How to Organize Any Room that is Full of Stuff
Warning: This post is long! But if you make it to the end you can download free printables to help you get your space organized!
My home office renovation is moving along and I have finally got all my new shelving units. Now that my storage is in place, I can begin the organization process. This is one of the most important parts of decorating or renovating a space. And possibly the hardest! This is especially true for a room that has a TON of stuff, such as a home office, kitchen or bedroom (especially kids bedrooms!). How do you organise these rooms, which by their very nature contain so much stuff? My home office has so many things: papers, notebooks, files, folders, masses of books, art tools, product samples, catalogs, cameras, printer, scanner, pencils, pens, planners. This list could go on and on.
The difficulty with these rooms is that all the stuff doesn’t need to simply be stored away and taken out once a year. A lot of the stuff is used daily, some of the stuff is used weekly or monthly, and some of it is only used once in blue moon. But when you need it, it better be easy to find. And there are so many different categories of things. You have varied things that are various shapes and sizes and used for varying purposes. Phew, it’s no wonder these rooms tend to be the most cluttered!
I am determined to get the organization right from the get go of the new design. An uncluttered room feels fresh and inspiring, as opposed to eratic and distracting. I feel great walking into an office with a clear desk. I also feel great walking into a kitchen that is clear of junk and clutter. And have you noticed how kids can get so creative when their rooms are all tidied up?
I’ll be very honest with you: My house is often a mess. As much as I like to think of myself as a tidy person and that it’s really just the rest of my family who make all the messes, I have come to admit that I am part of the mess problem. Sometimes I think back to when I lived by myself, long before husband or kids. In my memory that apartment was always tidied up. When I met my husband the apartment he was living in by himself was totally cluttered. This is proof in my head that I’m tidy and the rest of my family are slobs, and the kiddos obviously get the messy gene from their father. Ok, I had to realise that I can’t compare how I lived all those years ago to our life today. I had a completely different lifestyle and I didn’t have any kids! I realise now that I love things to be tidied up and organised, but if something doesn’t have an obvious place to be put away, I can inadvertently let it sit wherever it lays for a very long time. Coming to terms with the reality of our clutter and not blaming everyone else for it has helped me figure out how to organise it.
Now I’m not saying that by organising your stuff everything will be magically tidied up all the time. Some of us are neat-freaks (I say that with love and a bit of envy) and some of us are simply not. We all have different habits and tolerances for mess. But most of us probably want our homes to be nicely tidied up most of the time and looking organized when guests come over.
The most important part of organization is that EVERYTHING HAS A HOME. This is my mantra for organising every space. It’s what makes tidying up and keeping things uncluttered so much easier. If everything has a home I can quickly and easily clean up all the messes.
(A little side note about kids: Teaching them that all their toys have a specific home makes it so much easier for them to clean up by themselves!)
I’m going to share with you my steps to organising a room with a lot of stuff. I’ll take you step by step through the process of organising my home office. You might be surprised that sorting through your stuff is not step 1. First there are lists to be made. I am the queen of making lists!
Step 1: You need to know what you have and what you really need. Make a list!
First make a list of everything you need in the room. I like to start with two categories: Easily Accessible and Storage (not used daily).
Make sure everything on the list is something that you truly need in that room. The reason why I think you should do this before you sort is that you know what you really need and it’s probably a lot less than what you actually have in the room. If you don’t list it as an essential, then it probably isn’t. Once you start sorting you will find things you didn’t even remember were in the room. If it didn’t make your original list then you really need to consider if you should keep it.
Step 2: Sort your stuff.
Now go through all your stuff and see if your list is accurate. Was there something you forgot that needs to go on your list of storage? Sort into piles. For example, in my office I made piles of old documents that I knew just needed to be stored away, and piles of magazines I wanted to keep, and piles of course material I want to have easy accessible.
Step 3: Determine what you don’t need in that room and figure out where it should go.
You will inevitably end up with a bunch of stuff that shouldn’t be kept in the room that you are organising. This is the worst pile because it will make you feel bad and you may be tempted to put it back in the room you just took it out of. Sometimes just shoving it on a shelf or in a drawer is easier than figuring out what to do with it. Resist! Do not move on to the next step until you figure out a better spot for each of these items. Ask yourself if it really serves a purpose. When was the last time you used it? Get rid of as much as you can!
As I was making my list of essential things in my office I realised I had a bunch of random things. Some things belonged to my children, so I immediately put them back in their rooms. There were plenty of old magazines and catalogs that I didn’t need anymore, so I took them straight out to the paper trash.
The hardest part is when you realise something doesn’t belong in the room you are organising, but there is no obvious alternative home for it. I realised I needed to do something about a pile of books for my daughter that had been occupying a corner of my desk. Normally her books would be in her room not in my office, but I’m saving these for a summer reading challenge. They were sitting in the middle of my desk because I didn’t have a specific home for them, making my desk feel cluttered. I thought about it and realised that I am often working on or planning something for the kids, so I decided that I would need a basket for these projects on a shelf that is easily accessible. So I added “basket for kids stuff” to my list of accessible things.
Step 4: Make a list for each type of storage.
There are three types of “homes” for your stuff:
1. Out in the open
2. In a basket or box
3. Behind closed doors or drawers.
Using these three categories, divide your list of essential stuff for your room into a new list.
Step 5. Determine if you have enough storage already and what you need to add.
A lot of people make the mistake of going out and buying new storage bins and baskets before they figure all this out. Once you know exactly what you want to be stored in boxes or baskets, see if you already have enough. And think about where you want those baskets and boxes to be stored. Do you have the right place to store your storage? Most spaces, whether it’s a home office or a kitchen, benefit from a mixture of shelves, drawers and closed cabinet doors.
I love my Ikea Kallax shelves in my office. I also use them in the kids’ room. They are great for storing baskets and Ikea has lots of different styles that fit the squares perfectly. It would have been tempting for me to go out and buy baskets for all of the cubbies. Or maybe just all the cubbies on the bottom and I could put books on the top, because I’ve seen that on Pinterest and it looks really nice. But after making my list, I knew I only needed two big baskets!
I have a lot of paper to store and big baskets don’t work well for that. Magazine-style files work better for some things. After looking at how many different types of papers I need to store, I figured out I needed 6 magazine folders. I already had 4, so I just needed to buy two more. I also realised that shallower baskets made more sense for projects I’m working on or for things like photos. I found that I had 4 of the same black baskets around the house that looked great, so no need to buy any new. But the shallow baskets seemed like a waste of space in the big square cubby. That is until I discovered these new (gold and shiny!) shelves that can divide up the Kallex square. Perfect! I now have four of them above my shallow black baskets and they are the perfect place to put material for my usual work topics from photography to branding, each with its own gold shelf so everything stays organised.
I ended up with a relatively short list of things to buy: 2 big baskets, 4 gold shelves and 2 magazine files. The rest of the cubbies will hold books, magazines and boxes that I already have.
My new Ikea Ivar cabinets on the wall behind my desk are where I store everything that I want to keep out of sight. This includes my cameras and bags, scanner, paper cutter and other things that I only use once in great while. It’s so nice to have these things easily accessible, yet out of sight because honestly they’re not so pretty to look at.
Years ago when I started studying interior design I bought the Alex set of drawers from Ikea to organise all of my study materials, including all my sketching materials like pencils and markers and notebooks. I still love these shallow drawers and can’t imagine my office without them. One whole drawer is filled with wash tape!
Step 6: Label everything (that makes sense)
You don’t actually have to label everything, but I do find labels to be incredibly useful where they make sense. Labels are very helpful in rooms where multiple people use things and wont immediately remember your new organising system. I love them in kids rooms for toy boxes so everything doesn’t end up all jumbled together. I have had a basic label maker for years now and I use it all the time. But you can also just make labels with paper, stickers or washi tape.
Seriously, I think my blood pressure has dropped since I got my office organised. It just feels so good! I’m now looking forward to getting on to the last step of decorating my office with all the little details: lighting, art on the walls, styling the tops of the shelves. Can’t wait to share it with you when it’s finished!
Do you have room you need to tackle and get organised? I would love to help you out! I have made some nifty printables to help you through the six steps of organising any room that is full of stuff.
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