Organization experts help you clear the holiday clutter with 12 months of tips

Wrapping paper by the tree.
(Colin Gray / Getty Images)
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It’s Dec. 26 — do you know where your mojo is? If you lost it somewhere between Black Friday and the buffet table, you’re not alone. Following weeks of seasonal celebration, the resulting disarray at home can make the room spin. It’s a holiday hangover of sorts, but luckily, there’s a cure. We spoke to organization experts for advice on how to face the music (sans sleigh bells) and get life back on track. You might want to take it on a month-by-month basis:


“First, discard all the [gift] wrapping, un-box everything that’s going to be taken out of boxes and do a general pickup of the area,” says Regina S. Lark, certified professional organizer and owner of A Clear Path in Los Angeles. After that it’s time to sort. Keepers should find places; items for return or donation go by the door; and duplicate items should be evaluated: “Only keep the best one — even if it’s the one you already had.”



It’s a good time to unclutter your conscience. Rachel Isgar, owner of Please Pass the Manners, says if you were the person who took all the group photos during holiday get-togethers it’s time to follow through. “Sending them out can really go a long way,” says Isgar, “because people look forward to those photos but may not want to nag you for them.”


Let go of stuff that doesn’t serve you. Take one drawer, closet or cubby at a time. “Give yourself permission,” says Nonnahs Driskill, owner of Get Organized Already! in Los Angeles. The trick to this rule? “Try not to think about how much something cost two years ago or six months ago … if you don’t love it and you’re not excited about it anymore, no matter how much it cost, let it go.”


After a holiday haul, Lark suggests parents help kids edit the loot. “I walk into bedrooms of small kids where you can’t see the floor,” says the certified professional organizer. Her advice: limit access. Lark recommends asking kids which toys are current favorites and temporarily store the rest in bins, then switch them out every few months.



We’re hoping that El Niño will be over by May, and if it’s not raining, it may be time for a garage sale. Gather unwanted items (you might even want to set a fundraising goal). Ensure stuff is in working order, and lightly clean or dust. Then, get organized. If required, obtain a yard sale permit. Post a listing of your event on or via social media. For the big day, have a money belt or fanny pack, small bills and coins for making change, extra grocery bags, a calculator and extension cords for plugging in appliances if necessary. Price items, but be willing to negotiate.


If you arrive midyear without reaching organizational goals, Beth Penn, founder of Bneato Bar, a team of professional organizers in Los Angeles, believes the issue may be time management. Her advice: Keep a record of how you are spending your time, then determine when to schedule organization. Bottom line: It needs to be a priority. “It needs to be at the top with family or work projects,” says Penn, “otherwise it will never happen.” Then prioritize what you want to accomplish and create a realistic timeline.


Home office paperwork is overwhelming. To slay the stacks, Penn advises the following: set up a temporary cardboard file box and make temporary files for all categories — utility bills, tax returns, vaccination records — that you encounter. Designate a bin or pile for shredding and one for recycling. Once everything is filed, determine if there is a way to go paperless in any or all of your categories, then do it. Penn also suggests creating a category for things to be scanned and digitized. “My goal is to help people get rid of as much paper as possible,” she explains.



Too many photos? Clean up your digital act. First, delete images you don’t want, says Katherine Macey, owner of Organize to Excel in Los Angeles. Next, upload remaining photos to online storage sites such as Dropbox, Flickr, Apple iCloud, Amazon Cloud Drive or Google Photos and tag the keepers with meaningful keywords to help find them in the future.


Still scribbling notes on scraps of paper? Digitize your to-do list, making it accessible via computer, tablet and smartphone. Macey says some of her favorite apps include Trello and Toodledo. Other applications to consider: Todoist, Asana, Any.Do, Evernote, TickTick and Google Keep.


Even virtual desktops can become cluttered. “It makes it difficult to find things,” says Macey, “and it’s distracting … I recommend people don’t keep files on the desktop unless they are accessed all the time.” Instead, check out online tools such as Fences (for Windows) or Desktop Groups Lite or HiddenMe (for Mac).



Planning early for seasonal gift-giving saves money and reduces stress. Start now. On the flip side, consider your own wish list carefully. Lark suggests requesting experiential gifts from family and friends (if they ask) instead of stuff. Share time, not clutter.


Want to get organized fast for the holidays? Plan a party. Things come together quickly with a deadline. Set a budget, make a guest list and determine the type of party you would enjoy and can afford. Splurging? Book the caterer and bartender immediately and mail invitations ASAP. Set realistic expectations and accept help when offered.