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Organizing by Color Can Make Your Life Simpler and a Lot More Fun

This bright and cheery decluttering technique might save you time and money

Rainbow Shirts
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​Lots of people organize their closets, kitchen cabinets and shelves according to the size and function of the items. Karen Hodge Russell of Buffalo, New York, takes a different approach. She does it by color.

The bead artist also color-organizes her studio, arranging the beads, buttons, charms and other materials that go into her designs by shade, placing them in clear plastic drawers for easy access.

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“Before, the beads were all in little ziplock bags in two big boxes,” says Russell, 73. “When I started a project, it was like a big fishing game. Having them organized by color saves time and provides inspiration because I see my choices.”

Russell follows an organizational color scheme called Roy G. Biv, a memory aid that stands for the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The practice is also known as ROYGBIV.

Rainbow Beads
Russell groups beads by shades of color to save time on projects.
Courtesy of Karen Russell

“Roy G. Biv is the way we refer to it in America, but not every culture says that,” says Jude Stewart, a design expert in Chicago and author of Roy G. Biv: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color. “In England, for example, they say Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain.”

Why are we drawn to a rainbow of colors? Stewart’s theory is that seeing the entire range of hues is reassuring, and creates a calming “meditative visual.”

Not only is organizing by color visually appealing, says Jessica Moskal, owner of Organized by JM in Buffalo, but it can also save you time and money by making it easier to find items. “The more you can see things, the more you’re going to use them and know what you have,” she explains.

The approach has become increasingly popular, especially since Netflix aired a home organizing series in 2020 featuring the Home Edit, a duo of pro organizers who are passionate about the ROYGBIV method for nearly every room in the house.

The idea works with everything from books to food to clothing. Working from left to right, Moskal starts with white and ends with black, moving from the lightest tones to the darkest. For any colors that are not included in Roy G. Biv, she suggests picking the order that will be most visually pleasing and useful to you. For instance, beige or cream could either go after white or near the browns, which usually follow violet tones. Pink may be near red. Grays go near black.

Ready to give it a try? Here are some household items that may benefit from a rainbow makeover:

Rainbow Clothes
Karen Russell uses a rainbow organizing method on her closet, dishes and beads.
Courtesy of Jessica Moskal / Courtesy of Karen Russell

Clothing: Color-organizing your clothes — from socks and underwear to shirts and sweaters — can make it easier to find which items work best together and speed up your morning routine, experts say.

Russell applies the Roy G. Biv approach to her closet, changing it seasonally. “It keeps me grounded in terms of the seasons and things matching,” she says. “It sounds meticulous and crazy, but it gives you a good order for your life.”

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Books: Instead of organizing your books by author, subject or title, try arranging them by color. “It’s visually appealing, and sometimes that makes you more inclined to use it and remember it,” Moskal says. Not to mention that being in a room with a rainbow-hued bookcase can lift your spirits on a rainy day.

DVDs and CDs: Visual learners may recall what the cover of a movie DVD or music CD looks like before the precise title. If color is part of that memory trigger, arranging your DVD and CD collections that way may make it easier to find the film or album you’re looking for.

Dinnerware: Russell arranges her Fiestaware dishes, bowls and cups by seasonal colors. In winter, for example, she displays whites, blues and greens; in spring, the pastel tones take over; come fall, she displays deep reds and orange. “It gives me joy to look at those colors and to connect with the season we’re in,” she says.

Food: Whether in your refrigerator or on a pantry shelf, food is easy to sort by color. “Your brain is trained from marketing to look for the blue Pepsi can and red for strawberries,” Moskal says. The arrangement is pleasing to the eye and also makes restocking easier because you can quickly see what’s missing, she adds.

There may be health benefits too: Eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables contributes to overall health because each color adds different phytonutrients to your diet (blue/purple foods like grapes and eggplant deliver powerful antioxidants, while red foods like tomatoes and beets are rich in lycopene). What’s more, one study found that encouraging people to eat colorful meals prompted them to make healthy food choices.

Rainbow Paint
Artist Nina Fickett used ROYGBIV to arrange paints and other supplies.
Courtesy of Nina Fickett

Craft and art supplies: Most art supplies are colorful to begin with, so try organizing them that way. Mixed-media artist Nina Fickett recently decided to arrange her paint and embroidery thread supplies by color, and she’s planning to do the same with her pastels and washi tapes.

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“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” says Fickett, 55, who lives in Tucson, Arizona. “Having things in Roy G. Biv is helpful because I know on my left are blues, indigos and violets. I know where to go to find them.”

Mobile apps: Color-coding apps, instead of categorizing them by function (navigation, games, etc.), can be calming because they flow together, Moskal says. Also, we typically remember apps by their icon image and color, such as blue for Twitter or red for Yelp or the AARP Now app.

Other items that may benefit from color-organizing include bedding and towels, office supplies, wrapping paper and ribbons. But not everything is a candidate. For a color scheme to work, Stewart notes that you should have “an abundance of something.”

It also needs to make sense for the space you’re trying to organize, Moskal adds. It’s difficult to Roy G. Biv an entire refrigerator, for example, because of the number of shelves, drawers and dividers, she says.

Ready to embrace your inner rainbow? Give color-coding a try. It just may make your life simpler, calmer and more efficient. Not to mention more colorful.​​​