How to Organize Your Shit Before You Lose Your Shit

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

When I was in high school there were times I’d look at the disaster I called my room and think, “I would rather set everything on fire and be forced to start from scratch than organize this mess”.

As a procrastinating student and bookworm there were loose papers, crumpled notes, and books everywhere. In the last few years, my collection of shit has been considerably reduced – I find throwing things out therapeutic – but I still struggle with keeping an organized space.

I know exactly where all my important day-to-day items are, like my keys and debit card and my non-everyday important items like my birth certificate and my passport. But challenge me to hang my clothes up when I get home, for five days in a row, and I’d fail even with my life on the line.

Keeping a somewhat neat space is something I’ve had to work extremely hard to do. But I’ve developed five key strategies that keep me (relatively) organized. You know…so that I don’t have to turn to arson.

1. Survey the Scene of the Crime and Make a Spot for Everything

As with most valuable life lessons such as “be nice to others” and “keep your hands to yourself”, the most important cleaning lesson I learned was in kindergarten.

“Everything in its place and a place for everything.”

For instance, deeming your desk “the space for only school related items” is the simplest, but most helpful step you can take towards gaining some semblance of order in your bedroom or apartment. Do this for every spot and category of belongings. And by the way, the classification “school-related items” does not extend to your keys, hat, and wallet. Keep it tight.

In fact, if your living space has reached an almost tragic level of disarray, this can be a great way to start actively tackling your mess without feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do.

Sit cross-legged in the middle of the room with chips, chocolate, or whatever semi-legal substance makes this activity easier for you and start surveying your space. Mentally decide where everything will go. This way, when you start physically cleaning, you will think less about where everything should go and put things away in a semi-automated manner.

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2. Clear All Your Surfaces and Start Sorting

If your entire space is a catastrophe and you simply don’t know where to start, clear every surface and put everything on the floor.

If everything is already on the floor, you can skip right to the next step which is to start making obsessive piles. Clothes, school supplies (textbooks, crumpled syllabi), clothes, toiletries. Make general piles. Don’t worry about throwing things out or hanging anything up just yet. Make sure you desk, dresser, and bed are clear.

(Especially your bed. If you decide you’d rather die than continue cleaning, your bed will be there to help you make the less tragic choice and take a nap in between making piles.)

After this is done, grab a garbage bag and start thinning out the piles one by one. Don’t think about the next one until you have removed the unnecessary crap from one. Tackle the entire collection of piles in circuits, starting with only removing obvious garbage before moving on to making more difficult decisions. Seeing your progress with each rotation will help you gain momentum and feel encouraged.

Once they are all in manageable groups, put them in the assigned places you decided on earlier.

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3. Put Up All Your Clothes with the Hangers Backwards

Most of us are unwilling to let things go: grudges, old souvenirs…clothes we’ll never wear again. When we try to purge our closets we convince ourselves that one day we’ll need that item and decide to keep it, and so on and so forth until the entire purging exercise becomes pointless.

Maybe what you need is a little verification that you will never ever return to that “Betty White Is My Homegirl” shirt you bought six years ago. Go to that pile of clothes you made earlier and hang them all up with the hangers backwards (whatever you consider “backwards” for a hanger). Each time you wear something, when you hang it back up, turn the hanger forwards. After six months, any clothes that are still on a backwards hanger go to people who really need them.

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4. Clean At Night – Especially At The Beginning

You’ve likely heard people refer to the “harsh, cold light of day”. It is a hella accurate expression. Once you leave the flattering light of your bathroom and head out into the street, you get real verification of whether you’re looking fabulous that day. Natural light can be the best light, but it’s also the most brutally honest light and it’s unforgiving of flaws. So when you’re in the first hour of tackling your mess, don’t throw open the curtains or blinds.

This may sound counterintuitive, but natural light will make your pigsty of an apartment look ten times more hopeless. Every speck of dirt, crumb, or ball of hair will be exposed. You want to be able to see those things so you can tackle them, but not until later when you’ve already cleared the larger debris. While you’re organizing everything clean at night with the lights on and then once it’s time to do a deep clean get to dusting and polishing in the day when you’ve made enough progress to stay motivated.

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5. Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed

This one’s a cliché, but only because it’s so so so so necessary.

Making your bed gives you an instant sense of accomplishment and as the focal point of your bedroom – even if it’s not in the middle – it will determine the direction of your cleaning efforts by setting a standard. And if you’re cleaning at night you get the (almost) immediate satisfaction of falling into a beautifully made bed after your day of cleaning.

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