Organizing vs. Tidying
There is a difference between organizing and tidying. One is primarily about neatness and the other is about having a system. When we tidy, we mostly move things around to make them look nice, but they might not necessarily have a permanent and useful home. It can sometimes be like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It looks nice, but isn't exactly helpful. Organizing for functionality will have a similar aesthetic result but is more like, what, the life boats? I have a sinking feeling this analogy is getting away from me...
Anyway! There are 5 basic steps to organizing any area, be it the junk drawer, a closet, or the entire kitchen. This is the guideline I use for myself and for my clients.
Take everything out. Everything. It'll look worse before it gets better, but this is way you'll be able to see what you're working with. Sort like items with like into categories, keeping them fairly general. For example, if you're working in a closet or dresser, you'd have categories like shirts, pants, socks, and so on. You might have some sub-categories like work pants and gym pants, and your categories might be ordered by color or size.
One or two of your categories in the sorting should be things to get rid of. Sell, donate, toss, recycle, whatever you prefer. These are things you haven't used in a year, are broken, stained, old, ugly, don't fit, or just don't do it for you. Do you need it? Do you use it? Do you love it? No? Then it doesn't need to take up your valuable space.
3. Assign Homes
This is my favorite part! Now that you have your categories and have pared down the items into only what you need, use, and love, you're ready to give them homes. Looking at the empty closet, drawer, cabinet, or shelf, decide where these categories will go so that they're intuitive for you. Making often-used things easier to reach will save you time and cut down on the number of steps between you and what you need.
Having things loose in a drawer or shelf in their categories doesn't last long. It's easy to shuffle things around and then you're back where you started. Drawer dividers, pretty bins, and labels are great ways to give structure to your categories. Think about what's easiest for you- do you need to see everything or is it nicer to have it all closed away? Shopping around for containers after everything has been processed will let you find the right fit for what you actually have.
Give it a week. Or a month. How do the new homes and containers work for you? Is it faster and easier to find what you need? Or do you go through more steps and end up avoiding the new homes? Did it work fine before, but your needs have just changed? Adjusting is part of staying organized and your space can grow and adapt as you do. Take 5 or 10 minutes to make an adjustment and see how that works for you. You don't necessarily have to start over.