Persuasive marketers would like for you to believe that the key to getting and staying organized is the latest, greatest organizing gadget or product. While there are many, very useful organizing products on the market today, none are the true keys to getting or staying organized.
So, what are they?
Minimizing is the act of reducing, eliminating, or decreasing in size or content. Simply put for the purpose of this article, it is reducing the amount of belongings in your space.
Although similar to decluttering, I tend to see it as the opposite. Most often, decluttering is deciding what to let go of, whereas minimizing is the act of deciding what deserves to stay. It is ruthlessly looking around your home (or office, dorm, apartment, etc.) and keeping only what is absolutely needed for your utility, comfort and peace of mind (as well as those with whom you reside or work.)
Deciding to minimize your belongings (vs decluttering) makes it a lot easier to let go of anything that you no longer truly need or love, regardless of its usefulness, beauty or history.
Minimizing belongings has a huge, positive impact on the ability to get and stay organized, even when we don’t have perfect systems or organizing products in place.
A few examples: A small countertop basket with 4 necessary items in it, is far more functional than the same basket with 18, mostly unused items in it. Our chances of finding what we need (and remembering where the item is) is greatly improved by keeping fewer things.
A tee-shirt drawer with 6 or 7 beloved tees (that are actually worn) is far easier to maintain than a drawer with 25 tees, stuffed or stacked in place. One might argue that as long as you properly fold and gently place them, more is fine. This may be true, but 6 or 7 tees will always take far less time and effort to fold, put away and keep neat than 25 tees.
Similarly, a pantry with 15 different snack foods will fall into disarray much faster than a pantry with just 2-3 snack choices at a time.
The second vital key to staying organized is maintenance. Although second in importance and effectiveness to minimizing, consistent maintenance is non-negotiable for keeping any organizational systems intact.
My personal organizing hero and author of many wonderful books on organizing, Julie Morgenstern, calls this process, Equalizing. I love the word equalizing since it truly denotes the process of returning balance to the system.
Whether you are using baskets, bins, drawers, shelves, etc., to keep items organized, eventually things may get a bit mixed up with frequent use. Maybe your kids don’t always put things away as the system requires or your roommate rebels against your system altogether, things can get out of order over time.
How often you need to maintain your systems will depend on the frequency of their use. A kitchen pantry may need weekly maintenance (especially when other humans are involved) where as your linen closet may only need monthly maintenance.
Of course, the longer you wait, the longer it will take you to reset the system to a neat and workable one. Whether you set a specific schedule or just keep a thoughtful eye open to maintaining your systems as needed, maintenance is a must in staying organized.
A final word of caution to those who might think, “I’ll skip the minimizing thing and just do the maintenance.” Do as you like, but know that maintenance is made infinitely easier and less time consuming by minimizing your belongings to begin with.
Organization Should Be A Tool, Not A Goal.
Given my profession, one could safely assume that I believe in being organized. Being organized can make a tremendous difference in the flow and efficiency of your day to day life. It will reduce your stress and increase the peace in your life and your relationships.
Organizing to save ourselves time, (not searching around for things), money (not re-purchasing misplaced items), and our sanity (not having to constantly stare at a mess in our home) makes sense and pays dividends in the aforementioned areas. Essentially, organizing is (and should be) about making your life easier.
All of that said, (this may sound odd coming from a professional organizer) I believe that there is such a thing as trying to be too organized. GASP!
I have loved organizing anything and everything for a long time. I am especially drawn to how organization brings order to chaos, a sense of calm in the midst of the stresses of life. I have, though, on several a few occasions, found myself re-organizing things (already organized enough) just for the sake of organizing it better. Whether it was a file system that was already functional or some other working area of my home, I would re-organize it just to make it more organized. Hhhmm...maybe that’s why I became an organizer! I finally had to admit that I was simply wasting time and possibly even making my system harder to maintain. There are definitely times when we legitimately need to recreate existing organizational systems to address life changes (new baby, marriage, empty nest, etc.,) but this is not what I am talking about here.
Many of us today have also fallen victim to the “Pinterest Worthy” mentality of organizing. A desire for each of our rooms, closets and drawers to look perfect enough for Pinterest. This is not only unrealistic but the difficulty in making it so, can cause us to give up on organizing altogether.
I believe the goal should always be “organized enough.” Enough to help you quickly locate what you need, when you need it. Enough to keep you feeling relaxed and at peace in your home. Enough to keep your sanity in times of difficult life events. Once we reach “enough”, anything more is just a potential waste of time, effort and money.
The truth is, when you take something that is already “organized enough” to the level of “too organized” you actually make it harder to maintain. Maintenance is the often forgotten but truly essential piece of the organizing puzzle. When you over organize something, chances are it will never stay that way. This is especially true if you share your home with other humans.
What does “organized enough” look like?
Systems that allow you to find what you need when you need it without tripping over it when you don’t.
Being able to quickly and easily find your keys, extra batteries, medications, phone charger, and lightbulbs; insert your life necessity here_____.
The ability to make a meal without digging through an overstuffed utensil drawer or cupboard for what you need.
The ability to easily locate your bills and other important paperwork without the tearing the house apart.
If you have the above mentioned abilities, chance are, you are organized enough. If not, go forth and get organized!