The Experts' Secrets to Getting Organized

Why make organizing your home a priority? Because the mental health benefits are real. (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

A midwinter weekend is the perfect time to tackle organization projects. The holidays are over, it's probably gray outside, and it's still the beginning of a new year. Need some motivation?

There's a connection between clutter and your mental health.

"A cluttered environment can lead you to make poor food choices," says organizing expert Peter Walsh, author of the upcoming book "Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight."

"This increasing awareness of the links between the stuff we own and our mental landscape is something that has long fascinated me," he told Rodale. "I'm not a mental health professional, but I have noticed something compelling in my many years of working with people whose clutter has overwhelmed them: You can see people's sadness and fears in the clutter around them."

Ooof, if that quote didn't punch you in the gut, your space is a lot less cluttered than mine!

The following ideas will help make the cleaning/decluttering process seem much more manageable — and maybe even more enjoyable. These pro tips come from people who have tackled all kinds of projects, large and small, so they will certainly work for your basement, closets or attic. At the very least, your organizing will feel more ... organized!

Set a time limit. Not knowing when you'll be finished can keep you from starting an organizing project. Give yourself two hours to work on a task, and if you don't finish, give yourself another hour or two another day. Setting limits means you won't get sucked into a never-ending task. Even just dedicating 30 minutes, once a week, to a project is better than doing nothing.

Make some rules before you begin. If you are organizing a closet, you might decide which clothing sizes you will get rid of, or if you're going through paper files or magazines, choose a publication date before which you'll toss everything.

Forget three bins; make it five. The traditional organizing orthodoxy says to put your stuff into three categories as you go: Keep, Donate, Toss. But it's more helpful to have Keep, Donate, Toss, Move (to another space in the house where it belongs) and Marinate. This last box contains all those things that fall between the Keep and Toss piles — stuff you can't bring yourself to get rid of, but aren't sure whether to keep. When you're finished organizing your stuff, close up the Marinate box, and label it with a date six months or a year in the future. If you never end up opening it, bring the box to your local donation center unopened and let it go. You don't need it.

Sort your stuff, then buy storage containers. Don't buy hooks, boxes or storage devices before you know exactly what you need them for. If you like going to the organizing store, it can be a reward for doing the sorting. This MNN video below looks at a specific project — a junk drawer — and uses containers found around the house.

Take a picture. The reason some stuff is hard to part with is because it has sentimental value. Instead of keeping it, take a picture so you can remember the person or time it was associated with, and let it go. You'll still have the part of it that really matters.

Put stuff in the car. No, don't just move stuff into your vehicle instead of dealing with it. But to prevent a bunch of stuff from cluttering up your entryway, take things that are to be donated or returned and put them in the car. The next time you have extra time when you're already out, you're in luck because the stuff is already with you. For items that are used or returned regularly, use a basket or box that travels back and forth — athletic shoes needed for sports practice, library books, and other gear goes in the basket and out to the car every time you leave the house.

Decorate surfaces. Keeping a dining room table, bedside table, kitchen countertop or other surfaces clear of clutter can be a challenge. One way to prevent it is to pre-preempt it. Place a vase of flowers, candles, pretty objects that you love or framed photos — and let it be the reminder that the only things that should live there are the ones that you've purposefully placed there. Making a space pretty will remind you not to make it ugly with clutter.

Want more motivation? Walsh has a series of videos that offer easy tips — 31 in all — to get you started. (And you can keep up with the daily tips at the Get Organized YouTube page.) They tips are super easy and totally do-able, even if you are an organizing newbie. Here's the first one below: