Scratch the Surface
Tackle the surfaces in your home first — that means the pile of old bills on your desk, laundry on the floor, and piles of books and magazines so big they could count as furniture. Get frames for all those prints and photos that have been leaning against the wall for the past year, and stop using your elliptical machine as a second closet.
Declutter Your Desk
The average executive wastes six weeks a year searching for important documents buried in clutter, according to the Wall Street Journal. Use that time for vacation instead by tidying up your desk. Organize your desk drawers so that each contains like items — office supplies in one drawer, stationery and notepads in another — or whatever system is intuitive to you. You'll get more done when you don't spend your morning searching for your lucky pen before a big meeting.
Call a Friend
Ask a friend who isn't as emotionally invested in your Beanie Baby collection or old issues of Us Weekly to help you do the initial trashing. A tough friend without an attachment to your stuff can help you look at the things you own with a fresh perspective.
Maybe, Maybe Not
Whether you're doing a big cleanup or just going through one folder of old papers, commit to either saving an item or tossing it. Remove the "maybe" pile as an option and you won't have to go through the same hideous top or cable bill from 1999 over and over again.
Overcome Separation Anxiety
It's the most painful part of the process but it needs to be done — throw away or donate clothes you no longer wear. Keep one pair of your skinny jeans just in case if you must, but give away the other five. Part with anything that you would wear under conditions that haven't occurred in the past year (if ever), like the dress you keep should you ever get an invitation to a business-casual, goth, '80s throwback party. It ain't gonna happen.
Write It Down
Start writing down your appointments and to-do lists instead of juggling them in your head — and free-floating Post-it notes don't count. Get a planner that will fit in the purse you wear most often, and use it. You'll be glad you did when you see how good it feels to be reminded of your mother's birthday or a big meeting ahead of time, instead of a day late.
Clean Up Virtually
Not ready to tidy up your home or office? Start with your e-clutter. An e-mail inbox full of old, unread messages can stress you out and keep you from getting to more pressing tasks. Go through your messages and take care of each one as you go, resisting the temptation to merely read through each one and put it on your mental to-do list before clicking through to the next one.
Put Them in Their Place
There are probably a few items you "lose" a few times a month. If you're constantly searching for your keys as you're heading out the door, or feel like your cell phone might have a mind (and legs) of its own, give those items a permanent place, like a catch-all box by the front door, or even a specific place on your desk, if you want the item within easy reach. It might take a few days or weeks to get used to, but it'll work as long as you're consistent.
Pretend it's the night before your first day of school — every day. Lay out your outfit for the next day, make a sandwich for lunch, and find your notes for that early meeting. You'll save a ton of time in the morning and won't have that panicked "what am I forgetting?" feeling as you're walking out the door half-asleep.
Clean as You Go
After you've organized every room, closet, shelf, and drawer, keep it that way by cleaning as you go. Take your mother's advice, and clean up after yourself! You won't have to do a big cleanup every weak or month if you take two minutes to pay your bills as they come in and file away the statements, throw out clothes as they start to fall apart, and put your work papers in the correct folders.