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10 Biggest Organizing Mistakes

Good Housekeeping
At Home
May 31, 2012

Are you trying to get organized but still mired in a mess? Lorie Marrero, the bestselling author of The Clutter Diet is here to help. Her expert advice will help you avoid 10 common decluttering mistakes, to finally get organized for good.

Mistake 1: Not thinking through a project before starting When people decide to organize a pantry or a closet, they often jump right in to the project without first thinking about the functions of the space or planning out a system for maintaining it. Take just a few moments to think about how the space got this way, what habits created the disorganization, who will be using the area, and what you're trying to accomplish before you dig in.

Mistake 2: Forgetting about prevention

You can attack accumulated clutter and get some results fast, but ongoing, you also need to consider prevention. Could you stop yourself from buying that extra pair of shoes? Will you say no to some of those hand-me-down clothes from relatives that you don't really need? Can you bypass those flyers and giveaway items you typically pick up just because they're free? Carefully consider everything before you allow it to cross the threshold into your home.

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Mistake 3: Buying organizing products before you know what you need

People often channel their decluttering motivation into a trip to their favorite store to stock up on storage bins and other organizing products. As a professional organizer, I have seen many well-intentioned purchases become additional clutter. The better approach? Wade into your project first, find out what you need, and make a shopping list. Always write down measurements (and take a small tape measure with you to the store) to avoid purchasing mistakes.

Mistake 4: Thinking a product will fix a problem
Organizing products won't necessarily solve an organizing problem. The best shoe rack in the world doesn't work if you don't put your shoes back in it consistently! Make sure you think through a system for any product you buy and that you're clear on how to use it.

Mistake 5: Not having a disposal plan
People often clean out a closet and end up with unwanted piles of clothes and toys that linger for weeks. Start organizing with a clear plan for how you'll dispose of unwanted items. You'll need to decide upon a place for donations (like Goodwill), a preferred way you'd like to sell certain items (such as a consignment store, Craigslist, eBay, or a garage sale), and an understanding about your city's recycling and extra trash policies.

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Mistake 6: Allowing undesignated space
Got a messy dining table? When space is available without a clear purpose for how it's used, it usually gets filled up with clutter. Have a rule that large flat surfaces, like tables and countertops, must be cleared off daily, or at least once a week. And if you have multiple compartments for paper on your desk, label them for envelopes, catalogs, bills, or other distinct purposes instead of letting them become a nest for whatever ends up there by accident.

Mistake 7: Putting things somewhere "for now"
When you put something down "for now," you are delaying the decisions of whether to keep it, where to store it, whom to give it to, or which next action to take on it. Catch yourself when you say this little "danger phrase," and you will prevent clutter from collecting.

Mistake 8: Keeping things because they seem useful
Are you keeping things you don't need because you can't bear to waste them? One of my clients was keeping a brand new bag of cat litter in her garage in a crowded space because it was a "perfectly good," usable item. Her cat, however, had died three years earlier. She realized that donating the cat litter to her local animal shelter was a win for everyone involved. Just because something is useful doesn't mean it is useful for you. Find a good home for that unworn skirt or unopened kitchen gadget, and move forward.

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Mistake 9: Not communicating your system to others
You finished organizing your pantry and keep opening the door to admire your hard work. But two weeks later, your pantry is a mess again! Other family members may not always follow your systems, but if you label storage spaces and make and your system easy and obvious as possible to maintain, you will make your job much easier. Whenever you can, orient people to the new system and explain exactly what they need to do to keep it looking nice.

Mistake 10: Not establishing ownership for maintenance tasks
After finishing your beautiful closet organizing project, take a moment to review the tasks involved in maintaining the space. Clothes need to be hung up daily, stacks of clothing need to be straightened and folded regularly, hangers need to be rotated back to the utility room once a week, and laundry needs to get done frequently. Who is going to do those tasks and when? Many a task has gone undone because both parties thought the other was going to do it. Communicate clearly about who owns what tasks to avoid confusion.

-By Lorie Marrero

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