If you’re looking for a sense of control in your life as our pandemic-weary nation heads into an uncertain fall, try tackling a manageable decluttering project in your home. You could get a sense of satisfaction, and it might encourage you to keep organizing in small ways.

Feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to begin? Follow these six simple tips to get started.

1. Gather supplies

You don’t need fancy bins or tools to start organizing your home; a few boxes and garbage bags will do. Whether you’re decluttering your kitchen, closet or office, the boxes and bags will help you sort items for donation, corral pieces that need to be put in a different room and compile papers and other materials for recycling or shredding. Once you’ve culled your belongings, you may need to invest in baskets, trays and other organizing products, but don’t start by going out and buying more stuff.

2. Keep it short

Don’t plan on spending an entire day organizing, because you’ll be setting yourself up for exhaustion, frustration and burnout. Instead, pick one room or one spot to spend 15 or 30 minutes working on. Set a timer, so you don’t need to keep track of the time yourself. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in a short period. When your timer goes off, complete the task and congratulate yourself on checking it off your list — or, if you feel motivated to do more, go for it! Try to do a little each day or set up some sort of consistent routine.

3. Manage expectations

A messy room that has not been organized in more than a year will not be transformed into a perfectly organized space in one day, nor should that be the goal. Proper organization requires a few phases of work. Start by sorting into categories: Put like items together, and decide what you’re keeping and what you’re discarding. Then assess whether you have the right organization tools to put everything away, so you can easily find it all later. Get items organized on a macro scale first, before you start to fine-tune. If you get mired in small details, you’ll accomplish less overall.

4. Make it fun

Try to make what you think of as an arduous task more enjoyable by listening to music or a podcast. Bring in a friend or neighbor to help with decision-making, then resolve to reward yourself when you complete a project, such as by ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant or buying a book. Getting started is definitely the hardest part, so do whatever it takes to motivate yourself. As with exercise, once you get going, it becomes easier to continue as you build on your success.


5. Start small

As hard as it may be, try not to think of every task that needs to be completed to organize your house from top to bottom. You’ll lose any enthusiasm you may have had. Instead, begin with a small and relatively easy project — something that isn’t too emotional or sentimental — and proceed methodically. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole looking at old photos, so if you think you won’t be able to break down a large task like that into smaller ones, try something that will give you a quicker sense of accomplishment.

Organize one or two drawers in your kitchen first, then continue working there for a week. Or organize your dresser or a single filing cabinet, or a manageable category, such as coats or T-shirts. As much as I love Marie Kondo’s philosophy of pulling everything in one category together to reflect upon whether an item sparks joy, that approach is not realistic for many people, and it may actually create more disorganization.

6. Set a deadline

Many of us have not hosted gatherings in our homes since early 2020, which took away the pressure to stay organized. Some families’ workstations were constantly changing to adapt to shifting needs, making it feel fruitless to spend time getting a particular space in order. But now that a return to schools and offices is on the horizon, set a date for a dinner party or use the first day of fall (Sept. 22) as a deadline to get yourself organized. This will help you pace yourself and stay on track.

Remember not to stop with sorting and decluttering. Your final step is to remove the items from your home and donate or dispose of them. Once you’ve done that, you might feel a little less stressed and a little lighter knowing that you’ve brought some order into a part of your home during a tumultuous time.