8 Organizing Mistakes You Might Be Making—And How to Fix Them

You’re about to be the next Marie Kondo.

The Loudon House Plan how to maximize storage
Photo: Laurey Glenn

An organized home is more than simply a tidy place to live—it's a love language, a way to serve others by making them feel safe and welcome. It also minimizes stress and labor, leaving you with more to give to your family and friends (and yourself). The benefits are great and long-lasting, which is why it's worth learning how to do right. No matter where you are on your organizing journey, these tips straight from the pros will help you create the perfect systems for your home.

Mistake 1: Buying Product Without Measuring or Decluttering

Put simply? "You can't buy your way out of disorganization," says Margaret Godowns of Sunday Plans in Charleston, South Carolina. There's legwork that has to be done—first, what Godowns calls "auditing yourself," because the more stuff there is in a home, the more likely it will be cluttered and harder to find what you're looking for. Plus, as Clara Schoen of The Home Organized in Birmingham, Alabama shares, "There's only so much containment we can do to maximize the space. At some point, you have to let go of those things that don't serve you." Speaking of maximizing the space, measurement is key to creating fool-proof systems. "When a space isn't filled out with supplies, you basically have an organizer in the air, which gives stuff permission to be unloaded around it," explains Katrin Farrior of The Detailed Life in Austin, Texas. It also prevents you from going back-and-forth to the store, saving you both time and money.

Mistake 2: Using the Wrong Product

The popularity of matching acrylic bins and wire baskets is about more than just aesthetics—it's about minimizing visual clutter. When things are mismatched, Schoen believes "you'll still feel very overwhelmed in the space because it isn't cohesive." Godowns agrees, saying, "Visual clutter creates real clutter." The discounted product at HomeGoods may be tempting, but there's no way of knowing if they'll have more in stock next time you visit. While organization is spendy, Schoen still believes that if it gives you back your time and energy, it's not going to be nearly as stressful. Farrior often sees clients with opaque storage systems, which she doesn't recommend. "While it does look a little nicer, it's also harder for people to remember what they own, so they just keep purchasing the same things over and over."

Mistake 3: Expecting Zero Upkeep

Farrior likes to say, "If you have a system in place, it should be almost bulletproof." As true as this is, we'd like to take a moment to focus on the "almost" part, because life is always going to be a little bit in flux. "Organization is a muscle and it's not something you just do once," Godowns states. Instead, it's an ongoing process built on the original systems. Whether you're welcoming a new baby or starting a business, your needs will almost certainly change. "Everything you bring into your home, you have to give mental and physical energy to maintaining and finding space for," she continues.

Mistake 4: Holding Off on Donating or Throwing Away

You can always find a reason to justify keeping something. Some just don't want to make a decision, so they shove it out of sight until the next cleanout (which Godowns calls "a pitstop on the way to donation"). Others want to sell instead of donate, which Schoen advises against because the headache simply isn't worth it. "You've already paid for it and made that decision. So at this point, you move forward and choose to be more thoughtful in your spending going forward." Instead, she likes to implement a donation bin in her clients' homes that can be dropped off once it's full.

One specific category that tends to overstay its welcome is beauty, often because people don't realize they have an expiration date—or that they won't use everything up like they think they will. One easy step Godowns swears by is throwing away all the free samples you get at the dentist and beauty counter. Another action you can take? Minimize the amount of beauty products you purchase in the first place by reaching out to the pros for recommendations tailored specifically to you.

Mistake 5: Keeping a Home Filled Up

Homes need to be able to breathe—for its sanity just as much as yours. Schoen accomplishes this with her 80/20 philosophy. "You can fill up a space 80%, but leave 20% open because you're going to buy something at some point and you need somewhere for it to land," she explains. Godowns, on the other hand, follows a strict rule that if something comes in that won't fit in the allotted storage, another item has to go or else it's not coming in. "We've been told you can have it all, but you have to decide if you want the space or the stuff." Schoen agrees with this, saying, "I always hear people say they need a bigger house. No, you don't need a bigger house—you just need better systems and less stuff."

Mistake 6: Putting Things in the Wrong Places

It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised. Schoen advises you start thinking about your daily life early in the organizing process. "Be really nitpicky about how you live in your space and use that as the jumping off point," she explains. What you use most regularly in any area of the home should be close by, easily accessible, and at eye level. Godowns is a big believer that everything should also have its own zone, citing founder of Hedley & Bennett Ellen Bennett's kitchen system, prep, cook, serve, and store, as an example. The more out of place things are, the more cluttered your home becomes, resulting in dysfunction created and time wasted.

Mistake 7: Only Organizing for the Adults

What's functional for an adult may not be functional for a kid, so those who have children in their home need to be even more thoughtful about how the space is utilized. Some adjustments Farrior makes include picture labels, broader systems, bigger product for smaller kids and smaller product for bigger kids, and opaque bins with lids to minimize the temptation of unnecessary messes. Schoen likes to implement toy rotations, saying, "Kids don't need nearly as much as you think. If you're overwhelmed by the amount of stuff, can you imagine what their little brain is going through?" When it comes to teaching kids how to stay tidy, Godowns takes inspiration from Shira Gill's philosophy: "At school, they have very clear expectations, and you have to take that idea and bring it into your home."

Mistake 8: Keeping a Catchall Drawer or Closet

Catchalls go against the entire organizational system, making it easy to give yourself an inch and ultimately take a mile. The first step to getting rid of one, according to Farrior, is "identify what doesn't belong there. You want to see what's ended up there and where it should really live." There should be, as the saying goes, a place for everything and everything in its place.

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