According to a number of studies, whether we are dedicated neat freaks, total slobs, or – like most of us – fall somewhere in the middle, we all feel the effects of a cluttered and disorganized home. It limits our brain’s ability to process information and takes a significant toll on our mental health and physical health.
Disorganization also costs us money. A 2017 “Lost and Found Survey” conducted by Pixie found that Americans spend $2.7 billion annually replacing lost items. Moreover, losing important financial papers like bills can lead to late fees and damage your credit score, resulting in higher interest rates on loans. And these are just a few of the ways disorganization can drain your wallet.
Money-Saving Benefits of Getting Organized
Here are 10 of the most important ways that organizing your home can significantly impact your bottom line.
1. You’ll Know What You Have
How many of us have run to the store to buy something we need, only to later tidy up and discover that very thing hidden away in the bottom of a drawer? This past holiday season, for example, I purchased several rolls of ribbon for wrapping presents, only to later discover a whole box of ribbon buried in the back of a closet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a massive decluttering and thought to myself, “Wow, I didn’t even know I had that thing.”
Having a system for keeping everything in its designated place, where you know exactly where to find a roll of tape or an envelope for mailing a letter, means you won’t have to waste money on duplicate items you didn’t realize you already had.
2. You’ll Know What You Need
Sometimes when you discover things you didn’t know you had, you’ve already bought a duplicate because it was something you needed and couldn’t find. But other times, you might come across things you never missed at all.
The process of decluttering can be eye-opening when it comes to knowing what you can live without. When people report feeling happier after organizing their homes, for many, it’s because of a sense of lightness that comes from letting go of excess stuff.
The accumulation of excess can make you feel weighted down, and when you see all that you can live without, you can use that to help you become a more conscious buyer.
3. You Can Make Money
When you go through all your stuff, you’ll likely discover things you can sell for a profit. Though you’re never likely to make back anything near what you paid for an item – which means you’re better off learning what you can live without and not purchasing it in the first place – for those items you’ve already bought, you can recoup at least a small portion of the expense by selling your excess stuff.
Just about anything, as long as it’s in good condition, can be resold, from clothing to children’s toys to furniture and electronics. Here are some suggestions for what to do with your excess stuff.
Local consignment shops and pop-ups are other options for reselling clothes that are still in good condition. These vary by region, so you’ll have to do some research on what’s available in your area. For example, my hometown features consignment stores like Clothes Mentor and Three Bags Full, an excellent consignment pop-up for children’s clothes and toys.
Kid’s toys are always in popular demand, and Facebook groups can be a great place for reselling these. Do a search to find out if there are any resale Facebook groups near you.
If you don’t mind mailing items, eBay is another good option. It’s also probably one of the best options if you want to resell anything new-in-the-box or a collector’s item. I recently scored $90 on eBay for a model train I found buried in the back of a closet.
Keep furniture sales local, as the shipping costs on a big item won’t make it feasible for online resale. I’ve found two of the best places for reselling furniture to be Facebook groups and letgo, an app that allows you to take a picture of an item with your phone and then immediately list it for sale in your local area.
Another option I’ve had some success with is Craigslist. Be careful on this site, however, as it has its fair share of scammers. Never accept an offer from someone who isn’t local and offers to pay you to ship the item. This is a common scam.
You can resell everything from computers to cell phones to gaming systems and controllers. One option is to use a site such as Decluttr. You tell Decluttr what you’d like to sell and the condition it’s in, and they’ll send you a quote for how much they’ll pay you for it. You then ship the item and get paid. It can be a fast, easy way to unload your extra stuff while making a few extra dollars.
Another option is to sell your stuff directly to a buyer by using an online auction site like eBay. Because you’re doing the selling yourself, you may be able to get a higher payout using this method.
4. You’ll Waste Less
Not knowing what you have can lead to buying duplicate items, which can result in having more than you need – hence, waste.
That isn’t the only way a lack of organization leads to waste, however. One prominent source of waste, especially in America, is food waste. According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans waste, on average, 30% of their food supply. This equates to a pound of food per person per day, an unquestionable waste of financial resources.
When you organize your kitchen, including the refrigerator and pantry, it can help prevent some of this waste. You’ll know what you have since it’s it’s visible and accessible, so you’ll be much less likely to allow food to spoil.
Another form of organization is meal planning, which is carefully devised to take advantage of all available food in the home before it spoils. Not only do you waste less food, but you also preserve more of your hard-earned dollars. Using a meal delivery service like HelloFresh is another way to minimize food waste and save money.
5. It Will Help You Cut Expenses
According to the 2017 Ikea “Life at Home” survey, 1 in 10 U.S. households rents a storage unit. While there may be some legitimate reasons for doing so, such as needing to temporarily house your stuff while you’re in transition, spending extra money just to store stuff you’re not using may be an indication that it’s time to declutter.
If your household is one of the 1 in 10, consider going through your storage unit and asking yourself some harsh questions about whether you really need these things and, if not, whether you can score some extra cash by reselling them. Doing so will eliminate the cost of the storage unit as well as potentially earn you some money for stuff you weren’t using anyway.
Organizing can also cut expenses in other ways. Organizing your financial paperwork, such as bills, can reduce late fees and the higher interest rates that come from having bad credit. Even better, if you establish a routine of paying your bills on time, you’ll be in a good position to negotiate lower interest rates on debt you may already have, such as credit cards.
Additionally, a look through your bank and credit card statements can help you spot any erroneous charges or subscriptions you no longer wish to pay for but have forgotten about. You can even sign up with Trim for free and their app will automatically find subscription payments you no longer need. They will also help you negotiate lower rates on things like cable, internet, and more.
6. It Will Save You Time
We’ve all heard the adage “time is money,” and there’s a lot of truth in that old saying. According to the Pixie survey, Americans spend an average of 2.5 days every year looking for misplaced items. This equates to 10 minutes every single day.
Ten minutes might not seem like a lot, but the survey found it’s enough to make more than half of us regularly late to work. That could lead to lost wages and potentially even a lost job if the lateness is regular enough.
Further, spending less time looking for things because you always know where to find your car keys or phone can result in a better life balance. When you free up extra time, you’ll have more to spend doing the things you really want to do.
7. You’ll Be More Productive
Good organization will help you get more done by saving time, and it will also help you be more productive by creating more focus. Researchers at Princeton discovered that clutter makes it more difficult to focus on tasks. Specifically, they found that the visual part of your brain can be overwhelmed by an excess of stuff that’s not relevant to the task at hand, thereby causing your attention to wander.
If, on the other hand, you clear the clutter from your home and work environment, you will be less irritable and distracted, more productive, and better able to process information.
Depending on how you earn your money, greater productivity can have a definite impact on your income. If you get paid according to the end product, getting more done in less time can translate directly into more dollars. Even when that’s not the case, employers certainly value productive employees. So, greater productivity could translate into more opportunities for raises and promotions.
8. You’ll Feel More in Control of Your Life
According to a Stanford University study, the feeling of having more power and control over your life is directly linked to making better financial decisions. Having an organized home can help give you that sense of power and control.
Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. writes in Psychology Today that messy, disorganized homes can leave you feeling powerless. We are easily overwhelmed by clutter, which can leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and stressed. When you take control of the mess by decluttering and organizing, you feel more confident and powerful. This feeling of power over your stuff easily translates into more confidence in your life.
9. It Can Positively Impact Your Health
A number of studies have found that a clean and well-organized home promotes better physical health, and better physical health translates into lower medical costs. An Indiana University study, for example, found that the cleanliness of a person’s home was a better predictor of their physical activity levels than their neighborhood’s walkability.
Likewise, a study in the Journal of Obesity found that maintaining an organized schedule can help you stay in shape. The study found that those who carefully plan their exercise routine, set goals, and record their progress are more likely to stick to their goals than those who have no plan.
Maintaining an organized environment can also promote healthy eating choices. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Psychological Science observed the choices made by study participants kept in a messy room versus those kept in a neat and tidy room. Those in the tidy room were more likely to choose an apple over a candy bar when both were offered at the end of the study as a parting “gift” for their participation.
Organizational and cleanliness habits have even been linked to better sleep. A survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that people who make their beds every morning are 19% more likely to get a good night’s sleep, and 75% percent of respondents reported they get a better night’s rest when their sheets are freshly cleaned. This is because they feel more comfortable and are better able to relax as a result.
10. It Will Make You Happier
The 2017 Ikea survey found that having too much stuff is the single biggest cause of stress in the home. According to the previous year’s survey, having too much stuff also makes people more irritable; 39% of respondents to Ikea’s 2016 “Life at Home” survey claimed the state of their homes upset them once a week or more, and 27% argued about tidying up at least once a week. Among 18-to-29-year-olds, the results were even more significant; 47% of the younger generation got irritated about the state of their homes at least once a week, and 36% had weekly arguments about it.
The Ikea survey isn’t the only one to find a relationship between clutter and disorganization and negative emotional states. Researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF) found that clutter has a profound impact on our self-esteem and moods. Women in the study who described their homes as “cluttered” were more likely to feel depressed and fatigued. They were also found to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
On the other hand, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, whose mission is to study happiness and ways to positively impact it, reports that bringing a little bit of order to our spaces can bring us a great deal of happiness. Further, 44% of the respondents in the 2017 Ikea survey reported that clearing out excess stuff gave them a great sense of relief.
Greater happiness may be a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself, but it also has important financial benefits. According to U.S. News, happiness can boost your financial health. Your emotional state can have significant effects on your finances as anxiety and depression can lead to poor financial choices and impulse spending. So, anything you can do to boost happiness will have effects on your overall personal finances.
How to Organize Your Home on a Budget
There are a lot of organizational experts out there with lists of “steps” for organizing, and many of these steps are often different. But, in the end, organizing comes down to just a few simple basics: purge, sort, and containerize.
It’s worth adding a prequel step: plan. Pick a date on your calendar and set aside time for your organization project, whether it’s reorganizing your bathroom or setting up a filing system for your household paperwork. If you make a specific goal and write it down, you’re more likely to stick to it.
Step 1: Purge
Once you’ve decided on your project, whether it’s a room or a drawer, your next step is to take everything out of that space so you can see what you have. As you empty closets or drawers, take note of everything you’d like to purge.
I used to think of this step as “toss,” but it’s best to avoid this term whenever you can. If you find broken objects or clothes that are ripped and stained, then definitely assign them to the trash, but otherwise, think creatively about how you might repurpose, sell, or donate items.
As part of this step, you might want to set up a sorting station with bins or bags marked for keeping, selling, donating, or tossing. Everything marked for keeping will move into Steps 2 and 3, and everything else will be leaving.
Why It Can Be So Difficult to Purge Our Stuff
It’s worth noting that purging can be the most difficult step for many people. Although much of what we fill our homes with may not be strictly functional, we attach meanings to our things, and those meanings often become more important than the things themselves.
For example, after my mother passed, I had a difficult time going through her things. Although much of it wasn’t anything I’d ever have wanted or picked out for myself, her things became so intimately tied up with my memories of her that purging them felt too painful. And those aren’t the only ways we can become tied to things.
According to the 2017 Ikea survey, we may keep objects in our home, such as a guitar we’ve never played, that we intend to use “someday.” Throwing away that guitar can feel like throwing away a dream. Further, the survey found that “[o]ur connections to our things are profoundly emotional because they each trigger memories, hopes and dreams that go far deeper than any functional use.” That’s why we find it so hard to let go of things, even when having too much stuff makes us feel stressed.
How to Make Decisions About What to Get Rid of & What to Keep
Because our stuff is so connected to our identities, if you’re finding it difficult to get rid of things or you’re not sure if something should be kept or purged, experts say it’s OK to hang onto it for a little while. According to Professor Richard Belk, a leading expert in the meaning of possession and collecting, this is actually healthier than immediately tossing your stuff. Because we have such strong emotional ties to our things, sometimes we need to grieve their loss.
So, to deal with the difficulties of the purging step, designate a “holding area” for all the items you’re unsure about. It can be a particular storage area in your home, a cardboard box in the back of your closet, or a system for noticing what it is you really don’t use or need. For example, many lifestyle experts recommend that when you’re purging clothes in your closet, you should turn all your hangers around so the hooks are facing forward. If at the end of a year you haven’t worn something – which you’ll know by the direction of the hanger – then it’s probably an item you should sell or donate.
Sometimes it just takes a period of not using something to realize how little space or meaning it holds in our lives. For example, when my husband and I were in a time of transition, we kept a lot of our things in storage. These were items I couldn’t imagine parting with when we first packed them up. But, at the end of that time, I was astonished to discover how many of our things I hadn’t needed, used, or even thought about. Needless to say, much of the stuff we put into storage was eventually sold, donated, or tossed.
Use the “one-year” rule of thumb for all the things you’re not certain about. If you still haven’t used the items in your “unsure” pile a year later, move them to a sell, donate, or toss bin.
Step 2: Sort
Once you’ve gone through your stuff and purged all the excess, the real organizing begins. It’s time to sort through what’s left and decide where everything belongs. Make sure every single thing has a home. That way, you’ll know where everything is when you need it – no more spending 2.5 days a year searching for things.
Finding a place for all your items to live also requires some thought about how you actually use your things. For example, you might have traditionally stored your towels in a linen closet in your upstairs hallway. But if you’ve ever had the experience of emerging from the bathtub dripping wet only to reach for a towel and realize you forgot to grab one pre-shower, it might make more sense for you to keep all your towels stored in the bathroom.
Take some time to think about where it makes the most sense to put items according to how you use them. Not only will it make life just a little bit easier, but it also makes you more likely to stick to your new organizational system.
Step 3: Containerize
The last step involves creative storage ideas to put each thing in its place. For example, you may agree that keeping your towels in the bathroom makes sense, but you don’t have any room to store them. So, maybe an innovative wall display is the answer for your tight space.
Be careful with this step, because this is where you could easily blow all your savings on cute and clever storage ideas. Anyone who’s ever walked into The Container Store or the home organization aisles at Target knows you could easily blow your budget on any number of bins, wraps, and labeling doodads. Yes, your home would look nice with metal chalkboard labels slid over a row of pretty baskets, but spending too much on containing all your stuff can quickly defeat the purpose of saving money by organizing it. I’ve found clear plastic bins to be one of the best methods of containing my stuff because you can easily see what’s inside.
If you look for your bins at high-end retail stores or even some big box stores, you might be spending more than you need to. So, to hang onto all the financial benefits of organizing, try less-expensive alternatives first, such as the dollar store. I once purchased five small plastic baskets from a big box store to organize my laundry room, to the tune of $10 apiece. I then found a comparable alternative at the dollar store and promptly returned all the other bins, for a savings of $45.
Before even going shopping, however – even at the dollar store – repurpose as much as you can of what you already have on hand. Here are some ideas for budget “containers” you can make with materials found around the house:
- Use the bottom part of an egg carton to organize your jewelry in a dresser drawer or your paper clips and push pins in a desk drawer.
- Cut off the bottoms of cereal boxes and cover them with pretty paper, such as wrapping paper or contact paper, to make compartments to organize a junk drawer.
- Cut cereal boxes lengthwise diagonally, cover them with pretty paper, and use them to hold magazines, papers and notebooks in your office, or pot lids, wraps, and baggies in your kitchen.
- Re-use old boxes (diaper boxes are great for this) as storage bins. If you want to make them look nice, you can cover them with fabric, paper, or spray paint.
- Use a pretty glass bowl to hold rings and watches on your nightstand.
- Use a pretty glass cup to hold pens and pencils on your home desktop.
- Reuse soup and vegetable cans as holders for small items (be sure to smooth down the edges first) by covering them with pretty paper or hot-gluing rope around them.
How to Keep Your Home Organized
Organizing, especially if you’re tackling a whole room or house, can be an exhausting job, though well worth it in the end for all its money-saving, sanity-saving, and health-saving benefits.
The hardest part of all, though, often isn’t the organizing project itself; it’s keeping your home organized amidst your day-to-day habits. According to the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, 40% of our daily activities are based on habits. So, keeping your home organized will require understanding your old habits and developing some new ones.
The best way to do that is to identify your “trouble spots.” For example, if you’re in the habit of coming home every day and dumping your mail on the counter, only to have it pile up over the week, a mail sorting station located right where you come in the door might be an excellent idea. That way, when you first walk in, you can take a few minutes to toss or shred any junk mail and put everything else into an appropriate slot in your station. For example, you could have a “To File” slot for any paperwork that needs to be filed, a “To Pay” slot for bills, and a “To Do” slot for mail that needs to be answered or acted on.
The key is to create systems and routines for all that you do on a regular basis. Once sorting your mail when you come in the door becomes part of your daily routine, for example, you’ll do it automatically without a second thought.
Here are some other new habits and routines that can help keep your home organized:
- Keep clutter at bay by following this rule: If you buy something new, toss something old.
- Don’t buy anything unless you know exactly where it will go.
- Keep tabs on growing piles of laundry by putting a load in the washing machine before work every day.
- Empty the dishwasher every morning and load it every night.
- Make your bed as soon as you get up.
- If you leave a room, take something with you to put away.
- Keep a donation box in the closet of every bedroom for clothes you no longer want or that your kids have outgrown.
- Establish family routines and schedules for cleaning and decluttering.
- Spend 10 to 20 minutes a day doing a nightly tidy-up and spot cleaning.
- Follow the “one-minute rule”: If it takes less than a minute to complete, do it immediately. This will keep small tasks from accumulating into big ones.
- Go through your fridge and pantry weekly to toss spoiled and expired items and take note of anything that will soon spoil or expire. Make sure to plan ways to use those things up to help cut down on food waste.
- Create workable systems for “drop spots.” For example, if your family is always dropping their coats inside the door instead of hanging them in the coat closet, hang some coat hooks right near the door. “Workable systems” means understanding how you actually use your spaces and finding solutions you’ll stick to for keeping them neat and organized.
- According to Pixie’s survey, the most misplaced item is the TV remote – which 71% of us lose at least once a month – followed by phones, car keys, glasses, and shoes. So, find designated places where all of these items can live. For example, you might place a basket or hook for keys near your door or work on establishing a new habit like always setting the remote next to the TV after you turn it off.
- Keep everyone involved. Your new organizational systems won’t work if your whole family isn’t on board and participating.
- Label everything. This helps everyone know where things go so you can all stick to the plan.
- Seek progress over perfection. Remember, perfection is the enemy of finishing anything. But if you do just one thing that somehow makes your life a little easier or helps you save money, that’s progress.
Organization isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. At the end of a long day, the last thing many of us want to do is put away the dishes or sort through the mail. And decluttering can also be difficult, as research has shown that most us have deep emotional ties to our things, even though we may also feel weighted down and stressed by having too much stuff.
Research has also consistently shown, however, that the benefits of maintaining an organized home are worth it. Not only can it significantly impact our mental and physical health, but it can also affect our financial health.
Taking the time to organize your home, and create new habits and routines that help keep it organized, is well worth the effort. Remember, any space or task can feel overwhelming when you look at it in the broad sense. But if you can pick one small area to tackle first, such as your kitchen junk drawer, that little bit of success can help inspire you to tackle larger goals, moving you ever-forward to a feeling of control and even happiness with your space.
Are you considering an organizing project? What are you thinking about tackling first?