Organized Enough

The Anti-Perfectionist's Guide to Getting -- and Staying -- Organized


By Amanda Sullivan

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If you’re looking to clean up but not clean out, if you want to declutter but don’t want to throw out eighty percent of your stuff, if you want to be able to find matching socks in the morning but don’t want a color-coded sock drawer, you’ve come to the right place. Organized Enough offers a groundbreaking, science-driven method for getting — and staying — organized. Amanda Sullivan’s proven approach will teach you the lifelong habits of the organized, showing you how to make cleaning up effortless and automatic. With seven concepts to help you define your goals and seven essential habits to keep chaos and clutter at bay, Organized Enough will teach you to reframe how you think about your space, your stuff, and your life. You’ll learn how to:

  • Sort the “stuff” from the sentimental
  • Become a paper-filing ninja
  • Cultivate consistency, not chaos
  • Set up systems that can run on autopilot
  • Let go of guilt and start enjoying your home
  • …and more



There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.


Coco was ready to change. A striking woman, Coco is an actor, playwright, and film editor. After years of being a "starving artist," she was now actually making money, but she wasn't really feeling in control. Her tiny New York apartment in Hell's Kitchen was becoming cave-like as her clutter grew, overflowing from bookshelves, burying surfaces, and piling up in corners. From digital equipment to folders of financial records, an ongoing film project was claiming precious floor space. Coco also still had items from her former career as a musician that she no longer used but didn't quite know what to do with. Everything demanded her attention, but she was busy. Just thinking about dealing with all the paper piles made her anxious. To top it all off, her deep commitment to the environment made it hard for her to just throw things away.

Coco wasn't alone. A little farther uptown, Jana was busy squirreling away tote bags—full of magazines to read, gifts to give, clothes she shouldn't have bought, and hand-me-downs she didn't really need from friends who were organizing their closets. She filled the bags up and tucked them away. Now her own closets had become unusable.

Still farther north, in Riverdale, Ginny and Evan were drowning in kid stuff: knapsacks, gifts from Grandma, scooters, and art supplies. They tried to get organized, and they bought plastic bins and boxes to house it all, but no matter what they did, the clutter always seemed to grow back.

Sound familiar? In all of these cases, the solution wasn't just "straightening up." Over the years, one thing I've realized is that whether a home looks like a junk shop or whether it's so pristine that I initially wonder why I've been summoned, there is usually some layer of perfectionism or unrealistic expectations getting in the way of the real, necessary, and practical changes that can and should be made.

When I work with people, I want to dig deep and help them figure out how their piles and cluttery situations evolved. What is the point if I make it better only to have it revert after I go? I want you to be easily able to maintain order once it is restored.

The Limits of Perfection

"Your book is the anti-perfectionist's guide to organizing? But your business is called The Perfect Daughter!" a client exclaimed when I told her I was writing this book.

Indeed. In a way, my entire life has been an exploration of the concept of perfection and control. When I was growing up, it felt like no matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough for my mother. I love my mother, and I am so grateful now for all that she taught me, but she had high standards. When I would tell people that she once pulled me out of one school and put me into a more rigorous one because my grades were too high, they would laugh, but it was true!

Still, she had drilled in me attention to detail. When I first started my organizing business, it was with my mother's housekeeping standards in mind and the idea that I could help clients do all the things a "perfect daughter" would help you do, if she wasn't busy living in another state, running a company, or raising a family. Time has moved on, though. Now that I am a mother (my daughter likes to say that she is the perfect daughter), if my three children have taught me anything, it is that I am not perfect. Moreover, I've realized that the quest for perfection is the root of the problem, not its solution.

In my sixteen years as a professional organizer, I have learned that people may want perfection when it comes to their homes, but they do not need perfection. In truth, getting hung up on being perfectly organized actually gets in the way. People don't need a color-coded labeling system or a kitchen so neat it looks like it came out of a design magazine. They don't need to downsize to eighty-four square feet of living space to reduce clutter. These are not sustainable practices, and when we can't attain them, we feel like failures and give up. Instead, people need to make organization invisible, so that their lives run more smoothly and so that they have a feeling of control and peace. They need to be organized enough.

I have helped hundreds of clients—from hoarders to celebrities to ordinary families—become organized enough. The goal is always ease and functionality over photo-readiness. In this book, I'll provide you with alternative ways of thinking about your home, your stuff, and your clutter. Adjusting your perspective is often the most powerful tool for creating lasting change, but few people know how to look—and I mean really look—at their homes. On one hand, disorder and disarray should not reign. The easy accessibility of cheap stuff threatens to overwhelm everyone's living space. But, on the other, should a home look like a still life from Elle Decor? Not really. It would be hard for it to function day in and day out. The pages of Pinterest and many of the shows on HGTV fill us with unrealistic expectations of what a home should be. Change is needed, but it isn't about looking like a picture in a magazine. It is about taking control of your life so you don't fritter it away managing your possessions.

The most wonderful homes are those that are both alive and serene. When you come home, you should feel a sense of peace and order, not stress and anxiety.

When I wake up in the morning, before the rest of my family gets up, I take a few minutes to sit on my seventeen-year-old couch, drink some coffee, and contemplate my bookcase. I have a lot of books—I'm not a minimalist. My books are not alphabetized or arranged by color (which I find an appalling trend), but in general sections: travel, biography, classics, mysteries, Shakespeare. (The self-help I keep in the bedroom.) I like to look at the books as I let my mind wander. It's a very peaceful start to the day.

Then, I make breakfast. I go into my kitchen, where the countertops are clean and free of dirty dishes, but not perfectly cleared off. For example, I keep a little pot of sea salt and a bottle of olive oil on the counter. I could fit them in the cabinet, but why? I reach for them several times a day, and to me they make my kitchen look like a place where cooking happens, which it is. Every room in my house has something like that—items and collections that some organizers might tell you "shouldn't" be there but to me make it home. More specifically, my home. What special objects make yours?

This is not a book that will tell you to throw everything out and live in a white box. How boring! I want your house to look like you and work for your lifestyle. Your friends should walk into your house and smile, because those few, well-chosen knickknacks on display are so "you" and because the bulletin board full of your child's (recent!) artwork is so fun to look at. And you're happy to entertain, because grabbing the chip-and-dip platter is easy, because you know just where it is. You already have hummus and pita and carrots in the fridge, because you've been "taking inventory." You are confident that your living room isn't a disaster because you've been doing a "last sweep" before bed. Your home isn't perfect, but it is organized enough that you can do things like spontaneously invite anyone over (not just the friend whose house is worse than yours!). You can relax because you are on top of your game: your bills are paid, the kids' school forms are filled out, and nothing is hanging over you.

Perhaps, right now, that all seems like a dream. If you are looking around your home and your life and seeing nothing but endless clutter and to-dos, you've come to the right place. This book will show you how making a few simple changes—thinking differently and starting new habits—will help you create a home that will support you and reflect the best of you, not embarrass and stymie you.

Embrace Your Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese term meaning "the beauty of imperfection." Wabi-sabi is all around us, in the overflowing fruit bowl on our kitchen counter, the cashmere throw the art director tosses on the couch to make the impossibly perfect living room look more alive during a photo shoot. I love this concept because it's about beauty, and I won't lie, I love beauty. I am an aesthetic person; when I was a little girl my room was a mess, but my dollhouse had to be just so. But, as an adult, I realize that although I don't want to live in the chaos that was my childhood room, neither do I want to live in the stagnant perfection that was my dollhouse.

When our homes are basically orderly and functional, the chaos of a Lego castle under construction in the living room or a stack of books by the bedside aren't clutter; they are evidence of life being lived. And there is beauty in life being lived.

How This Book Works

In the first half, I introduce seven concepts that will help you shift perspective and define your goals:

1. Go with the FLOW.

2. Slow down, you move too fast.

3. Fresh eyes, fresh space.

4. Fear creates clutter.

5. Who are you now? Or, will you really use that bread maker?

6. Don't let paper push you around.

7. Better systems = less thinking.

A change in perspective may help you declutter and get organized, but how, you might ask, do I keep it that way? In the second half of the book, I teach you—whether you are truly disorganized and living in chaos or a type A perfectionist letting your overcomplicated systems rule your life—seven essential habits that, once instilled, will keep chaos and clutter at bay.

We are fortunate to be living at the beginning of the habit revolution, when neuroscience has unraveled the mysteries of how we form habits, but never before has this groundbreaking science been applied to one of the most important aspects of our lives: our homes. It isn't enough to know that you need to open and process your mail every night; you also need to know why you always dump it on the kitchen counter. Then you can come up with a personal strategy to change that behavior. This book is going to teach you how to reprogram yourself. Once you have come up with an alternative scenario (such as putting the mail on your desk) you need to concentrate on that one tiny change for one month, until you literally build a new neural connection in your brain. The habits I have chosen to include in this book seem small, but they are the cogs of a well-ordered life. By following my simple method, you can build foundational habits that will allow you the life you dream of: a life where you have time for things you are passionate about, instead of always feeling like you are fighting to keep up. I want you to feel in control, not overwhelmed.

I first experimented with consciously changing my habits in seventh grade. It wasn't my idea. I was struggling academically, and my mother and my teachers sat down and discussed what to do with me. Although I scored high on aptitude tests, my work was messy and inconsistent. My mother said that I spent hours doing homework, which surprised the teachers, who thought my work looked slapdash and hurried. They decided that I must not be working very effectively, and they came up with this solution: I was to take my mother's kitchen timer and set it for a half an hour. Then I was to do a single subject of homework. If I finished before the timer went off, I could get up and stretch, get a snack, whatever. If the timer went off before I finished the subject, I could take a break. After the break, I would reset the timer and sit back down to complete the subject or start the next one.

Immediately, and I mean the very first day, I cut my homework time in half. I still had terrible handwriting and a tendency to daydream, but working in small chunks was a revolution for me. On that day I learned one of the most important things I know: that I can focus on anything, no matter how difficult or dull, if I have to do it for only half an hour.

Clients tell me that they are overwhelmed, that they don't know where to start. Know this: there is no job, no mess, no chaos that can't be broken down into small chunks. The habits I will introduce are just that: small, focused ways to counteract the usual culprits that lead to disorganization—overbuying, lack of a plan, and lack of maintenance.

These habits will become the building blocks for your new, organized life:

1. Take inventory.

2. Block out time.

3. Do a last sweep.

4. Set limits on stuff.

5. Buy less but better.

6. Ten-minute maintenance.

7. Cultivate consistency.

If you're too busy and too stressed to deal, this book will help you. You don't have to let chaos keep you from the life you dream of. Close your eyes. Yes, right now. Imagine your perfect weekday evening. What does it look like?

Do you see yourself…

Feeding yourself and your family a healthy dinner and not resorting to takeout?

Not having to worry about whether you remembered to pay a bill on time (or where it might be)?

Easily pulling a favorite outfit (that's clean!) out of your closet and being excited to wear it the next day?

Having time to relax in a peaceful spot, read a favorite book, or let your mind wander?

All of those things are possible. You can come home every night to a home that doesn't nag you with lingering to-dos and instead brings you peace and serenity.

How Did My Home Get This Messy?

We get in ruts; after a while, we don't even really see our homes the way a newcomer would. We buy furniture, we decorate, and then we dump and pile and squish in more stuff that we don't know what to do with, so we ignore it. Soon that miscellany becomes a permanent fixture, almost part of the decor. Sometimes I am in a well-appointed apartment in an expensive zip code in Manhattan, and yet it is not a comfortable place to be. Although houses have gotten bigger and, in many ways, slicker—with custom closets, endless remodels, and stylish new furniture—they are often at the same time neglected. Like children who get too many toys but not enough attention, they seemingly have everything, but something is missing.

For example, I always know that there is an imbalance when I go into a home and there are bags of purchases lying around that have never been put away. That says to me that there is shopping happening that isn't about need. Sometimes my job is archaeological: I see evidence of fear, of rushing, of guilt, of aspiration. I recognize these things because I've done them all too.

How does this stuff accumulate? These days, we certainly seem to have less time, and less time at home in particular. For example, when I was a child, my mother stayed at home and never set foot in a gym. On the rare occasions I had after-school activities, I ventured there on my own. Compare that to today, when many families are under more pressure than ever, with two working parents who feel compelled to chauffeur their kids hither and yon and make it to the gym three times a week. It's no surprise that organizing falls to the bottom of the list. At the same time, if that weren't bad enough, it's never been easier to buy more for our homes. While we've been on the hamster wheel trying to keep up, the price of goods has been going down. Marketers' ability to reach out and grab us at our most vulnerable (sitting down with our omnipresent screens after a long day) and sell us more stuff we don't need has increased exponentially.

The good news is that you don't have to live like that. In fact, you have more control and more time than you may realize. To get organized, you don't have to totally reinvent your lifestyle: you are probably already doing a lot that is working. As the saying goes, it's not about working harder but working smarter.

I like metaphors. As I work with clients, I like to compare areas of their homes to places like delis and factories and nonprofit institutions in an effort to get them to think differently about their space. In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg makes the case that it is often a slight shift in perspective that allows us to change one habit, which then opens us up to being able to make other positive changes. He calls these habits "keystone habits," but you can't get there if you keep thinking the way you always have been.

I'll show you how to shift the balance, acquire less, and put just a little more time and effort into nurturing your living space, creating systems and routines that will keep your home healthy and functional. I want you to change the way you think. New habits are easier to acquire once you have shifted perspective, and new habits are how you are going to maintain your organization once and for all.

Form Does Follow Function

Throughout this book, I'll teach you how to develop habits and modes of thinking that will make organization absolutely effortless and seamless, so that you can spend less time being stressed and more time enjoying your home, your family, and your life. This book offers features you won't find anywhere else, a methodical, yet forgiving, system for developing the habits that will keep you organized:

A Groundbreaking, Science-Driven Approach: This method puts neuroscience to use to help people get and stay organized. Our homes are a reflection of our minds, and a scattered home can just as easily create a scattered mind. We'll work with your brain—rather than against it—to create a peaceful home and a peaceful mind.

A Proven Method for Maintaining Organization: Lots of people can get organized—it's staying organized that eludes them. This book addresses not just the steps of purging and reorganizing but also development of the habits that maintain that organization. I have successfully helped hundreds of clients develop the good organizational habits that result in lasting change.

An Anti-Perfectionist Philosophy: It's Okay to Have Stuff! For all the people who are "Kondo-ing" their drawers, there are others feeling less-than because they don't want to throw away 80 percent of their possessions—they just want to be able to find their kid's vaccination records. In my years of experience, I've found that perfectionism is a stumbling block for my clients, rather than something that makes them achieve more. This is a real book for real people. It isn't going to get your home featured in House and Garden, but it's going to help you get out of the house. On time. Appropriately dressed. Without forgetting a thing!

Getting Started

Before you begin, you might want to get a notebook. Don't buy one. You probably have a half-used one lying around somewhere—use that. Or take notes on your phone if you prefer. As you read, you may want to jot down notes about how these strategies apply to your situation. For example, if clothes are a big issue for you, may want to keep a clothing journal. Once you begin the habit-formation section, you may want to track your progress on a calendar or even on an app, but using the notebook as a journal can help you identify patterns when you are succeeding, or struggling, in your efforts to build these habits.

In her book Reclaiming Conversation, psychologist Sherry Turkle says that tracking data, while helpful, is really only the first step. To truly gain self-knowledge and effect change in ourselves, we need to construct a narrative. One of the most powerful tools in my organizational arsenal is to engage my clients in conversations about their struggles. I can fix a disorderly closet, and they can track how often they follow my advice to spend ten minutes per night on papers, but it is conversation that helps shift the way they think and opens up the space for change. For example, ask yourself: Why do I need it? When will I need it? Where is the logical place that I will remember to look for it? Can I rent it / borrow it / find it online? Can I let it go?

Journaling your story in a notebook will help you start that conversation with yourself. Often my clients say, "I never thought about it like that," or just, "I never thought about it." But here we are: it's time to think about it and it's time to change. Change comes from within.

If you are a visual person, you can make a photo journal, too. You can take some before-and-after shots to motivate yourself and create a Pinterest board of your progress if you like.

Change Is Just Around the Corner

Most of my clients live in New York City. In Manhattan, almost everyone, even the wealthy, has limited space. Living in small quarters makes people confront their clutter sooner (no attics or garages to hide it). But although New Yorkers may have particular challenges, the influx of too much stuff seems to be, if not a worldwide epidemic, at least a first-world epidemic. Whether you live in a sprawling home or a tiny apartment, the concepts in this book should be relevant to you.

You'll meet many of my clients in this book. I love them all: they are wonderful, creative, exuberant people. Of course, I've changed their names, and sometimes I've merged a few different people's stories to better elucidate my point. Working with them has taught me everything I know about organizing, and their stories animate this book. I hope you'll recognize yourself in some of them—and see that if they could do it, you can do it!

Coco, whose apartment had been so brimming with clutter she could barely walk through it, reclaimed her space. She was motivated and took my "homework" to heart. When I told her that if she spent just ten minutes per night on her paperwork, it would never pile up, she listened.

Over several organizing sessions we weeded, letting go of what she no longer needed and creating systems for what she did. Our work helped her to feel more in control and less anxious, which in turn helped her to be more productive.

She found the work we did on her paper-related clutter so inspiring that we flew through her clothes and household clutter. As Coco is an avid environmentalist, we found places to recycle her electronics and resell her unwanted clothing. After winnowing and organizing her clothes, they fit perfectly in her single closet and dresser. I told Coco that the key to continued success would be to get rid of one clothing item each time she acquired a new one, so that she wouldn't be back in the same boat in six months.

Once I explained the "rules" of organizing to Coco—like spending ten minutes per night on paper and maintaining the boundaries of her dresser and closet—she was able to develop those habits quite quickly. And I'm pleased to say that these days, nine years later, Coco is more organized than ever. She is also living in a much larger home with her new husband.

Do I think clearing her clutter and getting a handle on her finances led her to find true love and a bigger home? At the very least, I do believe that when you get rid of unneeded stuff you get rid of psychological as well as physical blockages. In truth, we don't want small, contained lives. We want a big life, one with multiple interests and passions and responsibilities. When you implement systems that are easy to maintain, you are building habits that are the foundation for your bigger, richer life—the life you want but have been too busy just staying afloat to achieve. Once you have that foundation, you create space for the things that really matter to you.

Okay. Take a deep breath. Let go of preconceived notions. Are you ready to change?


Getting Organized: How to Think Differently

Does it seem like no matter how many times you try to tackle a cluttered area, you don't seem to be able to make any headway? Whether it's a perpetually overflowing closet or a desk awash in papers, over the years I've found that only a tiny shift in perspective is needed to get a client out of a rut and create lasting change. This first half of the book will address the most frequent stumbling blocks, like stagnancy, rushing, and fear, that lead us into chaos. I also want to make you think about your clutter on a deeper level. By asking yourself, "Who am I now?" you'll find clarity on what you really need to own. Once you've opened your mind and shifted your perspective, you'll be ready to build the habits described in the second half of this book. These habits are the secret to staying organized.

The idea of becoming organized enough, rather than perfectly organized, is asking you to change how you've thought about something in the past. The first section of this book introduces seven concepts that will help you to alter the way you think about organization, about your clutter, and about your space.

1. Go with the FLOW

In the first chapter, I introduce the concept of FLOW. Flow is a metaphor, because I want you to start thinking of your home as a living, breathing organism, but flow is also an acronym:

Forgive yourself

Let stuff go

Organize what's left

Weed constantly

These are the basic four steps that you'll use to organize everything from sweaters to documents. Getting organized isn't about buying new hangers or fancy bins; it's an inner journey.

2. Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

In the next chapter, we'll look at how the pace of modern society sets us up for clutter. Thanks to the speed at which goods are produced and the ease with which we can acquire them, we have become hamsters on a consumerist treadmill. Moreover, we are busy—too busy. Paradoxically, rushing doesn't make you more efficient. It makes you more frazzled, less focused, and more likely to make mistakes. Slowing down can actually help us simplify and prioritize. After all, we want our life to be better, not busier.

3. Fresh Eyes, Fresh Space

Familiarity breeds contempt. Sometimes we don't even see our homes anymore. Then we want to invite new friends over and suddenly… oh no! In this chapter, I suggest that you go through your home and see it as if for the first time. I challenge you to set a date and invite someone over for dinner. There is nothing that helps you see with fresh eyes like the prospect of some actual fresh eyes.

4. Fear Creates Clutter


  • "A friendly, down-to-earth guide that takes the stress out of organizing. Forget perfection--Amanda shows how a few good habits can bring more serenity to your life."
    Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify
  • "Amanda Sullivan has added a charming and well-written book to the organizing canon."
    Regina Leeds, New York Times bestselling author of One Year to an Organized Life
  • Amanda's advice is always practical; she understands that people are busy and their lives are moving quickly. Her book is full of real-life solutions that anyone can use to make sure their home and life are more organized in the quickest, most efficient way possible."
    Kimberly Guilfoyle, cohost, The Five, Fox New Channel
  • "Amanda's 100% sane organizational philosophy will help you impose 'good enough,' a revelatory transformation!"
    Ayun Halliday, author of No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late
  • "If you're a disorganized person simply looking for simple ways to keep clutter at bay, then Amanda Sullivan's Organized Enough: The Anti-Perfectionist's Guide to Getting-and Staying-Organized was written for you." —Apartment Therapy
  • "Sullivan offers valuable, accessible wisdom that readers can employ immediately."—Library Journal
  • "Sullivan is exceedingly non-judgmental and concentrates her advice on making homes livable, rather than immaculate."—
  • "If you want to get organized but you're not sure where to start, this book gives an accessible starting point, and then you can decide what 'Organized Enough' means to you."—Manhattan Book Review
  • "You might ask what makes this book different from several thousand others on the subject. This: author Amanda Sullivan isn't proposing that you keep everything one-hundred-percent ship-shape."—The Bookworm Sez
  • "The most down-to-earth book on organizing that I've read in a long time...[Organized Enough] made me look around my messy house with acceptance, rather than defeat (a nice feeling!), while providing helpful tools for tidying and arranging effectively."

On Sale
Feb 14, 2017
Page Count
256 pages

Amanda Sullivan

About the Author

Amanda Sullivan is a professional organizer, founder of The Perfect Daughter, and a media expert on organization. She has helped hundreds of clients, from hoarders to celebrities such as Lori Singer, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Liz Murray to control home chaos. Amanda has appeared on Good Morning America and Living it Up with Ali and Jack. Her advice has appeared in national print magazines such as Woman’s Day and Fit Pregnancy, as well as on popular websites such as Next Avenue and

Learn more about this author