If you want long term results that will last, this process will help you permanently declutter and stay organized. I’m not gonna lie to you and say how easy and quick it is. But, the rewards are LONG TERM, so the time and pain now will serve you well for years.

This is part of a Lean Six Sigma program. 5S is the easiest process improvement for any home or workplace. You can even use it for email organization, e-filing systems, really anything in your life that could use a little systematic organization.

Step 1 – SORT

funnelThis is where a lot of people run into their first and most discouraging roadblock. Keep in mind you don’t have to make an immediate choice about everything in the first step. Don’t stress, just go with your instinct in round 1.

Create a system for piles – or use color coded stickies or I like to use colored dot stickers, or folders in an email box.


Pile 1 – Definitely keeping this, no doubt about it

Pile 2 – Probably want to keep this

Pile 3 – Not sure if I want to keep it, I may use it someday

Pile 4 – Give it away

Pile 5 – Trash (I find this pile is usually the biggest, why on earth did I keep this TRASH?!?)

Now go through Piles 2 and 3 and do it again, if you need a Round 3, then do it a third time.

You will have likely reduce your stuff by HALF. IMMEDIATELY take the trash out and take the giveaway stuff to Goodwill or Salvation Army or where ever you like to donate.

**If you’re in Northern Virginia, consider Bethany House of Northern Virginia. It’s a service provider/shelter for victims of domestic abuse. Contact them and they’ll let you know the process for donating your gifts http://www.bhnv.org/


steps 1 2 3You can do this a somewhat simultaneously with Step 1 – SORT, but only if it’s really easy, if you try to combine these steps it will slow your overall progress.

You’ll need to go through your stuff again and ask the following questions:

  1. What do I use frequently?
  2. What do I use semi-frequently?
  3. What do I use infrequently?

USE FREQUENTLY – find a place at eye level, where it’s easy to identify what you’re looking at. This is where you’ll store the frequently used items. Don’t try to stuff them in this place, the frequently used items are at most risk for getting disorganized, especially if you’re like me and always seem to be in a hurry.

USE SEMI-FREQUENTLY – find a place just above or just below eye level for these items.

USE INFREQUENTLY – these are top shelf, back of the closet, bottom drawer items.

Another way to look at SETTING IN ORDER is to put like items together. T-shirts all in one place? Or sleep shirts in one place, summer shirts in another? SET IN ORDER by season or color? All ½ inch screws together? Or woodscrews together and metal screws together no matter what size? You have to decide what works best for you.

Keep in mind, that if you make a decision at this point, you may find later something else works for you. Once you’re done with the entire process, it’ll be easy to change your SET IN ORDER decisions, so just go with your first instinct for now.

Step 3 – SHINE

bucket and broomDepending on the space your organizing you may want to switch Step 3 – SHINE and Step 2 – SET IN ORDER

When I clean my closet, I usually SHINE before I put things back in the SET IN ORDER spaces. Actually, I end up SHINING a few times during the whole process, but that’s because I’m usually putting my SORTED piles on top of some place that may or may not be that clean to begin with.




standard standardizeThis is probably the most individualized part of the process. You need to create a standard way of keeping your items organized for yourself and your family. This is declaring rules like “The scissors go in this drawer ALWAYS, NO EXCEPTIONS for any family members!” If you live with other people like I do, you know this isn’t always going to work. Part of this standardization is getting people on board, but you may also be the one to move the scissors back when you find them in the wrong place.

In the workplace, this is the step where you document the standard, include in process, procedure and training documents.

Labels go a long way, again, a bit time consuming, but worth it in the long term.

You may want to invest in shelves, storage bins, crates or other boxes/spaces that you can clearly mark. A plastic two drawer unit in our coat closet with labels “Winter Hats” and “Winter Gloves & Scarves” has lasted almost 4 years. We need a refresher in this area, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had to dig around for that single missing glove that I know is somewhere!


system systemizeThis requires buy-in from your family, roommates or workmates. Everyone who uses the space you’ve just organized has to commit to regular review and discussion* regarding improvements

*or directive if you’re the self-appointed person in charge, like in my house

If someone isn’t following the system, then ask them how to improve it so it’ll work for them. Be open to their suggestions and if works for everyone, then why not change it? No one ever gets it’s 100% the first time, tweaking your system periodically will only improve it.

The critical point of this step is to make sure that you’re always making it better, the ultimate goal is near perfection or “Six Sigma”. Statistically six sigma is a calculation of standard deviation. Reaching six sigma statistically means 3 defects per million opportunities for process deviation. 99.9997% of the time it’s done correctly.

THAT’S why this process is worth your time. You reduce the number of deviations from the process and you’ll never be searching for the scissors again!

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