Home Organizing Terms

Every industry has its jargon. I’ve been thinking about the specialized words that we professional organizers use. If my team or I ever use home organizing terms that kinda, sorta makes sense (but not really), please ask us to slow down and discuss. Maybe it’s that “back to school” vibe, but I’m in the mood for some organizing vocab. A lot of home organizing terms are easily misunderstood.

Home Organizing Terms and vocabulary

Home Organizing Terms

Cleaning- To remove the dirt from surfaces. This is NOT organizing. Organize first. Clean later. Don’t try to do both at the same time or you’ll never finish.

Decant– To move goods or liquids from one container to another, usually for the purpose of combining batches into one larger batch or putting into prettier containers for display. I decant my dry beans and popcorn into Mason jars on this display shelf. 

Declutter– To eliminate things from the space, usually through tossing, recycling, or donation. Some pros make a very strong distinction between moving things around in place (sorting) and decluttering with the intent of reducing the amount of things kept in a space.

Decorating– Choosing color and finishes to personalize your space. A decorated space can be disorganized, and a highly organized space can be poorly decorated. If you crave a very organized space that also has a certain look to it, be sure to hire a NAPO organizer who is also a decorator, like I am. 

Magical thinking– There are lots of definitions out there, but this one comes from the psychology literature, so I’m going with this source: Magical thinking is when a person believes that specific words, thoughts, emotions, or rituals can influence the external world. We see this a lot in time management, when a person habitually leaves for appointments after they are scheduled to arrive. Magical thinking wishes away the time needed for terrestrial travel. Wishing the commute were only five minutes doesn’t make it so. Wishing a small closet could hold a year’s worth of toiletries doesn’t make it so.

Minimalism– I don’t think there is a standard for this term at all. Ask a hundred different people what it means to them, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. Decorating in only neutrals or black and white? A 30-item capsule wardrobe? 42 things? Tiny home? Eco-driven? See, not super helpful. Don’t obsess over whether you are or aren’t on the path to minimalism. Work on being organized enough for your life, the way you want to live it.

Organize– To put things where you can easily access them when you need them again. This is my trademark definition. Notice that it says nothing about how much, where, or in what containers things are stored. My litmus test is whether you can find what you need when you need it or, if you are in business, if you can find what you need when your clients need it.

RoyGBiv– Rainbow order is pretty, but not an organizing imperative for every task. The standard rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) also doesn’t include white, cream, brown, black, or multi-colored patterns. That’s OK.

Sort– To group things into logical or functional groups for your needs. Notice that you can sort things and still not be organized. A deck of cards can be sorted into its four suits, but still be clutter on the kitchen table. You can sort too many art supplies into an area and still be overwhelmed and unable to actually do your art. Sorting things into groups is a very solid step in the overall organizing process, but it’s not the only step.

System– A system is not a product! A functioning system needs four things: a place, a multi-step process, the appropriate supplies, and the time to make it all work on a regular basis. If you’ve bought a closet “system” but still have a cluttered closet, you’ll understand that an organizing system takes more than just a thing you can buy at the store. SORT and Succeed describes a complete organizing system that can help you get organized and stay organized longer.

organizing success


Staging– Home staging is the process of investing minimum dollars sell your home at the highest possible price, making your home appeal to the largest amount of buyers. If you aren’t moving from your home, then your are decorating or styling, not staging.

Bonus term: Computer backup versus sync– A backup creates a snapshot of data at a point in time, usually maintained for 30 days or more. A computer backup holds a copy of data, which you could re-install if you needed to. Syncing, on the other hand, ensures that two or more devices always have the same data when they connect to each other, with no regard to historical data. A sync is not a backup!!! Ideally you’ll have both for your data.

Do Home Organizing Terms Help You Organize?

I’m sure I’ve missed a few home organizing terms. Did any of these definitions surprise you? Does this make you think of your organizing efforts in a different way? Do you have any questions about what you consider organizing? Please comment below.


This Post Has One Comment

  1. Diane N Quintana

    These definitions are very helpful. My favorite is the way you define ‘minimalism’. So many people struggle with this. I encourage my clients to be as organized as they need to be to feel comfortable and at home while being able to find what they need when they need it.

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