Totally feasible ways to organize your home

Organizing can be a daunting undertaking, especially when the piles of mail and toys seem taller than Mount Everest. Personal organizers recommend taking a step back to get a good plan before tackling the summit of organization.

It may also be the best step before taking on a huge spring-cleaning project. Mary Dykstra-Novess, president-elect of the National Association of Professional Organizers, called it “spring clearing before spring cleaning.”

To build the best pre-organizing plan, Dykstra-Novess tell hers clients to use a four-step process.

1. What are you going to let in? (Physical items or additions to your schedule)

2. Where will it go? (Do you have room for those new clothes, or do you have two hours a week to do yoga?)

3. How do you know when you’re done with an item? (Setting a maximum age for clothes, such as tossing them after one year without wear.)

4. How are you going to get rid of it? (Will you throw it away? Donate it? Give it back to whomever you borrowed it from?)

A big organizing overhaul requires teamwork, too. Dykstra-Novess said she stresses this aspect to her clients.

“You’ve got one person who is the coordinator and doer of all, and they get dumped on and exhausted, because they’re not calling the rest of the [family] members for accountability,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just because the conversation hasn’t taken place.”

Set up a family meeting to address everyone’s responsibilities and how they’ll share the work.

“Having a good, strong family working together on a project is much like working in the office,” she said.

For families with younger children, incorporate games into the organization to entice the young ones into helping out, said Carolyn Miller, owner of Mind Over Matter Organizing in Oak Park. She recommended a “10-minute tidy-up” session or a special incentive for a “donation day,” where kids can select toys to give away.

“It empowers a child to make their own decisions,” Miller said. “Honestly kids do a phenomenal job of organizing themselves.”

It also requires regular maintenance and should be seen as a day-in, day-out activity.

“It’s like brushing your teeth,” Miller said. “If you leave it, you’re going to get that feeling of being overwhelmed.”

She also recommended splitting the work into small pieces.

“Pick any space in the house, and set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes. Organize that space, and walk away.” Repeat this two or three times a week, she said, and you’ll soon see results. Take before and after pictures for comparison and a reminder of the hard work you and your family accomplished.

“Organization is not a product, it’s a process,” Miller said. “You chip away at it.”