Organizing tips organizers use themselves

Take it from the experts, organization is all about a simple system you can work into your daily life.

GoodMood Photo / Adobe Stock
GoodMood Photo / Adobe Stock

Less mess means less stress. Touch it once and deal with it. Keep, toss, purge.

We’ve heard these organizing mantras before. If it were only so easy. Just like losing weight, we know what we have to do to get organized: toss what we don’t want or need, organize what we keep and keep everything in its place. And just like a healthy lifestyle, it’s easier said than done.

To get you in the right mindset for organizing this season, we spoke with three professional organizers about the systems they use to stay organized and the tips they give every client. Here’s your cheat sheet. Now execute it.


“Touch it once and deal with it,” says Janet Hanchuck of Loudoun Home Consulting LLC in Leesburg, who says the biggest pile she’s seen with a client was 40 boxes of mail. “It just becomes compounded if you don’t deal with it in the beginning.”

All three of the professional organizers we spoke with said that is the main reason their clients call them.

Suzan Stacy of Organize by Suzan LLC Fairfax came up with her own acronym for helping clients deal with their piles of incoming mail, AFTER: Action, Filing, Tossing and Extra Reading.

Stacy says to keep the filing system, or really any organizing technique, as simple as you can because you’re more likely to maintain it. “Don’t make a filing system so complicated that it becomes so burdensome to do your filing,” she says. She suggests going with an alphabetical system so you don’t have to remember what category you put a piece of mail under.

“Oftentimes, when it comes to storing papers, I ask myself, ‘If I had to find this piece of paper, where would I go to look for it? Would I look for it in a file, or would I go somewhere online to look for it?'” she says. For example, she recommends figuring out whether you would dig through a file to find a bank statement or go online. And for appliance manuals, would you look for the physical manual or would you Google it? However, she recommends keeping tax documents. “Check with your accountant there,” she advises.

Her rule for periodicals: They should go out at the rate they come in. Daily newspapers should be thrown away each day. Monthly magazines should be tossed each month. If you have an article you want to hold onto, tear it out and keep those few pages.

Cabinets and Closets

These are the areas that are easy to fill up but hard to find anything in. And they’re all over your house: kitchen, bathrooms, garage.

First things first, Nancy Quinlan of Must Get Organized LLC in Arlington says, “Quit with the duplicates.” Really, how many one-third-full bottles of shampoo do you need?

Across the board, organizers say containers are going to be your best friend when it comes to organizing cabinets, especially in order to really get to everything we stock in them. “Containers give a boundary. Even a drawer organizer gives things a boundary to avoid items migrating,” says Stacy.

And when it comes to getting to items, especially in the far reaches of the cabinets, containers save time. “If you have a very deep cabinet and you put the things in the front in a container, then if you need something in the back, you just have to pull the container out versus two or three piles of stuff to get to the things behind there,” she says. She also notes that for items that are buried deep in the cabinets or closets, “You might as well get rid of it because you aren’t going to use it because it is too difficult to get to.”


“I always say, ‘What are you protecting in your garage?'” says Hanchuck, who urges clients to use the space for its intended purpose. “After your house, your biggest asset is your car. So many people store junk in [their garage], and they really should be making room and protecting their net big asset.”

The garage has a tendency to become a dumping ground for junk. If you’ve taken the steps to clean out your home, make sure you’re not just moving those trash or donation items to the garage. Stacy say to immediately put them in your car for donation or in the trash or to call a junk service for pick-up.

Quinlan even suggests having a designated area in the house for a donation pile. “Keep a donation bag or box near the door so that everyone in the home knows about so they can utilize it,” she says.

Time to Begin

Now that you have some tips to wrap your head around, it’s time to start. Overwhelmed? We asked some questions on how these organizers get their clients ramped up to work:

Getting started

“I ask my clients, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’ One bite at a time,” says Stacy. “Focus on one area instead of looking at the whole room. If you don’t focus and you’re all over the room, nothing gets accomplished. As you start to see that you’re moving forward, then you’re encouraged.”

How to keep it organized

“I recommend clients get a cleaning service at least twice a month because that will help them maintain it,” says Hanchuck. “You’ll pick up and put things away because that is your job and responsibility the day before the cleaner comes.” And bonus: Someone else is cleaning the house.

Tricky Scenarios

For teenagers

“Everybody has a different perspective on how much effort they are going to put into an organizing system. There is no right or wrong; it’s just the way they are,” says Stacy. “When it comes to teenagers, find out what the common goal is. Look at the individual and figure out how much time and effort they are going to put into this. Instead of worrying about having beautiful drawers, set up a system of baskets and let them throw the shirts into a basket. Don’t major on the minor. Figure out what the goal is and try to figure out how to keep it simple.”

For heirloom items

“Inherited items slow things down: [Clients] freeze up and don’t know what to do with the thing,” says Quinlan. “They feel guilty if they remove it. Usually what I recommend is to set up a heritage box and later look at it more carefully.”

Hanchuck has found that “if a family member is taking [an item], it is easier to let it go.”

(Spring Cleaning Guide)

Loading cart ...