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Get Organized in 30 Minutes or Less

Why spend hours you don’t really have trying to organize your home when you can accomplish the same goal in a fraction of the time? You can get an amazing amount done in as little as 30, 15, 10 or even five minutes. So, when you’re short on time but long on mess, try these quick little tidy-up tips. A few minutes here and there add up to a well-ordered house.

If You Have 30 Minutes…

1. Tackle that “to file” pile. You know the one—the stack of paper that always seems to pop up on your countertop or other horizontal surface. “Spend 30 minutes going through it, either filing or tossing,” says organizing expert Jamie Novak, author of The Get Organized Answer Book. “And have your shredder ready.”

2. Play beat-the-clock. Pick a room, set a timer and go, suggests Jennifer Ford Berry, author of Organize Now! and owner of Organize This Life! in Buffalo, New York. For example, if you select the kitchen, “When the timer starts, see how many cupboards you can straighten up before it goes off,” she says. “When time’s up, you’re done. The next time you have 30 minutes, organize more cupboards.”

3. Box up kids’ artwork. Sure, it’s precious and adorable, but how long does it need to live on the fridge door? When it looks more like a mess than a masterpiece, pull it down and store it in pizza boxes, advises Novak. That’s right, pizza boxes. “Go to a nearby pizzeria and ask for one box per child,” she says. If they’re not feeling generous, you may have to pay a few bucks, but it’s worth it. “Label each box with your child’s name and school year, and then use them to store the best of the best,” says Novak. You can give the remaining artwork to relatives. “Then just slide the boxes under your child’s bed.”

If You Have 15 Minutes…

1. Organize a dresser drawer. “Empty it out and quickly scan what you haven’t worn in a while or what you don’t love,” says Berry. Put those things aside to donate or sell (keep a bag in the bottom of your closet to hold such items), fold up the rest and return them neatly to the drawer.

2. Get rid of electronic clutter. “Spend the time deleting old files saved on your desktop to free up space on your computer,” says Novak. “In 15 minutes you can delete at least 15 files.”

3. Set up a grab-and-go section in your kitchen. Pick a drawer or pantry shelf and fill it with single-serve snacks, gum, mints and the like. Now when anyone in the family wants something quick, they know where to go. “No more rummaging around and making a mess of your cabinets and pantry,” says Novak. “Everything’s in one central location and it’s easy for you to see when items are running low.”

If You Have 10 Minutes…

1. Tidy your closet. What can you do in 10 minutes? Hang up the clothes you tossed on the bed while getting dressed that morning. Make sure hangers are all facing in the same direction. Pick up whatever’s fallen on the closet floor. Space out any clothes that are bunched up on the rod.

2. Match up your plasticware. You know all those plastic containers and lids cluttering up your cabinets? “Pull them all out and match the right tops to the right bottoms,” says Novak. Then neatly return them to one location. If you have a few straggler containers with no lids, don’t toss them. Instead, repurpose them by using them elsewhere in the house to store…well, whatever you want.

3. Defuzz your fridge. Icky as it may be, you have to get rid of those fuzzy leftovers sometime. Might as well be when you have 10 minutes to spare. “Throw out any old food that has turned into a science project,” says Novak. “Then designate one shelf in the fridge as the leftover shelf. You’ll be more likely to eat what’s on it much faster.” And last night’s meat loaf won’t get pushed all the way to the back of the fridge and forgotten anymore.

If You Have 5 Minutes…

1. Grab a basket and go room to room, picking up stuff that doesn’t belong. “When five minutes are up, put the basket by the stairs,” says Berry. “Seeing it there will remind you that you need to put away those items when you have some free time.”

2. Create a “daily” shelf in your medicine cabinet. Rearrange items so that the things you use every morning—toothpaste, deodorant, moisturizer, hair accessories, etc.—are all on that one shelf rather than scattered on the counter, advises Novak. Also, put a magnet inside the medicine cabinet door and stick your tweezers and eyelash curler there for easy access. You’ll streamline your time and your messy vanity.

3. Make a list. Think of other clutter-busting things you can do around the house in 30 minutes or less. “Jot down your ideas and post the list somewhere accessible, like the inside of a cabinet door,” says Novak. “But not on the fridge. That’s just adding to the clutter.”

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