6 tidying rules that drive professional organizers nuts – ignore them and do this instead, they say

Practical, no nonsense advice from a professional organizer about the tidying rules that will, ultimately, defeat you

Organizing a cupboard with containers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Not all tidying rules work – or work for everyone. And some are downright unhelpful. 

Indeed, there are so many home organizing ideas, rules and tips that can feel frustrating or limiting, and there are a lot of reasons why decluttering your home might feel overwhelming. Whether you’re not sure where to begin or you fear you’ll do it wrong, just getting started is often its own hurdle. 

So who better to judge about the tidying rules we would be better ignoring than professional organizers? We recently connected with Jill Koch, the Owner and Creator of Jill Comes Clean. As a professional organizer, Koch has heard it all. She talked us through a few of the rules she’s heard and shared which ones we’re free to ignore.

These are the six rules that drive this professional organizer nuts – and a few things she suggests we try instead. 

Jill Koch, professional organizer
Jill Koch

Jill Koch writes the Jill Comes Clean blog, about organizing, tidying up after her family and cleaning. An author, mom, wife, nurse, and former news reporter who never really lost the sharing side of reporting, she describes herself as 'a bit of a “Jill” of all trades trying to do it all and share about it in the process'. You can find Jill's favorite household finds on Amazon.

1. Over-organizing a space

food in storage containers stacked in fridge

(Image credit: Zwilling)

Koch says that one organizing trend these days makes it impossible to grow within your space. 

'I ignore tidying in a way that completely fills a space and doesn't leave room to grow or for extras,' Koch says. 'The perfectly curated refrigerators with a bin for everything and no open shelf room? Where is a random leftovers box going or the extra carton of milk while you finish the other one? I think you should tidy in a way that looks orderly and makes it easy to find what you need, but also leaves room for life to happen.'

What to do instead: Leave space to grow.

2. Organizing by timer

Timer and clock

(Image credit: Getty Images)

‘Setting a timer’ is common advice if you’re struggling to find time to tidy and want to add it into your schedule. The five minute tidying challenge worked for one member of H&G's team, but Koch is dubious about these words of wisdom.

'I personally don't love the idea of setting a timer and tidying in that amount of time,' she tells us. 

What to do instead: 'I think you need to start in small sections and complete it once you start it, otherwise you may not come back to it for a while.'

3. One-room-at-a-time organizing

Organizing a room

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Another issue Koch has is when people suggest tackling one room at a time – but don’t take into consideration just how large one room’s mess can be. Instead, she suggests tidying specific spaces. 

'Don't tidy rooms at a time, tidy spaces,' Koch says. 'We've all been there: grandiose visions of taking everything out of a room and tidying it up only to get burnt out 30 minutes in. Now, [you] have a mess in the hallway.'

What to do instead: 'Enter a room and pick one area. In a closet, work on one shelf or section of clothing at a time; in a kitchen or bathroom, one drawer at a time. As you complete one area, move on to another as your time and motivation allow.'

4. The basket collection technique

A lady sat on the floor organizing boxes with the sticker method

(Image credit: Alamy)

Another frequent tip is to take a basket or container, walk around your home, and fill it with things that need a place. Koch finds this counterproductive. 

'I find I just end up with a laundry basket full of stuff that sits in the corner of the floor untouched,' she says. 

What to do instead: 'Work one area at a time, putting away items and tidying as you go.'

5. 'Everything, everywhere, all at once'

Organizing and putting away in a bathroom drawer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A lot of the rules surrounding tidying and organizing focus on tackling everything, everywhere, all at once. 

What to do instead: Koch says it’s just as important to get into the habit of tidying as you go. Just because one space is messy doesn’t mean your whole home needs to feel that way – instead, put things away immediately after use.

'Don't put it down, put it away,' says Koch. 'I heard this somewhere on social media years ago and it's so good! If we could just get in the habit of putting things where they go in the moment we'd have to spend less time tidying. Now, within reason, because I know sometimes we are running out the door or getting to something else but for most things, if we follow this mantra, it will make a big difference and save us time.'

6. Morning organizing

large entryway with latticed glass around the door, a console table and a runner

(Image credit: Future PLC / Richard Powers)

If you’re looking to make time during the day to tidy your home, you might see some advice on incorporating this into your daily habit by adding it to your morning routine. Sure, you might have more energy to tackle big tidying and decluttering projects, but Koch says this is only going to create stress for your future self.

What to do instead: Understand that tidying up at the end of the day is setting yourself up for success tomorrow. 

'Just taking those few extra minutes to tidy an area will be something your future self thanks you for,' Koch assures us. 'It's not always easy to tidy the kitchen or living areas after a long day when you're tired, but the more you do it the more it becomes second nature and part of your daily routine. Trust me, you will always be happy you did later on.' 

Ashley Chalmers
Contributing Editor

Ashley Chalmers is a freelance writer for Homes & Gardens with over 10 years' experience as a digital writer and content creator. Ashley started her career in entertainment and fashion PR in New York, before moving to the French countryside and taking up travel blogging. Now, Ashley lives in London. Her passion for travelling is only matched by her love of making her house feel like a home, and she loves to include her finds from around the world in her decor.