By Janice Russell

Want to get organized? Let’s bring your desire for organization into reality by developing a plan. Go ahead and groan, but without a destination, you don’t know how to get there. You may have heard of SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Without becoming overwhelmed or too legalistic, you can make SMART organizing goals.

Begin by choosing the space(s) you want to organize. Think about or visualize what you want it to look like when it is organized. It might help you to ask, “I know I will be organized when (fill in the blank with specific criteria).” Select a date by which you would like the space to be organized. List tasks that must be completed and create a timeline. Write down as many or as few details as you need to make the plan and the space functional for your needs. If you are overwhelmed at this point, take a deep breath and consider how much your stress level will decrease once the space optimized and you don’t have to avoid it or spend lots of time trying to find items in it.

Here is a workplace example of the process:

Space: Stand-alone office

Goal: I know it will be organized when I have a clear surface on which to work without having to push items aside each time I need to work on a project.


1. Sort items on top of desk (office supplies, action item to keep on desk, keep in office, belongs somewhere else, toss)

2. Sort other items in office that are visible (not already in a drawer or on a shelf) using same categories above

3. Remove all items that belong to someone else or some place outside your office

4. Evaluate desktop (purchase or from a supply closet) organizing items as needed to contain desktop supplies such as writing utensils, paper clips, etc.

5. Establish action item tracking system for incoming tasks

6. Put the “finishing touches” in your space

7. Determine not to put anything on the desk that doesn’t belong there or isn’t part of your current project

To increase the functionality of your office, you may need to organize cabinets, bookcases, or even create a filing system. You may need to develop additional organizing plans for each of these areas.

Here is a residential example of the process:

Space: Child’s playroom and family TV room

Goal: I know it will be organized when all toys, books, and digital media can be easily stored and accessed and when we have a designated area for watching TV.


1. Sort toys/games on floor (keep, donate, toss)

2. Sort all other toys/games in room (keep, donate, toss)

3. Remove all items that don’t belong in a playroom

4. Sort all other items in room (keep, donate, toss)

5. Evaluate storage spaces, both large units such as bookshelves or entertainment centers and smaller containers such as boxes or bins and acquire (purchase or from other rooms in the house) organizing items as needed

6. Store toys, books, and digital media using appropriate storage

7. Move or acquire furniture as needed to create space for TV watching area

8. Put the “finishing touches” in your space

9. Determine not to bring in any item that doesn’t have a home in the playroom

Now that you have developed your organizing plan with specific short-term objectives, it is time to get started! You do not have to complete each step in one session. Consider working 30-60 minutes several days a week and “define” the time by setting a timer or listening to a favorite CD. Even working 10 minutes a day will bring you closer to your goal. Don’t get stuck in the details. If you hit a snag on one task, switch and work on another task. During the decluttering process, start at one point and move clockwise or counter-clockwise rather than going from one side of a room to another. Reward yourself when you meet your timeline…think consumable, not an item for the room you are organizing!

© 2010 Janice Russell, CPO-CD. North Carolina’s first Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, Janice Russell, and her firm, Minding Your Matters® Organizing, have built a reputation for helping business and residential clients organize their space, items, documents, and time using the flexible structure principle™. Janice’s workshops on topics such as tackling the “no time” trap, perishing paper piles, and stopping stuff from being overwhelming are dynamic, informative, and practical. Minding Your Matters® is dedicated to helping people achieve organization with lasting results™ in their personal and professional lives. Janice is highly regarded within her industry. She is a Golden Circle Member of National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and past president of the North Carolina Chapter of NAPO. Janice is the author of the book Get Organized This Year! and two audios: Stop Letting Stuff Overwhelm You and Tackle the “No Time” Trap. For more information, please visit or call 919-467-7058.