If you had come and visited my house not too long ago and I had told you that I’m a really neat and organized person who values beauty in her surroundings, you would have smiled politely (because you’re a nice person), but you would have silently thought to yourself “those poor kids, this lady is clearly smoking crack.”
You see, my house was a total disaster. (And to be honest, a part of it still is!) When we moved into our fixer upper, we knew we’d be gutting basically the whole house, so it didn’t seem worth it to put a lot of time into setting up organizational systems in a space that was going to be completely transformed.
There were moving boxes acting as semi-permanent storage containers. There were random accumulations of random items in random locations – I couldn’t even call them piles anymore. There were the herds of kid art supplies and toys that we were trying to fence in and at least keep isolated to certain rooms, but they were too clever and kept slipping out. And then there was the laundry situation. We pretty much completely gave up on folding and were just wearing everything straight out of the baskets…
But slowly – at turtle pace – some of the disaster areas have been tamed. Every time we complete the renovation of a room, I waltz in all hyper and determined to organize every little dust-ball filled nook and cranny once and for all. And when I say “once and for all,” I mean in a lasting way that we’ll be able to maintain and enjoy for a very long time.
Before I started my personal war against clutter and mess, I gave it all a dorky amount of thought. How can I get organized? Why had all my past organizing efforts failed? What could I do to create “once and for all” systems that would make life easier and last forever and ever?
I came up with five principles of getting organized, which (I’m a little shocked to say) actually worked! And because I’m convinced that these principles can work for you too, I’m going to share them with you below.
If you are single and live by yourself, you can skip this principle. But if your organizational system is used by other people, you’d better have their buy-in or else it just won’t work.
For example, my husband does most of our grocery shopping and prepares the kids’ breakfast most mornings. I can be the Container Store’s #1 customer and choose the prettiest little glass jars with the cutest little hand-crafted labels to store the Cheerios in, but if he doesn’t see the value in it, do you think he’ll take the time to pour the Cheerios into the jars every time he puts away the groceries? When you could just pour them straight from the box into the bowl?
We need systems that will work for both of us. And that’s why these plans need to be discussed in advance. Preferably after he’s had a couple of beers and will agree to anything. 😉
Every good organization project begins with a big black garbage bag. The goal of your organizing efforts is not just to find a place to store all your belongings. The goal is to evaluate everything you own and whether it even deserves a place. Why not simplify and surround yourself only with things that you really love?
Sorry, see-through shirt that I bought at Old Navy in 2008 and didn’t realize at the time was see-through and subsequently never wore. It’s time to admit that I will never love you. You deserve to be adored by someone else though, so I think that yellow collection box at the gas station parking lot will be the beginning of a wonderful new journey for you.
The whole point of organizing is to make your life easier, so it’s a given that the system has to be practical. If it takes too long to maintain or makes things difficult to access, an organizational system is pretty worthless.
- Try to store stuff near where it’s used.
- Make the most frequently used items the most accessible.
- Use labels to make it easier to find what you need and to remind you to put things where they belong.
- Leave room for expansion. You just might end up with one more thingamajig.
Being surrounded by pretty things may not be that important for everyone, but as I said earlier (back when you accused me of smoking crack), I happen to be a person who finds this kind of essential. Practical organization makes my life easier and keeps me from getting cranky, but pretty organization takes it up a notch and puts a smile on my face. And because it’s something that makes me happy, I think it’s worth it to put time and effort into pretty.
When projects are too big and overwhelming, I just keep postponing them. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who does that. So to increase the odds that your organizing projects are successful, try to phase them out and follow these guidelines:
- Spread the projects out. Those 30-day challenges sound like fun, but who actually gets past day 3? If you are trying to tackle your bedroom this month, save the kitchen until next month.
- Divide each project into smaller intermediate goals. Say, you want to clean your closet. You could tackle the shelves, the hangers, and stuff on the floor as separate goals. Taking stuff to be donated and buying new baskets are further steps to tackle.
- Write the intermediate goals in your calendar on days when you are actually likely to have time to achieve them.
What do you think about my principles? What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to organizing? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂
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