If you feel guilty that you can never seem to find a weekend—or even an afternoon—to finally focus on home organization, don’t. True, your home office is an avalanche (except for the sliver of space that's visible on Zoom) and your kitchen cabinets are crying out for better storage solutions, but you’re a normal, busy human with a to-do list that won’t quit. And, as it turns out, trying to declutter an entire home or even one room in a single, heroic swoop isn’t always a great approach for us mere mortals, despite what DIY shows and TikTok hyper-lapse clips might have us believe.
“Bite-size organization is actually the best kind of organization for most people,” says professional organizer Rachel Rosenthal, owner of Rachel and Company. “Yes, when my team and I head into a client’s home, we can organize it top to bottom in a day or two, but that isn’t realistic for the average person. Not only do most people not have that much time on their hands, it can be overwhelming, exhausting, and ultimately leads to giving up halfway through.”
We’ve been there—so many times. So we asked her and other pro organizers to tell us more: How can we have the organized home of our Instagram fantasies while working within the reality of our everyday schedule and energy levels? Here are their totally doable organization ideas and sanity-conserving hacks; give them a try, and you’ll be a vision of organization in no time flat, color-coding your wardrobe using matching hangers and implementing lazy Susans in places you never thought possible.
Build motivation by decluttering this spot first.
To get your declutter momentum going, there’s a particular spot that professional organizers often recommend you tackle first: the junk drawer. Neglect being its very essence, it’s typically one of the most chaotic spots in your home. That said, it actually doesn’t require a ton of time to whip into shape; it’s convenient to focus on while dinner simmers or kids do homework, and seeing it tidy is scientifically proven to produce a giant surge of fresh motivation. (Okay, there haven’t been any studies, but we all know it’s true.) So go for it: Take 15 minutes just to pluck out items that can be tossed—dried-out Sharpies, expired coupons, ancient restaurant mints, and duck sauce packets. So. Satisfying. Then take another 15 minutes to sort the rest of the “junk” into a drawer organizer and relocate tidbits that belong elsewhere in the house (screwdrivers back in the toolbox, change in the change jar, and so on). Once your junk-drawer makeover is complete, ride that energy into another quickie organizing project, like overhauling your sock drawer. “Take it all out, match pairs, toss socks with holes, neatly roll your socks, put everything back, and voilà, you accomplished something that will make you smile every morning before the gym,” Rosenthal says. Maybe you’ll even avoid buying another pair of grippy socks at barre class because you couldn’t find any.
Map out your home organization plan.
Once you’re fired up by tidying up a few small but impactful spots, break down the bigger ones. You really can declutter your entire home in 15-minute increments, but it can be tough to keep the faith once you’re waist-deep in sweaters or half-empty toiletries. So take 15 minutes to ID the important organizational elements within larger spaces. “List out high-use areas within each room—within your primary bath, you could list under the sink, linen closet, bath, and hair products,” says Marissa Hagmeyer, cofounder and COO of Neat Method. “Then focus on one area at a time. Having a clear plan of action will help relieve you of that overwhelming feeling that you have too many areas to tackle.” Don’t be afraid to make your zones super specific: your overburdened living-room bookshelves, the overstuffed kitchen dishtowel drawer, the Lego storage bins in the playroom. Whenever you have 15 minutes free, tackle one of those mini spots—or book a daily 15-minute slot when you’ll focus on your current organizing project. Then check it off your list, gloat, maybe cheers yourself with a glass of wine.
When in doubt, just declutter.
Depending on your personality and current schedule, devising the perfect storage system for a particular space can sound totally dreamy or totally daunting. Either way, that’s far from the most important part of the home organization process, according to pro organizers. What is? Good old-fashioned decluttering. That’s great news, because decluttering can be done in even the tiniest time increments. Got five minutes? Open the nearest closet, cabinet, or drawer, and weed out an armload of stuff you no longer need/use. “Focus on small goals, like throwing expired food or medicine, or disposing of excess Tupperware items that don’t match up as sets,” says Cheryl Arzewski, cofounder of It’s Organized, based in California and New York/New Jersey. “Getting out items to purge, donate, or sell makes it much easier to see what remains and create an organizational system that works.”
Literally set a timer.
While you should certainly feel free to plow ahead with home organization when you’re really on a roll, the burnout is real, and generally, it’s more empowering to quit while you’re ahead. “If you tend to get overwhelmed when organizing, setting a timer can be super helpful,” Rosenthal says. “Using a timer helps you avoid getting distracted or lost in: ‘This should go with coupons, now I am organizing coupons—oh, wait, this is a to-go container; I should also go through that cabinet….’ Use the timer to help keep you focused, pull the items that need to go to another space, and then know you will organize those another day by setting another timer.”
Practice in-the-moment organizing.
New habit: Instead of side-eyeing that lurking laundry-room heap, pause for 15 minutes and sort it out. Don’t think; just do it. “It is absolutely possible to organize so much of your home, life, and car in 15-minute spurts,” says Dorothy Breininger, better known as Dorothy the Organizer, who advocates for more ITMO—in-the-moment organizing. “As you’re pulling out a T-shirt from the sliding pile on your shelf, take 15 minutes to fold all the T-shirts in that pile, sorting as you go: keep, toss, or give away. Fold. Reshelve. Done.”
Declare tidying-up speed challenges.
Similar idea, different participants (i.e., the other people who clutter up your house). “Make organizing a game for everyone in the house,” suggests Jordan Marks, cofounder of It’s Organized. “Find 10 or more items to be purged and/or donated and 10 or more items to be put back in their place. Winner gets a reward!”
Add this 15-minute step when you grocery-shop.
Rather than load produce right into the fridge, wash it and prep it for its intended purpose—you’ll save yourself tons of time later in the week (which you can use for decluttering!). Chop onions, rinse and dry salad greens, separate cauliflower into florets. Refrigerate everything in stackable glass containers or large mason jars so you can easily reach in and grab what you need, plus visually keep stock of what needs to be used up or replenished.
Don’t ignore your mail.
It’s the obvious thing to do, when 90% of the pile is junk fliers from pest-control companies. Yet mail has a way of cluttering up your entire entry and/or kitchen. Even if you don’t sort and open it daily, just spending five minutes getting rid of the obvious items destined for the recycling bin is an impactful intervention. “Get into the habit of opening your mail near a recycling bin or place a small, pretty bin near where your mail collects,” Hagmeyer says. “You can quickly place the items you don’t want in the basket and empty it as it fills up.”
Focus on the small picture.
All-or-nothing thinking can prevent us from bothering with the small stuff, but a little everyday effort goes a long way when it comes to organizing your life. That’s why professional organizer Kate Pawlowski of Done & Done Home follows a strategy called the 10% rule. “This is the idea that even a 10% reduction of items can make a difference in a space,” she says. “When a junk drawer, for example, is feeling chaotic and dysfunctional, taking 15 minutes to reduce the clutter inside by just 10% will make a difference. Obviously, it will take some patience, but small improvements made consistently over time can completely transform a home.”
Petra Guglielmetti is a health, wellness, and beauty journalist who taps into a broad network of experts to write in-depth service articles for leading publications like Glamour, Health, Real Simple, and Parents.
Originally Appeared on Glamour