Make this your year to get organized! These expert tips will help you shed all that unwanted stuff- as quickly and painlessly as possible-and find the right spots for everything else.

  1. Every three months or so, reserve one Saturday morning for a family clean-out. Se a timer for 30 minutes and have each person find things in his or her own space to donate or throw away. Box up the donations and drop them off right away, then reward yourselves with lunch out.
  2. Avoid zigzag organizing. Scattering your efforts over multiple rooms prevents you from seeing progress. For visible, dramatic results, work one room at a time, one section at a time, completing each area before you move on to the next.
  3. When you-re trying to decide whether to keep something, ask yourself three questions: Do I love it? Do I use it? Could someone else use it?
  4. A system that’s a natural extension of your habits is easier to stick with than one that forces dramatic change. So set up solutions right where clutter collects, such as a labeled pail for each family member’s shoes and other equipment and store in a bookshelf right by the front door.
  5. Give frequently accessed papers (take-out menus, sports schedules, phone directories) a dedicated spot, rather than in a pile on the counter or stuck to the fridge. Three-hole punch all that paper, and store it in a pretty binder with labeled tabs.
  6. Create a repair center for clothes that need mending, toys that need batteries, things that need gluing. That way, unusable items aren’t in general circulation, and you know where to look when you have time to tackle a project.
  7. Relegating a sentimental item you no longer have use for to a box in the closet, basement, or attic does nothing to honor it. Instead, take a photo of the item and put it in a scrapbook or load it on your digital picture frame. Then donate the item. It’s both spaces-saving an respectful.
  8. Each spring and fall, do CPR on your closet: Categorize, Purge, and Rearrange. Carefully consider each item. If it doesn’t make you feel wonderful or look fabulous, its a no. Put it in the “to donate” box, and put that box in your car right away.
  9. A tighter focus for your to-do list clears mental clutter. Include only your three most important tasks, and don’t let less important busywork distract you. If you complete everything on your list, great. If not, at least you’ll know you spent time on the highest-priority tasks.
  10. I spend a few minutes every night before bed restoring order to my purse. I remove all trash, return floating change to my wallet, and replenish tissues and business cards. It makes me feel ready to start the day.
  11. Tackle your junk drawer first. Remove anything you don’t use at least monthly, then sort what’s left into the compartments of a drawer organizer that completely fills the drawer. You won’t have room to stash things that don’t belong there.
  12. Every time you arrive home, clear the car of anything that doesn’t permanently belong in it. Keep a tote or basket in the car for this purpose, and draft your passengers to help-nobody leaves the car empty-handed! Stay vigilant, and it’ll become second nature.
  13. Make clutter-busting a family game. Write tasks on Ping-Pong balls. Each person chooses a ball, completes the task, then chooses another one. After 30 minutes, whoever has the most balls gets a prize – like a no-chores day or control of the remote.
  14. Get creative with storage containers. Try a ceramic egg tray for paper clips and rubber band; a tackle box for craft supplies; a napkin holder for incoming mail; and a garden tote for kids’ art supplies.
  15. Make two coffee dates with a god friend. On the first one, go through her kitchen cabinets to identify and get rid of clutter (lidless plastic containers, mismatched glasses, petrified spatulas, etc…). On the second date do the same in your kitchen.
  16. If you’re having trouble letting go of clutter, whether it’s too many things in your house or too many commitments eating up your time, think about what it requires you to sacrifice. Less stuff means less to organize and less money spent. Fewer activities means less running around and more family time.
  17. “Go clean your room,” can mean lots of things. Give your kid a list of exactly what you expect, and let them check off the tasks as they are done.
  18. Fit a cardboard banker’s box with 13 pocket folders. At the end of the school year,go through your child’s artwork and school papers together to select only as many favorites as will fit in one folder. Memories from an entire school career will fit neatly on a shelf.
  19. Keep a folder labeled “Tax Documents” where you sort your mail. As statements come in, slip them into the folder. When tax time comes, everything you need is in one spot.
  20. Perform daily triage on incoming papers and mail. Set up a desktop file box or wall-mounted file holder, right, with three folders: To Read, To Do, and To File. Sort the keepers into one of the categories, then recycle the rest. Schedule a weekly time to deal with contents of each folder.
  21. Is your linen closet overflowing? Pare down your stock to three towels and washcloths per person, two sets of sheets per bed, plus a set of each for guests. Voila’ a roomier linen closet.
  22. Procrastination breeds clutter. Institute a do-it now policy for a few highly visible everyday tasks – like loading the dishwasher or folding and putting away a load of laundry before starting another.
  23. Designate a separate, labeled bag for each regularly scheduled activity, lesson, or sport on your family calendar. Pack the bags with the necessary gear, and hang them on hooks in a handy spot.
  24. If toys are overrunning your house, quietly tuck a few of them away in a box. If kids ask for a specific item, retrieve it. After a month, donate what’s left in the box.
  25. Attics, basements, and garages tend to harbor lots of items you haven’t seen or used in a while, which also makes them prime candidates for purging. Clear them first so when you tackle your living areas, you’ll have storage space waiting.

Better Homes and Gardens-January 2011 Issue