7 Pro Organizers Reveal Their Biggest Organizing “Don’ts”

updated Jan 22, 2020
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Credit: Erin Derby

Rule breaking is occasionally encouraged when it comes to decorating a home, but for organizing and decluttering, it pays to play by a few rules. Not only does it help you end up with the most functional, beautiful space you can, but it also saves you time, energy, money, and stress in the long run. Seven professional organizers generously revealed below the biggest “don’ts” of getting your home organized… as well as shared some of the biggest “dos,” too.

Don’t delay

Fay Wolf of New Order shares a small but stylish apartment, and doesn’t think you should try to come up with a “million answers or plans first. The quickest way to declutter is to actually physically DO IT,” she explains. “Don’t buy a bunch of organizing products before you start decluttering. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re an ‘organized person’ or put such a big weight on decluttering. Our inner clutter about our outer clutter holds us back more than we know.”

“Do think of decluttering as a practice that brings peace, instead of a chore that brings fear.”

Fay Wolf of New Order 

She continues to advise on what to do, instead: “Do embrace imperfection, your own humanity, and your own desires as part of the process. Do honor yourself and your history. Do consider your creative pursuits and the access you need to the tools required. Do think of decluttering as a practice that brings peace, instead of a chore that brings fear. Do make a choice, any choice. Do use labels. They don’t have to be pretty, but they do have to be legible.”

See all of Fay’s organizing ideas in her house tour.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Don’t try to organize clutter

Vaishali Sahni of Tiny and Tidy explains that you shouldn’t start organizing until you declutter. “It’s essential that you declutter before you try to organize. If you don’t value it, get rid of it! Do get containers to categorize and organize your stuff. Whether it’s in drawers, cabinets, or on shelves, use appropriate containers to hold your items so that they don’t all get mixed up and disorganized.”

See all of Vaishali’s amazingly organized Toronto condo tour.

Don’t try and tackle too much at once

Janet M. Taylor has been helping clients get organized for over 25 years, and recommends a more bite-sized approach. “Instead of working on the entire room start with a box, drawer, or a shelf.” She also suggests scheduling time for organization on the calendar. “Once a week file, scan or shred documents. Put clothes, shoes, jewelry that you have worn throughout the week away. When you do the laundry schedule enough time to actually put it away. If you can devote one hour a week that is 52 hours dedicated to staying organized.”

Credit: Melanie Gnau

Don’t try to be someone you’re not

Minimalism coach and small space stylist Melanie Gnau of A Small Life has many “don’ts” of organizing to share, and they all have to do with being true to yourself (and your wallet): “Don’t buy any organizational tools before you declutter! You probably already have most of what you need to organize your home. I love using things like old box tops and clean peanut butter jars for organizing. Don’t keep something just because it cost a lot of money. It’s the sunk-cost fallacy and it’s keeping you stuck!”

“Do forgive yourself. Everyone buys things they don’t need and everyone’s house gets messy from time to time.”

Melanie Gnau of A Small Life 

“Don’t keep something for the person you aspire to be. A lot of people keep jeans because they hope to fit in them someday. Don’t do this! Guilt is a terrible motivator. Donate the jeans, work on feeling better about your current body and move on! And don’t keep something because it was a gift from someone. The gesture was the gift. If you don’t like the object, sell it or donate it without guilt.” Melanie’s advice for what to DO is equally kind. “Do forgive yourself. Everyone buys things they don’t need and everyone’s house gets messy from time to time. Decluttering and organizing is an opportunity to reflect on your habits and create a happier home. There’s no need to beat up on yourself for having four can openers or clothes with tags still on in the closet. Forgive yourself and do better next time.”

See all of Melanie’s smart and affordable ideas in her home tour.

Credit: Hana Asano

Don’t hold on to something “just in case”

Professional organizer Jen Robin of Life In Jeneral doesn’t think you should be holding on to something because you “might want to wear or use it months from now. It’s easy to get into a spiral of keeping things just for the sake of keeping them, when six months down the road, you end up getting rid of it anyways.” And after you accomplish an organizing or decluttering task, don’t forget to celebrate: “So often when we organize, we finish and then look for the next thing that needs to be tackled. What you’ve just accomplished is a big deal and deserves to be enjoyed!”

We will be touring Jen’s home later this month.

Credit: Erin Derby

Don’t disrespect the limitations of your space

Professional declutterer and home organizer Claire DeBoer says her biggest organizing “don’t” is buying organizing supplies before you declutter and “focusing too much on bins rather than editing.” But she also encourages people to “respect the limitations of your space, give everything a home, store like with like, and buy less.”

We will be touring Claire’s home later this month.

Credit: Minette Hand

Don’t go out and buy containers first

Kristen Ziegler of Minima says that when you start an organizing project out by buying containers, you could actually be ADDING to the clutter. “Buying product is the last step of the process after things have been sorted and minimized. Often we can repurpose containers a client already owns.”

“Prioritize getting organized. It will help you achieve your other life goals, so don’t let it linger at the bottom of your to do list.”

Kristen Ziegler of Minima 

She also recommends that you focus on “minimizing one complete category at a time—whether you have an afternoon to go through your entire wardrobe, or you have ten minutes to clean out your purse or backpack. Consolidating like items and then letting go of things you no longer need is the biggest part of getting organized. Prioritize getting organized. It will help you achieve your other life goals, so don’t let it linger at the bottom of your to do list.”

We will be touring Kristen’s newly updated home again later this month.

January is a great time for a fresh start (speaking of which, have you joined our January Cure yet?) and seeing inside the homes of professional organizersand reading their advicewill hopefully inspire your home in 2020.