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50 Ways to Make Your Home More Organized, More Attractive, and More Efficient

50 Ways to Make Your Home More Organized, More Attractive, and More Efficient

The modern home is far bigger than the home of just 30 years ago – and far more cluttered! How can that happen? Basically, our demand for stuff is outstripping our ability to buy space – no wonder self-storage is one of the leading growth industries in the United States.

Questions about runaway consumerism aside, what all this excess stuff means for most of us is more time spent maintaining our living spaces to keep some semblance of order in our lives. Most of us don’t want to spend our evenings and weekends – and more for work-at-home types – knee-deep in clutter, never sure where anything is, and constantly stepping over all those things that, for one reason or another, we just had to have.

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We fight a constant battle against clutter around Chez Dustin. Besides my partner and I, there are her three children, all under 13. Plus, her brother and his two kids have been staying with us while he sorts out some family matters, forcing our usual border-skirmishes against clutter to escalate into an all-out war.

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That’s why I asked you, our readers, to share some of your tips in one of the contests in the Great Big Summer Giveaway. I had a blast going through your tips, tricks, and advice for keeping the home organized, and today, I’m going to present the cream of the crop.

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General Household Tips

  1. Hide a cluttered bookshelf with a spring-loaded curtain rod and a set of curtains. (Liz)
  2. Use filing cabinets for a TV stand. (Doug)
  3. Use clear plastic shoeboxes to store knick-knacks and other odds and ends. (jenny)
  4. Organize your house by task so that the things most relevant to each job are where you’re most likely to use them. This might be obvious for things like laundry and crafts, but what about a mail station, homework area, or just storing linens in the laundry room? (gs49, Lorie)
  5. Figure out where things normally get dropped and set up an appropriate place for them as close as possible to that point. This will improve the chance that they’ll end up where they belong, and decrease the distance the things that don’t make it home have to go to be put back. (Paula)
  6. Label it! Labeling is not just for file folders – get a label-maker (or several) and keep it handy all around the house. Kitchen shelves, storage containers, bookshelves, coat racks — there are millions of places where a smart label can forestall endless amounts of clutter. My variation of jenny’s clear shoebox idea above (#3) is to use plastic pencil boxes for all manner of tiny stuff; they lock slightly to make tidy stacks on my shelves, and a lovely label on the front keeps everything instantly accessible. (Tassia)
  7. Designate a “launchpad”. This is an area in your house, preferably near the door, where coats, jackets, shoes, backpacks, purses, keys, and everything else you need to find easily next time you leave the house stays. Think of it a transition-zone between outside and inside — almost like an airlock. (Kate, Christian247, jason, Luke L., Sandy)
  8. Set up a “bucket” at your “launchpad (a milk crate, basket, or an actual bucket) for each person “. (Laura Warner)
  9. Use a 4-tier “Stadium Rack” for spices, allowing you to always see everything easily without taking up much space. (Jeff)
  10. Set up “clutter bags” in every room. Keep a reusable shopping bag — there are plenty of attractive ones available for super-cheap these days — in every room; when stuff from elsewhere around the house starts building up, throw it into the clutter bag until you can sort it out. (Allan)
  11. Store trashbags inside the trash can, under the current liner. That way, you (or whoever takes the trash out) have a fresh bag handy every single time. (Robert)
  12. Set up a shared online calendar between you and your partner, and allow access to your close family, child-care providers, and anyone else who might need to know where you are at any given moment — or what events are coming up that they might need to plan for. (David)
  13. Use behind-the-door shoe holders for storage of tiny or awkward stuff. The cloth kind have 20 or so pockets that are ideal for craft supplies, cleaning products, tools, and office materials. (Aaron, Shari)
  14. Take care of dishes immediately after meals. (Brenden)
  15. Run the dishwasher frequently. Large households often never get to that mythical state where the clean dishes are put away, the dirty ones are in the dishwasher, and nothing is stacked up in the sink. Modern dishwashers are designed to detect the size of the load, so there’s no reason to wait until the washer is full to run your dishes. (michael kastler; Note from Dustin: I wonder about the electricity needs of this, though!)
  16. Take pictures of sentimental objects before giving them away or throwing them out. Like that T-shirt from that concert you want to when you were 20 years younger, 3 sizes smaller, and quite a bit more stoned. You know you won’t ever wear it again, but hold onto it because of the memories. (michael kastler)
  17. Set up a library/rental box. Store your library books and rented videos in a box in your living room or other place near where you’ll use them, and keep your library cards and video rental cards there as well. That way, you’ll always be reminded if anything’s due when you go to collect your rental cards. (Paul)
  18. Color-code your family. Assign a color to everyone in the house, and buy everything for them in that color: towels, toothbrushes, cups, water bottles, lunch boxes, slippers, whatever. (OngoingDebacle)
  19. Keep your “go bag” in the car. For example, all the stuff for family outings (aside from food) can be stored in the truck, freeing up space in the house and keeping it with you for spontaneous fun time. (Linda F.)
  20. Use an accordion organizer to sort kids’ project paper. Sort by color and/or type of paper. (Kam A.)
  21. Use bed risers to increase the space under your bed. (Carolyn)
  22. Use drawers, not counters, for storing bathroom stuff. (Luke) Or keep all your toiletries in one box or basket on the counter — easy to move for cleaning the counter. (spn)
  23. Use a corkboard and pushpins to hang jewelry. Keeps everything visible but out of the way. (Angelina)
  24. Use a travel jewelry organizer that goes over a hangar. Also keeps jewelry visible and out of the way — and thieves aren’t likely to look for your jewelry among your hung clothes. (Amy)
  25. Keep a basket by the stairs and add out-of-place items to it. When the basket’s full, take it upstairs and put everything away.(Elizabeth M.)
  26. Fill a box with stuff you’re unsure of and pack it for a year. Make sure you put the date on teh outside. If you don’t use anything in the box for an antire year, you don’t need it and can get rid of it. (April)
  27. Put a whiteboard in your garage where you’ll see it when you come home and when you get ready to leave. Put todo lists, reminders, and otehr important information on it. (Sam Klein)
  28. Find creative uses for containers. For example, ice cube trays are great for storing all sorts of tiny objects — any they stack easily. (Groovymarlin)
  29. Keep a rack by the door for keys. But make sure they’re not visible from the front door/window. (Shelle, TechieBird)
  30. Pull bookshelves out slightly to hide cords for gadgets in the back. (Layne)

Bills and Business

  1. Set up a scanner and a shredder next to each other. Incoming mail goes into the scanner and then –unless you need it for your records — straight into the shredder. (Kenneth)
  2. Sort mail as it comes in. Trash it, file it, respond to it, or take action on it — don’t let it build up. (David Wright, KathyHowe)
  3. Go paperless. Scan all your important paperwork and store it on your computer. File only the papers you absolutely need hard copies of. (James, Luke L., Angela M.)
  4. Set up your bills to be due all on the same day. Most utilities will let you shift your payment date, though you will usually have to make up a month-plus the first time after the change. (Bashar)
  5. Use chip clips to hold related papers together. (steve flattem)
  6. Put all your work work on your desk and “do as you clean”. When you’re done, the desk is clean — a great motivator for people who like a clean desk. (Meryl K. Evans)
  7. Auto-pay everything. (Luke L.)
  8. Scan business cards as you get them. (Luciano)
  9. Make a nice box for receipts and put new receipts in it every night when you get home. Sort your receipts on a regular basis, or this will overflow and become yet another source of clutter. (Jason)
  10. Convert a closet into an office. With a little creativity, even a tiny closet can be transformed into a functional space — and when you’re done, close the door to hide the mess. (Jeremy)

Habits and Attitudes

  1. Learn to travel light. That way, a) you don’t have as much to carry, and b) you don’t have as big a bag to store in your house when you’re not traveling. (Steve Moyer)
  2. Close the circle. This takes a little discipline — ok, a lot of discipline — but if you can build the habit of always seeing every act through to its logical end every time, it will prevent a lot of clutter. In practical terms, this means that every time you use something, you follow through until that thing is back where it started from: eat a bowl of cereal, wash the bowl, dry it, and put it back on the shelf. Our lives tend to be built up out of a lot of little “incompletions” that lead to clutter; if you can break that habit and see see things all the way through, you’ll find a lot more improves than just your clutter situation. (Nuruddeen Lewis)
  3. Clean one room or area a day. This is less daunting than cleaning the whole house, and gives you a clear goal, instead of the “one-more-thing” syndrome that strikes when you get a mind to “do some cleaning”. (Katherine, Carolyn Wilman)
  4. Find the clutter “focal point” of each room and keep it clean. In the bedroom, make the bed and keep it clear; in the kitchen, don’t store anything in the sink. If these focal points are clean, the room will seem less cluttered. (Chris)
  5. Give it away. Make a habit of taking regular trips to the Goodwill or other donation center to give away excess stuff, and make sure that when that day comes, you’ve got a full load of stuff to get rid of. (mel)
  6. One in, one out. Make a habit of throwing out, selling, or giving away something for every new thing you bring into the house. For example, when you buy a new pair of shoes, get rid of your least favorite.  Variation: One in, TWO Out! (Bon Temps, Charlie)
  7. Use “deep storage” wisely. Pack up things that you’re not going to use and store them — don’t keep stuff out when you are unlikely to ever need it. (ProductivityScience)
  8. Don’t shop “recreationally”. Go shopping for the things you need, not to kill time or “just to look”. Avoid succumbing to temptation by avoiding temptation itself! (Tracy)
  9. Never put anything on top of anything smaller than it is. For example, never put a newspaper on top of a small book or your keys. You’ll lose less stuff that way. (Cindy)
  10. Don’t make piles. Ever. (Sue)
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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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