For 2,021 years, we’ve been vowing to be more organized with every New Year’s resolution list, yet somehow it never happens. Often, it’s because they feel too daunting or unrealistic. So, we’re here to tell you to take baby steps (and after a year like 2020, that’s more than enough). If you have 10 minutes, it’s all you need to feel like you’re making moves to feel more focused and bright-eyed for what this new year has in store. Choose one thing at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed — figure out what works for you and what will be sustainable. And since it can be a boundary to have to buy a ton of organizational tools just to get started, we thought up ways you can get going without spending a dime.
Clean out your email inbox
Are there thousands of unread emails taunting your phone’s main screen? Get it under control so that important emails won’t be lost in the shuffle. Start your clean slate by going through the past week’s worth of emails — anything older, you’ve already deemed unimportant.
Now, here’s how I got my 44,888 emails to inbox zero in 60 seconds: If you’re using Gmail, type “is: unread” into your search bar (it’ll make all your unread emails appear), check off the select all box, then click “select all conversations that match this search.” You can either mark them as unread or move them to trash. You may have to do this a couple of times depending on how many emails you have.
Moving forward, take a few minutes out of each day to unsubscribe from automated emails and listservs that you no longer need. If it continues to get inundated, consider making a new personal email address to really start fresh.
Organize the apps on your phone
Create folders by long-pressing an app icon on your screen and combining it with a similar-themed one (for instance, all your social media platforms will be in one folder; all your health-related apps will be in another). This is a great time to delete any of your unused apps that you’ve forgotten about and is simply taking up storage (or eating up data) on your phone. If you haven’t used them in at least a year, you likely don’t need them.
Back up your phone’s photos
This is one of those things that take no effort at all, but we can never remember to do it until it’s too late, like when you drop your phone in the sink (guilty). You can save them to the Google Photo app if you have an Android, the Cloud if you have an iPhone, an external memory drive or you can sync them to a photo app like Dropbox.
Organize your coupons
There are lots of brands that still do paper coupons and their savings down the drain when you forget to use them. When you store them away, they’re out of sight and out of mind. The key is to keep them organized (try alphabetically and/or by category) and put them together in a place that’s easily accessible — like in a pocket organizer next to your car keys so you remember to grab them when you head out the door. Go through your coupons periodically so you remember to take stock of what you have and throw out anything that’s expired.
Toss your kids’ artwork
Not every piece from kid’s art class is going to be a Picasso. Sit down with your kid so they can help you determine which pieces are special. Save them in a bin, mark them with their name and years, then toss the rest.
P.S. If you’re feeling particularly nostalgic and you’re willing to shell out some money, brands like Artkive will send you a box that you can fill with artwork that gets professionally photographed and turn into a hardcover photobook. They hold anywhere from 20-200 images of art and they’ll return the artwork back to you — at which point, you feel less guilty about throwing them away.
Recycle your magazines
With so many magazines now available digitally, chances are your coffee table has accumulated tons of glossies. Unfortunately, a lot of places where you normally could donate them (like your local library) aren’t taking them any longer because of COVID-19, but you should be able to recycle them curbside.
Check out your medicine cabinet
How annoying is it when you have a pounding headache — only to find that your Advil expired a year ago? Go through your medicine cabinet to toss anything that’s past its expiry date (and take note of what you need to pick up at your next drugstore run so you’re always prepared). Do the same with your beauty products — toss them if they smell off or have changed color or texture.
Sort out your food storage containers
If you’ve been getting takeout every day since the pandemic began, you’ve probably built up a sizable collection of plasticware. It’s a great time to go through all your storage containers and throw out anything that’s missing pieces (like a lid). As a rule of thumb, if you live on your own, don’t keep more than a dozen containers. You just need a few larger ones and the rest can be small.
Rearrange your spices
First off, if your spices aren’t all in one place, think about a spot in your kitchen that can house all of them — like the cabinet next to your stove. Keep the essentials that are in heavy rotation in the front (think: salt, pepper, cinnamon, etc.), then organize the rest alphabetically. Spices can lose their flavor or potency over time (it takes roughly three years), so this is a good time to purge any that have been sitting on your shelf for longer than that.
Tackle the junk drawer
Real talk: This likely won’t take a few minutes to handle in one full sweep. However, you can break it up by category so it doesn’t feel as overwhelming. One day, take 10 minutes to pick out all the receipts that have built up. The next day, scoop up all the pens and pencils (tossing the ones that have dried up or don’t work). After that, attack all the loose wires and electronics, and so on.