Whether your friend is naturally messy or identifies as “messy” or “messy organized,” there are ways to help them declutter and become organized—at home, in the office, or even digitally. But restoring order is only half the battle. Once they declutter and organize their materials, it’s important that they develop habits that will help them stay organized. 

Staying organized for the new year or now after an initial resolution is a challenge. A study by the Association for Consumer Research found that most people struggle with keeping things organized after tidying up. As a result, they go back to their messy habits.

If your coworker, partner, sibling, or grown child has asked you to help them get organized, you’ve come to the right place. Here are 6 practical steps and organizing tips on how to help a messy person get organized—and stay organized.

1. Encourage baby steps

It can be a daunting task for a messy person to start with a huge pile of items or a mountain full of paper clutter. It’s even more of a challenge to not know where to start. Instead of a big purge, encourage them to start small.

Starting small can mean spending as little as 5 to 10 minutes decluttering daily. For instance, returning items where they belong. Throwing away small items such as past checklists, notes, and unneeded paper receipts in the trash or recycling.

These small decluttering paper and tasks will help them build confidence in knowing which items are important to keep and what can be thrown away. Simultaneously, they will build a habit of using small daily gaps to tackle mini-organization projects.

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About 33% of Storage Cafe’s survey respondents are currently renting or have rented self-storage spaces. A further 11% stated they had never rented but intended to do so in the future. While self-storage spaces provide a solution for those lacking in space, a pitfall to using storage spaces is that you often move one mess to another location. 

An important theme to talk about with the individual you are trying to help is to highlight items they are no longer using. Ask them questions such as, “Have you used this within the last 3 months?” 

But throw away items responsibly. The average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year! Instead of throwing clothes away in the trash, consider donating new or gently used items. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure after all! Getting rid of items will lessen the number of things a messy person will need to organize. And having less stuff makes it easier to maintain an organized home.

Suggest a 1-in-1-out framework, which entails throwing stuff away when they make a new purchase. For example, if they buy a new shirt, consider an old piece of clothing that can be thrown away or donated.

But how would they know what to throw away or donate? Try asking them this next question… 

3. Ask them, “Does it spark joy?”

This question is part of the KonMari Method, developed by Marie Kondo, a well-known organizing consultant who has written books about being neat and organized. 

Decluttering does not mean removing their personality from their space. A lot of people tend to buy things because they like that thing and it makes them happy. Sentimental items may also hold meaning. A Journal of Environmental Psychology study found it important to surround yourself with self-identifying items to make a home feel like “my home.” Buying too many items only starts being a problem when individuals are unable to manage all their stuff properly. 

Help your friend or partner find key items by asking them if the item sparks joy. If it sparks joy, then they can keep it without guilt. If it doesn’t, have them say thank you and goodbye to the item. 

If they want to show off their items, suggest they keep these items to a limited amount. For example, fewer than five items if they are displaying these items in a shared family space, etc.

Marie Kondo’s method to help organize someone’s workspace by Good Housekeeping

4. Help them create dedicated spaces for dedicated items

Now that you have helped your friend or partner throw away or donate items that they no longer need, it’s time to organize. 

We spend 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for misplaced items and spend more than $2.7 billion annually to replace these missing items. So, having a space for certain items allows individuals to know where each specific item is as well as where they should place an item when they are done using it. These steps will help them develop a habit of using and returning items to their set places, helping their space stay neat and clean.

The use of small storage containers on shelves is very practical. For example, using a drawer to store writing tools will often result in that drawer becoming a catch-all for all sorts of clutter. But having small storage bins or other containers within drawers or on shelves will help you easily locate items at a glance.

How to organize a drawer that sparks joy by Maria Kondo

Another essential tip for how to help a messy person get organized is to create dedicated spaces for items by using labels. Labels are especially useful for drawers, non-see-through bins, or storage containers, eliminating the guesswork of what that storage bin, box, or container might contain.

5. Implement a labeling system for computer files

Chances are good that if your messy friend needs help with physical organization, they might need help with digital organization, too.

Whether PC or Mac, each computer system will have its own folder and filing system.

But regardless of the OS your friend or partner prefers, the most popular method to get started with digital decluttering is to use folders. 

Consider Tiago Forte’s method for placing all files into four overarching categories:

  1. Projects

  2. Areas

  3. Resources

  4. Archives

Another common way to organize files is by using colored labels. Colors can be tagged to certain document types. For example, home documents can be tagged with red, while work documents can be tagged with green. Having categories organized by color makes it easier to differentiate which document is which without needing to click through every single document.

6. Introduce apps that make organization easy

Going paperless is a great way to reduce paper waste. There are plenty of apps to help you organize your physical space by digitizing paper clutter. However, even with plentiful apps to choose from, only 8% of Meon survey respondents regularly used apps to help them with organization.

There are many apps to help you get organized, depending on the specific type of help your friend needs. Drowning in paper clutter? Shoeboxed is a receipt tracking app that helps small business owners, bookkeepers, and accountants to categorize expenses, locate any potential tax deductions, and prepare for tax audits.

How Shoeboxed can help you be organized, Shoeboxed

Do they want to implement a digital note-taking system? Notion.so is a management and note-taking software that helps users organize their digital lives. You can even collaborate on shared files and coordinate with other users to meet project deadlines.

Do they need a system for remembering daily to-dos? Todist received a five-star rating from PCMag and was picked as Editors’ Choice among to-do apps. Tasks can be organized into “Projects” that you can further break down into smaller jobs using the straightforward and user-friendly interface. A fantastic tool to aid in organizing your personal and business lives.

Check out these 5 apps that can help keep a person organized and well-balanced despite a full calendar

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Other ways a messy person can get organized

  • Surround yourself with organized people.

  • Make it fun and turn it into a challenge.

  • Create a chore chart or checklist to keep up on being organized.

  • Find a professional organizer to help you out.

Signs of being disorganized

For the most part, messy people may not recognize the signs of being disorganized. Some commonalities may include searching for misplaced items, multiple piles of their stuff or mess around, being late for appointments, missing work, not spending enough time on important tasks, and feeling overwhelmed.

Frequently asked questions on how to help a messy person get organized

Can a messy person still be organized but messy?

Many people often claim to be “messy organized.” Everything may look like a mess, but they state they know exactly where certain items are. While that may be fine for some people, more often than not, most everyone can afford to get rid or throw away their mess and digitize paper clutter.

My messy friend feels overwhelmed when thinking about getting organized. How can they overcome this feeling?

They are not alone. Feeling overwhelmed when looking at clutter is a fairly common reaction! A study by the Australia Institute found that four in ten Australians feel anxious, guilty, or depressed about their clutter.

If they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed about how to get organized, speaking to a mental health professional is a great way to discover the cause. Another motivating element is to start with small and achievable steps. Then celebrating those steps will help build your friend’s confidence to tackle a greater challenge.

In conclusion

Choose just 1 or 2 tips from this article on how to help a messy person get organized. Starting small is a great way to help a messy person get organized if they feel overwhelmed. 

There is a chance your friend or partner might go back to their messy habits. Focus on the progress they have made instead of highlighting how far they still have to go. It’s the little wins that help to build confidence. And as their confidence grows, their ability to spot ways to improve will grow, too.

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