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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 16, 2018

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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The power of habit

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to make a reminder works for you

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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