Money Talks, So Should You

How to get organized on a budget

It’s true: Organizing your life can get expensive. But it doesn’t have to.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, MainStreet contributor

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Getting organized is one of people’s top New Year’s resolutions, which is why the National Association of Professional Organizers declares January Get Organized Month.

It’s true: Organizing your life can get expensive. But it doesn’t have to. There are ways to get your home and life organized on a budget. Here are a few tips covering each part of your home and office that will help you get organized without spending a lot of money:

1. Start with a manageable project. Most people end up with clutter in their home or home office because they see it as a whole, rather than in manageable parts. Melissa Michaels, a blogger who gives organizing advice at Unclebobs.com, says the first step is to break projects down into manageable parts so you don’t become overwhelmed.

READ: Top five personal finance resolutions for the New Year

2. Take inventory. Even before you start on your small, manageable projects, take an inventory of the bins, containers, boxes and other items you have that will help you organize. “When you find you need a container to organize small parts, you can shop from what you own instead of going out and buying something new,” says MaryJo Monroe, a professional organizer and owner of the reSPACEd organization store.

3. Shop the circulars. Since you’ve taken an inventory of the project, you know if you need some type of bins or boxes or other organizational tools. Monroe says you should look for them in your local store’s circulars and check online for sales. “Big box stores often put their organizing products on sale in January, because they are trying to capitalize on the fact that so many people make New Year resolutions to get organized,” Monroe says. “It’s a great time of year to look for discounted closet systems too, which can be very expensive when they are not on sale.”

Here are some general approaches to organizing your home:

4. File it. Paper might be going away, but there is still plenty of it coming in, whether it’s in the mail, coming home from school with your kids or from other sources. Kristl Story, with BudgetDiet.com, suggests you get a family notebook with a divider for each school, organization or activity. “Use the back pocket to keep invitations or fliers for upcoming events. Use the front pocket for school directories,” Story says. “Keep the notebook in the drawer with your phone books and make sure your family knows where this important resource is.”

READ: Go paperless: Set up your files with Google Cloud

5. Deal with it. Almost every home has one — that place where the mail, school notices and everything else gets piled until you can no longer deal with it. The fact is, it doesn’t cost anything but a little of your time each day to deal with it, Story says. “Do it, dump it or delegate it,” she says. Put your bills in the bill folder, the junk mail in the recycle bin, etc., but deal with it right away. As for junk mail, you can greatly reduce it for free by opting out at DMAChoice.org and CatalogChoice.org.

6. Get rid of it. Similarly, whether you’re organizing in the home or office, Alison Kiro, professional organizer and owner of ACK! Organizing, says it is all about keeping only what you like, need and use. “Set boundaries, stick to them and be honest with yourself about why you're keeping items and whether or not what you are keeping is serving you in a positive or negative way,” Kiro says.

7. Heading out. When your family is heading out the door in the morning, is everyone scrambling to find lunch bags, backpacks and briefcases? Julie Siebert, a professional organizer and owner of Healing Through Organization, says you can repurpose an old bookshelf and sit it near the door, keeping all of these items neat on a shelf and easy to find in the morning rush.

Those tips should give you a start in the physical world. What about your schedule and other on-the-go needs?

READ: Eight financial resolutions and how to keep them

8. Use the technology at your fingertips. If you think you need a new phone, tablet device or the latest software to stay organized, you need to check out what you already have. “One thing that has really helped me get organized is using my Apple products to their full advantage,” says Jayme Pretzloff, marketing director for Wixon Jewelers. “I have an iPad, a Macbook and an iMac desktop computer. I use the iCloud feature to sync information across all devices so that I can access information on any of the devices all the time.” Pretzloff says it is great as he is never without a file, list or spreadsheet and it keeps his contacts and calendar up to date and organized.

Finally, here are some tips for specific parts of your life:

9. In your closets. As long as you have to look in the closets for your inventory, you might as well get rid of some of the clothes that no longer fit or that you don’t absolutely love. Sell them in local consignment shops or online at sites such as Tradesy.com

10. In the kitchen. Kitchen drawers gather a lot of unnecessary items — menus, instruction manuals and warranties you never look at, odds and ends — and spice racks can be hard to reach, hard to look through and clutter up valuable counter or shelf space. What to do with those spices? “Clear out a kitchen drawer and lay them flat. Not only do you have a clear view of your entire spice stash every time you open that drawer, but you don't have to stand on tiptoes to do it,” says Brad Wilson, founder of Bradsdeals.com. For more kitchen organizational tips, the book, The Organized Kitchen: Keep Your Kitchen Clean, Organized, and Full of Good Food and Save Time, Money, (and Your Sanity) Every Day! by Brette Sember, is a good investment.