Organize & Clean

10 Habits of a Highly Organized Person: How Pro Organizer Fay Wolf Keeps Her Life Under Control

published Jan 7, 2015
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Meet Fay Wolf: professional organizer, musician, and actor. Since how truly organized minds work are still a mystery to many of us, I set out to ask our top video organizers: what are the top 10 habits that you actually use to keep your own life organized?

1. Only buy and store one or two more than you need.

Being a slave to “on sale” is no longer on my to-do list. Our homes need breathable space now, and items will always be on sale again. There’s a drawer in my bathroom that houses 1 or 2 extra of each toiletry item I use. It’s quite easy to find everything, and I never run out. When one comes out, I add that item to my shopping list and go buy one more. Easy.

2. Use a small bowl for keys and a few hooks for coats and bags.

I’ve got a bowl waiting for me as soon as I open the front door — small enough to hold a few sets of keys and that’s it. Instead of a coat rack, which takes up floor space and tends to topple, I use inexpensive hooks right next to the door. I hang about four jackets and four bags. It’s amazing how much versatility there is in a flat wall.

3. Release your perfectionism.

Getting it right all the time is a whole lot more stressful than getting it better. There is a stack of DVDs next to my Blu-ray player that I’m never going to watch. I will eventually get around to purging, but just because I haven’t yet doesn’t mean I’ve failed or that I’m a bad organizer or that my life is going to fall apart. Go easy on yourself, you know?

4. Use trays and small containers to police yourself.

Trays and containers that serve a specific purpose provide accountability. For instance: if you use a small paper tray, as opposed to a deep basket (or nothing at all), you’re only allowed to put a certain amount of paper in it before you’re forced to deal with it. For current paper, I actually use wall pockets labeled TO DO and TO FILE. On my dresser, a few trays contain and corral everyday jewelry, and on my desk I use a small tray for receipts to be processed.

5. Parent Yourself and Do Your Chores

The laundry gets clean. And then sometimes it sits there, folded. Maybe for a few days…taunting me. Stray clothes are definitely one of my downfalls. So I’ve been working on getting the clean clothes put away as soon as possible. I also try to fight most urges to go to bed with dishes in the sink. My morning self always thanks me profusely.

Video: How To Organize T-Shirts

6. Change the story.

I used to say to myself repeatedly “You’re not a writer.” But guess what? You’re reading this post, so I guess I actually am one. I changed the story, and then started writing songs and blog posts and pilot scripts. Therefore: You’re only as disorganized as you say you are. It’s incredible what a shift in perception can do.

7. Honor your memories.

Inside my filing system, I have a 2-in wide hanging file that serves as a drop area for my Personal Memorabilia. Once it’s full, I transfer the best of the best into a memorabilia box that lives on a high shelf somewhere. It’s always easy to grab a shoebox (or archive-safe box), label it, and give sentimental stuff a nice home.

8. Learn how to use productivity apps.

I save SO MUCH time on the backend by using productivity apps (not to mention my brain is clearer, freer, happier.) I can quickly find all of my notes and research in Evernote or Dropbox. All of my tasks (for all areas of my life) are in OmniFocus. And Mailbox keeps my Gmail inbox remarkably slimmed down. When I don’t understand how certain features work, I’ll take the time to watch the how-to videos and learn something new. Always worth it.

Video: Three Ways to Use Vertical Space

9. We’re all the same. We all have piles and we all make messes.

Being an organizer doesn’t mean I don’t like to spread out and live freely. On any given day, my office, kitchen and car can look like a tornado just hit. But I purge often, and the difference is that everything has a home, so I can actually put things away — as opposed to into some ominous bigger pile.

10. Put your fears/desires front and center.

All of my musical instruments are out in the open, set up, and ready to play. Once I’m ready to start creating, there are no hurdles to jump through and things to move out of the way. If you want to be painting more, you should be able to grab those art supplies as easily as you can grab your toothbrush. Then there are no more excuses to do the scary stuff.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The Star: Fay Wolf is a singer-songwriter, actor and professional organizer. Her book “New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (And Everyone Else)” was featured in the LA Times here. She’s acted on shows like 2 Broke Girls and Bones, and her songs have been heard on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Pretty Little Liars. Fay’s Los Angeles-based company New Order has been organizing lives since 2006, helping creative people deal with both inner and outer clutter. She coaches in-person, by phone, and in group workshops. Learn more via and follow her on Twitter @faywolf!

• More Videos: Check Out (& Subscribe to) Our New Youtube Channel! To watch Fay’s complete archive of one minute tips, watch her full 11-video playlist here.

Re-edited from a post originally published 1.7.15-NT