A quick review of the stages to getting organized that we've covered so far.
Stage 1: Clarify — what do you want from getting organized
Stage 2: Let Go — keep only what you love and use
What worked for you? What didn't? Do more of what worked and less of what didn't.
The third stage of organizing is SORTING. I took months trying to decide if sorting came before letting go or after. It's necessary to see all that you have when you're trying to decide what to let go (Stage 2). But you also need to sort 'like with like' before you start to physically place or organize your things (Stage 4).
I decided that learning to let go as you work your way through your things was more important than searching for and corralling every single last t-shirt you may have stashed in odd corners. Besides, if you can let go of a few things as you go, then it can help keep you out of overwhelm. So, now on to sorting...
Sorting for Stage 4 (Organize)
When you move to Stage 4, the actual physical activity of placing your things in an organized manner, store similar things together. Sort 'like with like'.
For example: store the office supplies together in one area; place all the soups together in one cabinet; or hang all your long-sleeved shirts together.
Sorting for Stage 2 (Let Go)
Once you've sorted your stuff, you may find you have more than you need or use of an item and you can let go of the extras.
You may have 3 hammers and all you really need is 1 (or 1 in the kitchen tool drawer and 1 in the toolbox in the garage). You may realize you've bought 5 boxes of white envelopes. Or when you get all your t-shirts together, you have 2 four-foot high piles and you haven't worn half of them. Now you know how many you have and where they are. You can now return to Stage 2 and Let Go of the ones you aren't using, aren't in good shape, or don't love.
But sometimes it is more difficult to let go of things. A great sorting technique to use is Judith Kolberg's Friends, Acquaintances, and Strangers (from Conquering Chronic Disorganization).
Collect all of your items into one area.
Sort a third of your items into your Friends category (you love, you use and you want to keep in your life).
A third of them will be Strangers (these are the ones you don't like, don't use, and may even be broken, torn, or don't work). Recycle, toss, donate or otherwise move these out of your life as quickly as possible.
Stop here and give yourself a pat on the back for what you've accomplished so far — good job!
The final third are Acquaintances. You may be more attached to these items but they still aren't Friends, so find a worthy person, group or cause and donate these items.
Examples on sorting into Friends, Acquaintances, and Strangers:
Friends — last 3 months (make time to read and enjoy them)
Strangers — older than 6 months (if you haven't gotten to them by now, it's old news)
Acquaintances — 3 to 6 months (give them to your doctor's office, senior center, or veteran's group)
Friends — you have a definite project in mind and you plan to work on it in the next three months
Strangers — no project in mind and you're not all that thrilled about the color
Acquaintances — you had an idea in mind, but you can't remember it, the reason is gone, or you don't see yourself getting to it in the next year
Friends — you wear it routinely, you love it and you end up reaching for it every time you can't decide what else to wear
Strangers — you don't like how it fits, you don't like the color, and you never really did
Acquaintances — you loved it once, and it has great memories (take a picture and let it go); it could come back in style (not really), or someday you'll fit into it again (let it go, wear what fits NOW and buy something new when you lose the weight you want)
Whether you sort to let go or to begin the organizing stage have some fun and enjoy the journey.
Next Stage 4: Organize
Stage 1: Clarify what you want
Stage 2: Let Go of what doesn't work
Stage 3: Sort like-with-like & let more go
Stage 4: Organize in zones
Stage 5: Maintain the systems you create
Stage 6: Prevent it from coming in