My Secret Tips for Getting (and Staying) Organized

Ask my mom, and she’ll tell you I’ve had a knack for organizing ever since I was little.

Yes, I was that girl who would go through her mother’s drawers and closets at the tender age of seven and regularly organize her makeup, jewelry, clothes, etc. Sorry, Mom! This continued on, well throughout my youth, and even now, when I come home for visits from Germany, I always end up organizing something at my parents’ place. It’s just in my nature.

I realize I’m likely in the minority here and that most of the human population doesn’t find organizing remotely relaxing or invigorating. And I get it! Life is wild enough as it is, with appointments to make, schedules to keep, and deadlines to meet. Why bother then with that junk drawer, that overflowing closet, or (gasp!) that email inbox that has thousands of unread emails? (Writer’s note: This is something I can’t and never will be able to wrap my head around.)

So if you’re not already someone who enjoys organizing, the trick I’ve found is to tackle one thing at a time. This could be your cosmetics, clothes, or old photos from college that aren’t yet in an album. Whatever it is, stick to that one thing, and don’t concern yourself with whatever else needs organizing. You’ll get to that in due time.

The trick I’ve found is to tackle one thing at a time. . . . Whatever it is, stick to that one thing, and don’t concern yourself with whatever else needs organizing. You’ll get to that in due time.

While the last thing I want to do is sound like I’m someone who has my life perfectly together, 24/7, I pride myself on being organized, turning a pile of clothes or a stack of loose papers into an orderly work of art. So without further ado, here are some ways I keep certain parts of my life organized and running smoothly.

My beauty products

I’ll admit, I’m a beauty product fiend. I love trying new brands and seeing which ones work for me (and which ones don’t). And one of the best parts of shopping online is all the free samples they tend to include. If I’m traveling somewhere for the weekend and I’m only bringing a carry-on, I’ll always bring these samples along with me. They take up very little room in my bag and, bonus, they’re TSA-friendly.

But enough about that, let’s first talk about where you store your cosmetics, which is one of the very pillars of organizing. Depending on your living arrangements, you might be lucky enough to have an entire vanity desk in your bedroom or a large bathroom shelf (that’s me). Or, you might only have one tiny shelf in your bathroom mirror cabinet or a separate drawer in a cabinet below. Wherever your cosmetics live, make sure to invest in clear storage, which lets you quickly recognize what it is that you’re looking for.

If you’ve got a place to display your cosmetics, I highly recommend a clear make-up stand that they sell in pretty much every Target or Container Store. They’re inexpensive and oh-so-practical. If you only have access to drawer space, opt for a few clear cosmetic pouches with zippered tops. These also work wonders. And, whatever you do, don’t keep all your products in one bag if that’s the route you’re going. Divide them by category—eyes, lips, face, nails, etc. Sure, you might have a few more bags in your drawer, but you’ll know what bag is what when you hold it up.

As you upgrade your storage, I’d also recommend doing an inventory of your current cosmetic arsenal. Did you know your beauty products have a shelf life? That’s right, mascaras and other eye products should be tossed out after about six months, whereas lip products can last closer to a year. If you’ve got products you’ve never actually opened or used, why not give them away to a friend or family member? Someone else might just love that color, shade, or contour effect.

And, if you want to do a deep clean, why not give your products a little bath? Every 3-4 months, I fill up my bathroom sink with dish soap and warm water and rinse my cosmetics, removing any smudges or little bits of dust that can accumulate when they’re sitting on my shelf. I don’t rinse the products that could get water in them, but everything else is fair game. For me, it’s a perfect way to keep my makeup looking fresh.

My closet

Being organized often means parting ways with things you no longer need. Perhaps this is why so many of us avoid it, as it reminds us we have grown out of certain items or we’ve moved on to a different phase in our life.

This is the case with our closets. Most of us hang on to things we know we’ll never wear again or perhaps have never worn. Long before Marie Kondo became a household name, I would go through my closet every six months and reassess whether or not I wanted that particular item. I didn’t ask myself if it “sparked joy,” but I did allow myself a moment or two to decide if it was worth keeping.

While I have zero issues getting rid of things I don’t wear anymore, I know many are sentimental and have difficulty letting go. This is when involving a loved one to help you go through your closet is a good idea.

My rule is if I haven’t worn it for a year, I can live without it. Everyone is different, of course, but I think this is an excellent way to start. When you’re already in the process of organizing is also an opportune time to invest in proper, uniformed hangers. I hate, with a passion of a fiery flame, wire hangers. A mishmash of hangers (plastic, wooden, and wire) just makes for a messy-looking closet so, before you even begin getting rid of things and sorting through what’s what, consider replacing some of your hangers so they all all look alike.

After you’ve made separate piles of what you plan to keep, toss, or give away, start to arrange your closet in a way that makes sense to you. This could be by color, by category, or by season. I prefer to organize my closet by season. Whichever season it is, I only have that season’s clothes hanging in my closet at that time. The other seasons are kept in a large garment bag that I store in our basement. Again, so much of this depends on how much space you have. If you don’t have a basement or storage unit, investing in storage under your bed also works well.

Now onto the subject of storing clothes and accessories. I don’t hang my t-shirts or my jeans, but I know some like to. I prefer to have each pair of my jeans rolled in my drawer and my t-shirts folded, in a drawer as well. When it comes to accessories, I also tend to use my drawer space to store them. I always keep my purses and clutches in their original cloth sacks and my shoes either in their original shoebox or on a shoe rack. Consider what will work best for your lifestyle and start from there.

My schedule

While one might assume that a well-organized woman never forgets, this simply isn’t the case with me. No matter how well prepared I am, there’s always room for error. That’s why I am constantly setting up reminders on my phone to pay bills, wish my friend a happy birthday, or give myself a nudge that my online pilates class is starting in a half hour.

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with jotting down some reminders on a piece of paper but these days, it can take a lot more to stay on top of things. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of apps such as Evernote, which keeps track of all my notes via a keyword search, and Calendly, which lets me schedule meetings without any of those nightmarish back-and-forth emails. A big shout-out also has to go to Google Calendar, which helps me keep my work and personal schedules nicely streamlined, especially when I’m recording the podcast I have with my sister, who is in a different time zone.

Time is of the essence

I find that cluttered surroundings make for a cluttered mind, so I do my best to sort through the different areas of my life on a daily basis.

This means if there’s an email I can answer quickly, I tend to do it right then instead of flagging it to answer later. If I pick up the mail, I’ll open it right away rather than set it aside. When I’m getting ready for bed, I’ll hang up my clothes before putting on my pajamas. These little habits take very little time, but they go a long way in making my life feel a whole lot more organized.

How do you stay organized? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

As a born-and-bred American who now resides in Germany, Erin is a freelance writer nearly 10 years of copywriting experience from her time in Stockholm, Sweden, and New York City.  A self-professed storyteller with a serious case of wanderlust, she has a penchant for all things fashion, film, food, and travel.

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