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101 Organizing Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Lazy People (Part 1)

101 Organizing Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Lazy People (Part 1)

“Ambition is a poor excuse for not being smart enough to be lazy.”
—Steve Wright

Part 1 of a 3-part series. 101 hacks outgrew a single article—just like that secret closet that’s so packed, if you open the door stuff falls on your head. There was just too much good stuff to cram into one post! Part 1 covers ground rules, entryway, and kitchen/pantry. Part 2 covers bedroom/closets, bathroom, car, and basement/garage; and Part 3, papers and sentimental items.

First, let’s be clear. You are NOT really lazy—you’re smart! 

Smart for wanting easier and faster ways to get organized. To free up more time and live a much calmer, more peaceful, and productive life.

We are so much more likely to take action if we know we are probably going to succeed AND that we can do it in bite-sized bits. These hacks, many of which you can quickly implement—will take less time to put into place than it takes you to read this article.

So we’ve lowered the bar to basically the floor to ensure you have the info AND the tools you need to get going!

Here in Unstuff-land, we’re all about taking action. 

Maybe you’ve been waiting for the “right time” to get organized? Or you’re stuck in analysis paralysis, planning over and over again … rewriting that mental to-do list until you think it’s “perfect.”

Unfortunately, because perfection is a pretty elusive goal … you never quite get there.

Hence your standing around waiting for inspiration or something magical to happen that kicks your butt into gear.

Maybe this series can be that kick, so let’s get started... Now. 

If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. A lot of “experts” will tell you that “getting organized” is a big ordeal, and that you need to take a week off work and do nothing but that, like an episode of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo or Hoarders or something along those lines.

So that could be another reason you keep pacing back and forth, eager for the results but shy or hesitant about taking the action.

Well, again here in Unstuff-land, we say go BIG or go FAST.

Feeling strong? Go big and go deep to the sad, scary corner where stuff has piled up for years.

And if you’re feeling tentative, just take baby steps until you build up some momentum. You’ll get to the exact same destination so it really doesn’t matter which way you start. The key IS to start.

With this series, we’re going to set you up for success in taking small, incremental steps that add up to BIG changes. AND once you get organized, it is super simple to STAY that way. And we’ll show you how to do that, too.

For now, let’s get started.


SIMPLE GUIDELINES TO RULE THEM ALL 

What’s the point of offering you great hacks without the backbone that informs them? We’re all about teaching you to fish here … you’re not a trained seal so no point in just feeding you a fish now and then!

These 9 hacks could be all you ever need to
get and STAY organized for good.


GROUND RULES

1. Everything you own should have value: it should either make your life more comfortable, convenient or beautiful. Art doesn’t have to “do” anything besides inspire you—that can be its function. So if it doesn’t do one of those 3 things, you can release it.

2. Focus on ONE thing or task at a time.

3. Choose people and experiences over things. That’s what we mean by “More love, less stuff.”

THE ORGANIZATIONAL TRIANGLE® 

4. Every item has a designated “home.” This is where it lives when it’s not in use. 

5. Group and keep all like items with like items—not most of them … ALL of them.

6. Something in, something out. Once you’ve reached your ideal equilibrium of items in your space, if you buy or receive something new, let something else go.


BEST PRACTICES

7. Put items back in their designated home once you’re done using them—not later. Trust me, there will never be a more convenient time AND you aren’t saving time even if you think you are.

8. Many of us dream about living the way we want “someday.” I say today is that day. Live your life as it actually happens and create your dream life NOW … there is no point in deferring your happiness to some aspirational future that is not guaranteed to arrive.

9. Don’t adopt an organizing system that makes you its slave. The beauty of The Organizational Triangle® is that it is the opposite of a system—it’s just 3 rules to live by.

If you’re already too busy to do your actual life, it makes zero sense that you can run your life AND maintain an external system—it doesn’t add up. So if you’re trying to fit in MORE time to maintain your snazzy new acrylic containers and glam labels or a new way of folding your clothes, where is that time coming from? Because 24 hours each day is all we get. I don’t care how creative you are, you can’t manufacture time. So if any organizing system requires more work than the time is promises to save you, it may not be the right one for you.


ORGANIZING BY ROOM

GENERAL

These hacks apply to roomsand stuffacross your home. 

10. Get help when and where you can. For larger projects, don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself. With family, and to get kids on board, suggest a family-sized reward in exchange for help, like a day trip to a nature preserve or amusement park—something THEY would consider a reward, not something YOU think they would enjoy. With friends, make it a trade-off, and take turns helping each other out. If you have neither friends or family, consider TaskRabbit, Angie, Home Advisor or Craigslist to find hands and a brain you can hire to help you out.

11. Change your goals from narrative goals to math-based/time-specific goals. Instead of making your goal to “finish” a task, a word that represents a state that is sometimes hard to define, commit instead to a timed quantity and work for that duration. Unless you have ADHD or any other attention-deficit condition, set your timer for no less than 15 minutes and no more than 3 hours at a time.

12. Every room should have a phone station, your phone’s “home” in that room, and for select rooms, where it charges. That home needs to be a tray, dish or container of some kind—not just a random toss onto a surface. No more looking for the charger—or looking for your phone!

13. Double-duty your furniture. Lots of ottomans, benches, etc., are made with storage space in them; or use a trunk to double as a coffee table. These are great places to stash guest bedding and off-season clothing.

14. Renting a self-storage unit or three? If they’re storing stuff you have been able to live without, especially for more than a year, ask yourself this: Is this the best use of my resources? Make a plan for emptying and disbursing their contents asap—your conscience AND your wallet will thank you.

ENTRYWAY | KEYS, WALLETS, HANDBAGS

A space that feels like heaven to come home to starts with the first things you see, the moment you walk through the door.

15. Create a specific, visible, easy-access vessel for your keys right beside the door. Hook, decorative bowl, or a plastic cup—doesn’t matter what—for keys, ONLY.

16. Have ONE place for wallets and bits and bobs you pocketed throughout the day—a bowl on your dresser or a basket on the kitchen counter. Whatever works. Get into the habit of emptying your pockets into one container rather than leaving things IN your pockets or dumping them loosely onto a surface.

17. Immediately toss wrappers or receipts you don’t need to keep. It’s pointless to bring them any further into your space.

18. For the daily pocketbook, backpack, purse: it also needs a SINGLE home, like a hook by the door. (It shouldn’t follow you around the house).

19. Switching between bags, like a backpack to a gym duffel? Items that don’t make the switch also need a home. Enter a bowl, basket, or box dedicated to that stuff until you need it again.


KITCHEN & PANTRY

Your kitchen should make cooking and cleaning easier, not harder. A well-organized kitchen that’s built around how you use it AND what you need on hand to make, serve and store food will save you hundreds of hours over a lifetime.

20. Organize your kitchen into zones—think mise en place on steroids: Preparation, cooking and baking, beverages, pantry, tableware, and cleanup. (See mine here.)

21. Organize your cabinets similarly: baking, cooking, storage, utensils, sharp items, dish towels, dishes, serving pieces, canned goods, spices, and sauces.

22. Use Lazy Susans, bamboo drawer dividers, and/or wire shelves to corral smaller items such as spices, herbs, utensils, and hand tools.

23. Get rid of any broken appliances or ones you don’t use. (If you haven’t replaced that Crock-Pot lid by now … you’re probably not going to.)

24. Any storage containers without lids, or vice-versa, just recycle or let go of. 

25. Glass over plastic containers whenever possible: they’re eco-friendly, more hygienic, and easier to clean.

26. Use a pot rack or, if you have space, hang pots and pans along the wall. Store lids in a space-saving rack that attaches inside the cabinet door.

27. Not a lot of counter space? Consider a knife block that fits in a drawer instead of one that sits on your counter.

28. Stop collecting plastic bags. Use what you have to line trash cans or take them back to the supermarket for recycling.

29. Keep reusable shopping bags in the car (or near your front door if you don’t have a car) and a rolled-up mesh bag in your handbag for unexpected shopping trips.

30. Donate or sell cookbooks you don’t use. (No stains or burns? Both tell-tale signs of current use!)

31. Create zones in your fridge: specific areas for vegetables, fruits, meat, condiments, and leftovers. This makes it easy to remember how long everything has been there and helps prevent things from getting buried in the back. (We’ve all found that mold-covered unidentifiable lump in some rando jar in the back corner.)

32. When putting away perishable groceries, put the new stuff behind the old stuff in its zone in the fridge, so you use up the older groceries first—didn’t your grandmother make you check expiration dates on the milk before you pulled it off the shelf? Mine did!

33. Transfer dried goods like cereal, pasta, grains and flour into airtight containers, such as an old-fashioned candy jar with an angled lid and a rubber or plastic gasket. Most store packages include a lot of air to keep food from breaking—air that you don’t need to make space for in your pantry.

34. Adjust your shelf heights to suit your needs rather than becoming a slave to how they were installed. Unused vertical space is a waste. Measure the tallest object you’ll keep on each shelf, then add 1.5-2” so you have room to slide items in and out.

35. If shelves aren’t adjustable or you still have wasted space after adjusting, get a shelf that suspends under your built-in shelf (great for flat things like placemats or cookie sheets) OR a riser to create a extra storage surface between fixed shelves. 

36. Try industrial bins for spices and small things; they typically have three walls, making it easy to fit your hand in. They’re stable, stackable, and transportable.

37. Keep a stock of reclosable freezer bags so items in your freezer are always well-organized and easily visible.

38. Don’t keep anything unnecessary on kitchen counters, like a radio, mail, or purchased items that have yet to be put away, taking up precious space.

39. Keep only things you use every day in open areas. Everything else—like a standing mixer or blender—stays in the cupboards.

40. Go through your cabinets, fridge, and pantry and toss anything broken, useless, or expired. Donate still-good food to a local food bank.

41. If you have appliances that are still fully functional but go unused, donate or sell them.

Stay tuned for Part 2, with hacks #42 - 73, and Part 3, for hacks #74 - 101!

THE BOTTOM LINE

You CAN live a simpler, more peaceful life in a space that nourishes and restores you rather than stresses you out. Not only do you win back space, but you also win back massive amounts of TIME.

Now, to make sure you get something done today, stop reading, and DO the one hack that jumped out at you first. 

And if you need a little more motivation or guidance AND you know that—left to your own devices—you might end up scrolling social media on your phone, binge-watching Netflix, or running away screaming… there is another option:

Receive step-by-step instruction, ask an expert your burning questions, and get some accountability by getting organized in great company! Join our next FREE Destress Your Mess Challenge, starting August 16, here

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Written by Andrew Mellen

Andrew is the Wall Street Journal,Amazon and Audible best-selling author of two books: Unstuff Your Life! and The Most Organized Man in America’s Guide to Moving.

He has been a professional organizer since 1996, and has helped over 500,000 people + businesses get AND stay organized ... so far!

Sharply dressed Andrew Mellen smiling at the camera.

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