The 10-Step Home Organization Checklist for a Happier Home

Apartment Advice

The following comes to us as a guest post by INOVA, a brand new apartment complex located in Reno, Nevada.

The majority of families today juggle hundreds of responsibilities and tasks every day. It’s easy to push organization to the back of the list.

But when you live in a home where disorganization is the norm, your mind is subconsciously processing that extra chaos as stress. And if your goal is a happier home, then organization needs to become a priority, not an option.

Here’s the down and dirty truth: Mess causes stress.

There are psychological studies that prove that clutter stresses out our minds with too many external stimuli.

Clutter reduces our ability to be creative, frustrates us when we can’t find something (where are those car keys NOW?), and subconsciously keeps us from being able to fully relax. Our minds think our work is never done until that chaos is put away.

The good news is that it’s really simple to add new methods to your current madness. Once you implement a system you like, you can stay efficient and organized for as long as you follow through with it.

These 10 steps will help you get organized room by room, creating a happier home in the process.

1. Set Goals 

Goal-setting is key to accomplishing anything that requires long-term thinking. It takes time to create a happy, well-organized home. The process goes a lot faster when you have clearly defined steps along the path to get you there.

Set achievable goals for organizing, and you’ll have a happy home in no time.

How to Set Achievable Goals

There are many types of goals, but they all have one underlying factor: they move you forward in some aspect of your life. You’ll have micro-goals (little ones) and macro-goals (big ones), but each goal gets you closer to your best self.

You first need to set micro-goals for organizing each room that move you closer to your macro-goal of a happy home.

An example of a micro-goal that will help you get organized would be something like: “I will fully clean and organize one room each day until the whole house is completed.”

You know your schedule, clutter amount, and house size best, so you know what’s doable for you. You may be able to knock the entire home out in one day, or you may need to divide and conquer each room in manageable chunks.

The most important part of goal-setting to remember is that you have to find a happy medium of challenging yet possible.

If your goal is too difficult, you may give up before you even get fully started. If it’s too easy, you aren’t working towards your maximum potential, and you’ll get bored.

Think about the results that you want to see. Then set specific, measurable, achievable goals for each room until you can trace your starting point to the final finish line.

2. Set a Reward

Your motivation, of course, is going to be your happy home. But having a “carrot” to dangle in front of you helps, too. Your carrot should be tangible — something you really, really want but have denied yourself because it’s not necessary.

Research shows that people who reward themselves with little treats are more likely to choose actions that form self-control.

In other words, if you know you’re going to get a reward, you’re more likely to do what you’re supposed to do, even if you don’t want to do it.

Some examples of rewards that you can work towards, even if you are on a budget, include:

  • Setting a lunch or dinner date with a friend or significant other.
  • Splurging on a treat, within a predetermined budget, that you were previously denying yourself.
  • Taking time out of your hectic day to do something just for you with no guilt.

Ultimately, you know what will work for you to get and keep you motivated. Use that knowledge to kick yourself into gear and organize your home.

3. Curb the Urge to Spend 

You might be tempted to rush out and buy a whole bunch of “organizers” to help you clear up your clutter

But hold on! 

Remember that getting organized means you want to reduce what’s currently in your home before you go adding more clutter.

As you go through each room, you may find things that you can use that you already have.

You Have to Clean to Organize

There are necessities you’ll need to grab from the store quick before you get started, though.

If you don’t already have these, here’s your shopping list:

Put a kibosh on purchasing anything that isn’t going to help you get organized. Remember, the less stuff you have, the less chance there is of future mess.

Chances are, if your home is disorganized to the point that it is stressing you out, it’s also dusty. As you move around your possessions, dust, dust bunnies, and other debris is likely to fly.

Wearing a face mask prevents you from breathing in dust, especially when you’re moving things that haven’t been touched for a while.

Use the rubber gloves and your all-purpose cleaner to give a quick wipe down to any surface before you set your possessions on them.

Don’t be too overzealous. The task at hand is organizing — not spring cleaning.

Hate cleaning? See how the team at Handy can do the dirty work for you!

4. Make a Mess, One Room at a Time 

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Yes, the overall final goal is to have an organized home.

But to reduce chaos, you must first make it worse.

As you work one room at a time, make a pile in the middle of the room where you throw everything that needs to be sorted. Trash what is obviously trash as you go and use your cleaning products as necessary.

The Bedroom

Most people start the organizing process in their bedrooms, which makes sense. It’s the room you are probably in for the most extended amount of time.

Go in with a plan:

  • Throw all your clothes in a big pile on your bed or the floor. Toss any clothes you know you won’t wear, anything you have “duplicates” of, things you haven’t worn in years, and whatever doesn’t fit in a “get rid of” pile.

Organize what you want to keep in a way that works for you. Clothes can be hung in your closet or folded in your drawers by color, style, season, outfits, etc., but don’t just put them away randomly.

  • Repeat this process with your books, movies, music, pictures, documents, and anything else that’s cluttering your room.
  • Scoop up the “get rid of” pile and dump it all into a trash bag or large box to deal with at the end.

When space is a concern, removing duplicate or triplicate items can clear up more room than you thought possible.

Related: 5 Proven Ways to Maximize Small Closet Organization

The Kitchen

Cupboards, drawers, and refrigerators are hotbeds for clutter. It’s easy to shove things “out of sight, out of mind.” But it’s hard to keep a truly clean kitchen when hidden junk lingers behind closed doors.

Pay attention to these common obstacles to organizing when you’re cleaning up your kitchen:

The Junk Drawer

You know you have one. Everyone does. It’s your catch-all for those things you don’t have a place for but might need someday.

Dump the entire drawer onto your counter or table. Then go through it carefully, eliminating doubles and triples, things you haven’t used in years, and whatever is junk. Just like with your bedroom, create a “get rid of” pile.

You may decide that a junk drawer organizer could help, or you might declutter your drawer so much that it’s not necessary.

Related: How to Organize Odds and Ends


Clear everything out shelf by shelf, one cupboard at a time. Don’t forget to empty the dishwasher, too.

Do you need all of those old souvenir cups? Or the lids to plastic containers you can’t find?

In an apartment or small house, cupboard space is limited. These duplicates or unused items cause unnecessary disarray and clutter. Get rid of them!

Check your pots, pans, and cooking utensils, too. If you cook a lot and really need more than one of the same thing, keep it. Otherwise, a typical apartment home only has four burners. How many pots and pans (and lids) do you logically need?

The Fridge

Is your fridge organized and rotated often? If not, you may have science projects growing in your forgotten Tupperware.

One shelf at a time, pull out everything and decide whether to keep it or throw it away (this step does not qualify for the “get rid of” pile).

Be sure you use a separate heavy-duty garbage bag for your trash and take it out to your outside garbage cans as soon as you’re done with the kitchen.

Laundry Room

If there is any dirty laundry here, throw in a load. Donation centers don’t want your dirty clothes!

While that’s washing, look behind the washer and dryer. Retrieve anything that has fallen back there. Sweep under the appliances as well.

Jot down some organization ideas for this room down in your notebook. If you’re like most people, there are probably some soap spills in here and a few errant dryer sheets. Think of ways you can corral those soap bottles and stain removers with a DIY shelf or container with dividers.

When the laundry is done, sort out anything that needs to be discarded and put away the rest.

The Rest of Your Home

Follow the same process, one room at a time, from living room to hallways, to attack each area of your house thoroughly. Combine all of your “get rid of” items as you go and push them to a corner to go through later.

5. Eliminate Everything that You Can

For some people, decluttering their home and (gasp!) getting rid of things is just as stressful as living in chaos.

How do you decide what to keep and what to eliminate?

First, you have to decide how limited on space you are. Is it functional to save keepsakes and store all of your favorite books and CDs? Or might it be smarter to go digital with your reading and music and reduce the keepsakes to only the treasures?

Choosing What to Keep

When you’re trying to decide between keeping and getting rid of a particular item, ask yourself if it’s the thing itself that brings you pleasure or simply the idea or memory it holds.

If parting with the possession itself breaks your heart, keep it! But if it’s the memory that goes with it, would a picture of the keepsake suffice?

It’s common to want to hold on to childhood creations, report cards, etc. But it’s not functional to store all of them forever.

Instead, consider taking pictures of each item and creating a digital scrapbook of memories to present to them when they move out or get married. You can keep a copy for yourself, too, and it’s more organized and manageable.

Storing the Treasured Items

Whatever you choose to keep may not be something you want to leave lying around the house. Instead, create an organized system for storing your keepsakes in a part of your home where they won’t be in the way.

In areas of limited space, you may have to get creative. Try some under the bed storage container options or moisture and pest resistant heavy-duty storage totes if you have attic or basement access.

Your coffee table is for coffee cups and snacks — it’s not a catch-all for the things you can’t find a place for. If you must save things you aren’t going to use regularly, pack them away in a structured, secure method.

6. Complete One Task at a Time 

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Most of us are working daily with too many irons in the fire and not enough time to put them out. As you declutter and organize, it’s easy to remember something else you were supposed to do and get distracted.

Unless it’s an emergency, like you forgot to pick your child up from practice, keep trudging through the task you are working on.

Put your phone away and minimize external distractions, too. Let everyone know you’re unavailable for an hour, after which you will check in again.

Music always makes the job easier, but if your phone’s playlist is going to present a temptation, try to find a way to rock out without giving yourself access to distractions.

If you are tempted to get side-tracked with projects (like fixing a broken blind or changing a light bulb), create to-do lists in your notebook instead. You can come back to those items later.

7. Clean Up Your Mess

There’s zero use in implementing organizational techniques until you’ve gotten to the actual playing field you are going to be working on.

Don’t talk yourself into doing any “final touch” organizing along the way. You’ll likely just be creating double work for yourself.

Once you’ve decluttered, trashed, added to the “get rid of” pile, and cleaned up, it’s time to take a step back. Look to see where you need a little more tidying. It’s tempting to move on to the next room before you finish organizing the current one, but you’re not done yet.

Pull out your pocket notebook to list any ideas you had on how to add better organization later. Don’t use your phone for this unless you are uber-focused and won’t “check-in” early.

Don’t forget to dust and tidy up before you move on.

8. Determine What You Need for the Final Organizing Necessities 

Once you’ve finished every room, you know how many pots and pans you actually have and which clothes you haven’t worn in years and are getting rid of.

Now you can make a clear list of what will help you get organized. Head to the store or your computer to buy them.

Consult your notebook to remind yourself which parts of the house you wanted more structure in and what tools would help you succeed here.

You may have ideas for organizers like:

In an efficient, budget-friendly manner, you can then shop for your finishing touches.

9. Declutter: Sell or Donate 

Finally, it’s time to tackle that pile of items you’re ready to eliminate. After you’ve made your “get rid of” pile from each room, you need to decide what to do with everything in it.

You know yourself best. Are you really going to throw that in a “yard sale” pile and then never have that yard sale? If you live in an apartment building or other zoned area, are yard sales even allowed?

Unless you are an eBay pro, sometimes it’s better to throw them in a donate pile.  But if you’re looking for a way to make some extra cash, selling your unwanted items can be a good way to do this.

Selling or Donating? Try These.

If you want to sell or donate but aren’t sure how to get started, here are some legitimate options.


Used goods are in high demand on the internet. You can sell your unwanted items online without too much difficulty through sites like:

  • Decluttr — a site that will buy your used phones and other electronics, legos, and movies. They pay the shipping, and you get paid directly to your bank account when they receive the items.
  • eBay — a third-party site where you can sell just about anything, as long as it’s legal. You list your items and potential buyers shop and purchase. You ship the item, but the buyer usually pays shipping.


Tossing perfectly usable items that you don’t want anymore is understandably hard for a lot of people to do.  But where can you donate them?

  • Social media — Make a “Curb Alert” post letting people local know that you’ve left something outside and they can come get it if they’re interested before garbage day.
  • Thrift shops — The most common suggestion people give to anyone looking to donate is to take it to a thrift shop. But think carefully about what you choose to drop off.

Many people don’t realize that thrift stores have to pay someone to get rid of items that won’t sell. Instead of doing a good deed, you might be causing a headache.

  • Other charitable organizations — To find reputable charities and donation centers in your area, check out CharityNavigator.org.

10. Enjoy Your Happy, Organized Home, and Your Reward! 

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You worked hard. Now it’s time to reap the benefits of that hard work. You have created achievable goals, cleaned up messes, organized every room, and you’re clutter-free. It’s time to celebrate!

Relax and enjoy the peace and wonder if your new home, then go treat yourself to whatever carrot you had dangled over yourself during this grueling process.

You earned it and the happier home you that surrounds you!

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