Having worked as a professional organizer, I can say with some certainty that everyone has a place in his or her life that needs a little organizational tweaking.
From closets to checkbooks, kitchens to cars, all of us have something (or maybe a few things) that are disorganized enough that we have written them off for good, or ignore them consistently.
The following 12 items are the things I most often worked on with clients.
1. Organize for 15 minutes each day
This could mean anything from sorting mail to throwing out mystery foods in the refrigerator. Just 15 minutes a day can make a huge difference over time.
2. Download Quicken (or some other money management program)
Quicken will make your financial life a million times easier to manage. It costs around $50, but it’s well worth the investment. From Quicken you can pay bills, download transactions from banks and credit cards, plan, budget, see what you are spending and what your overall financial picture looks like.
3. Make a simple sorting system for your papers
It’s as easy as this: to do, to read, to file. That’s all you need to keep everything in order. Think about it—what else is there? Now use the 15 minutes as mentioned above once or twice a week to sort your papers. Some find stackable filing shelves work, others like to have upright files they can thumb through. The Container Store is a great resource for all kinds of organizational tools. If you want to fancy it up a bit, check out See Jane Work.
4. Keep a list of your passwords in a safe place
Remembering passwords can be a real pain and a time waster. There are many ways to keep your passwords in a safe and secure place—besides that list on the Post-It near your computer—including Last Pass. Find what works for you and spend a few hours recording all of your vital information in an online location that you can access from anyplace.
5. Have a family information center
Whether it’s a bulletin board in your kitchen or a Google calendar that you all sync to and add to individually, it’s important that a family shares plans and information, such as times, dates, phone numbers, and so on. Color-coding can take things even further, if you’re so inclined. Each family member can have his or her own color, which is extremely helpful for at-a-glance info.
6. Find an online backup program and use it.
Carbonite or SOS are a couple of good options, or a back up drive connected to your computer is an alternative choice. This is essential to your peace of mind regarding anything that you store on your computer, from legal documents to photos. With online backup, you can retrieve your files anyplace, anytime.
7. Be ruthless in your closet
Some quiet afternoon, maybe if it’s raining and no one else is at home, spend a few hours going through your clothes closet. Be honest with yourself about whether things fit, or you like them, or you’ll ever wear them again.
If you have a friend you trust, try things on and get an honest opinion. Get those big green garbage bags (the best things for purging) and fill them up with your gently used clothing and shoes, handbags and accessories, ties, suits, whatever you’ve got, and take them to your local charity. Toss out torn, stained or ripped items.
Now you will have a much more manageable closet, and people in need will have clothes to wear. Do yourself a favor and buy some Huggable Hangers—you’ll be amazed at the additional room you have. Doesn’t that feel great?
8. Be ruthless with your kid’s toys
The same principle for closets applies to toys. However, much of it will likely be ready for the trash. Do it when your kids aren’t home if they’re small, or set up a reward system with the older ones—say, a new toy for every 10 they are willing to give up. Have them go with you when you take the toys they are donating to the charity of your choice; they will be proud to have shared their stuff.
9. Check the expiration dates in your medicine cabinet and in your kitchen
You’ll be surprised how many things are not only out of date, but basically useless. Spices lose their flavors; pain relievers lose their efficacy. Get rid of any prescription drugs that you no longer need by taking them to a local pharmacy for disposal. Even canned goods have an expiration date. Unlike out of style clothing, do not donate out of date food.
10. Go through your linen closet
There are so many pillowcases in search of a pillow, hand towels with no mate, blankets that are moth eaten and ready for retirement. Keep sheet sets together, towels by color and then size. Treat yourself to new bed linens if you are able—you’ll thoroughly enjoy them. Same with towels. Discount stores have huge savings on home items. I am a big fan of Home Goods and other off-price stores.
11. Start scanning your photos into your computer
This is a long-term project and should be approached much like organizing itself—15 minutes a day, max. Don’t set a deadline or pressure yourself to get it done quickly—just do a bit at a time.
12. Hire a professional organizer
If this all seems like too much to do on your own, hire a pro to help you. It’s much easier to get organized with someone cheering you on and helping you out. Go to www.napo.net (National Association of Professional Organizers) to find a person in your area. There are specialists in every field, from garages to computers.
Getting organized takes patience, time, and the ability to throw things away. Once you get started, you’ll feel so much better.
Sharon Greenthal lives in Orange County, Calif., with her husband Peter and their perfect dog Lambeau. Her two children are away at college. Sharon blogs about her observations the world around her, from the important to the inconsequential. Read more here. A version of this story first appeared on the 12 Most blog.