7 Ways to Finally Organize Your Life

by Sarah West Ervin

Your mess = stress. Get yourself together with these few simple rules for organizing some of the most important areas of your life.

1. Your Work Space

Even science says that clutter is bad for you. Research conducted at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute shows that a cluttered environment reduces your ability to focus and process information, diminishing your productivity and negatively impacting your mood.

So cut the clutter, and you'll get more accomplished and feel better. From Oprah to Real Simple to WebMD, there are countless sources singing the praises of decluttering, offering steps for getting started and staying clutter-free. The one tip you'll see on every list is a simple one: schedule regular de-cluttering sessions. Try making a habit of decluttering for just 15 minutes every day, perhaps right when you get home from work but before you settle down for a comfy couch break. If you're a clutter fiend and feel overwhelmed by your mess, start by reading Organized Home's "Declutter 101" guide.

And remember the 80/20 rule: you probably use 20 percent of your things 80 percent of the time. Keep the important 20 percent easily accessible and find a place for the rest (or consider editing it down).

For donating items from books to electronics, see Apartment Therapy's "Big List of the Best Donation Centers for All Your Stuff."

2. Your Closet

Speaking of junk, have you seen your closet lately? Is it bursting at the seams? Make getting dressed in the morning a little less chaotic by following one simple rule: one in, one out. For every new item of clothing you add to your wardrobe, find an existing item in the mess that you can donate (if it's in good condition), recycle (need some cleaning rags?), or throw away.

To really cut back on your closet clutter, try starting with one in, two out, or even three out, until your wardrobe is more manageable. It might be hard at first, but it'll feel pretty freeing once you get the hang of it.

3. Your Cleaning Cabinet

Your cabinet of cleaning supplies is THE WORST. Spray bottles and plastic tubs of varying sizes, in disarray and likely somewhere dark and damp, like under your sink. It's also dangerous, especially if you have small children or smart pets who have learned how to open cabinet doors. And it can be expensive to maintain. There's one special cleaner for each dirty problem in your home, so say the manufacturers of cleaning products. But there's a better way, my friends, and that way is through DIY cleaners.

By whipping up a few easy, effective cleaning mixes, you'll save gobs of space in your cleaning cabinet as well as a considerable amount of money. You'll also protect yourself and your pets and kids from the toxic materials in many over-the-counter cleaners, while reducing your waste. Most of the ingredients for DIY cleaners can be bought in bulk and have other purposes in your kitchen and throughout your home: baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils. Find "25 DIY Green Cleaning Recipes for the Whole House" on Apartment Therapy and "67 Homemade, All-Natural Cleaning Recipes" on Keeper of the Home.

4. Your Meals

Advanced Potions handmade notebook from Celestefrittata Bottega

Eating. You've gotta do it. Sometimes you can enjoy a nice lunch out with friends, and sometimes you plan a lovely three-course dinner at home. Usually, though, you probably run to the nearest corner store on your way home from work to grab a few cans of something you can heat up quickly because you're starving and exhausted. Your meal routine is not working.

Try planning ahead! Take a few minutes once a week to create a meal plan and get your groceries in one trip. This will save you time and money while improving your nutrition and reducing your weekly hanger levels. You can even add cleaning out your fridge to your weekly meal planning routine, which will keep your fridge organized and keep you from letting forgotten items go to waste. When selecting your recipes for the week, be sure to note how many servings each one yields and designate certain meals for leftovers. Leftovers are the best. I need that on a t-shirt...

To find a meal planning technique that works for you, start with Organized Home's "Menu Planning" guide and Apartment Therapy's "15 Tips for Better Weekly Meal Planning."

And don't forget to write it all down! You can use this free template, the ZipList app, this planner pad (Anthropologie makes organizing cute!), or any beautiful handmade journal.

Grocery and Meal Planner, $16,

5. Your Finances

Image: Fotolia

Chances are, you're not a financial guru. I'm certainly not. But I do try to follow a few simple rules to keep my finances in check. First, I know what my credit looks like. A few years ago, my husband and I started getting more serious about our finances, so we took a little time to understand our credit scores. With all the sketchy-seeming "free credit report" commercials and numerous credit bureau sites, we were a little overwhelmed at first, but it turned out to be fairly straightforward. After we figured it out, high on all that knowledge, my husband wrote a post on our personal blog to explain the difference between credit reports and credit scores and how to access both.

Second, we try to follow the 50/20/30 rule when it comes to spending. You should spend 50 percent of your income on absolute essentials (housing, food, transportation, etc.), 20 percent on financial obligations (retirement, savings, debt reduction, etc.), and 30 percent on personal or lifestyle choices (everything else, including clothes, dining out, and gym memberships). It's not always easy or even possible, but it's an important rule of thumb to keep in mind.

If you're ready for some serious financial planning, check out CNN 's "Money 101" guide.

6. Your Passwords

If you haven't heard about the Heartbleed bug, you might take a look around to make sure your home isn't, in fact, under a rock. If I've learned anything about the scare, it's that WE ARE NEVER SAFE. The other thing I've learned is that every single account you have online should have a separate password, the longer and more nonsensical it is, the better. But how possible is it to remember one random string of numbers, letters, and symbols, let alone 50? Um... not possible, is the answer.

The solution to this problem of internet security lies in password managers—programs that help you generate tough-to-hack passwords for every online account and securely store them in one location that you can access anywhere. Learn more about how these programs work on Ars Technica, then start organizing your passwords with 1Password or LastPass.

7. Your Menstrual Cycle

Image: Dear Kate

I bet you didn't expect to see this item on the list. "Organize my menstrual cycle?" you ask with one eyebrow raised? Well, there are ways to track your cycle and manage the stress that comes with your monthly flow. Start by keeping a record of your period, including when menstruation begins and ends, heaviness of the flow on each day, and the types and degrees of PMS symptoms, as well as when you have intercourse and when you ovulate, if you can feel when the egg releases each month. This information is helpful in family planning and birth control, providing accurate information to your doctor, and in managing PMS. You can easily keep track of all this data with an app — try Fertility Friend, iMensies, or LadyTimer.

And can we all please stop it with the disposable menstrual products already! Save space in your bathroom cabinet and thousands of dollars, while helping to prevent billions of pads and tampons from being dumped into the environment each year and protecting your health. Disposable products can contain bleach, acrylic polymers, and other chemicals that shouldn't go near your reproductive organs. They also carry a risk of toxic shock syndrome, are made of rough paper products which can irritate your delicate lady-bits, and absorb more than just menstrual fluid, including the bacteria from your other bodily functions. That's gross, Y'all. Make the switch to reusable products, like cups or washable pads and sponges, and you'll never look back.

Then, really do yourself a favor by skipping the purchase of cheap, flimsy underwear that does nothing to protect you, your cute new shorts, or your beautifully upholstered furniture from leaks. Replace those throw-away undergarments with technologically advanced panties that can absorb up to six tablespoons of liquid, potentially eliminating your need for pantyliners on light days or as backup protection with your menstrual cup! Plus they're pretty cute. Check them out at Dear Kate, Thinx, Knixwear, and DRC.

The DivaCup Model 2 Menstrual Cup, $27.99, Amazon

Love My Antibacterial Bamboo Fiber Reusable Pads, $19.98, Amazon

Natural Sea Silk Reusable Sponges, $10, Amazon