroom where I think there must once have been an oil heater.

I have three baskets, the huge one in the bathroom and two slightly less huge ones that are sometimes in the bathroom and sometimes scattered randomly in whatever room somebody was folding stuff. All three are tolerable to look at so that if they're sitting out I don't despair that my house is a shanty. (I would never do this anyway, having done laundry in a laundromat for twenty years. My house is officially a palace because it has a washing machine in it.)

I start the washer and add soap, then drag the three baskets all into the kitchen where the washer and dryer are and depending on what I need to wear or what I seem to have the most of dirty in the big basket, I begin throwing darks, lights, or whites into the filling washing machine. I throw anything that is not a dark, if I'm washing darks, into one of the smaller baskets and continue 'til the big basket is empty. If one of the two smaller baskets also has dirty clothes in it, I go through that one the same way until I've got a load of darks.

I repeat the process for the next color set and continue 'til I'm tired of laundry.

People in my house are barely able to get clothes into the baskets much less attempt to sort clothes into colorcoded baskets as they take them off, plus there isn't the space for that.

I fold and drawer the t-shirt in the Kondo manner, except I do not pause to turn it rightside out if it's inside out. Neither do I care if the t-shirt owner rightsideouts the t-shirt before throwing it in a laundry basket. It saves everyone time if I just teach all persons who aspire to live in my house how to put on an inside-out t-shirt. (You put your head in through the neck hole rather than through the bottom of the shirt, and you right-side-out the shirt by pulling it down over your body and pushing your arms through the inside-out sleeves.)
posted by Don Pepino at 2:40 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am Very Tidy. These are the things that I do.

1. First, the hard part, if it applies to you: think about things you keep but you don't really use, and why you are reluctant to let them go. Then address the why's. I found the mindset issue episodes of this decluttering podcast really helpful; it's geared toward people who craft/sew so the examples may not be immediately relatable, but I've found the feelings apply to all belongings. This approach is about finding and keeping things that serve you in the present.

2. Arrange your kitchen so that your stuff fits together (the same type of items should stack) and frequently used items are easily reachable (including on the counter, if you have the space). This includes drawer partitions to keep tools separate so you don't have to dig around for them. Place items near where you use them (coffee and tea items above the kettle, spatulas by the stove, towels near the sink, plates and glasses in the cupboard closest to the table, box of beloved but sporadically used cake-decorating supplies on an inconvenient high shelf).

3. Always be tidying. When you go to a different room, pick up something that belongs in that room and put it away when you get there.

4. Set up a designated charging station for all phones and laptops, with cables. Then get rid of that box of ancient cables everyone has.

5. Have a drawer or box for things that are needed, but not that often, that can live in an inconvenient closet or under a bed or wherever: packing tape, duct tape, batteries (in a sub-box so you can find them), flashlights, shoe laces, command strips.

6. Pack the next day's stuff before you go to bed (breakfast, lunch, purse) and pick the next day's outfit.

7. If you enjoy alcohol, fix yourself a nice drink or open a beer or something and then sip while doing any sort of chore you don't really love.

8. nth'ing these tactics described above: The hanger trick. Deal with each day's mail that day. Put away laundry as soon as it's dry. Have an outbox or to-donate box where you can place things you aren't quite ready to discard, and evaluate and decide on what's there when it gets full. (Any boxes that you haven't opened since you last moved automatically go in this category). Get a divided laundry hamper or multiple hampers and sort your clothes when you take them off.

9. Recognize when you are trying to over-optimize and back away.
posted by esoterrica at 2:55 PM on January 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

I am organized, though not necessarily clean. Here are things that help me.

1. landing table inside the door for wallet, keys and pocket stuff. Hooks and bowls for all that. Nothing is loose
2. Handing shoe rack thing by the door for hats,gloves and other cold-weather stuff (in my climate)
3. Shoes-off house (so shoes and inside-shoes all live near the entrance
4. Spice rack for spices and anything I buy in bulk (i.e. little baggies of stuff) goes in a big pickle jar with a label. Need some dill? It's probably in there
5. Charging cables in office and bedroom. Everything charges at night.
6. All mail gets opened in office, all envelopes go in recycling, all bills get dealt with as mail is opened and then put in the "to be filed" pile. I file rarely but it's all in one place
7. Sorted laundry bags (i.e. whites and colors, I have this sorter which doubles as table space) and clothes get folded as they come out of the dryer and put away
8. I have one big storage closet for rarely used things, one big tool chest for all my tech gear, and a lot of plastic tubs under my platform bed for seasonal clothes and bedding and some deep storage stuff.

Besides that, I do a lot of "nesting" of tasks that turn into routines. So like get up start water for coffee, get water for humidifier and empty dish drainer pour coffee into aeropress and tidy kitchen for five minutes, make coffee, now you've already done three small things!

Sometimes you can't always put things away so I have a rule I call "One step closer" (this may be harder with multiple people) so if you can't put the thing in the car, at least put it by the door. If you can't deal with the mail thing now because you have to wait on another thing, put it on the "to be dealt with" clipboard. Can't put a bunch of toilet paper in the bathroom closet right now, put it on the table on the way to the bathroom. Can't get the clothes to go to thrift store to the store, at least put them in a bag in the car etc.

And some of this is teamwork and sometimes having 15 minute "tidy time" where you restore some order and listen to your favorite "rah rah!" music once a week can really help.
posted by jessamyn at 2:59 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am an organized person with a place for most things, but I find that every so many months I need to spend some time arranging things anew. There's seasonal shifting, finding places for new items that have joined the household, and dealing with outgrown stuff when you have kids. I think I do this every three months or so.
posted by xo at 3:01 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

It's great if you can find a time when you always do something. E.g., right when you get up, empty the dishwasher or dishrack. First thing on Saturday, wipe down the entire bathroom before you take your shower.
posted by slidell at 3:11 PM on January 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Konmari genuinely did change my life, particularly with finally being able to let things go: the very expensive figure skates that were really too tight and my knees are shot anyway, the too-small businessware I wanted a new body and a better job for, and so on. I did not think I would part with any books, but I gave away a lot. KM is really about what to keep, though.

Here's a non-KM previously from me.
posted by jgirl at 4:03 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I keep magic erasers and Clorox wipes in easy reach in both my bathroom and kitchen. Whenever I'm in those rooms and see that something needs cleaning, I'll take 30 seconds or so to just clean it (sinks, counters, faucets, door frames, oven hood). Not letting tasks build up to the level of chores really helps me.

I also keep a little crevice brush in my shower and scrub a few grout lines while I wait for my conditioner to work.

I sweep the kitchen while my water boils for tea in the morning. I often grab a rag and dust a table or bookcase quickly before I sit down to watch a movie or show.

Basically I do little quick things here and there, and I make sure the things I need to do them are easy to grab. Makes a lot of difference in the long run. It doesnt have to be super thorough each time, because all those little cleanings add up to very clean if you keep doing them often enough.
posted by ananci at 5:32 PM on January 16, 2020

To deal with the frustration that is clutter created by other people's stuff, consider a dresser, perhaps in lieu of a console table behind your couch or a tv stand, with big deep drawers.
Assign a drawer to each of you. That way whenever anyone is cleaning they can dump stuff that belongs to someone else in their drawer. Can't find that thing you left on the couch? Look in your drawer. Wondering where the toy wound up? Look in your drawer. Wondering what happened to your loafers after you kicked them off? Look in your drawer. It cuts down on resentment a lot and enables people to put their own crap away at their leisure. Baskets work too, but not as well because the visual clutter remains. Even a filing cabinet is fine.
posted by carmicha at 5:53 PM on January 16, 2020 [8 favorites]

Thanks for these further suggestions! Just to clarify—I have read Konmari and we are pretty good on the decluttering, have a Goodwill box, etc. It’s more the processes adjacent that can help get us out the door that (like refilling the diaper bag when we come home rather than when we leave, or setting clothes out the night before) that will be especially helpful. I know some of these things might seem super obvious to people but somehow I think maybe my life isn’t as well organized as others. So even something simple like, keep shoes next to the door, keep keys in lock, etc. is very helpful!
posted by stillmoving at 6:18 PM on January 16, 2020

Try not to touch things twice, because that turns a job into two jobs, and creates a hiccup in the middle of a task that can easily turn into disorganization.

So for instance if you open the mail beside the front door, then you have to pick up the envelopes and carry them to the recycling- that’s touching those items twice, and if you get distracted, odds are mail and envelopes will end up in weird places creating clutter and getting lost. Instead, open mail at the filing cabinet / desk, where mail lives. Immediately file or inbox the mail, and have a small recycling container right there.

Or when doing laundry- Don’t fold at the couch and then put away later- that’s touching twice and you may never put the items away. Instead, bring the basket of clean rumpled clothing to the bedroom and put items away as you fold, so the job is done in one shot.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:06 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

In no particular order.

Labeling all the kitchen cabinets. I did this because I was the one who unpacked all the kitchen boxes after a move (and there were three other adults and a kid in the household) and I wanted people to be able to find things. Turns out this is pretty useful for guests, and for when you decide to rearrange the cabinets but forgot that you moved all the jars somewhere else.

Translucent folders (the plastic-y kind) and binders that have a slot pocket on the front cover. If I can figure out what a thing is without having to open it, that's a win.

Store items close to where you use them, if possible. I have taken to storing the cat tunnels, pop-up hideaway under the couch, which is great, because I can find it easily when I decide to switch up their environment. I misplaced one of the tunnels for months because I stored it under my bed.

Whiteboard on the fridge. Write down what needs to be eaten (leftovers! perishable fruits!) and what needs to be bought at the grocery.

A box designated for presents, both the kinds of gifts that are generic enough to be last minute gifts, and gifts for people's whose birthdays are still a ways off.

Hat/coat rack just next to the front door. Smaller hook for keys. Keys immediately go on the hook when I walk in the door. I lose things inside bags (reusable totes especially) all the time, but at least all the bags are in one place.

There is also a shelf near the door designated for things that need to taken out of the house: mail, library books, a thing for the car, etc.

Binder clips. Everywhere. Corral loose receipts, notes that you haven't put into your txt journal or evernote or what have you.

Inventory. I started doing this for the box of presents, but also have started to have a spreadsheet of my clothes. I have a tendency to overbuy at thrift stores, because hey it's secondhand and has less impact on the environment, but then come home to realize that I already have two pairs of brown flats.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:08 PM on January 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I like colourful socks. When they’re cheap, I buy 2-4 pairs of each style. WAY faster to match them when there are multiples!

Do not fold baby or toddler clothing. Create outfits as you put away the laundry (shirt, pants, socks, sweater) and clip those items together with a plastic chip clip, then loosely lay / squish them in a drawer.

Minimize owning kitchen gadgets that only have a single function. No more pizza cutter- use a knife or scissors. Pretend you’re camping and make the most of simple pans and tools.

Keep a basket tucked away in the house for items to be donated. Mine is under a cabinet and I end up donating its contents about every 6 weeks!

Do not keep empty packaging. Cute box? Bottle your kid might enjoy? Too bad. Be ruthless!

Get multiple laundry hampers, and sort laundry as it accumulates (this is an extension of my “don’t touch twice” rule). Then you can just do a wash as each fills, rather than miserably sorting a mountain periodically. I do 3 hampers: light clothes - dark clothes - and rough stuff (like linty towels and blue jeans that are coarse enough to be washed with towels). Keep a mesh laundry bag draped in your hamper so bras and delicates go straight into it and you don’t need to sort them out later.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:18 PM on January 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I always take two bottles of water to work. As soon as I come home and put the empty bottles in recycling, I put 2 new ones in the fridge.

I use a lot of baskets on unused shelves to hold stuff. There's a basket on each shelf of my TV stand. One holds my regular meds. One holds PRN meds. One holds quick snacks.

Come home, take clothes off and throw them in laundry basket. Immediately I get out clothes for the next day.

Breakfast is always the same thing, a ready made protein shake. Lunch is always the same, currently crustless quiche that I make in muffin tins on the weekend.

I keep multiple lists in Google Keep based on stores. When I use the last of something, I put it on the correct list. No more paper lists to get lost.

I don't have enough room for a filing cabinet so I use a 3 ring binder with dividers. As soon as I get something like tax statements, they go in the binder. Each year gets a new binder.

Since I work in early child care, I usually wear jeans and shirts. I buy a pack of white socks and white underwear. I can bleach them together and there are never any socks to match. When I hang up my shirts, I put the clean ones at the back and take new ones for the next day from the front. No worrying about wearing the same thing too often. Work clothes are separate from dress clothes. Jeans are currently in the dresser and shorts are in the closet. When shorts weather hits, they go to the dresser.
posted by kathrynm at 7:24 PM on January 16, 2020

"Landing strip" by the front door (hooks, mainly, in its current form; 3M Command hooks weight guide)
Capsule wardrobe (most items coordinate = faster decisions, esp. in the a.m.)
Daily vs. weekly vs. monthly vs. seasonal usage driven storage decisions (= stepladder to get the turkey roasting pan)
"Putting the house to bed" nightly routine is tidying up and clearing surfaces, particularly kitchen and bath counters

refilling the diaper bag when we come home
At this stage in your lives, is having more than one stocked diaper bag an option?

keep keys in lock
Where I live, exit door locks must be keyless on the inside.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:06 PM on January 16, 2020

I find that with two kids and two adults in a relatively small space spouse and I are almost constantly doing some kind of tidying/cleaning/organizing. And even with this, we still have to do 10 or 15 minutes of cleaning up at the end of the day after the kids are in bed.

One of the biggest issues I've found in keeping things tidy is that everything needs a place to go, and that place can't be so crammed with other stuff that it's difficult to put things where they belong. I have a list of all of the drawers/closets/baskets/cabinets/etc. in the house that seem to need regular culling and organizing, and I put them all into my google calendar on a recurring basis. There were about 20 items, so each one recurs once every 20 weeks. Every weekend we have one pre-defined thing to deal with, and everything gets dealt with once every few months or so. Last weekend it was the fridge. This coming weekend it's the drawer that all of our tools and batteries end up in. We aren't great at not letting things build up over time, so this is a way of dealing with that.
posted by lomes at 6:35 AM on January 17, 2020

Some more ideas:

-Get a label machine. Cheap shoe boxes with lids and a label machine are my best organizational friends!

-Get a good scanner. Get into the habit of scanning your paperwork and mail regularly. You don't need hardcopies of everything.

-Rearrange your kitchen cabinets, bathrooms, and closets by how much you use things. Seems so basic, but you'd be surprised how many people don't do this.

-Use containers like this in the fridge and pantry. Use them to bundle things you use together. For instance, I have a bin that has all the things we need to make sandwiches (mayo, mustard, deli meat, cheese). Just pull out the bin and go. This has really helped with meal prep and homemade lunches.

-Come up with a good system for cups. We have designated cups that we reuse when we are home. When not in use, we just rinse and put them in a particular spot. Cuts down on how many times you are washing cups.

-I have a stairs basket. If something needs to go up/down stairs, I put it in the basket.

-Use vacuum bags (space bags) for storing things like coats, comforters, etc.

-Store a full sheet set in a pillow case. Just pull out the pillow case when its time to change sheets. In similar fashion, I create guest bags using these Ikea zippered bags. I put a sheet set, comforter, and towels in it.

-Put all your cleaning supplies into a bucket or caddy. Easy to bring room to room to clean.
posted by jraz at 7:00 AM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend getting a cable organiser bag; there are many on Amazon and similar sites. This way you can easily find and grab your cables and dongles rather than rooting around in a box; you'll also know exactly how many you have of each type.
posted by adrianhon at 7:02 AM on January 17, 2020

If you are looking for ideas for organizing specific items, I recommend checking a Martha Stewart book out from your local library. (Here's an old one, here's a brand new one).
posted by pinochiette at 7:42 AM on January 17, 2020

I'm not very tidy and also scouring this thread for ideas, but:
WRT laundry sorting: In the adult bedroom are two cheap foldable mesh laundry baskets. One is white, one is dark blue. It's an easy visual cue to throw the white stuff in the white basket and the colors into the dark basket. In the corner I have little tiny plastic basket for my delicates. The kids each have a laundry basket in their room - we don't sort their laundry. There is also a small laundry basket on the first floor for dishtowels and placemats and kid clothes after one takes a bath in the first floor bathroom. At laundry time, adult whites and delicates are separated. You can grab a basket of either kid clothes or adult colors, and dump the first floor basket in it on your way to the basement.

Our helper who helps with the laundry is incapable of remembering this system but if you CAN implement it, it's great: After you wash and fold the sheets, put the whole set inside one of the pillowcases. That helps keep matching bits together (especially useful if your kid has patterned sheets).

Also, I have one "generic utensil drawer" in the kitchen. I also have an "overflow utensil storage box" on a shelf in a storage space. When the generic utensil drawer won't close, I grab a few lesser-used items and toss them in the box. That also means when summer rolls around and it's time to use the cherry pitter again, I know where to find it, it goes in the drawer, and the apple corer/slicer goes in the box.

Once a year I take everything out of the junk drawer in the living room, test all the pens and throw all the bad ones away, discard the truly awful cheap prize pencils that have accumulated, and so on. Much like the overflow kitchen utensil storage box, I also have an overflow junk drawer box that contains things like extra rolls of tape, big rolls of packing tape, the extra Sharpies that are still good but we already have enough in the drawer, so on. Things flow semi-fluidly between drawer and box, but they're always in one place or the other.
posted by telepanda at 8:55 AM on January 17, 2020

Also, a one-month whiteboard calendar mounted on the living room wall has proved INVALUABLE in reducing our mental clutter. We have a pack of four fine-tipped colored markers, each person has their own color. It has drastically reduced the constant low-level background stress of "i need to remember to tell X about Y event" and also the stress of "SHIT forgot to tell sitter about Z event today" because the sitter also sees the calendar.
posted by telepanda at 9:01 AM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've found this advice from Zen Habits to be super helpful, it's what got me started years ago. I particularly like his "starting zone" idea and as you get the habits around keeping one space clear you can expand until you have most surfaces clear or easy to clear, it's my biggest motivation in decluttering and cleaning up because it makes me so happy to not see clutter. When surfaces are clear you can keep them clean so much easier too and cleaning is a breeze.

The author of Zen Habits has a large family (several kids!) and has also written advice for living with kids with lots of suggestions.

I've gotten used to putting things away all the time and cleaning things throughout the week, I don't have great executive function so I need to put things away or keep them in the same visible spot or I can't remember where they are and I get stressed out. We have hooks and bins and closets fully utilized. I do have to plug a good cube shelf like the kallax for organizing the stuff of daily life that needs a home especially if it's not your stuff, stick the other person's stuff in a bin and shelve it and voila, no more clutter to resent.

I keep cleaning supplies in the bathroom and kitchen including little scrubby cloths (that started as dish cloths and got relegated to rags as they wear out) and I use those to scrub out the bathroom sinks once or twice a week, I do it while I'm getting ready for bed at night or getting ready in the morning if I'm up early, takes 30 seconds, makes me feel good. When I do that I also put whatever's cluttering the counter away. Same with scrubbing toilets, I just do it when I have a shower or am getting ready, nearly effortless when you have the soap spray and brush right there. Once a month or so I try to see if vitamins have expired or admit I won't ever use that old conditioner and get rid of them, years of over-shopping mean I can easily just focus on using old products up before buying more, currently I'm trying to use up all of my body and hand creams before I'm allowed to buy more. My goal is to have one or two products of each type that I love so I never need to try something new. I sweep the living area and kitchen almost nightly because we have pets and no roomba, do the bedrooms weekly. Our house is pretty much never a total disaster anymore because of these little habits, I can get it in order within an hour if we had guests coming and if it's a true surprise the bathrooms are at least likely clean and the counters are clear.

We still have too much stuff but having homes for things and putting them away in real time is critical for me, then when things inevitably pile up anyway I do a sweep for a few minutes in whatever room I'm in and it's not a big arduous task that I put off because I know where things go. My son has started helping me keep the coffee table clear. Children generally like some order in their environment even if they hate being told to clean their rooms so I try to identify spaces for his things that are accessible to him and as he gets older he takes more responsibility over putting things away and encourage him to spend 10 minutes with me putting things away in his room on weekends (he's in grade 3). If he wants a new toy or something I ask him if he can identify anything hanging around that he doesn't play with anymore that we can sell or donate before we get something new. I have used ikea book ledges to give his little collectible things a proper display and space without it looking terrible, we use those throughout the house for the entry way, in the bathrooms, in our bedrooms because they are cheap and don't take up a lot of space but can hold a lot.
posted by lafemma at 9:26 AM on January 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I haven't read all the comments but here's a few things that I do or would do if my family were more cooperative.

1. All white socks for children so you don't waste time pairing them.

2. One week worth of clothing per person per season.

3. Wool dryer balls or pointy dryer balls that live in the dryer.

4. One set of serving dishes per person. Color coded or personalized so each person is responsible for cleaning their own stuff. (Minimal Mom bought paint markers for kids to design their own plates and then baked the designs to be permanent.)

5. Hooks for kids at eye level for them to hang their own backpacks, coats, etc.

6. Capsule wardrobe makes work dressing easy.

7. Don't try new recipes. Pick a few regulars you can automate and rotate them. Let new recipes be an occasional thing for fun rather than something that you're pressured to do all the time.

8. Consider limiting kid toys to a set space - trunk, shelves, whatever - and they are responsible for prioritizing what they keep if items extend beyond available storage space.

9. Kids sleep in what they will wear the next day unless they are old enough to care, in which case they are old enough to be responsible for their own laundry.

10. Batch cook breakfast food that can be frozen and easily reheated. Bonus if portable like a breakfast taco that kids can eat in the car.

11. Wake up before everyone else so you have 30 minutes to set your mindset for the day with meditation, yoga, inspirational reading or whatever else.
posted by What a Joke at 9:59 AM on January 17, 2020

I used to be cluttered and messy and I basically became a neat freak overnight by creating an "inbox" for stuff. Currently it's one of those fabric storage cubes, but it doesn't really matter what it is as long as it keeps things off of surfaces and out of sight. Anything that comes into my home that doesn't immediately get put away (like shoes and coats) goes into the inbox.

Every few weeks when I have a little free time, I go through the inbox and figure out what gets put away, where, and what gets tossed. If I'm still not sure where something goes, it stays in the inbox until the next round. I used to have to do that weekly, but now it's more like every 1-2 months. I think just going through the process of sorting the inbox starts to teach you your own habits and needs, and reduces the amount of clutter on its own.

I'm trying to think if I do anything else unusual and the only other thing I can think of is that I only ever have one purse at a time, so I never have to wonder where my keys or wallet or whatever is because those things just live in my purse in perpetuity.
posted by capricorn at 12:02 PM on January 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Or, well, to expand on which things get immediately put away: shoes, coats, and other outerwear immediately get hung up/put away when I get home. Dishes immediately go into the dishwasher after eating, and if the dishwasher is full they go into the sink. When I bring food in a container to work, as soon as I get home the container goes into the dishwasher. Clothes immediately go into the laundry hamper after I wear them. (I guess one piece of actionable advice here is "only buy machine-washable stuff", because hand-wash only dishes and dry-clean-only clothes are two dependable sources of clutter for me.) Groceries get immediately put away when I come back from the store, and again when I'm done cooking. These are all habits I learned as a child so I feel it's never too early to start teaching them to your own children.
posted by capricorn at 12:12 PM on January 17, 2020

This isn't cleaning/tidying related, but as one part of a dual-working couple with two young kids, the changes that have made the biggest difference to me in terms of being organized have all revolved around developing a rhythm or specific *time* that certain things get done. Sounds stupid but it's been the difference between me feeling like I'm flailing from thing to thing just putting out fires, to actually feeling like I'm (more) on top of things. And very little of my overwhelmed feeling had to do with tidying or clutter or mess, surprisingly - I think I focused on those piles of things on the counter that never got put away because it was a nice visual representation of how unorganized and frazzled I felt in general.

Game changers for me:

1. Getting in the habit of running the dishwasher every night immediately after dinner. Previously, we waited until we subjectively felt the dishwasher was "full enough" to warrant running, which inevitably meant someone was trying to clean something up in the sink and couldn't and needed to leave the mess while the dishwasher ran for 2.5 hours. I haven't started doing this for laundry yet, but I suspect developing a schedule (e.g., kids clothes on Sunday night, fold during TV-watching) will probably be similarly helpful in preventing the "oh crap we're running low on clothes, I have to throw something in, oh wait I just saw something else that distracted me" madness.

2. Meal planning based on a template that has the same thing for dinner on the same night of the week - e.g., fish and potatoes on Sunday (the day I grocery shop), chicken and vegetable on Monday, taco tuesdays, pasta-night wednesdays, lentil or bean soup Thursday, and pizza or take-out on Friday. There's some room for variation or skipping meals when we're all exhausted and just want to pick something up, but I used to spend so many brain cycles trying to meal plan at 5pm standing in front the fridge, OR (slightly better but still pretty painful) meal planning for the week by sitting in front of a blank page and coming up with 5-6 meal ideas from scratch. Having the same *type* of food associated with each night of the week saves me a lot of time in deciding what is for dinner, and in making up my grocery-shopping list every week.

3. Implementing the "family tradition" of everyone cleaning up dinner and no one being allowed to leave the kitchen until everything was clean. Even though my younger doesn't do anything at this point (just watches us from her booster) and my older one is mostly just on dishwasher-loading duty, it's literally three or four times faster when multiple bodies are moving towards the same goal. Now that it's a habit, there's very little griping and it's reduced the time for this particular chore enough that we feel like we have the time to actually pack the older kid's lunch and backpack the night before, rather than collapsing in a tired heap. As a bonus, I often point out random crap that isn't dinner related but is on the floor or needs to be done before I declare "all clean" and set my 6-year-old on it, which further helps with containing the tsunami of crap that comes with kids.

So, I guess I'd just emphasize that if the main challenge you have is not enough time to get everything done and put away (of which clutter is a symptom, not a cause), you need to look for solutions that make routines to either save you time or "hold" the time so the thing is always getting done at the right time.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:24 PM on January 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have a paper recycling bag right by the front door. Junk mail goes straight in there. Other mail I open, the envelope goes in there, and if I can deal with the contents on the spot and then recycle the whole thing then I do.
As others have mentioned, I run the dishwasher on a schedule rather than when it's full. I run it just after making dinner, instead of leaving it to wait for dinner plates and cutlery after the meal, because experience tells me I'll be tired and forget.
I empty it while waiting for the coffee machine in the morning, and then load it with the bits that didn't make it in the night before.
posted by quacks like a duck at 11:26 PM on January 23, 2020

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