7 Ways to Get Organized (Even if You Have No Time to Organize)

posted by Aby Garvey on February 4, 2014 11 Comments

Last week, via my contact form, I received a message from Adrienne, a time crunched mom looking for organizing ideas. Maybe you can relate to her story…full time job, a child with three weekly activities, helps with Girl Scouts, husband travels. As she summed it up…just your average middle class, overworked, overstressed, running daylight to dark, ready to pull my hair out mom. She said “I would love to see info tailored for the “not at home” mom. I really enjoy your site and all the wonderful ideas you have but minimal time requirements are a must. How can we that are time starved pull it off? Throw us a line!”

As a fulltime working mom, with two kids in activities, a dog, and a fulltime working husband, Adrienne and I have a lot in common. I, too, experience the challenges of having little time left over for organizing after a full day at work. The ideas I share on simplify 101 are ones that I use in my own home and life. They are ideas that I put into practice in the evenings and on the weekends, during my off-work hours. But the bottom line is this: every organizing solution requires time to implement. If you want to be more organized than you are today, it will require an investment of time. But, when you use the right organizing systems for you, the time you spend getting organized will pay you back over and over again. You’ll save time on everyday tasks, giving you more time for everything else on your must-do and want-to-do lists.

So, what are this time-crunched mom’s favorite techniques for getting and staying organized? Here’s my top 7 list.

1. Own less stuff.

The less stuff you have, the less time you’ll spend dealing with your stuff. If you have a busy schedule and spend little time at home, having less stuff is a must. Let’s face it…you’re hardly home to use your stuff anyway, so your stuff is simply taking up time and space. It’s stealing the rare free time you have. So, pare down ruthlessly. If you aren’t currently using it, or you don’t like it, or it doesn’t fit, let it go. Think of this shedding of stuff as an investment in your future. Less stuff equals less time dealing with stuff.

7 Ways to Get Organized (Even if You Have No Time to Organize)

2. Make progress in small slices of time.

If you’ve never given this idea a try, then you may think “What’s the point? I can’t get anything done in 15 minutes.” Remember, the point isn’t to finish something in 15 minutes, but to make progress. Over time 15 minutes of progress here and there really adds up. Ultimately, you will finish your projects, and in the meantime you’ll enjoy the benefits of your progress. (Plus, let’s face it, if your time crunched, 15 minutes may be all you have!) So, give it a try! If you’re at-home time is at a minimum, then it’s critical to make the most of the spare minutes you do have. My favorite approach is to set a timer for fifteen minutes and make progress. (The key words here are make progress!) Declutter for fifteen minutes. Or work on an in-process organizing project (like a home reference binder.) Or straighten up the junk drawer. Don’t try to find a project you can start and finish in fifteen minutes. But, instead simply look for ways to move something forward.

3. Start saying no.

Organizing takes time, so if you’re time crunched the very best way to free up time is to start saying no. (Ouch!) I now this isn’t easy, but keep in mind you don’t have to say no to everything forever. Instead, say no for now to create a bit of breathing room in your schedule. Use this time to catch up and create breathing room in your home. Then, once you do, put this next idea into practice.

4. Keep up so you don’t have to catch up.

One of my favorite organizing mantras is “keeping up is easier than catching up!” Not only does it take less time to keep up, when you stay a step ahead of clutter, you avoid becoming overwhelmed. (And everything is harder when you’re overwhelmed!) So once you get a space organized, take the few minutes required to keep it that way. Anytime you feel like putting off something that would keep clutter at bay, remind yourself that keeping up is easier than catching up!

5. Standardize on storage solutions.

Instead of spending time looking for perfect, specialized containers for every organizing project you do, use tried and true favorites instead. For example, when my kids were young and I was setting up new organizing systems in our home, I used plain white lidless Sterilite containers all over my house. This really simplified the organizing process. Plus, these containers were equally at-home in my kids’ closets as they were in the kitchen. By using the same container throughout my house, not only did I save time when organizing, but it was also easy to rearrange things when our lives and organizing needs changed.

kids clutter bin

6. Simplify everything you can.

I’m a huge fan of simplifying repetitive tasks, those that need to get done but don’t add joy or meaning to my life on their own. Here are some examples. Simplify bed-making by putting away decorative pillows and throws. Simplify dusting by minimizing the number of tchotchkes you keep on display. Simplify meal planning by putting together a rotation of simple meals, and while you’re at it, create a grocery list template with ingredients to make those meals. Set up automatic bill paying with your bank. In short, look for the areas of your life that are overly complicated, and systematically set out to simplify them one by one.

7. Invest in complete solutions.

Finally, if you find yourself spending hours on end surfing the web looking for organizing ideas, save time by investing in complete organizing solutions. For example, simplify 101’s online classes give you everything you need to organize a specific area of your home or life, which means you can focus your time putting ideas into practice, instead of trying to figure out where to start and how to finish. Or look for a book that will walk you step by step through the process of organizing your home, and then, follow the plan.

While getting organized requires an investment of time, the return on that investment makes the effort worthwhile. Best wishes on your organizing journey!

Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite time-saving tips when it comes to getting organized? How do you fit organizing into your schedule? Thanks for sharing your ideas! 

Aby

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and coaching program

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  • February 4, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    I use plastic shoe boxes in my pantry to keep like things together. Baking mixes, cornbread, pancake mix, etc. go in one, Anotner one for sauce mixes, graavy mixes and dip mixes in envelopes go in another one. Label the end and when you need something in the gravy mix category, go to that box.

    Loveyour ideas.

    February 4, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Thank you, Lois! Great idea!

    • February 4, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      I try to notice when things are out of place if they end up in the same spot. So instead of constantly trying to remind my husband that clothes go straight into the washer and not on his side of the bed – I put a basket on his side of the bed that I check every morning.

      When I noticed keys, coats and mail ending up on the floor by the door instead of in the closet, I added coat hooks and a shelf with key hooks where those things were ending up.

      Helps big time in the long term maintenance area.

      February 4, 2014 at 6:13 pm

      Love this Cassandra. Matching the system to your habits. So much easier than trying to change habits to fit a system! Thanks for sharing!

      • February 5, 2014 at 6:19 am

        Great advice. Really like the motto “keeping up is easier than catching up.” Thanks!

        • February 5, 2014 at 11:00 am

          I agree on standardizing the storage containers and suggest that you to buy a few extra when you find something that you like.

          For example, I recently bought a bookcase that showed fabric covered crates as storage options. I bought 3, decided that I liked them over having open spots. I went back and bought more since they may not make that style or color again.

          If the container will get stacked in a storage area, buy clear so it is easy to see what’s in it. And, you can see if any bugs have gotten into the item, like pantry moths or brown recluse spiders. I have fewer sizes of containers but more of them so they can be used in many places or stacked away in the garage until needed.

          For financial issues – get a program like Quicken and use the bill reminder function. The info is in there, and if you have auto bill pay with your bank, all you do when you get the bill is check for errors and file it. Check into budget plans for utilities. You may be paying a bit more in some months but the amount stays the same for a year so fewer surprises in high cost months. Post your info daily or weekly so you’re not surprised or stressed by the numbers.

          And since you might be starting your tax return soon, set up your filing categories according to the return, such as income items or medical expenses. It will reduce preparation time in the future.

          February 7, 2014 at 2:02 pm

          Thank you for sharing your tips Liz!

          • February 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm

            I love the idea of the 15 minute timers. I used to think “oh I need to buy a nifty little timer that I can carry around the house with me as I do my decluttering.” But then I realized that my oven timer can be heard from even the upstairs bedroom… DUH! So I use that now for sweeping and vacuuming or for working on my piled up paperwork. And also the kids use it for their timed activities.

            February 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm

            Great reminder! Thanks!

            • February 7, 2014 at 12:44 pm

              I purchased three tall lidded plastic kitchen trashcans and put them in my husband’s bathroom- which is near the laundry room. I labeled them – dark , light and work clothes (they go to work to be washed). He can easily put his clothes in each evening and then the lid closes. They are neat, uncluttered looking and a full container is just about the right size for a load of wash. He’s the neat one so he’s happy to have a good solution and very cooperative, but it would be easy for a non-neat person too!

              February 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm

              Great tip, Anna Marie! Thanks for sharing. :)