Patty McPherson: Nine basic rules for organizing your life

Patty McPherson

While working with clients, I often find myself saying the same catch phrases time and time again.

Here are some basic organizing principles and tips that are important enough to repeat.

Just because you have it, doesn’t mean you have to use it. This applies to containers, space, closets, furniture, storage and accessories. People sometimes feel compelled to keep things or systems either because they’ve bought them, used them in the past, for emotional reasons, or just because they exist. If something does not work for you, don’t use it!

When in doubt, throw it out. While this may seem extreme, in 99.9 percent of cases it holds true. If you don’t think you’ll use something or don’t know where the piece goes, get rid of it. Things that offer no use to us are clutter, and can be thrown out or given to someone who will use them.

There are only two options – less stuff or more storage. Let’s be honest, there really are only two choices. Generally, increasing your storage (building another room or closet or buying more furniture) is not always realistic or in the budget. So, start by reducing your inventory (purging), then use your existing storage more effectively.

Do you know what’s in there? And how long has it been there? Think about the box that’s been on that top shelf and that stuff in the attic. If you haven’t accessed that container in a while, and maybe don’t even know what’s in it, seems to me the contents are not all that important. Get rid of it, and use that space more effectively.

There are only three things you can do with paper: file, act or toss. The toss category is easy; the harder part seems to be getting used to a system for filing and acting. Filing including both short-term and long-term files, and acting is anything you need to do (RSVP to an invitation, place a catalog order, pay a bill). Address mail and incoming paperwork accordingly.

If items are important to you, they should be displayed or stored with respect. It is amazing what people have in storage, all dusty or wrapped up and unidentifiable. But when they see the item again they say how important it is. How important can it be if you’re treating it like that? Have sentimental china? Use it or display it. Want your daughter to have a set of family heirlooms? Give it to her now.

It didn’t get like this way overnight; it’s not going to be fixed overnight. Things don’t change without effort and new habits and routines. Like a diet must become a lifestyle, organizing is a habit that must be learned and applied to daily life. It definitely takes work, but it is SO worth the effort.

What’s the worst thing that would happen if you got rid of it? Between buying a replacement, finding it online, or realizing you can live without it, you generally can function after getting rid of items. You may even find it liberating. You have the power over your things, not the other way around.

Procrastination is really just postponing decisions. I didn’t come up with this gem, but I really like it. Often people become stuck in indecision because they find deciding between keep and get rid of difficult. Hence, they choose to keep their clutter in order to reduce their anxiety. Ultimately, once you face the decision and move on, you’ll feel so much better.

Patty McPherson is the owner of Orderly Manor in Plymouth, Mass., and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, the American Society of Home Stagers and Redesigners and the Real Estate Staging Association. She can be reached at 774-269-6519 or by e-mail at