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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 August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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