Think about your home or where you live. Does your home change from day to day? Do you live in a different place depending upon how you feel from moment to moment? Chances are you don’t. You come home to the same place most nights. The same is true for our stuff.
Imagine that everything you own has a “home.” Not a “for now” home, but a permanent home. If you’re not sure where something “lives” then think about the way you use an item and that often will inform you about where it can live. If you use an item in multiple locations, then assign it a permanent home so you’ll always know where you can find it.
For years, I could never find my eyeglasses. Now, I keep a pair in multiple locations around my home. This is because I need a pair for cooking and reading recipes, a pair for office work and a pair for driving. They always live in the same spot. My kitchen glasses live near the phone. My office glasses live in a small, decorative container on my desk and my driving glasses live in my purse, always available to me when I drive. (I could also leave them in my glove compartment but I also use those glasses for shopping.)
Next, determine what you really want, need or love. What you don’t want, need or love should be donated or appropriately disposed of.
For the things left over, start thinking about where they will live.
Finally decide how best contain them. It wouldn’t make sense for example to go out and buy 30 containers to hold all your old magazines if in the end you decide to donate them to a local hospital or library.
Here’s how this looks in a typical organizing challenge.
You have clothes strewn all over your home that need organizing. They include, winter wear, summer wear, formal wear, sportswear, kids clothes, and more. Some you (or your family) still wear, some you don’t. Where do these clothes live? Are they clothes worn occasionally or are they part of your everyday wardrobe? Would it make sense to have some items live in one part of your home (say a coat closet) while others live in your bedroom closet? If both are crammed full of stuff already, then your task is to assign a home for your clothes, place them as close to that area as you can, and begin the task of creating the space you need for them.
Sometimes we don’t have the information we need to make a decision about something. A typical example is paper we keep.
Let’s say you have a file stuffed with tax related documents because you’re not sure if you need them. There are many ways you can get the information you need to decide.
- Ask a financial or tax adviser if you have access to one.
- Look on line at places like Moneygirl (http://moneygirl.quickanddirtytips.com).
- In some cases, a professional organizer will be able to tell you as well.
The important thing is to get the information you need to make your decision and avoid keeping it “just in case.”
Another decision-making obstacle occurs when you keep something “for sentimental reasons.” This represents the emotional attachment to our things.
Try asking yourself, “Does this item bring me pleasure?” “Do I associate it with a good memory?” “Is it healing to me in some way?” If yes, keep it, if not, it’s time it found a new life somewhere else.
A typical example I see with some of my parent clients is they don’t know what to do with their child’s schoolwork, artwork and handmade cards. Here’s what I suggest:
- First decide what you love about them and use these criteria to make decisions about each item.
- Then decide what your purpose is in keeping items you don’t love. For example you want to keep a record of your child’s progress.
- Next decide where these items will live — and make room for these items ahead of time.
- Finally, contain the items. I generally recommend using what you already have around the house before going out and purchasing a new container.
Here’s how it might look in the end:
You decide you love your child’s handmade cards (they say, “I love Mommy” on all of them).
You decide you want to keep some of the artwork but you realize you don’t need every class assignment your child did since 2nd grade. You know you have room in your office closet for about two boxes because you just cleaned it out and there is some room on the top shelf.
You decide to photograph your favorite drawings and upload them to your computer or even to a site like Snapfish (http://www.snapfish.com) to create a photobook.
You decide you need a record of their school progress, and keep or scan their report cards and teacher notes, and recycle their individual assignments.
You decide to contain the art work in a scrap book, using paper protecting sheets available from a craft store such as Michael’s Arts & Crafts (www.michaels.com) and the rest in a watertight box available from the Container Store (www.containerstore.com)
You decide to put the box or boxes in your office closet, where they will live.
It is a strangely modern phenomena that we’ve accumulated so much more than we truly need. We’ve learned to measure our happiness, rightly or not, by how much we own.
Additionally, how we value our lives, our worth and ourselves is muddled in with the emotions we experience every day about our security and our future, especially now. We find ourselves keeping this or that for a guy called, Justin as in “just in case.”
Some of what we keep is tied to the memory of someone else or some unrealized version of ourselves. We get stuck in our clutter like an overstuffed drawer we can’t open. We deny giving life to those dreams we had, and instead keep them hidden in a box or a closet or right out in the open as just one of many piles on our floor.
I believe organizing is not only about the physical act of clearing clutter or arranging items in closets, it’s about creating the room in your life for other opportunities and unrealized needs to emerge. If you want more information about how I work, contact me at LET’S MAKE ROOM (www.letsmakeroom.com)