Getting organized is easy. A pro talks about how to make it last.

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By Nicole Anzia, special for the Washington Post

Update: 9 hours ago Published: 9 hours ago

There are plenty of tips (including mine) on how to organize your home, with strategies for dealing with individual spaces or categories of objects that frequently get cluttered. If you haven’t worn an item of clothing in over a year, donate it. Every time you bring home a new book, give one away. Clean and organize your pantry twice a year. But in addition to these tips, people who continue to stay organized tend to share the following behaviors and habits.

Keep a to-do list

In our busy lives, where work and home have become even more intertwined, having a to-do list is essential to staying organized. Your list can be electronic or physical, but be sure to update it frequently and take it with you.

There is no right way to organize it. Some people will divide their list by personal and professional tasks. Others keep it by deadlines: what to do today, this week, this month. Creating and maintaining a list will help you remember what needs to be done, and it will give you a sense of accomplishment each time you cross off a completed task.

Tidy every day

When you’re trying to get in shape, you don’t exercise all day and then do nothing for the next three months. Instead, you start with a sensible workout and create a routine to maintain your fitness. The same goes for getting organized and staying organized: consistency is key.

People who stay organized don’t wait to be inundated with papers, packages, or laundry to take action. They spend 10 or 15 minutes every day tidying up and cleaning surfaces, throwing away or recycling papers and garbage, hanging up clothes or filing papers. Every little gesture counts.

Consume less, buy knowingly

Having fewer items in our homes goes a long way to staying organized. There is a limit to what we can comfortably fit into our spaces. If every cupboard, cupboard, drawer and shelf is full, it’s harder to put items in their place and it’s harder to keep track of what you have.

Organized people shop consciously and limit their purchases to what they need and like. Before buying something big, like an exercise bike or a new piece of furniture, first ask yourself if you have the space for it.

Empty bags, open mail every day

The bags are not intended to store objects; they are for getting coins from place to place. Take a few minutes when you get home to empty the contents of your bags and put things away. Likewise, aim to open your mail daily and recycle envelopes and junk mail immediately. Packages must be opened on the day of their arrival. Store the contents and recycle the box. Returns must be made within one week. All of these tasks take little time, and doing them regularly will save you time and stress later.

Stick to routines

All progress is good progress. Regular tidying up every morning or evening helps keep clutter under control. Make a rule to empty your kitchen counters at the end of each day, make your bed each morning, or put away your laundry after folding it. None of this is particularly fun or fulfilling, but it makes a difference and sets expectations for a tidy and organized home.

Identify your priorities

Prioritize organizational tasks that give you a sense of control and simplify your day. If preparing lunches seems overwhelming during the morning rush, pack them the night before. Or if your inbox is stressful, spend 10 minutes dealing with emails every afternoon. I don’t like waking up to a messy kitchen, so I take a few minutes to clean and clear the counter every night. It makes me feel like I start every day on the right note.

good enough is good enough

Your wardrobe doesn’t have to be photo-ready. Your shelves don’t need to be organized. If you can find what you need, know what you have, and put things away, you’re organized. Don’t let the pursuit of perfection be the enemy of living with enough good. Our homes have been pushed to their limits during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of us have accumulated more than necessary and want to reduce again. But don’t try to declutter your entire home in one day or a weekend. Spend 30 minutes occupying one space at a time, then do it consistently. Keep your systems simple. Clothes do not need to be folded. Cereals and baking ingredients do not need to be decanted or sorted by color. Just putting them in the right place is a win.

Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at nicole@neatnikdc.com and on Instagram at @neatnikdc.

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