Common Organizing Mistakes

there are a couple of mistakes that many people make when trying to organize a space.
Image by Gabe Raggio from Pixabay

The time has come: you are finally ready to dig in and get organized. Good for you – you can do this! However, there are a couple of mistakes that many people make when trying to organize a space. If you want to have a positive experience, avoid these pitfalls:

Buying bins, boxes, dividers, etc. can be fun; no one loves a trip to the Container Store more than I do! But it is impossible to know what tools you need to purchase until you have done the hard work of examining, culling and ordering your stuff. In fact, getting organized often requires no supplies at all. So begin with clearing the clutter, making donations, establishing order, and then – if you need supplies – do the shopping.

Many times we try to rearrange items rather than truly organizing them. To organize, you have to…

  1. look at everything you own,
  2. get rid of what you aren’t using, and
  3. design a system that will accommodate what you use in a way that is easy to access.

For instance, if you have a mudroom with so many shoes that you can barely walk, simply tidying the shoes won’t solve the problem. You need to get rid of some shoes, relocate out-of-season shoes to the bedroom, and then consider how to best store the remainder in your space.

An organizational system will only work if the items you store match the size of the container you store them in. For example, many people use large bins or toy boxes in playrooms. While these seem easy – because you can just toss items inside – they often result in a hodgepodge of toys getting mixed together, with the tiny pieces falling to the bottom.  Instead, store small objects in small containers, sub-divide large shelves with bins or dividers, and put drawer organizers (or smaller boxes) into drawers.

We all have a limited amount of storage space that is easily accessible… our “prime real estate.” This space should be treated like royalty, and reserved for those items we need on a daily basis. If we want to keep an item for a possible future need, that’s fine… but don’t store it on the most convenient shelf of a kitchen cabinet. Move it to a closet, under a bed, or to the attic/basement.

The single best way to ensure that you (and others) maintain an organizational system is to label storage locations. Whether you use a labeler, sticker, piece of masking tape, or a printed label covered with packing tape, a label reminds everyone of what belongs where. For small children, a label can be a picture instead of a word. Labels can go on a container, the edge of a shelf, or a wall.

It is always wise to leave a little “growing space” when you are organizing. Otherwise, your setup is vulnerable to becoming obsolete. For example, if you completely fill a drawer with spices, what will you do when you bring home a new spice? It will end up getting shoved somewhere else, and the drawer will no longer work. Make sure you always have space to add a bit more, or another variety, or a different color. This will extend the longevity of your system.

Many times we do the hard work of deciding what to donate, and then leave bags/piles in our garage or entry. This not only clogs the space, but often causes us to second guess our decisions. Once you make the decision to donate, get the items out of your house ASAP.

Few projects are as satisfying getting organized, but disappointing results can be de-motivating. What errors have you made, and how did you overcome them?

20 thoughts on “Common Organizing Mistakes”

  1. I’ll admit. I do tend to fill my containers nearly to the top from the start IF I have the “stuff” to fill it. Good tip there. I’m also a bit slow to move things out of the house. I tend to wait until I literally have a car-full. Ugh. LOVE your organizing tips!

    1. I’ve made the “too full” mistake myself, Kerith. That’s how I learned (trial and error is big with me!) I often offer to take items for clients just so they won’t dig back in later and change their mind. That can be agonizing… thanks for your sweet words!!

  2. I need to be so much better at clearing the clutter. I get “stuck” when there are items like my son’s highchair that I spent waaay too much money on back when he was tiny, so I want to sell it on Craig’s List. Which means doing a great job of making it look as new as possible, so it’s been sitting in the corner of my living room for longer than I’d like to admit. I am feeling motivated after reading this though as I’d sure love to have the closet space upstairs that’s full of baby stuff AND the clean living room sans highchair! Thanks for the motivation and tips!

    1. I understand the desire to redeem a bit of your investment on the high chair.. and having it stare at you every day is like a reminder that you need to be doing something! Depending on where you live, you might also be able to find a Facebook group in your town for reselling items, or take it a consignment shop. But break the job up into pieces.. 1. clean the chair 2. take a good photo 3. post the photo, etc. Good luck!!

    1. I try and make the shopping the “reward” for completing the task of sorting and culling the stuff. Sort of like the ice cream after the workout:)

  3. these are such great tips and ideas, I know I often buy things to organize before I organize. I need to really think about this babe, thanks!

    1. Most of us do, because dreaming about organizing is more fun that actually organizing (well, for some people it is!) The good news is that now, when you decide to dig in, you will probably already have all the supplies you need:)

  4. I have no trouble giving away most things I no longer use or need, but when it comes to “big ticket” items, I have a harder time letting go. I have a lovely coffee maker with a built-in bean grinder that we never use, and I’ve even tucked it away under the kitchen sink, but knowing what I paid for it and that it’s worth even more than that makes it harder for me to donate, even though I have no desire to sell it.

    1. That can be tough, Janet. If we feel like its worth too much to let go, that can be a hurdle for sure. There are selling options (e.g. Craig’s List, FB tag sale group), but there is an extra layer of emotion with big ticket items. If you have never used an item at all, perhaps a lovely gift?

  5. Your posts are always so timely for me, Seana! I really need to reorganize my main hall closet, and it’s just so daunting to me. It’s the only large closet in the house and as a result it ends up getting everything thrown into it. Just last night I was thinking… “I need to buy some storage containers…” No — I need to get everything out and sort through it and get rid of the junk first!!!

    1. That will be such a rewarding project, Sarah! I wish I were there – I love a closet:) Yes, definitely sort first… I think its easier anyway, when you are looking at what you have, to pick the right sized container. Good luck!! Send photos!!

    1. Selling items takes longer, so I can see how those pile up, Jessica. Something to think about anyway, right? Get rid of it so you get the benefit of having cleared out your space:)

  6. Wow. Another fabulous list, Seana. I’ve been guilty on almost all counts, especially on buying the supplies first. This time we have finally figured that out, and are living in our new space and slowly determining our needs, and THEN doing our shopping. Funny how that works out so much better!
    Doing so means we bring fewer things into the house, which means fewer things to organize and store. Yippee!

    1. I’m with you, Kim. “Yippee” to bringing less stuff into the house, and then having to figure out how to store it. That’s such a good mindset – think before you buy!

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