pretty labeled boxes

Top 5 Basic Organizing Rules

A fresh start to a new year means it’s a great time to review some basic organizing rules. My name is Lisa and I’ve been in the organizing business for over a decade. Although every client is unique, I have some basic “rules” that can be applied in almost every situation. Let’s look at how they can be applied to your home or business. My passion is photos and memorabilia and I’ll show you tips on how to preserve your memories in an organized way.

Basic Organizing Rule #1 – A home for almost everything

If things don’t have a home – there will always be clutter. The remedy to clutter is to keep like items with like items.

Home –

Here are some examples of things that should be kept together: paperwork, holiday decorations, batteries, extra linens (if they can be used in multiple locations) and books just to name a few.

A few things that you may not keep all together but need a permanent home where you know you can always find them: scissors, flashlights, towels, pens, cleaning supplies (only if something is very specific – like toilet cleaner under each bathroom sink)

Photos –

Keep all printed photos in one place in your home (aside from photos displayed on walls). This is especially important if you don’t have digital back-ups of everything. Keeping photos together allows you to quickly “grab and go” in an emergency. Most likely there are other treasures you want to save as well, so consider creating digital copies now for extra peace of mind.

All digital photos should be stored in one hub. (this can be a computer or external hard drive) If you have some on your phone, some on an old computer, some on memory cards…it will take a long time to find what you are looking for. HOPE organizing can help you organize your digital photos.

Basic Organizing Rule #2 – Label almost everything

I know some people can get totally carried away with a label maker but if you have a label of some sort, it makes it so much easier to find! It is especially helpful if you share your space with coworkers, roommates or family members.

Home –

Any closed box or container should be labeled. It’s up to you how you label. Get creative or simply use a label maker for a clear and consistent look. I really like using pocket labels. They only need to be placed on the container once, but the inserts can be changed as needed. These are great for bins that may be used for multiple storage solutions over the years.

Photos –

Printed photos – take the time to write on the back but avoid using regular ink pens or markers. Aside from the risk of smearing or transferring onto photos stored underneath, they may even bleed through to the front of the photograph. It is better to use a photo-safe pencil, like Stabilo.

Digital photos – change the file name from the name assigned by the camera, like img0086, to something more helpful. I recommend the following (year-month-day – event – place). An example of how this might look is: 2020-01-13 – Anderson 4th Birthday Party – Omaha.

Basic Organizing Rule #3 – Don’t just transfer clutter

Don’t just move everything from one space to the next without a purpose.

Home –

When you move to a new home, de-clutter first. It is a waste of time, energy, and money (not to mention downright silly) to move items you don’t need or even want.

If you moved more than 6 months ago and still have unopened boxes – I would guess that you don’t need anything in those boxes. One exception may be photos and memorabilia.

One question to ask yourself if you have a storage unit, do you really need it? Aside from housing a classic vehicle or large item, the only good reason for a storage unit is to have a temporary spot to store belongings between moves, etc. When was the last time you visited your storage unit? How else could the money you spend each month be used?

Also, don’t just transfer from room to room. If you pick up a bunch of items in the living room and throw them in a guest room – all you did was move the clutter. (see #1 – everything needs a home)

Photos –

Digital photos often get moved with no rhyme or reason. This often happens with transferring photos from a camera to a computer without organizing or paying attention to what has already been transferred. (I once found 22 copies on the same photo when using a duplicate finder on a client’s photos).

Basic Organizing Rule #4 – Organize first – purchase containers later

When I go into people’s homes, I often recommend that they wait to purchase any kind of containers because they typically already have a wide variety. Buying display or designer baskets and totes will not make you organized. It’s all about how you use the organizing tools you have.

As long as you are going to start organizing soon (within in the next month) and the store has a good return policy, then I recommend buying twice as many as you think you will need. You can always return those that go unused.

Choose easy to find containers that can be purchased in the future. These containers are generic and nonspecific. I prefer clear storage tubs with white lids because you will always be able to find this color and you won’t end up with a rainbow of containers in different sizes and shapes. If you buy clear containers, you can see what’s inside too. For photos, I use black photo boxes because it creates a clean look and again, there will always be black boxes.

Basic Organizing Rule #5 – One in and One out

By following the One in – One out rule, you should be able to eliminate most of your excess clutter.

Home –

When you buy a new pair of shoes or a new clothing item – let another go. We only have a certain amount of closet space. Use it wisely and don’t clutter it up with things you don’t wear. Thinking about purchasing a sale item at the store, ask yourself what it will replace. If you can’t think of an item that you can part with, question if you need to bring a new item home.

Receive a new toaster, coffee maker, TV, etc. during the holidays – let the old one go! If you decide to sell instead of donating, make a point to post it for sale within the first week of replacing it. Don’t store unwanted items indefinitely. Still have it after 6 months? it may be time to consider simply donating it.  Even when you plan to donate from the start, avoid driving around with items in your trunk for months. Designate one day a month to take all items that need to be donated to a charity or use that day to call and schedule for items to be picked up.

Photos –

I am going to spin this rule a bit.

For printed photos – did you get duplicate copies back in the day? Get rid of the extra copy by giving it to someone else or just throw it out.

For digital photos – take some time to delete “extra” photos when you have the chance. Did you take 50 photos of your child to get the perfect pictures to share on Facebook? Delete at least 45 of the losers (your children will thank you for it).

I HOPE you can see how these basic organizing rules can be applied in your life, and that you now feel motivated to make some organizational changes to our home, business and photographs. I have a passion for helping people organize photos. If you would like to learn more about how I can help you achieve your 2020 organization goals, contact me today and let’s talk! Here’s to a new and wonderfully organized decade!


  1. Diane N. Quintana

    Great rules! I use them also and have found them to be tried and true. I particularly like the way you related these rules to photos. I’m in the process of moving my photos over to Dropbox. It’s a slow process but a good one.

    • Lisa Tonjes Moritz

      My personal photo hub is on my PC in Dropbox but I like that I can view it from my phone and my Mac.

  2. Seana Turner

    I agree with all of these. I think there may be a stage when you are building your home where you might bring in more than you release, but ultimately, these rules are definitely worth living by. The labeling one is funny. When you live with or share space with another, it really does help!!

    • Lisa Tonjes Moritz

      Funny enough, sometimes the labels don’t even work. One time my husband was frustrated he couldn’t find something to do with plumbing. I walked into the storage room grabbed it out of the bin labeled plumbing and handed it to him and he said “where was it”.

  3. Linda Samuels

    What great sound organizing advice, Lisa! It’s an excellent idea to have homes for things. The other part of that equation is taking the time to mindfully put items back. For most families, there will be things out at any given moment as we go through our day. But setting aside some maintenance time at the middle and end of the day can keep spaces more organized and less cluttered. I like how you applied your rules to both the home (in general,) and then specifically in relation to photos. Smart!

    • Lisa Tonjes Moritz

      Putting things away seems even more important now that we are all spending more time at home.

  4. Melanie

    Excellent tips! I always label totes and boxes. You think you’ll remember what’s in them, but that’s rarely true!


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