Common Organizing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

One of the best things about reclaiming your home or work is the peace of mind that follows if it’s done right. Sustainable change should be the result of any good organizing project.

However, in the reclamation process, many people mistake their efforts for “organizing,” when in fact they are making errors that will leave them just as disorganized as when they began!

Recently, I shared SOME of these common organizing mistakes on-air with More Good Day Oregon viewers, but we ran out of time to cover them ALL. No worries…as one of our readers, you get the full-meal-deal!

In this blog, I am going to help you side-step ALL the common organizing mistakes and implement a useful process that really works!

Product Panacea

Common Organizing Mistakes - Product Panacea

Can you relate to this scenario? You see that pile of clutter and resolve to do something about it TODAY. So, you run out to a store and buy a hunk of plastic with drawers and throw it at the problem. You think that buying a bin or basket or container is going to resolve the clutter.

While this may feel better for the moment (and your space may even look better after you’re done)…it won’t last.

What you’ve done is not organizing! You’ve only contained your clutter and turned your horizontal clutter piles into vertical stacks!

Plus, you spent money on products you may not need and may not work. This organizing mistake is possibly the most expensive if you’re sucked in by cute containers and buy them too early in the process.



Solution: Don’t start with product, start with a good organizing process

Organizing products definitely have their place in organizing. (And – after all – Restoring Order is proud of our own branded line of organizing products!)

However, products alone cannot replace good processes. It is all about timing! To save your wallet and your sanity, introduce the right product at the right time.

Before introducing product into a project, follow these steps:

  1. Purpose your space – determine the function/purpose of each room, area, cabinet, drawer, etc.
  2. Macro and micro sort your stuff
  3. Prune your belongings – thin out that which you don’t need/use
  4. Assess your product needs based on available space and the volume of what you’re trying to contain
  5. Search out products that fit your specific need, space, measurements, and budget

Rearranging Remedy

Common Organizing Mistakes - Rearranging Remedy

In this organizing mistake, you get fed up with the flow of a room so you begin re-imagining and rearranging.

In your attempt to organize a room, you end up only moving clutter from room to room or closet to closet. When you are finished your space may look fresh, but if you haven’t resolved the chaos, all you’ve done is shuffled your stuff!

Solution: Dedicate TIME to resolving the clutter

As you pull things out of a space, invest the time in an authentic organizing process. Use the clues of the space – what is not working – to uncover the “why” behind your shuffling habits.

Instead of constantly moving items, take the time to stop and ask yourself some helpful questions:

  • Where do I normally use it?
  • Where SHOULD this live?
  • Where would I naturally think to look for it?
  • Does it make sense here?
  • Are other, similar items located somewhere else?

As you answer these questions for various kinds of clutter, you will begin reuniting items of like type and making clarifying decisions.

Cleaning Cure-All

Common Organizing Mistakes - Cleaning Cure-all

Even if your home is sparkling clean, do you sweat when you think of guests opening your closets, junk drawer, or garage?

We find that people often mistake cleaning for organizing. Cleaning disinfects and removes dirt from a space, but it’s not organizing.

Of course, cleaning can be an important part of organizing as you empty a closet or cabinet and clean it prior to reloading. But it is not the same thing as organizing, where you intentionally think through how and where things are used and assign them a home.

In fact, haphazard cleaning can actually CAUSE disorder! If you’re trying to wipe down your counters, for instance, and they’re full of clutter – you might slide that clutter right into a drawer so you can spray down the counter.

If you’re hurriedly relocating clutter for the purpose of cleaning, you are making this organizing mistake.

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Solution: Allocate intentional space to categories of belongings

As you assign a purpose to your drawers, cabinets, shelves, and rooms you’ll know where to put things when you’re cleaning up.

Instead of shoving nomadic items in a junk drawer while you’re cleaning, use a “go elsewhere” bin or box to move items to their appropriate home. Take time each day to rehome those “go elsewhere” items.

Stashing Solution

Common Organizing Mistakes - Stashing Solution

This organizing mistake is similar to the Cleaning Cure-All, but instead of clearing the way for an occasional cleaning, the Stashing Solution happens ALL THE TIME!

In my organizing business, I find that most folks are just plain Stashers!

Instead of dealing with piles or clutter head-on, you hijack available real estate and tuck that clutter out-of-sight (or at least off the floor!)

Pretty soon, every nook and cranny, cubby, and bin is FULL of a myriad of unrelated items.

Over time, you can no longer control the creeping clutter and you are left to deal with months, years, or even decades worth of stuff!

Solution: Purpose your space

Assigning a purpose to each room, space, storage area, drawer, shelf, etc – and then labeling when possible – keeps you from shoving anything and everything into a space.

Once you’ve purposed your spaces, you must sort and PRUNE your belongings. This means going piece by piece through all that random stashed stuff and making decisions about it. Be realistic about what you use and how much space you have, so you can unclog and enjoy your home.

You’re probably getting the hard truth: stash now and you’ll pay the piper eventually!

Tidying Trick

Common Organizing Mistakes - Tidying Trick

If there’s any organizing mistake that actually feels good while you’re making it, it’s THIS ONE!

You know the drill – you’re fed up with the mess, so you think, “I’ve got to get organized today/this weekend!!” So you toss the trash, sort some paper, perhaps even file, and then you “square up” the remaining piles so they look nice and tidy.

At the end of the day, your space looks, well, tidied up.

This exercise feels great…today.

The problem is: you haven’t created systems for your space to keep it tidy or to make it serve your priorities!

Solution: Take time to discover the root causes

Getting organized isn’t about making things neat. It’s getting clear about your priorities, understanding your natural habits, and then creating SYSTEMS in your life to support YOU.

Use a little detective work to create your systems. You will need to get to the ROOT of the problems to create good systems. Stand back and observe the repetitive patterns you observe happening, and then zoom in on those tangles.

If you’re always shuffling and tidying paper, for instance, you probably need a suite of paper management systems. Check out my 5 P’s of Paper Management training to help with this process!

Cookie Cutter

Common Organizing Mistakes - Cookie Cutter

This organizing mistake happens when we assume that what works for someone else will work for us.

We are subconsciously taught through marketing messages that if we just had a built-in closet with color-coded clothes, or a pantry with matching bins, etc, it would solve our organizing problems.

This is exactly what those marketers want you to feel! They want to create a desire in you to apply their solution! Remember: they showcase closets with 10 monochromatic outfits, not the 300 pieces in YOUR burgeoning wardrobe!

These staged, curated “organized” solutions on social media makes matters worse. We all know: no one really lives like that!! At least no one with kids! (You won’t see staged, unrealistic images in our restoring.order feed! We believe in organizing solutions for the REAL WORLD!)

The temptation is to go out and buy that glamorized organizing solution and force-fit it into our world.

Unfortunately, applying this Cookie Cutter organizing mistake usually leaves us disappointed, as our own spaces never look quite like that picture in the magazine.

We can also make this Cookie Cutter mistake when we try to apply a solution that our friend or neighbor used successfully. But if we haven’t considered our own life, habits, space, family, and needs, the solution may not work for us the way it worked for them.

Solution: Understand your unique needs

The only way to truly solve your organizing problems is to understand YOU and your needs, and then build your systems around how you think and live.

As you work to solve your organizing challenges, go ahead: get input and start that Pinterest board. I’m just encouraging you not to settle on a generic or marketed solution until you’re sure it suits YOU!

Apply a DISCOVERY PROCESS to determine what’s causing the problem, take the time to sort and thin your belongings/paper/etc, and only then apply a solution that is practical for you.

It’s important to note that, as you and your lifestyle changes, so should your organizing solutions. Approaches that used to work for you may no longer work in your current season of life. Organizing systems and solutions need to be fluid to grow and change as your life changes.

Lone Ranger

Common Organizing Mistakes - Lone Ranger

We make this organizing mistake when we just “go it alone” in our organizing journey. We continue to struggle but we don’t reach out for help. Out of embarrassment or fear of judgement or just not wanting to impose on others, we try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and muddle through.

Too often, we get started on a project but then our energy doesn’t last past the “pull everything out stage” and we abandon our efforts midway.

Or, we get high-centered on decision making and can’t figure out how to move forward. Each time we try to get organized we come up short, making getting started more difficult each time.

When we make the organizing mistake of being a Lone Ranger, we isolate ourselves from the very help we need! We miss out on the community aspect of organizing: where many hands make light work and two minds are better than one!

Solution: Partner up

If you’ve been a Lone Ranger, and you’re still just as disorganized as ever, it’s time to partner up! Whether it’s a friend or family member or a professional organizer, partner with someone.

You’ll gain the extra hands to make the process go more quickly. An extra set of eyes will give you a fresh perspective on how to optimize your space. And what you don’t know can be supplemented by the knowledge and experience of another.

Studies reveal that the number one problem people face in America today is loneliness. Restoring Order exists to ensure that people don’t have to go-it-alone in managing their lives. We are here to help you dig out and create a space and life you love.

We invite you to ditch these common organizing mistakes for a sound organizing process that honors YOU!


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