You don’t have to determine whether every piece of clothing in your closet is worth keeping before you start organizing it. (iStockphoto)

In recent years, organizing and decluttering have become synonymous concepts, but they aren’t really the same thing. Although the two activities go hand in hand, the main purpose of organizing is not necessarily to discard things. Your closets and drawers can be packed but totally organized. Or, you may have a relatively clutter-free house but can’t ever find what you’re looking for.

Organizing is putting the things you own in order. Decluttering means getting rid of unwanted items that are taking up valuable space. It’s possible to do both things, but decluttering alone will not make you organized.

Most people fall somewhere in the middle. They have areas in their homes that they keep organized and others that are perpetually disorganized. For some, closets are their biggest organizing challenge. For others, it might be their home office or kitchen. Some people can perfectly organize photos but don’t have a clue about how to organize papers.

The goals of organizing should be to know what you own, where to find what you need and where to put things, regardless of how much stuff you have.

For instance, I was recently helping a client organize photos. Not digital photos, but good ol’ hold-in-your-hand pictures. The photos had collected in a large bin over the years. There was no order to them, and my client had no knowledge about what was there.

She expected me to tell her that she didn’t need the pictures and that she should just toss them. But I don’t advise people to part with their valued possessions to get organized. Instead, we spent three hours sorting through the piles, discarding many unintelligible or unimportant shots, tossing the paper envelopes and cardboard boxes, and organizing the photos into smaller boxes by year.

Once we got to work, my client realized it wasn’t as difficult as she had imagined it would be, it didn’t take as long as she thought it would, and it was easy to determine what to keep and what to toss. It also allowed her to take a fresh accounting of her pictures, gather some to mail to friends and family, and pull some for framing. Sometimes a little decluttering, and a lot of organizing, equals success.

Closets are another common source of organizing angst. The directive to purge everything you haven’t worn in the past year stops people in their tracks. They think that they couldn’t possibly organize their clothing without doing a thorough clean-out first, which usually leads them to do absolutely nothing. After all, who wants to throw out that many pieces at once?

Instead of requiring yourself to look at every piece of clothing you own to determine whether it’s worth keeping before you start organizing, just start organizing. Purging and organizing don’t have to be two wholly separate processes. Merely by hanging everything on the same type of hangers — hangers that properly fit your clothing — and arranging everything in a logical order — shirts together and facing the same way, pants hung properly and together by type, jeans and sweaters folded neatly — you’ll find your closet to be much more organized, and you’ll be better able to see what you have. This process of tidying up and organizing spaces you use every day can happen without decluttering, and it should happen a couple of times a year. If you discard some things along the way, that’s progress.

Personally, I like to keep cards that people have sent me. All of the decluttering and minimalism advocates out there would tell me that the only reasonable thing to do with these cards is to toss them. But because I deem them important and want to keep them, I’ve decided to store them in neatly organized shoeboxes in my attic. It’s true that I rarely look at them and that they are taking up space, but it’s not space I need for anything else right now, and they aren’t cluttering up my living space. In short, the cards are organized — I know what the collection is and where to find it and have a designated space to add new cards.

With her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo set the bar very high for all of us mere mortals who aren’t quite ready to part with all of our possessions that don’t “spark joy.” If you set a goal of doing a massive purge, you’re likely to get overwhelmed. Instead, be realistic, and strategic, by organizing the things you value most in an efficient and useful way. And if you get rid of some stuff during the process, you’re doing just fine.