If you can’t afford the luxury of a professional crew of organizers and designers to organize your clutter and maximize your space, that doesn’t mean you have to keep living in chaos. Those of us on a budget still have plenty of options for getting organized. All you need to get started is some time and $30 (or maybe even less).
First, decide what area you want to focus on. If your home is in decent shape, you may feel comfortable focusing on your home as a whole. If every square foot is a disaster zone, pick a small area to start with, like the entryway or a bedroom.
Here are some techniques you can implement and inexpensive items you can buy to start getting organized. (Try buying them at a dollar store to get more bang for your buck.)
Trash bags: It’s difficult to get organized when you have too much stuff. Take two trash bags (or boxes) and fill one with items to donate and one with items to throw away. Don’t stop until you’ve filled both-the impact will be significant.
Ziplock bags: Ziplock bags are great for grouping small, like items together. For example, if you were organizing your desk drawer, you would put pens in one bag, pencils in another, highlighters in third bag, paperclips in a fourth, and so on until every category of item has its own bag.
You may have a drawer full of bags when you’re done, and it may not be as pretty as a plastic organizer tray, but it will be a lot easier to find what you’re looking for when everything is grouped together in manageable bunches than when it’s all tangled together in one big heap.
GladWare containers: I use these inexpensive plastic containers (or their store-brand equivalent) to organize toiletry items in my bathroom and linen closet. I like to buy the 64 ounce size because it holds a lot of medium-sized items, like travel toiletries, bars of soap, razors, or air-freshener refills. If you also have a lot of smaller items to organize, like lipsticks, buy some smaller containers.
Of course, these containers aren’t just helpful in the bathroom. You can use them in the garage to sort hardware (screws in one container, nails in another), in the office to sort supplies, in the kitchen to sort all those packets of ketchup and disposable silverware packets you’re hanging on to, or anywhere else you have lots of small items that need decluttering.
Clear, one-quart containers: I’ve found these for $1 at Target. Larger than GladWare containers, they’re good for sorting and neatly storing items like video game controllers, computer software disks, small computer accessories, and stamps and envelopes. It’s important to buy clear ones so you can easily see what’s inside and find what you need after you put it away. If your organization system doesn’t make things easy for you, you won’t stick with it.
Accordion folder with multiple file slots: I use this to sort my mail so it doesn’t end up in an ugly, overwhelming heap on my dining room table. Each day when the mail comes, I quickly go through it and sort it into four categories: recycle, shred, file, and deal with later. Then I put each pile into one of the slots in my accordion folder.
Some people may prefer to get rid of the recycle and shred stuff immediately, but I find this method easier to stick with because it takes less time. And having all the “deal with” stuff in one place means I can sit down for an hour once a week and knock out a bunch of things at once, reducing the amount of time I spend dealing with bills and other annoyances.
You don’t have to use a folder like this just for mail — you can use the same system in any room you’re organizing where you need to go through lots of papers.
File boxes: You may not be able to afford (or find space for) an entire filing cabinet, but you can pick up a plastic file box and some hanging file folders for about $20. Use this to store your important documents, like tax records, bank statements, and health records. Put new documents in a “to be filed” folder at the front of the box as you receive them, then make it a point to file them in their respective folders once a month.
If you’re not sure where to put something, just make a new folder for it – it’s easy to put things away as long as you have a place for them. This system takes very little time to maintain.
Hangers: It’s easy to end up with a messy closet, but it’s a simple problem to fix. You probably won’t need to lay out any cash for this one, either. First, decide which items you wear often enough that they merit taking up the limited space in your closet. Put each item on a hanger, then sort the items into piles on your bed by category – tank tops, short-sleeved shirts, long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, jeans, work shirts, and work pants, for example.
Then, hang up each pile in an order that’s logical to you. Put the items you wear most in the part of your closet that’s easiest to access. For all the clothes that you decided don’t need to hang in the closet, get rid of them if you’re comfortable with that, but if not, fold them up and store them in boxes. While getting rid of things can be an important step toward getting more organized, I think some organizing gurus place too much emphasis on this step, making it difficult for people who like to hang on to their stuff to get organized. If you find that you don’t miss the stuff you’ve put in boxes, you can always get rid of it later.
If you want to take your closet organization to the next level, hang everything with the hanger backwards. Then, after you’ve worn an item (and washed it), hang it back up the regular way. This allows you to see which clothes you’re actually wearing and which you aren’t. (I got this tip from Nate Berkus on an episode of Oprah.)
You’re probably busy and stressed out enough with the activities of your daily life — why make it worse by continuing to live in a space where it’s hard to find what you need when you need it, where piles of stuff make things feel even more chaotic? Just a few hours and these inexpensive items can make a big difference, and you can even do it with music or the TV on to make it less of a chore.