How to Tackle a Huge-Ass Organizing Project (even if you have no time, no energy and no babysitter)

We've all been there, right?

Maybe you’ve just moved house.

Maybe you’re in pre-baby full nesting mode.

Maybe you just can’t take looking at that unorganized kitchen a minute longer.

As daunting as it seems, sometimes there’s no option but to reorganize a room from top to bottom.

This is where this post comes in. As an army wife, I’ve moved house many times. And as each house we’ve moved to has been very different, I’ve had to undertake a lot of large organizing projects.

If you’re thinking about taking on a big organizing project and wondering where to start, I’d like to try to make that whole process much less overwhelming for you.

Wondering how to tackle that big organizing project? This helpful post will help you through it all even if you have no time, no energy and no baby-sitter. 

Wondering how to tackle that big organizing project? This helpful post will help you through it all even if you have no time, no energy and no baby-sitter. 

The Slides

(Because this is a huge-ass blog post)

1| Set up a project binder

I highly recommend having some central location to store all your notes. This could be a project binder, paper file or digital folder. And as much as I love paper, I have to admit that Evernote really is excellent for this kind of project because it syncs across your devices which means you can access your notes when you’re shopping for supplies.

You be the judge of what works for you.

Having all your notes together is going to make this whole process much less stressful. You don’t want to spend ages taking careful measurements, only to lose the paper you jotted them down on.

2| Keep the end in mind

Let’s take a moment to think about why we’re even taking on this project when we could be doing other more fun stuff.

Write down, in broad terms, your overall goal of what you want to achieve. 

You might write down something like:

  • I want to set up a pretty and functional craft room I can be creative in;
  • I want an organized kitchen so I don’t have to dread the thought of cooking;
  • I want to finally be able to find all my papers in your home office.

Doing this gives you some direction and keeps you from getting side-tracked mid-project.

3| Create zones

Read most home organizing advice and you'll be told to ‘take everything out of the room’ before starting your project.

This advice is crazily unhelpful to the vast majority of us who have no time and space to dedicate to a huge-ass organizing project. 

But we don’t have time.

So how do we overcome this?

Zoning, my friend, zoning.

Split that room into zones and make a list. For example in the kitchen you might start off with Tupperware drawer, then the cutlery drawer, then the utensil caddy, then the spice rack etc.

These need to be bite-sized small zones.

(No, make them smaller than that.

Little bit smaller.

Now you’re good.)

Now we have a big project broken into bite-sized chunks and we’re much more likely to reach our end goal (without sacrificing our sanity).

4| Take stock of the situation

It’s time to think about what we want to achieve.

Think about these questions and make some notes. 

  •  Who uses this room and what for?

Ø  Are there any special requirements for some users? For example, if you want younger children to be able to reach their plastic bowls and cups in the kitchen, you'll  want to store them in the cupboards nearest the ground and away from anything breakable or sharp.

Ø  You may also want to consider the organizing style of people who use the room. Is your husband going to keep that drawer neat or is a basket he can throw stuff in more appropriate?

Ø  What has to be stored in this room and what needs to be moved out somewhere else? 

  • What really annoys you about the space you're organizing? What are you definitely going to have to change? Go around the room zone by zone.

 Let’s take our kitchen example, you might write down things like:

'There are so many jars of herbs and spices, I can never find the one I want first time.'
'The cupboards are overflowing so I have to move lots of stuff around before I find the dish I want'

  • What are the important measurements of the room?

Now is a good time to grab your tape measure and make some notes.

My top tip for British readers would be to take measurements in both centimetres and metres, and inches and feet. When I was hunting for supplies for a recent project, I found retailers using both systems.  Now I’ve vowed to save time and take both metric and imperial measurements.

5| Write a plan of action.

For each zone that you identified earlier, write out all the things you need to do to accomplish your goal. I find it useful to chop each job into chunks that can be done in 5 minutes. The smaller the task the more likely I’ll get it done.

For example, if your goal is to organize your spices you could split that up into the following  jobs:

  • Check that each spice is not past its expiration date;
  • Write the spice names on the cute labels you found;
  • Stick the labels on the new spice jars;
  • Decant the spices into new, freshly labelled jars;
  • Arrange on shelf (perhaps those most frequently used at the front).

This is a great way to tackle a big project when you don’t have the time for a full day or afternoon of organizing. It’s also great for people who, like me, have a chronic health condition that leaves them very little energy to spare.

Obviously, if you have more time to dedicate to the project all at once, make bigger chunks

6| Set a budget

I’m certainly guilty of overspending on a project, you can relate? I highly recommend setting a budget before you start shopping. And of course, trying to stick to it. 

7| Inspiration

Here Pinterest is your best friend. And your worst enemy. Set up a new board and start pinning things that would work in your space. But beware, there is so much organizing-porn on Pinterest you could easily spend days and days on research. Beat this productivity black hole by setting a deadline to your research. 

I also like to take personal recommendations from some of my favorite bloggers. If you need organizing help, you need Alejandra Costello in your life. She has a helpful resources page on her website that I find endlessly inspiring and you can see how she uses the products in her YouTube videos. Click HERE to go to her resources page. 

8| Write a shopping list

A shopping list is your best friend when it comes to sticking to your budget.

Before buying anything, I find it useful to ‘shop’ my home for things that can be re-purposed. Big projects can be expensive and buying a new storage container for everything will soon blow your budget. So I like to start off DIY’ing and re-purposing where I can, and then buy prettier solutions later on.

And, yes my friend, a shopping list is included in the free printable project planning pack (I really need a shorter name for that).

9| Gather your resources

Before I start any organizing project, I like to get my kit sorted. No matter the project, I always need the following items:

  • Cleaning supplies (microfiber cloths, general purpose cleaning spray, hand held vacuum cleaner);
  • Garbage bags and storage boxes (for decluttering);
  • Washi tape and painter's tape (for quick labeling);
  • Toss/Donate/Sell/Repair/Recycle decluttering signs (sticky notes will do);
  • Project Planner File note sheet for adding any thoughts to as I go;
  • Basket to store items that need to be moved to a different area of the house;
  • Label maker or other labels. 
  • Snacks and water.

Although I rarely get time to tackle a big organizing project all at once, having this kit together means I can take advantage of 10 minutes here and there to get a bit done. You could get a fancy caddy for all these items or just stick them in a box. Done is better than perfect.

10| Recruit some help

Press-gang if necessary. 

Please don’t feel you need to do everything yourself. If other family members can’t help you with the actual organizing, why not recruit someone to make dinner that night (or be in charge of getting take out)?

What about someone to babysit while you concentrate on your project for an hour or two?

What about asking for help to move larger items to donation or recycling centers?

Perhaps a local handyman can assemble those shelves while you tackle other jobs that need your touch?

11| Make a date (or two)

Time to make a commitment.

Grab your diary and start making dates for organizing. As we’ve split the room into small zones, you only need to schedule short appointments to get things done.

You might also like to set an overall deadline for completion. Nothing like an impending deadline to galvanize us into action.

I actually like to have 2 deadlines. One that I’d really like to meet. And a second deadline in case of emergencies, illness for example. This is not a licence to procrastinate but an admission that family life is unpredictable.

12| Prepare to donate and recycle

Before you move a teaspoon or a paperclip, figure out where you can donate or recycle things you want to get rid of.

I don’t know about you, but I find decluttering certain things so difficult. But if I decide ahead of time, that I’m going to donate things to a charity I feel strongly about, it’s much easier.

The thought of sticking my baby’s old clothes in a garbage bag marked ‘trash’ brings me out in a fit of hoarding. The thought of folding those clothes carefully in to a pretty box to donate to my local hospital’s baby unit? Yes, I can do that with a cheerful heart.

Ditto for books, toys and other items that might carry sentimental value.

Don’t forget to keep track of what you donate and the estimated value if you need this for tax season.

13| Sell, sell sell

Why not make a bit of money back to reinvest in your project by selling some things you don’t need anymore? I’m not great with technology or photography but even I’ve managed to rack up some great sales on Ebay.

I keep a log of what I’m selling along with delivery dates and tracking numbers.

Sometimes I have to be realistic and if an item hasn’t sold in 30 days, I just donate it. There’s no need to add clutter by hanging on to things that might sell for a meager profit. But, of course, that's your call. 

14| Getting the job done

In his fascinating book ‘Mini Habits’, Stephen Guise makes a distinction between motivation and will power. While motivation is great, Guise thinks that what we need is willpower. Motivation flags and eventually fails while willpower keeps us going when we’d rather crawl under the duvet.

These large organizing jobs have the potential to induce duvet-craving overwhelm but, hopefully, by breaking down the job into small chunks it’s much more manageable. 

So does a bit of grace. Don’t be too hard on yourself if the job is taking longer than originally planned. As long as you’re dedicating a few minutes to it every day, you’re moving in the right direction.

Keep your end goal in mind and if necessary get someone to keep you accountable. A friend or family member living outside your home perhaps.

These are the exact steps I follow when planning out a large organizing project. It works for me and I hope it makes the process less overwhelming for you. 

Obviously, I’m a planner. I need a detailed plan to follow step by step. Of course you may not feel the same, in which case please adapt this process anyway that works for you. You be the judge of what is best for you and your family.

Don’t forget that you can download the exact planning sheets I use right here. Just click the image below. 

Are you knee-deep in a big organizing project? I'd love to hear about it. Let me know what you're working on, and if you are getting stuck or need any help.