Easy Organizing--Five Simple Steps to Keep On Top of the Clutter

Easy Organizing–Five Simple Steps to Keep on Top of the Clutter


Today is Pack Rat Day.  I did not make this up.  I heard it on the news.  I also found it on the internet.  Impeachable sources, clearly.

Note: this is an update of a post I originally wrote in 2011. I’ve added a few new resources to help you become an anti-pack-rat and keep the clutter at bay.

Allegedly, Pack Rat Day means you should take the day off from doing anything about the clutter.

But I am anti-pack-rat.  I am in purge mode, getting re-organized, getting all my ducks in a row and getting prepared for the busy summer season, where I will not have time to deal with junk or want to spend time cleaning the basement and the garage and the closets when I could be out enjoying the summer sunshine.

When I first wrote this post I had just finished purging and cleaning out my CD archive.  Photographers tend to accumulate large archives.  In my film days, I managed to amass 17 storage boxes of negatives from various client photography sessions over the years.  When we moved from California, I decided (ok, my hubby decided) that we weren’t moving and storing that many boxes of old client stuff.  It really was a lot of stuff once I’d pulled all the boxes and put them in one place. So, I went through it, ditched all the wedding negatives from divorced couples and sold off everything that wasn’t personal.  It paid for our moving truck (we used one of those companies that bring you a truck and then drive it for you).  It also freed up some great space.

purging my CD archives

When I made the switch to digital a few years later, my storage requirements diminished considerably. But it’s still too much when you have multiple discs from the same job from a client who isn’t ever going to re-order.  So, I purged down my file boxes from nine to just five–and then put those in CD boxes, which take up a lot less space & are easier to find my CD’s in.  Side benefit:  I won’t be buying any more CD sleeves for a really long time. Since I originally wrote this, I’ve purged again, and it is something I now do periodically to make sure I’m not storing image files I’m never going to need again and to make my life easier for the ones I do need to find. Now that I no longer actively photograph weddings and portraits, I’m able to purge again, and now my files take up a fraction of the space.

And in case you’re wondering, I do still archive my image files to CD and DVD. I have a cloud back-up service that takes care of my active computer drives. But once I have done what I’m going to do with the files (printing, designing, uploading for sales, etc.), they get archived onto a disc and removed from my active drives. I use the discs because my data security adviser tells me they are still the most reliable form of storage–and so far, I’ve had no problems retrieving files from them, even ones I put there 15 years ago or more.

But back to Pack Rat Day– or in my case, Anti-Pack Rat Day.

In honor of the occasion, here are my five simple steps for staying on top of the clutter.

Declutter with the “Moving Rule”

When purging that stuff you’re storing in the basement, garage or attic because “someday you might need it”, use the Moving Rule: Would you pay someone to move it across country so you could continue to store it?  If the answer is no, it needs to go. (If you’ve priced movers lately, you’ll know why we use this rule–the cheapest quote we got for a “full-service” mover to move our 1800 s.f. household from New Mexico to Colorado in 2010–with US packing and unpacking the boxes was $10,000. I’m sure it’s not any less now). If you are, in fact, moving, check out this post, with a free downloadable moving checklist.


Let Go of Your Food Mistakes

cluttered pantryIs your pantry scary?  Do you have canned goods in there older than your children?  It’s time to take it all out and arrange it on the counter.  Sort through for the scary expired foods.  Safety rule:  any canned item that bulges or shows rust needs to go in the garbage.  If it’s old and still good, figure out how to use it up this week. If it was a purchase mistake and no one is ever going to eat it, get rid of it.   Those “expiration dates” on food don’t mean they’re not safe.  In the interest of time, you can go here and here to find out more. Need some ideas for preventing this in the future? Check out this post on rotating your food supply.


Clear Out the Closet

Do you suffer from overstuffed closets? When the closets get too full, it’s too hard and too frustrating to find anything and we usually end up buying more because we “have nothing to wear.” How we justify that when we can’t even squeeze in another hanger remains one of the great mysteries of the universe.

So, here’s how to start taking back control of your closet. Hang everything backward.  When you wear something, turn the hanger back around.  After your specified amount of time–3 months, 6 months, you choose–everything that still has the hanger turned backwards is something you haven’t worn and can probably be purged (there are a few exceptions).  We do have seasonal clothing here, but we don’t keep everything in the closet all year, so that doesn’t become an issue. I have to admit, I was amazed the first time I did this. I had so many things that I was ignoring in my closet. Most of them went away, and some of them I started wearing again. For more help on reclaiming your closet, check out this post with 10 easy steps for organizing your closet.


Corral the School Treasures

Rubbermaid Rough ToteBeing as this week is the end of the school year here, that also means it’s time for the “school treasures” purge.  Each of my kids has one Rubbermaid Rough Tote (18-gallon–I have my limits–and yes, I love Rubbermaid.  If they saw my basement, they’d hire me in a heartbeat).  The house rule is they can keep any “treasure” they can fit in the bin.  That’s one bin per child, NOT one per school year.  So, each year at the end of school, we pull the bins out and they go through them.  Some old things get purged, some new things get added.  They get virtually no feedback from me once they get past elementary school.  The bins belong to my children and they get to choose what’s important to them, not what I think should be important to them.  Learn more about our school paper system in this post.


Love it or Leave It

If you don’t love it or don’t use it, let it go.  You do not have to keep things because they are important to someone who doesn’t live at your house.  Did you inherit great-grandma’s glove collection?  Did you get the velvet Elvis that hung in Uncle Ralph’s den?  Did a “dear friend” give you a door wreath that you would sooner die than display?  So, why are you keeping them?  Shop those priceless “heirlooms” around the family.  If you don’t love them, someone else might.  If no one loves them, you can safely get rid of them.  You are not required to keep anything just because it’s important to someone who does not live at your house. Let me repeat that for you, so you can ditch the guilt:


After schlepping stuff through several moves I finally realized the folly of keeping “gifts” to avoid offending the givers.  If it has some meaning to US (meaning the people who live in my house), if it has some use to us, we keep it.  Otherwise, we do our best to find someone for whom it will have use and meaning and save the space in our home for things that have use and meaning for us.

Finally, lighten up. It’s only stuff.  Choose and treasure the things that are most important to you and let the rest go.  If everything is important, then nothing is important.  And remember, in the priority scheme of things, people and relationships are always more important than stuff.


And now, if you’d like more help getting organized, and figuring out what to keep and watch to let go of, download my free copy of “20 Tips for a More Organized Life” here.

Need some one-on-one help? Comment on this post, send me a message, contact me through social media. I am available for individual help and consultations, for both home and business.


By the way, Tomorrow is International Museum Day.  So reward today’s efforts with a day out tomorrow. And it’s also I love Reese’s Day. Chocolate is always a good reward for organizing, right?

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  1. I really need to apply these tips this summer, especially the one about not keeping things that aren’t important to someone who lives in your house. I’m the queen of keeping something I neither like nor need simply because someone I love gave it to me. When my husband advises me to get rid of one of them, I say things like “But what if they come over and don’t see their gift?” or “What if they find out I didn’t keep it?” As a result, my closet is overflowing. Hopefully, I can use these tips this summer and clear out some of the clutter.

    1. Marie Leslie says:

      I feel your pain there, Miriam. I used to have that problem too. And then one day I realized that my home was less about me and more about the style of people who didn’t live in it and rarely visited. Once we really started looking at what we had and why we had it, we passed on those things that didn’t serve us well, but could serve someone else, and it’s much more comfortable home now.

  2. I love these tips! I used the “love it or leave it” rule to clean out my apartment last year and was shocked at how much I got rid of without blinking an eye. I didn’t realize how much stuff I could cram into my tiny space – and then not use!

    1. Marie Leslie says:

      That’s always an eye opener, isn’t it, Alyssa? Good for you!

  3. My counter and tabletops are probably my #1 pet peeve in my house. The entire house can be immaculate but if my counter and tables have stuff all over them I feel like the house is a disaster. My family usually do not have to leave things there very long before I’ve already picked it up and put it somewhere else lol. Great post!

    1. Marie Leslie says:

      I am the same way, Andria. I cannot stand cluttered counter tops. OUr kitchen isn’t large, so if the junk piles up, I feel like I can’t do anything.

  4. Great, practical tips – thank you! I’ve moved five times in the last 9 years (not counting one temporary move) and that was after the big purge and move in 2006! And I still had to downsize with every move! I’ve struggled with purging business related files and gifts – especially love your good advice in those areas!

    1. Marie Leslie says:

      It can be a challenge to purge those things. In business, there’s always the “what if I need it?” and gifts can be tricky. But good luck. I think you have even me beat in the move department. I think we moved six times in the first eight years of our marriage. Thankfully, it’s finally slowed down.

  5. Stephanie says:

    I love this! I always go through periods of time where I go into declutter mode, when maybe I just need to keep organized? I definitely do the “moving rule” and I clear out my closet every 6 months (I am very organized when shopping to try to minimize clutter) but food mistakes is something I honestly never thought of.. eek. Thank you for these amazing tips and tricks!

    1. Marie Leslie says:

      Really, decluttering is just one of the first steps in getting organized. But it’s also something we just need to do periodically. I do a declutter about once or twice a year on my storage spaces (garage and basement) and the rest is just kind of an ongoing process.

  6. Hi Marie, Thank you for your useful tips on getting rid of stuff. I really like how you added downloadable checklists right into your article. I’ll have to figure out how to do that on my blog! I especially liked your tip about putting the hangars backwards. I’ve never thought of that before! I’m going to try that tip soon!

    1. Marie Leslie says:

      Thanks, Kristen. Glad you enjoyed it. Putting the hangers backward is an eye-opening way to see what you’re really wearing. The first time I did it, I was definitely surprised at what wasn’t getting worn in my closet. Good luck!

  7. Thank you for the timely tips, as we will be moving next weekend! I am going to apply them, as I was having a hard time with letting go of certain things that I haven’t worn or used in a very long time 🙂

    1. Good luck, Susan. Moving is never easy but it is probably one of the best times to focus on purging and reorganizing. Being able to start over with finding new places for everything and getting to really think about what will work and what won’t in your new home really can make a new home a fresh start.

  8. I loved this. I try not to be a pack rat. We had a garage sale last year and I did a major purge. It is so nice to go into my attic and not have a lot!

  9. Great tips Marie! I’ve always been a bit of a pack rat, but am slowly learning to be more organized and less cluttered. This will help.

  10. Amazing tips! I love to organized too….and we would both be working for Rubbermaid 🙂

  11. Amazing tips Marie! Thanks for sharing them, I think organized home gives us more energy and I love when you say at the end: “Finally, lighten up. It’s only stuff. Choose and treasure the things that are most important to you and let the rest go. If everything is important, than nothing is so important. And remember, in the priority scheme of things, people and relationships are ALWAYS more important than stuff.” ~ so true! 🙂

  12. Pack Rat Day, eh? I like your version better. My tactic is asking if I’d be willing to pay for everything to me moved across the country. That’s how I weeded through years of stuff when I sold my house. Thanks, Marie.

    1. Amazing what a motivator finances are, isn’t it, Lisa? REalizing that not only did I not want to pay to move stuff, but I didn’t want to have to deal with it after I moved made a huge dent in my sentiment meter.

  13. It is always excellent to freshen up, clean out, and make room for new great energy!

  14. Pack Rat Day – I love it! I don’t have too much trouble being a pack rat. I am more likely to have the opposite problem. I get rid of stuff in a cleaning-out frenzy, and then I realize I still needed some of those things! I have a couple of family members, though, who are the opposite. Any advice on getting other people to join the Anti-Pack Rat Movement?

    1. It’s a tough one, Nisha. I’ve already been through clean-outs with a couple of pack rats and getting ready to embark on another such adventure shortly. It’s been my experience that, reality TV aside, they don’t actually change until they’re ready to change–and no amount of persuasion or help will make them ready any faster.

  15. Great tips! Especially like the turn-the-clothes-backward one! I’m going to implement that one starting today!

    1. That one was an eye-opener for me for sure. Things I was sure I was wearing, I really wasn’t. Made a HUGE difference in my closet.

  16. Would You come to my office Marie.. I need help! LOL It looks like a bomb went off! O’m reading through your tips.. These are great!

    1. I would love to do that, Elizabeth. I find great satisfaction in helping people bust the clutter and develop the organizing systems that work for them. That’s the key. You take an idea that sounds great and then adapt the system to work in your own life.

  17. Carolyn Hughes says:

    Love this post as I hate clutter! I do have lots of stuff and am quite sentimental about kids work and holiday souvenirs but on a practical day to day level enjoy a good cupboard clear out!
    (Am less organised when it comes to whats stored on my computer though – tons of documents/sites etc that I’ll read later……!)

    1. Carolyn, you’ll definitely want to check back next week when I’ll be blogging about how I manage my kids’ school work. It’s almost the end of the school year here, so we’ll be doing the annual organization of their mementos.

  18. A woman after my own heart! I changed continents seven times in 14 years, which made it easy to keep pared down. But I’ve stood in one place too long now, and it’s more of a challenge. Love your suggestions!

    1. It is amazing how quickly it seems to pile up when we stop moving for a time, isn’t it, Sharon?

  19. I love these purging ideas and oh boy my closet and garage need purging! I will use the hanger and would you pay someone to move it ideas for sure, they’re brilliant, thank you for sharing your purging wisdom!

  20. Awesome! I’ve been in the midst of a huge spring cleaning purge and your post has given me some great ideas. I love most your comment about would I pay to move something. Just looking around the room I’m sitting in I see stuff I wouldn’t pay to move (or even want to pack up myself and lug somewhere)! Thanks for the advice!

    1. Isn’t it amazing how we let things pile up, Ruth? And then when we think about moving, we finally clean out. I learned just how much I could live without–and how much I loved my uncluttered space–when my home was on the market for a year, and everything non-essential was packed and put in storage. But it was prepping for the move before that I developed my “would I pay someone to move this?” rule. We were moving ourselves and wanted to keep it to one 28-foot semi for our family of six. It was a challenge but we just about did it.

  21. I loved this post.
    And, I am a pack rat. (OK, to some, I am probably a hoarder.) But, thankfully, over the past decade or so, scanner and computers have progressed to the state where I only have TB of date, not tonnage of freight.

    And, a story to amplify your cases…
    I have moved more than a few times. And, adhered to the Greyhound philosophy…. Leave the driving to us. As such, I have had boxes of materials that were clearly (ok, only to me) destined for the wastebuckets of history moved from Ann Arbor to Charlottesville, among other places. Or, even had a full hibachi, with spent coals, packed up and moved for me.
    Moreover, I am now of the age where the end of life is much closer in focus than its advent. Do I really want to leave these things to my children to address?

    Passed this along- a lot!

    1. I have heard many stories, Roy, about the things movers will pack and move. Not ever having had the luxury of someone else doing the packing and unpacking, I’ve managed to avoid them. But I agree with the not leaving it all to our children to sort out.

      Thanks for reading–and sharing–and your comments.

  22. Great list! The thing I dread about the end of the school year is all that work coming home. What to keep, what to throw. I recently cleaned out my pantry and got rid of a few tins that were only slightly younger than my children (11) and I like that Moving Rule. I’d not heard of that before and it’s a great decision making question. Thanks!

    1. I’ve moved quite a bit in my life, Alison, and got tired of packing and unpacking (or moving boxes never unpacked) so that’s where it came from. And that end of the school year thing used to drive me crazy. Now that we have some clear parameters, no more battles. The kids know they can keep anything they want as long as it fits in their box. My life has become so much more peaceful.