While "tidying up" the apartment, I've needed a clear procedure for myself, and now, to teach my apartment mates how to do it. Here's how I have explained it.
If you've not read/listened to any of Marie Kondo's work or watched any of Tidying Up on Netflix, I recommend consuming a bit of that first and foremost. If you're walking into cleaning with trauma, misconceptions, or just plain pessimism, you're probably not going to take to precise instructions well. Those works are designed to help you reframe tidying as a positive activity, even when you have trouble doing so; this article is building off of that.
An area is tidy by my standards when it is visually indexed, (or simply "indexed") by which I mean:
Every storage area is clearly, simply labeled, so there is always something visible to direct you when locating an item.
Every item in storage is visible at the same time, so nothing else needs to be disturbed when locating an item.
If any item is to be retrieved, it is most natural to do so without disturbing any other items.
When returning an item, it is most natural to put it back where it was.
One of the simplest yet most effective ways to attain the above is to take a large category of items with similar usage, sort the items by size, and make well-sized open containers to fit them as single complete layer. That way,
by being similar in usage, the area may be clearly, simply labeled;
by being a single layer, everything is visible;
by being similar in size, grabbing one item doesn't disturb the others and
there is an obvious, perfectly-sized gap when returning an item.
However, this isn't actually fully achievable in most cases. When concessions need to be made, consider:
Is there anything that we don't need to keep? (Does the item spark joy? See below.)
Is there anything that we don't need to keep out front? (Are there duplicates or rarely-used items that can go in a less accessible storage area? Make sure they won't get lost.)
Can items be placed in a tray/drawer/etc. such that they take up less space but can, in one easy motion, become visible in one layer?
Can a smaller concession be made? For example, allowing slight disturbance to keep visibility, or allowing slight obscurity to still be easy to return the item.
These are ordered concessions: Start at the top, and work your way down. Don't waste effort minimizing concessions when you can just include a tray, or remove an item completely.
What do you mean, "spark joy"?
And how does that work when living in a group?
As mentioned at the top, expose yourself to Marie Kondo's work enough to at least get an impression of what this phrase can mean. In my process, I ask myself:
When you hold the item, see it, sense it, do you feel dramatically better than when you had not?
If so, then it sparks joy of some kind for me. When living with others, there are more considerations:
If an item sparks joy for any one resident, then it is worth keeping. If you would be keeping it for just one resident and space is a concern, then perhaps it could be stored in their private space?
If trying to imagine what sparks joy for others is weighing on you, continue the task by making a box of all the things that you would toss. Then either schedule a gathering for everyone else to go through it, or leave a note with checkboxes so that after each resident goes through it on their own time, they can check off that they are done.