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5 Proven Steps to De-Clutter and Organize

Real Estate Agent with NoVa House and Home - Frankly Realty

If you want long term results that will last, this process will help you permanently declutter and stay organized. I’m not gonna lie to you and say how easy and quick it is. But, the rewards are LONG TERM, so the time now will serve you well for years.

This is part of a Lean Six Sigma program. 5S is the easiest process improvement for any home or workplace. You can even use it for email organization, e-filing systems, really anything in your life that could use a little systematic organization.

Step 1 – SORT

funnelThis is where a lot of people run into their first and most discouraging roadblock. Keep in mind you don’t have to make an immediate choice about everything in the first step. Don’t stress, just go with your instinct in round 1.

Create a system for piles – or use color coded stickies or I like to use colored dot stickers, or folders in an email box.


Pile 1 – Definitely keeping this, no doubt about it

Pile 2 – Probably want to keep this

Pile 3 – Not sure if I want to keep it, I may use it someday

Pile 4 – Give it away

Pile 5 – Trash (I find this pile is usually the biggest, why on earth did I keep this TRASH?!?)

Now go through Piles 2 and 3 and do it again, if you need a Round 3, then do it a third time.

You will have likely reduce your stuff by HALFIMMEDIATELY take the trash out and take the giveaway stuff to Goodwill or Salvation Army or where ever you like to donate.

**If you’re in Northern Virginia, consider Bethany House of Northern Virginia. It’s a service provider/shelter for victims of domestic abuse. Contact them and they’ll let you know the process for donating your gifts http://www.bhnv.org/


steps 1 2 3You can do this a somewhat simultaneously with Step 1 – SORT, but only if it’s really easy, if you try to combine these steps it will slow your overall progress.

You’ll need to go through your stuff again and ask the following questions:

  1. What do I use frequently?
  2. What do I use semi-frequently?
  3. What do I use infrequently?

USE FREQUENTLY – find a place at eye level, where it’s easy to identify what you’re looking at. This is where you’ll store the frequently used items. Don’t try to stuff them in this place, the frequently used items are at most risk for getting disorganized, especially if you’re like me and always seem to be in a hurry.

USE SEMI-FREQUENTLY – find a place just above or just below eye level for these items.

USE INFREQUENTLY – these are top shelf, back of the closet, bottom drawer items.

Another way to look at SETTING IN ORDER is to put like items together. T-shirts all in one place? Or sleep shirts in one place, summer shirts in another? SET IN ORDER by season or color? All ½ inch screws together? Or woodscrews together and metal screws together no matter what size? You have to decide what works best for you.

Keep in mind, that if you make a decision at this point, you may find later something else works for you. Once you’re done with the entire process, it’ll be easy to change your SET IN ORDER decisions, so just go with your first instinct for now.

Step 3 – SHINE

bucket and broomDepending on the space your organizing you may want to switch Step 3 – SHINE and Step 2 – SET IN ORDER

When I clean my closet, I usually SHINE before I put things back in the SET IN ORDER spaces. Actually, I end up SHINING a few times during the whole process, but that’s because I’m usually putting my SORTED piles on top of some place that may or may not be that clean to begin with.




standard standardizeThis is probably the most individualized part of the process. You need to create a standard way of keeping your items organized for yourself and your family. This is declaring rules like “The scissors go in this drawer ALWAYS, NO EXCEPTIONS for any family members!” If you live with other people like I do, you know this isn’t always going to work. Part of this standardization is getting people on board, but you may also be the one to move the scissors back when you find them in the wrong place.

In the workplace, this is the step where you document the standard, include in process, procedure and training documents.

Labels go a long way, again, a bit time consuming, but worth it in the long term.

You may want to invest in shelves, storage bins, crates or other boxes/spaces that you can clearly mark. A plastic two drawer unit in our coat closet with labels “Winter Hats” and “Winter Gloves & Scarves” has lasted almost 4 years. We need a refresher in this area, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had to dig around for that single missing glove that I know is somewhere!


system systemizeThis requires buy-in from your family, roommates or workmates. Everyone who uses the space you’ve just organized has to commit to regular review and discussion* regarding improvements

*or directive if you’re the self-appointed person in charge, like in my house

If someone isn’t following the system, then ask them how to improve it so it’ll work for them. Be open to their suggestions and if works for everyone, then why not change it? No one ever gets it’s 100% the first time, tweaking your system periodically will only improve it.

The critical point of this step is to make sure that you’re always making it better, the ultimate goal is near perfection or “Six Sigma”. Statistically six sigma is a calculation of standard deviation. Reaching six sigma statistically means 3 defects per million opportunities for process deviation. 99.9997% of the time it’s done correctly.

THAT’S why this process is worth your time. You reduce the number of deviations from the process and you’ll never be searching for the scissors again!


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Brought to you by NoVa House and Home at Frankly Realty, Inc. 

Falls Church, VA



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Mark Organek
And the United States of America - Mesa, AZ
It's not a game, it's your life.

Amelia, Perfect timing to have this post out for us that needed it.  Going to make my office a place I will look forward to opening the door to.

Jan 03, 2016 03:43 AM
Amelia Robinette

you'll be so much more productive

Jan 03, 2016 06:30 AM
Sybil Campbell
Fernandina Beach, FL
Referral Agent Amelia Island Florida

Amelia, what a great system for organizing and decluttering. thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Jan 03, 2016 04:42 AM
Amelia Robinette

my pleasure - I've been using systems like this for many years since studying Lean Six Sigma. you'll save so much time with this technique, works for Toyota and thousands of other businesses.

Jan 03, 2016 06:31 AM
Nicole Doty - Gilbert Real Estate Expert
Zion Realty - Gilbert, AZ
Broker/Owner of Zion Realty ZionRealtyAZ.com

I'm definitely the "thrower awayer" of the family. Don't let me sort out the junk because it will all get thrown away!

Jan 03, 2016 07:05 AM
Amelia Robinette

me too - don't tell my friends that their holiday cards are already gone 

Jan 03, 2016 07:10 AM
Thomas McCombs
Century 21 HomeStar - Akron, OH

If something is easy to throw away, it gets thrown away immediatly.

It's the piles and piles of stuff I want to keep that makes me crazy.

Jan 03, 2016 07:31 AM
Amelia Robinette

sort n focus on step 2. if you don't use it regularly, you can get it out of your way and put it in the 'infrequently used' file cabinet, closet, garage, storage space. it really works, i promise 

Jan 03, 2016 07:45 AM
April Swenson
Coldwell Banker Ocean Shores Brokers - Ocean Shores, WA
CRS and Managing Broker - Ocean Shores Real Estate

Good post. Decluttering one's life makes life easier and more efficient.

Jan 03, 2016 11:47 AM
Amelia Robinette

Thanks! you're right - there's a ton of data that shows significant increase in efficiency and productivity when things are organized.

Jan 03, 2016 09:24 PM
Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS
Fathom Realty Washington LLC - Tacoma, WA
South Puget Sound Washington Agent/Broker!

OH I so need this right now; Thanks!

I missed you at first. I found this post through Patricia Kennedy 's post... 

Jan 03, 2016 02:26 PM
Amelia Robinette

I'm glad you found it - the system really works. 


Jan 03, 2016 09:24 PM
Nicole Kelsey
Century 21 Whitney Agency Inc. - Kirksville, MO

Great post and perfect timing to get started on cleaning and organizing instead of waiting for "Spring Cleaning." I will definitely have to share some of these wonderful tips!

Jan 03, 2016 10:17 PM
Amelia Robinette

Thanks! Good guidelines to get sellers started on market prep too.

Jan 03, 2016 10:20 PM
Scott Seaton Jr. SLS Home Insp
SLS Home Inspections-Kankakee Will Iroquois Grundy Counties - Bourbonnais, IL
The Home Inspector With a Heart!

Talk about well deserved feature post. This is great. Thanks so much. 

Jan 03, 2016 10:19 PM
Amelia Robinette


Jan 03, 2016 10:20 PM
Sharon Tara
Sharon Tara Transformations - Portsmouth, NH
Retired New Hampshire Home Stager

Excellent advice! Congrats on the Feature!

In step one it's so important to take that "donation" and "trash" out of the home immediately.  Too often people sort into piles but the stuff doesn't get dealt with. Moving it from one area of the home to another is not solving the problem!

Jan 03, 2016 10:59 PM
Amelia Robinette

YES!! You miss out on the sense of accomplishment too when everything is gone.

Jan 03, 2016 11:18 PM
Dr. Paula McDonald
Beam & Branch Realty - Granbury, TX
Granbury, TX 936-203-0279

A great post for this time of year.  I don't like waiting for "Spring" cleaning.  Now is a great time to get organzied.

Jan 03, 2016 11:26 PM
Amelia Robinette

Thanks! Every day is a good organizing day 

Jan 03, 2016 11:57 PM
AndreaBFerreira CRS - SRS - CLHMS
Keyes Co. - Davie, FL
Miami Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County in FL

What a great idea.. thanks for sharing... Starting a new year fresh makes easy for the others 11 months... not for our customers but for us as well.!!

Happy New Year.

Jan 04, 2016 01:32 AM
Amelia Robinette

Absolutely! Here's to an organized 2016 for all!

Jan 04, 2016 04:22 AM
Jill Murty, Realtor - Orange County, CA
Movoto - Laguna Niguel, CA

I find that Mr. Murty often declutters for me.  I open the trash to throw something away and I see the evidence of Mr. Murty's covert decluttering efforts.  I know it's for my own good....

Jan 04, 2016 01:50 AM
Amelia Robinette

LOL, sounds like a good match - a saver and a trasher. Similar to my household. I was recently asked if I knew where a holiday card from last year was. Ummmm, landfill probably.

Jan 04, 2016 04:22 AM
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Burlington, MA
Metro Boston Homes For Sale

Amelia Robinette I love the 'give it away' part - at least someone is going to use that 'stuff' which may not be of use to us!

Jan 04, 2016 03:10 PM
Amelia Robinette

Plenty of people in need in every community appreciate that 'stuff'. Especially this time of year, shelters are in need of coats, hats, gloves, sweaters.

Jan 04, 2016 07:45 PM
Gita Bantwal
RE/MAX Centre Realtors - Warwick, PA
REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel

Thank you for sharing the great tips. Have a good day.

Jan 04, 2016 08:49 PM
Ron Barnes
Associate Broker at Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Georgia Properties - Jasper, GA
"Most agents claim they're #1 - I THINK YOU'RE #1!

Unfortunately I am permanently mired in clutter. I blame it on my mom!

Jan 04, 2016 10:38 PM
Amelia Robinette


Jan 04, 2016 11:20 PM
Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner
Karen Parsons-Fiddler, Broker 949-510-2395 - Mission Viejo, CA
Orange County & Lake Arrowhead, CA (949)510-2395

I have no problem throwing things away. I do tend to let things build up, but then I just dump them when I get into the mood. 

Jan 05, 2016 01:23 AM
Amelia Robinette

That's a system! 

Jan 05, 2016 03:01 AM
Amy Gutschow
RE/MAX - Sheboygan, WI
Professional Real Estate

before I try to organize I need to make a huge throw away and give away pile.  I now have 3 kids in college and out on their own and only 1 left at home in high school.  Time to start getting rid of everything that I no longer need and only after that can I begin to organize it all.  Hopefully there won't be much left to organize.  lol

Jan 05, 2016 03:56 AM
Amelia Robinette

I was amazed how clean my house was after our daughter went to college - I had no idea the amount of 'stuff' I'd just gotten used to walking over.

Best of luck!

Jan 05, 2016 04:29 AM
David Alan Baker | Laveen & South Phoenix Realtor
Keller Williams Realty Phoenix - Laveen, AZ
Your local Expert

I sometimes get to the point I can no longer function and NEED to declutter.

Jan 05, 2016 05:38 AM
Amelia Robinette

clear space = clear mind for me

Jan 05, 2016 07:43 AM
Raul Rodriguez
Covenant Partners Realty - San Antonio, TX
Looking out for the client's interest and not my p

My wife keeps me de-cluttered to the point that there have been items that I needed but have been tossed or donated to charity.

Jan 05, 2016 09:32 PM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Amelia, I am here because of Debra Leisek  re-blog, funny thing is that this is my biggest weak spot....BTW every thing in my home office falls under #1,#2, & #3 pile there is no #4 or #5:))Endre

Jan 22, 2016 04:28 PM