Does this ever happen to you: Your home is functioning at its best and chores are getting done when they need to be done. Then, the light bulb burns out in the laundry room (or something similar which is seemingly minor, like you run out of dish detergent or you throw your coat over the back of a chair instead of hanging it up in the closet). Less than a week later, you have dishes piled up on your kitchen counter, clothes spilling out of the hamper, and old newspapers piling up in your driveway. All it took was one itty bitty cog in the machine to break for your entire system to fall apart.
I refer to this breakdown as the Keystone Demise. In architecture, the keystone is the center stone of an arch. It is the piece that is vital to the arch’s success because it makes it possible for the arch to hold its shape and to bear the weight of the ceiling, wall, bridge, and/or doorway. If you remove the keystone, the arch fails, usually bringing down the entire surrounding structure with it.
The Keystone Demise is almost always the cause of an organizing system failure. One small piece is disrupted/broken/compromised and in a matter of days it is as if the organizing system didn’t exist at all. One day’s mail being thrown on the dining table can be all it takes for full-house chaos to erupt.
When you or others who occupy the same space notice the keystone isn’t working properly, its as if the keystone gives license for you and others to abandon your efforts to keep everything organized. In a sense, the Keystone Demise plays a part in the Broken Window theory. The tiny, out-of-place keystone sends a signal that it’s okay for disorder to rule the home or office.
As someone who wants to keep your home and office organized, it’s your job to immediately identify when a keystone is out of place or broken and fix the situation. There are a few easy ways to do this:
- Printed closing duties or a chore chart. It seems elementary to write out chores and end-of-day assignments, but these lists can be very beneficial for helping you avoid Keystone Demise. Before leaving the office or heading to bed, review your printed list of closing duties or daily chores to make sure all tasks were completed properly. If they weren’t, quickly do the chore or re-do it. Don’t leave work or go to bed with an essential task undone.
- Keep an easily accessible shopping list. Again, this is pretty basic, but having a grocery shopping and errand list can be a huge help in avoiding Keystone Demise. This list needs to be in a place where any of your housemates can effortlessly add to it (right when they notice something is running out or broken, don’t ever expect housemates to have to email you because they won’t), the writing implement needs to be in working order, and you can take the list with you when you go to the store or to run errands.
- Having the right tools. This is mentioned constantly on this site, but it needs to be mentioned again in this context. If clothes end up on the floor of your bathroom, then you need to put a hamper in your bathroom. If clothes end up on the floor of your bedroom, you also need a hamper in your bedroom. If you want to shred junk mail by your front door and also shred sensitive documents in your home office, have a shredder by your front door and also a shredder in your office. Having multiples of something isn’t clutter if you actually need multiples of something to stay organized and keep from avoiding Keystone Demise.
In my house, receipts on the top of our bedroom dresser are our broken keystone. If we empty our pockets and just set the receipts down on the top of the dresser, within a week we have absolute chaos in the house. It’s amazing to me how something as small as receipts can cause complete disorder, but time and again they are the culprit. Rather, I should say receipts used to be the constant cause of our Keystone Demise. We now have all the tools necessary to keep this simple type of clutter from accumulating. Plus, getting ready for bed more than an hour before we plan to go to sleep also helps a great deal because we have enough energy to properly process these little slips of paper (and get our dirty clothes into the hamper and all our other end-of-the day chores).