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!
I have often tried to come up with a nicer word than “stuff” to describe that which surrounds most of us in modern life.
In helping my clients to declutter and organize, I have tried words like possessions, things and items, but none seem to fit the true abundance we all have like the word “stuff”.
Let’s face it, most of us have too much stuff. It may be piled on the surfaces in our home, or crammed hidden in every drawer, cupboard and closet we have. Whether it’s neatly put away or all out in the open, chances are, it’s just too much.
Once we get past our truly loved and often used possessions, we always enter the category of “stuff”. It's the excess, the overage, the things we cannot quite let go of but we have no real reason to keep. The things that cause us a vague sense of “I think I should hold on to this, but I'm not really sure why.” Despite our acknowledgement of being overwhelmed by “too much stuff” we cannot seem to let go.
I have noticed some recurring underlying themes in why my clients (and all of us for that matter) tend to keep the “stuff” that is no longer needed or wanted. The most frequent are: guilt, shame, fear and someday.
Sometimes the mere recognition of these reasons can help us let more unnecessary “stuff” go. Hopefully they will be a help to you!
GUILT: You are keeping something for no other reason than someone gave it to you. It was either a gift or a hand me down, that you do not want or need, but would feel guilty letting go of.
Let's consider the gift item first. There are usually two reasons someone gives a gift, out of a desire to bless the receiver or out of a feeling of obligation. In the first scenario, the person truly wants to bless you with a gift, hopefully to your liking, and they take a chance on what that might be.
That item now belongs to you. Ultimately, a real gift, comes with no strings attached. Nothing for you to do beyond gratefully receiving the gift. You truly are free to let it go to someone else; someone who will actually love it, use it, wear it or want it. Doesn’t that make more sense than having it languish at the bottom of a drawer?
Next are the handed down or inherited items. If such items are kept only out of obligation, they are probably stuck away somewhere out of sight, packed up in your garage, attic or a rented storage space.
The person who left the items to you, likely did so in the hope that you would love and use them as they did. Wouldn't it be more honoring to that person if you allowed these things to go to someone who would really enjoy having them in their home?
It’s also possible that the person who left you these items had been holding on to them out of their own guilt over letting them go. Maybe they saved that dining set after their own grandmother passed away and left it to them. They didn’t love it or use either, but held on to it simply out of the guilt of letting it go. That is a whole lot of passed down guilt living in your home. It's time to let it go and it is OK to do so.
SHAME: You keep things just because you spent “good” money on them and it would feel shameful or wasteful to let them go.
We have all heard the saying, “Don't cry over spilled milk.” Just as you cannot go back and un-spill the milk, you cannot go back and un-spend the money.
It's done. Either be thankful for the enjoyment or usefulness that you did receive from the item or acknowledge that it may not have been money well spent and spend more wisely in the future.
Keeping the item around simply to shame yourself every time you see it, is unnecessary and may even be harmful to your overall well being.
FEAR: You are keeping something you do not use simply out of fear. Fear of lack, fear of the “what if”. “What if I need this again someday?” “What if I regret giving it away?” “What if my other one breaks?”
These are duplicates of anything; extra gadgets, old cords, tools or clothing that you haven't used in many months or possibly, many years. Deciding it's usefulness or lack of, is where sincere honesty on your part must come into play.
One client's story was the perfect example of keeping things simply out of fear. She was very frustrated with her kitchen and the lack of available cabinet space but was convinced that she “needed” everything she had in them. She had a nice, newer blender on her counter that she used often. Once we dove into her cabinets, we found not one, but two older blenders! Now the obvious question was, why was she holding on to these older model blenders when she had a nice, newer model in use. The answer was fear. Not in her words, but ultimately fear was the driving factor behind her answer of “what if my newer one breaks?”
After we talked it through for a few minutes, she honestly admitted that if her current one broke, she would most likely buy another of the newer style blenders. She then realized how silly it was to hang onto the older extras and she let them go.
Even if this story ended differently, she could have easily (and inexpensively) obtained a used one at a local thrift store instead of wasting valuable cupboard space.
Tsh Oxenreider at “The Art of Simple” ingeniously wrote about seeing thrift stores as a “...rent free storage unit with a tiny pay-per-use fee.” I couldn't agree more! You can see her original blog post here:
Now I use this client example, not out of any judgment towards her choices, but because it is a very common issue for a lot of people. Sometimes we automatically hold onto things without ever really thinking it through. Hopefully acknowledging that we live in a time of extreme material abundance can alleviate the fear of letting go, and give us more room in our kitchen cabinets to boot!
SOMEDAY: These are time based things that you hold onto, like hobbies to do, books to read, projects to complete; that you make no time for now, but think you will “someday”.
I don't know if he was the first, but a wonderful fellow organizer, Andrew Mellon, wisely said that there is no such thing as “someday” on the calendar. How right he is! While "someday" is not an emotion, the desire behind it is.
Just as we try to keep more than our homes can handle, we desire to pack more into our 24 hours a day than we can possibly ever do.
We are all guilty of playing the "someday" game with things that we should either make time for now or let go of. Saying I'll do it “someday” just postpones our need to make the decision now. However, constantly delaying the decision just causes more of the emotions we have already looked at, like guilt over a project not done and shame over money wasted.
Take some time to honestly examine the emotions that may be hiding behind "someday." Are we really just holding onto a project because we've already spent the money? Or books because our father left them to us? We often stick to the mantra of, "I just don't have time right now" but if it were something we truly valued doing, we would make the time.
Again, this is a place for being brutally honest with yourself. Imagine you were suddenly gifted with a magical month off from work, kids, or life as you now know it, would you dive into that “someday” hobby? That pile of books or that DIY project? Or would you choose to do something else? No judgment here, but if something else was your first choice, then it is time to let those “someday” things go.
Perhaps this just isn't the right season of life for those projects or hobbies and that is OK. A lot of those things might have a shelf life to consider as well. Paints and special pens dry up, scrapbook stickers and model glue loose their adhesive quality, sewing patterns go out of style. Pass those things along (while they are still usable) to someone who will find great joy in using them now.
Now, just close your eyes for a moment and imagine all of this “stuff” and the attached negative emotions, leaving your home. The fear, guilt and shame, all gone, forever! Imagine how much lighter, happier and freer your home, and you, will feel!
Do you have any of this “stuff” still living in your home? What emotions are keeping you from letting them go? Do you have any success stories to share? Please comment below!