Those Magic Little Words (that help you get organized)

A friend recently shared a tip with me that she read in an organizing book. I don’t even know which one it was. It was a technique for detaching emotionally from objects in order to be able to part with them. It said (I’m paraphrasing, and so was she):

This item belongs in your past. It exists in your present as well, because you still have it… but does it belong in your future?

What are those magic little words that inspire and help you part with clutter and get organized? Click To Tweet

She said that was all it took for her to get rid of all her old craft supplies. She realized she was more likely to want to buy new yarn for a project than to sift through the old bits and pieces left over from previous projects. And she felt very liberated as a result.

“Fantastic!” I said.

Was that a brand new idea for me? No.

Did I really think it was fantastic? Yes.

Was I offended that she was telling me something she thought I might not know? Or that she was not quoting ME? Not at all! I was just happy she had found the motivation to declutter, and that she wanted to share her accomplishment with me.

What are your magic little words?

It seems that everyone, when they’re ready to hear it, and when it is put just so, has a phrase, or analogy, or acronym, or technique that speaks to them. It’s like magic. And everyone’s magic words are different.

A couple of years ago everyone was talking about Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If you’re a professional organizer who read the book, you know she isn’t doing, or suggesting, anything terribly unique. Judging from the press she was getting, though, you’d have thought she had singlehandedly invented the field of professional organizing! There’s no denying that her catchphrase — Does it spark joy? — resonated with millions. The Five Stages of Marie Kondo & The Life-Changing Magic of Doing What Works for YOU remains one of my most popular blog posts ever!

I talk all the time about whether or not things (and activities, and thoughts) from your past support the life you really want to have now, and in the future. But if YOU haven’t heard me say it, and if YOU weren’t ready to hear it at the time, and if I didn’t say it in a catchy enough way to your ear, you won’t remember it.

Organizing sayings with proven magical properties

Here are some more magical organizing sayings. I have linked them to the Org4life blog posts in which I used them. You can treat is as a quiz if you like. Guess who said it first, and then click to check and see if you were right. If you find no attribution for a particular concept it is either because: 1) it’s original to me, 2) it’s something I didn’t know who said it first, or 3) it’s so commonplace that no one knows who said it first. If YOU know, though, please enlighten me, OK?

Clutter is postponed decisions.

Is it a friend? A stranger? An acquaintance?

Can you replace it for $20 or less, in 20 minutes or less, if you need it after all?

Do I use it? Love it? Need to keep it?

What is the worst thing that might happen if you needed it someday and no longer had it?

How much is your clutter costing you?

Would I buy this again right now if I had the chance?

Consider whether an unfinished project still supports your current priorities and goals before spending more time on it.

You wear 20% of your clothing 80% of the time.

This item might not spark joy, but you’d probably better keep it anyway. (LOL)

Finally, here are a couple of my favorite organizing quotes:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
William Morris, designer
“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”
— Steven Wright, comedian

Helpful organizing acronyms:

I have never felt the need to create my own organizing acronym or mnemonic device because Julie Morgenstern’s S.P.A.C.E. formula still works for me. I also have been known to talk about setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. But if you’d like to know what some of the other acronyms are, check out this blog post by my colleague Sarah Soboleski. (Again, you can quiz yourself — how many can you think of before checking Sarah’s post?)

What are YOUR magic little words?

I really want to know…even if I wasn’t the one who said them!

Copyright 2018 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
I welcome social media links directly to this page!
Please contact me for other types of reprint permission.


Share this:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Seana Turner on May 14, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Not only do I love all these phrases, but it also reminds me of what a great blog you have, Hazel. So many great phrases! One of my favorites is, “The fun was in the making.” This one refers to anything you had fun working on, but don’t really have a use or longing for the finished project. Sometimes we invest in an experience, more than a product. It’s okay to let it go if you you had a great time working on it!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 14, 2018 at 10:43 am

      I love that, Seana! Thanks for chiming in. And thanks for the compliment. The feeling is mutual!

  2. Linda Samuels on May 14, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Those magic phrases are wonderful. You’re right in how if they “catch” your ear, they really do work. Perhaps one of my tried and true questions (although, not sure if this constitutes a magic phrase,) is “Has it overstayed its welcome?” And while I wasn’t a huge fan of some of Kondo’s methods, her phrase, “Does it spark joy?” has definitely worked for some of my clients.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 15, 2021 at 8:38 am

      I, too, say, “Has it overstayed its welcome?”…! I’m sure it’s magical for some, and meh for others. Where did I get it? I think it’s just natural that many of us say the same things.

  3. Sarah Soboleski on May 14, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    I love that Friends-Acquaintances-Strangers exercise from Judith Kolberg. I think in that same book she also coined the phrase: Does it need you? As opposed to Do you need it? which I’ve used with some success. And thanks for the link back to my post. 🙂

    • Hazel Thornton on June 15, 2021 at 8:40 am

      I love Judith’s exercise too, and have elaborated on it in a blog post called “Are Your Bookshelves Full of Friends? Or Strangers and Houseguests?” — giving her full credit, of course!

  4. Janet Schiesl on March 11, 2019 at 11:32 am

    I love the past, present, future and use it all the time. Thanks for the list. I like to have them all top of mind because asking a different questions to a client may make all the difference in their decision making. Thanks. Saving as a reminder.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 15, 2021 at 8:41 am

      Exactly! We organizers need to have a variety of techniques at our fingertips, including magic phrases, becuase all of our clients are different.

Leave a Comment

Don't miss out!

ENTER your email address below to receive notifications of new blog posts by email. (Don\'t forget to subscribe to my newsletters as well!)

Hazel's Books

Book cover: What's a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy

What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy

Cover of "Go With the Flow! (The Clutter Flow Chart Workbook)"

Go With the Flow! (The Clutter Flow Chart Workbook)

Cover of "Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror"

Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror