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Principles to Live (and Organize) By

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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

In this chapter:

  • Learn about the "homes" within your home
  • Begin thinking in categories and groups
  • Discern the key points of "containerizing"
  • Discover how to make tradeoffs to optimize your organization
  • Search for new storage options that defy gravity
  • Understand the importance of improving your decision-making ability
  • Prepare to develop systems to support your organizing efforts
  • Learn how to know when to STOP organizing

Here’s something you might find comforting, or unnerving, or both: There are no hard and fast rules for organizing. There are some widely accepted and respected guidelines, and there are principles such as the ones I’m about to offer you, but even the most universal of organizing concepts is not one-size-fits-all. The key word here is flexibility: Everything must be customizable person by person, and if a "rule" is not adaptable to your unique needs, it’s not valid.

This chapter describes eight principles that I think you’ll find relevant to organizing the spaces in your home. There are seven that tell you where to start and one that tells you when to stop. (Intrigued?) Many of them apply to other types of organizing, too, such as data and time management. If they inspire you to move beyond organizing your belongings at home and into also organizing your time, your paper, or your space at work, so much the better!

Understanding these principles from the outset will give you a significant head start toward the hands-on organizing coming up in later chapters: They allow you to take a much more targeted approach, because you’re better able to anticipate the results of your efforts, and you have a global perspective to keep yourself working according to your priorities. Carry these principles with you after you’ve reached your organizational ideal: They’ll help you make prudent choices when your systems need future updates.

Have a Home

Everything you own should have a home within your home—a place it belongs, fits, and can go to when not in use. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in its home very often (think remote controls that are put away only when company’s coming) but when it is time to tidy up, those reserved parking spaces must be accessible.

Adhering to this principle accomplishes two things: It makes it easy for you and anyone else in the household to put things away where they belong, and it forces you to decide, for every last thing you own, where it should be stored.

Choose a small area that is always cluttered in your home and look at each of the objects on that surface. Ask yourself where each of them belongs. If you don’t know or have never decided, well, there’s the problem: How can you put something away when it doesn’t actually belong anywhere?

Figuring Out Where Things Should Live

Assigning homes to every last object can be tough. Some things are easy, and they’re the ones most likely to be put away on a regular basis. Other things are difficult for a number of reasons:

  1. It won’t fit where you store the other things like it. For example, many people have far more bath towels than they have linen closet space; it doesn’t seem out of control unless you manage to get all of the laundry done at one time, and then you can’t fit it all into the closet!
  2. It is used frequently and getting it back out each time would be too inconvenient. This is why keys, phone chargers, remote controls, carryout menus, coffee-making supplies, calculators, and pens tend to live on the countertop instead of in a drawer, and it’s why there’s always a logjam of shoes by the main entryway.
  3. It’s a lone wolf that has nothing in common with anything else you own, so you haven’t figured out where it logically belongs. Consider that back-scratcher you got from Disneyland. It’s useful as all get-out and you want it handy when it’s needed, but where do you store something like that?
  4. It’s something you will have only temporarily, and you need to remember to do something with it while it’s there. A great example is a course of antibiotics: You leave the pills out on the counter to remind yourself to take them. Another example is the daily mail. In theory, you intend to process it each day. In practice, it piles up because it’s a to-do, not a to-put-away.
  5. When it’s needed, it’s needed quickly, so it tends to be never completely put away. Things like this might have kinda-sorta homes, like the fly swatter hanging from a stray nail by the back door. (Yuck.)
  6. It belongs to someone else. Other people’s DVDs and leftover containers often play a part in cluttering up our homes. The idea is to leave it out where you’ll notice it the next time that person comes over or you go to see them, but it doesn’t work that way: Their stuff becomes part of the landscape just as quickly as our own stuff does, and their visit won’t be enough to prompt you: You’re both likely to walk right by it as they head for the door.

Choosing homes for everything you own is hard enough. Then, getting stuff put away presents its own set of challenges. We’ll look at these in Chapter 6, "Making Homes for Your Keepers."

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