A major key to home organizing is identifying categories. For most people who are chronically disorganized it is a difficult skill to master because they see too many possibilities for each item. With practice, deciding what to name and how to distribute and store the various categories of items in a home becomes much easier and, dare I say, even fun.

Categories come into play most when confronting the small items in life. Furniture is a category, but it’s big, bulky, and tends to stay put, so it’s a no-brainer. It’s the things you can pick up and carry room to room–meaning things that get misplaced or simply not put back–that really need some time and attention. Clothing, toiletries, office supplies, kitchen items, utility items and books are examples of the categories of small home items.

It’s important to look at an entire category before making decisions when purging. I ran into a good example of this when I organized a large winery office recently. The owner wanted all the vineyard soil reports to be located, labeled and organized. We found them all over the office in various bookshelves, cupboards and closets. We pitched the duplicates and labeled and organized the rest. The team and I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment until the next day, when I opened a file drawer in a supply room and found another raft of soil reports and we had to repeat the process.

In a home situation, I have seen this play out with men and baseball caps; you can’t know which to keep and which to let go unless you see them all, and somehow there always seems to be a stash of them hiding on a shelf somewhere. Same with women and black pants.

Big categories—like office supplies—usually need to get broken up into smaller categories. I advise to store “like with like” and usually keep categories together. But. You have to engage the brain and think about convenience and how you live. A client recently told me she gathered all the scissors in the house and has one location for scissors. That would never work for me. I need a pair in the kitchen, a pair in the bathroom, a pair or two by my desk and a pair in my work bag. For me, pens also belong in every room where writing might be done.

Tools is another category that might get broken up. You might decide to keep a light set of basics in the house and heavier duty tools in the garage. It sounds obvious, but a lot of people struggle with these concepts because so much organizing advice states that a category must stay together.

Besides frequency of use, space is another variable as to whether a category stays together or not. If a person has a large wardrobe but a small closet, they could break up the wardrobe in several ways and store one or two categories in other places. In my opinion, the best way to break up a wardrobe is into day clothes and evening or “fancy” dress clothes. We don’t need to look at evening attire every morning when we get dressed.

If you still need room in the closet, I would suggest moving outerwear like coats and jackets to another location. As a last resort I will separate and store clothing by seasonal categories, but I hate to do that in California because we get chilly days in summer and warm days in winter most years.

When you’re in purge mode, do a treasure hunt and keep your eyes peeled for hidden items in the category you’re working with. Photos and paper items, for example, tend to get stashed everywhere.

If you’re in “I’ve run out of room” mode, see where you can break down a category and move part of it to another location. Rarely used dishes and glassware could get moved to a sideboard in the dining room or an empty cupboard in the laundry room (think outside the box) while every day dishes could remain in the kitchen cupboards with plenty of room for the glass leftover containers you just purchased and will use every day.

Pretty soon it will become second nature to identify broad categories and also to break them down into smaller categories, if necessary. You’ll be able to declutter more decisively, then putting away what remains will seem easy and logical.