This Pro’s Organizing Method Is Pure “Chaos” — But It Totally Changed My Life

published Sep 3, 2023
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Organized goods on a kitchen floor
Credit: Dana McMahan

How do you unpack after a move? Rip open a box and dive in? Same. But it turns out, that’s the exact opposite way we should approach this gargantuan task. At least, that’s what I learned from the pro organizer who managed my recent move

Instead, says Kim Jones of Lock & Key Home in Louisville, Kentucky, and author of The No-Nonsense Home Organization Plan, the pro move is to wait to put anything away until you have everything out of boxes. Yes, really. 

“Ideally, if you’re unpacking an entire house, unpack every single thing, Jones says. “And get all the boxes out and get everything categorized and on the floor, and then go room by room and organize.” If that sounds like a mess, it absolutely is. “It gets worse before it gets better,” Jones told me when she explained her process. And yes, it will look like full-on chaos. I was skeptical about the method, but then it really clicked.

Credit: Dana McMahan

Here’s the thing — when you just start plopping things in cabinets, on shelves, or wherever you think they should go without having a handle on what you’re contending with, “what happens is you end up moving things again” (and again), says Jones, as you continue the process and find more stuff. It may feel like you’re being productive to get things put away right out of the box, but “it defeats the entire purpose,” she says. 

Although it’s effective, this approach is not for the faint of heart. “A lot of times people just want to cry because they’re seeing all their stuff,” Jones says. “Seeing it all out in the open is very overwhelming.” 

What this approach allows, though, is for you to figure out where it makes the most sense to stow everything. Only when you can see all the things can you break them into categories. “Just taking the time to do it up front is a ton easier,” Jones says.

How to Implement This Pro Organizer’s Method

Jones recommends going room by room and identifying broad categories. Think canned foods, cleaning supplies, linens, etc. (this really works all over the home). Start to group them on the floor or whatever surface you have, and label them with — and this is key — the super sticky Post-its that won’t immediately fall off.

The other essential you need (aside from a box cutter), is a marker. In addition to labeling your groupings of stuff, start sticking labels on the places you think you’ll put them. Then, as you tweak and rearrange, you’re only moving Post-its and not all of your items, Jones says. 

But, what if you’re, you know, not a professional organizer, or don’t have good spatial relation skills? It may take some trial and error, she says. “You may have to reassess and go back to the drawing board.” But don’t give up!

For budget reasons, I limited the unpacking service from Kim’s team to my kitchen, but then I followed her approach myself in the bathroom. We downsized and went from three bathrooms to one, and it honestly didn’t seem possible to condense and organize everything into a single bath closet, even with a vanity and medicine cabinet also available. But the method struck again.

Credit: Dana McMahan

I dedicated about half a day to unpacking everything and categorizing like Kim did. I followed her other rule of corralling everything into containers, and by mid-afternoon, everything had a place. I was baffled! Even more amazing in my mind is that I still had room left, and going on two months later, everything is still exactly where I put it. Now that’s what I consider a win. 

Where will you try this pro organizer’s method? Let us know in the comments below!