If it feels impossible to get a grip on your house (and your life) because you’re just too busy, here’s how to get organized when you don’t have time.
How to Get Organized When You Don’t Have Time – 15-Minute Projects
Having trouble keeping anything clean for more than 5 minutes because nothing is organized? Does each undone project, procrasti-pile, and everyday mess clamor for your attention?
Not to mention you can’t find anything.
When that happens, do you fantasize about a whole house clean sweep? If only you had a mere two, maybe three, uninterrupted weeks without your little mess-makers around, you just know that you could finally get control.
Peace and tranquility would prevail. You could skip lightly through a field of daisies, filmy white dress swirling and sunbeams in your hair.
There have been times when my house was so cluttered and disorganized that I couldn’t imagine anything other than a total overhaul making a difference.
Unfortunately, real life only tends to cough up miniscule pockets of time, motivation, and/or pep.
When you only have little bits of time and energy, it’s tempting to spend your limited time avoiding and escaping.
But why not use those brief intervals and pathetically limited bursts of energy to make some headway? Small changes add up.
To help you get more organized right now – even if you only have 15 minutes – I came up with 18 quick organizing ideas.
- Each one takes less than 15 minutes.
- Each one requires no more than a minimum of physical effort.
- And each one will make a difference.
Just be sure to set a timer when you start. Not just to stay on task but also to remind you not to impulse clean your way into an even bigger mess.
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15-Minute Mini Organizing Projects for “Future You”
Completing one or two from this first batch of 15-minute mini organizing tasks will put cartoon hearts over your future self’s eyes. She will say a silent thank you for destressing her life.
1. Stop losing the little stuff
Stick a bowl or dish in a convenient area of each room to collect all those smaller things you and your kin regularly misplace.
Unless you are one of those families who doesn’t just lay things down randomly wherever you happen to be.
So when your husband removes his wallet because it’s uncomfortable, he can toss it in the bowl. And when you:
- Take out your earbuds
- Extract that painful scrunchie or barrette from your hair
- Yank your hoop earrings off so you can smush your head into a couch pillow
Just throw them in the bowl.
You now have a finite number of places to look because your easily trainable (shh – let’s pretend) family will start using the bowls.
No decorative bowls??
Use a regular bowl or basket and put a sticky note on it that says “leave this bowl here” to keep your kids from putting it in the sink (as if). Replace the bowl with something nicer later.
- Fewer sofa-mining sessions for Dad’s wallet
- Way less vacuum-gutting for lost jewelry.
2. Shop with dignity
If your purse isn’t organized, your soul will die a little every time you need to dump it out on the conveyor belt at Walmart to find your credit card.
Take 15 minutes to sort the contents of your purse into Ziploc bags.
The goal here is no tiny handbag necessities loose in the main compartment.
As for your driver’s license, credit card, and keys – keep those in one specific pocket so they’re easy to get to and, more importantly, easy to put back.
Despite all good intentions of meticulously replacing my cards in those tight little sleeves in my wallet, I’m destined to be a stasher. I need a place to painlessly stash things where I can find them easily later.
Everything else goes into one of the bags. You can upgrade later to cute cosmetic pouches, but for now, start with Ziplocs. They work perfectly well.
Organize it into any categories that make sense for your life.
Cramming is still okay for loose stuff you come across, such as receipts. You don’t need to unzip a bag every time you want to throw in a candy wrapper, receipt, or matchbox car.
But, since this is now the only loose stuff in your purse, cleaning it out later is painless. It’s automatic – anything loose doesn’t belong.
- Know where everything is right away.
- Pain-free purse cleanouts.
3. Destress your mornings
To destress your mornings, fill a bin with all the toiletries you need to get ready every day. Stow the entire thing away in a cabinet. That way when you stumble into the bathroom to face another day, at least it’s easy to stay organized.
Just pull out the container, use what you need, and put it back.
- Less cabinet clutter
- Fewer bottles falling all over the place
- Less countertop madness
- Less chance of accidentally forgetting deodorant
- Less total time to get ready.
Your face will be delighted you remembered to use that expensive moisturizer.
4. Remember the dry cleaning
Hang TWO reusable grocery bags in your closet or near the hamper for drycleaning. Use TWO so when you take clothes to the drycleaner, you still have a bag there catching the next batch.
- Your drycleaning is ready to grab.
- TWO bags means less mess on the floor of the closet while the errant bag floats around your car and the house.
- And bag #2 is a visual cue that there’s dry cleaning waiting patiently in your car to be dropped off or brought in, in case you forgot. Because an absence of bags won’t remind you, but seeing one single bag dangling forlornly might.
5. Save brainpower
Wanna stay on the couch while you’re getting organized?
Sit down and make some memory-jogging lists to help automate your life. Just some simple checklists to help you remember possible To Dos. Take a photo of the lists on your phone or put them wherever you regularly do paperwork.
Then when you make a To Do plan for the week or for the day, you can check these lists for possible errands or phone calls to make.
I don’t know about you, but I just can’t keep that kind of stuff in my head.
- List every errand that might come up. Then when you make your to do list for the week, this list will remind you to drop off the camp form at the pediatrician’s or pick up…well, the camp form from the pediatrician’s…
- Pet needs. What do you buy regularly or even occasionally? If you only buy Frontline once a year in bulk, this will prompt you to monitor your supply before you run out.
- Medications and supplements.
- Phone calls you might need to make.
- No need to start from scratch every time you make a list.
- Easier to group your tasks for efficiency.
- No need to keep all the store returns and library books right out in the open to visually remind you. The store names and “library” on the list will remind you.
- No literal puppy dog eyes from your actual puppy wondering why you forgot to pick up Snausages again.
6. Tame paperwork once and for all
Put a box in your kitchen to catch papers. You know they’re going to end up in the kitchen anyway, even if you have the spiffiest, fanciest, beautifulest office or desk ever. Might as well give them an official resting spot.
Take this time to gather up loose papers and receipts and put them in it. Make this the first stop for any papers coming into your house from now on.
I go more into a paperwork box in this post about dealing with papers, but in 5 minutes you can get started with it.
You may not do anything else with the box yet, but having a go-to place to find paperwork is a relief.
7. De-stress weeknight dinners
If 5:00 pm once again finds you hoping the dinner idea fairy will show up on your doorstep, consider some low-key meal planning.
Make a list of all the meals you regularly make. Then scribble out everything necessary for each one. Including spices and if you need foil or parchment to make it.
Write down at least one meal for which all the ingredients can be frozen and/or are shelf stable. Like spaghetti. Or even Hamburger Helper.
Then if you always have dried pasta and a jar of sauce in the pantry and a package of frozen pre-fried ground beef tucked away in the freezer, you have a backup plan.
Creating a menu for the week will be a cinch. Your grocery list will already be halfway done. And no need to order pizza every other night.
8. Make finding a pen as effortless as it should be
Tie a pen to something in your kitchen so you’ll always have one when you need it. Banks do this for a reason.
But unlike bank pens, make sure yours actually works.
Imagine a day when writing a check or addressing an envelope takes 30 seconds instead of 15 minutes to hunt for a pen. (Now if only you could find an envelope…or the checkbook…)
Instant Organization Projects For Immediate Gratification
More worried about Current You than Future You? How about a few more quick ways to get organized when you don’t have time? These quickie tasks provide instant gratification by eliminating everyday annoyances.
9. No more hanger avalanches
Hit up every clothes closet in the house for empty hangers. Move them all to one side of each closet, or tote them down to the laundry room.
- No more tangled hangers
- Plenty of spares for hanging clean laundry out of the dryer.
- And if you can make it a habit to start removing hangers as you go, you’ll make Future You happy at the same time.
10. De-dumpster your car
You can do this next one even if you only have 5 minutes. Grab a bag and get all the trash out of your car. Boom. Instant gratification.
If you have the full 15 minutes, tackle the rest of the mess. Here’s the best way I’ve found:
- A resealable zipper bag
- A garbage bag
- Two baskets or boxes
Now start shoveling, sorting as you go:
- Loose papers and receipts (even if you don’t think they’re important) go in the zipper bag
- Trash and recycling go in the garbage bag (you can sort it out later)
- Leakables and other oozy miscreants go in one basket, everything else goes in the other basket.
- You can also use a third basket for stuff that goes back into the car or just put everything in basket #2 for now.
Will your car still be gross and dirty?
But you don’t have to wait until you can “do it correctly” (full-blown coin-operated super sucky vacuum, armor all, wheel shine, yada yada) because who knows when that will happen?
Stay on the perfectionist route, and .2% of the time, you’ll have a showroom floor model vehicle. The other 99.8% of the time? A trashcan on wheels.
I promise you can still do your blowout, full-day car cleaning extravaganza later if you want. In the meantime, you get to ride around without fear of an empty soda bottle rolling under the brake pedal.
The garbage truck at the mall won’t mistake your car for a dumpster and pick it up by mistake.
Oh and you won’t crash your car.
11. Clear out procrasti-piles
In only a few minutes, you can easily tackle those pockets of task delay.
- Like the plastic ware and serving dishes “drying” on the counter (I think after two weeks, you can safely assume they’re dry).
- And the underwire bras draped on the shower rod.
- Or the groaning hooks in your bedroom holding all those clothes you didn’t feel like rehanging.
You might be shocked at what you discover under those layers. I once found a hamster hiding in a hoodie pocket. True story.
Set a timer and put away those lingering or corner-lurking items in your house that have become part of the décor accidentally due to clutter blindness.
- Guests won’t mistake your design aesthetic for “French Farmhouse Procrastination Chic.”
- Less hamster poop in your hoodies. (Not really a true story, by the way. Not even based on a true story.)
12. The garden hose ~ just do it
Scoot outside and wind up your garden hose onto the spool where it belongs. If you don’t have any kind of hose hanger, then go wind it up into a circular pile.
When winter comes, your generous neighbor who offers to snow blow your driveway, won’t run over your hose and totally hork up his machine. Another true story.
Unfortunately, this one is true.
Quick Decluttering Projects
If you want more instant gratification, the kind that just keeps on giving, take a few minutes to tackle some decluttering.
Not a full-on closet cleanout. Just some simple decluttering tasks that make a difference in a short amount of time.
13. Excavate Junior’s highwater collection
Pick just one kid’s dresser or closet. Do a speedy scan, then bag up everything that you know for sure doesn’t fit, has holes, or is too stained to wear.
This doesn’t need to be a total clothes decluttering or reorganization. You’re not trying to do a perfect job. This is a 15-minute mini-task.
Set a timer if you need help resisting the urge to tear everything out of their closet. All you’re doing is briefly looking at each piece of clothing and deciding to keep it or take it out.
Toss everything in the hand-me-down box or wherever you keep donations.
- More drawer space.
- Less sending your kid back upstairs to un-hobo.
14. Chip away at the footwear obstacle course
Go through the shoes cluttering up your entrance way(s). What can go elsewhere?
If you don’t have an elsewhere, do you have a box that will fit in the space to hold them all? I’d say shoe rack but if your family is like mine, they are not going to put them on a rack. You might get them to kick their shoes off into a bin though.
A clean landing and launching pad.
15. Sign your lonely Tupperware up for eHarmony
Do a plastic storage container mating session. And then a purge.
Although I’m pretty sure they don’t purge leftover singles on eHarmony but just go with this analogy.
Gather up any lids that don’t match a bottom. Check the sink, dishwasher and your son’s room for the container. If you can’t find it, toss the lid.
Then pull out any containers without lids. Either get rid of them or save them for organizing projects. Tupperware containers work great as drawer dividers and fridge clutter collectors.
- Way less aggravation when you’re trying to store leftovers or pack lunches.
- Free organizing bins.
16. Stop hiding from your refrigerator
You avoid cleaning the fridge because it’s always such a huge production – removing shelves, scrubbing ancient spills, trying to identify ancient veggie artifacts.
Take a few minutes right now and organize it a little. I forbid you to do a thorough cleanout.
See? I’m here for you.
- First, dig around and throw out old leftovers and expired food.
- Then look for duplicates and combine them. By the way, this little gadget is awesome for combining condiments (and hair products). One of the very few “as seen on TV” things that actually works)
- Rearrange things so it’s easier to see what you have. If you have some shallow containers (see #15), corral bottles and packets to keep them together.
- If you have a cloth nearby, go ahead and flick out old crumbs and milk carton flakes, but I give you permission to ignore spills for the moment.
Just that tiny bit of fridge love makes a difference. You don’t have to choose between a sparkly-sunshiny super-organized super bright fridge interior or the fridge from the Dinosaurs show. There is an in-between.
17. Unburden your nightstand and coffee table
Root out all your half-read, outdated magazines and put them in recycling. Get ruthless here. Especially those women’s magazines that are mostly for fluff reading when you’re feeling brain dead. Go ahead and throw them out even if you haven’t read them yet.
Trust me, the same article will be in the next one. And the next one.
Something about giving yourself permission not to read something just because you paid for it is so freeing.
18. And, finally, commit an act of random decluttering.
This is my all-together favorite way to declutter.
Walk through your house with a grocery bag and declutter 27 things.
They don’t all have to be big things. But an extra coffee mug here, a dry-rotted swimsuit there or a few dried-up markers there and it starts to add up.
Put them immediately in the trash or donate pile. This is DE-cluttering – not MOVE-AROUND-cluttering.
A fabulous way to reduce clutter overwhelm, especially when your focus is elusive or time is limited.
Recap: How To Get Organized When You Don’t Have Time
These tiny chunks of productivity will:
- Turn aggravating everyday tasks into less aggravating everyday tasks. I promise, your future self will want to kiss you
- Neaten up your surroundings for an instant win RIGHT NOW
- Get rid of clutter – that plague of the disorganized. (And for more decluttering help, here’s a list of 100+ easy things you can declutter fast.)
And in only 15 minutes, you’ll be:
- Better organized,
- Less annoyed,
- Less plague-y, and
- More in control.
I’m all for the clean sweep style of decluttering and organizing. There are times I actually enjoy it. It’s pretty freeing. But only when I have plenty of time and energy.
When I don’t, especially when I’m really feeling overwhelmed by how out-of-control my house is getting, 15-minute mini organizing projects help me feel more in control.
Whether you’re decluttering, cleaning up a hotspot in your home or car, or providing Future You with a clearer trail to a more organized life, a pint-sized project can give you a king-sized mental payoff.