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Organizing your space isn’t meant to be an emotionally (or physically) taxing task—just ask author and clutter expert Dana K. White. “Keeping a house under control is not natural for me,” White explains. “My home used to turn into a disaster zone again and again, no matter how many quick tips or nifty tricks I tried.” No longer. In her newest book, Organizing for the Rest of Us (out January 11 from Thomas Nelson), White insists that keeping messes at bay is all about your mindset, not color-coordinated pantry containers or calligraphy labels. In this excerpt from her book, White walks us through three of her most helpful (and no-cost) organization tactics

Your Containers Are Your Limits

I used to think containers were for putting things in. I knew organized people loved them, but when I bought containers and stuck my stuff in them, my house looked junky and nothing like the pictures in the magazines. Then I had a moment. I realized that the root word of container is contain. Like, a container’s purpose isn’t to hold stuff, it’s to contain that stuff. To serve as a limit.

If I put my markers in a bucket, and I have 75 markers left over when the bucket is full, I don’t need another marker bucket. Instead I need to let the size of the marker bucket decide how many markers I can keep. When I look at it that way, my brain realizes, Oh, I guess I don’t actually need 125 markers. I don’t have to make a value judgment about each marker; I just have to put my favorite markers into the bucket first. Once it’s full, I know anything left over has to go.

Find Storage Space, Don’t Add It

When you’re overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in your home, it is tempting to search the term storage solutions. Or to call a contractor to ask how much it would cost to build a shed in your backyard or add a room to your house. But if you just got it through your head that your house is a container, you probably know I’m not going to tell you how to add storage space.

My advice is to find storage space [already] in your house. If you have a corner that is piled with supplies to make baskets, and you actually make baskets, those supplies deserve a dedicated storage space in your home. Find the space to store them by identifying and decluttering a space that is filled with things you don’t use. This is the Container Concept in action. In a home that’s under control, there aren’t piles of basket-making supplies in the corner of the dining room. (Sorry.)

Buy Basket and Bins After You Declutter

I understand the allure of the pretty pictures of aspirational spaces on organizing-product packaging. But they lie. Declutter your space first and then live with that space for a while. You’ll be amazed at how much more usable your space is and how much more organized it feels simply by removing the stuff that shouldn’t be there.

So many times, after decluttering a space, I realize I never actually needed any fancy organizing products. I just needed to be able to see and get to my stuff without a bunch of clutter in my way. Even if you do need organization products, try out your solution with a box you already have that feels like it’s the size you’ll need. It may not be beautiful, but living with that no-cost solution for a while will help you know for sure what will work before you spend money and bring something into your house that will have to be decluttered if it doesn’t work. 

Excerpted with permission from Organizing for the Rest of Us: 100 Realistic Strategies to Keep Any House Under Control by Dana K. White. Published January 11, 2022, by Thomas Nelson.