When to ignore organizing advice

Being organized can help in many areas of your home and work life. Most people tend to find things more easily and quickly when organized, worry less about maintaining their stuff when they’re uncluttered, and may find their days more stress-free than when they were disorganized and cluttered. Some popular rules of thumb (have a place for everything, label your containers) can and do work well for most of us. There are times, however, when organizing advice may not make sense for you.

That doesn’t mean you should give up on your goal of uncluttering and streamlining your most used spaces. But, it does mean looking at things a little differently and considering whether or not that organizing advice is …

Too rigid

There are several organizing rules of thumb that can become mantras to help you stay motivated to maintain order in your space. The key to using these rules with success is making sure they aren’t so rigid that they become a source of stress for you. If the principle you’re attempting to use is too rigid, you will not only become frustrated, but you’ll also refrain from using it and still not be able to control the build-up of clutter.

Try this instead: Adjust the rule so the core tenet remains the same, but tweak it so it suits your personality and lifestyle. For instance, some people drop everything (shoes, bags, mail) at the main entryway and create clutter (or block the pathway). You can still “drop” your stuff at the door without creating clutter.

Here’s how:

  • Instead of taking your things to an entirely different room (or a spot much farther away from the door), install hooks on the wall nearest the doorway or inside the closest closet for your bags and jackets.
  • Keep a basket at the entryway to collect mail and paperwork.

By flexing the organizing principle, you’ll still reap the benefits without making drastic changes that are too difficult to consistently maintain.

Too complex

Any process that is complex, even ones that help you to streamline and become more efficient, will be difficult to maintain. Having multiple steps, particularly ones that need to be done in a specific order, can take longer (and, at times, require more brain power). This is perhaps the reason why some of us dislike doing laundry (raising my hand). There are several things that you need to do before you’re actually finished, and then in a few days you have to do it all over again.

Try this instead: Keep it simple. Processes with fewer than three steps are usually easier to manage and don’t take as much time to complete. As you consider which organizing principles to use, also think about how you can re-design them to suit your needs.

For example, to maintain your closet, you can:

  • Group your clothing by type or in sets
  • Group your clothing by color
  • Hang your clothing by sleeve (or hem) length
  • Take a picture of pieces you like to wear together (inlcuding accessories)
  • Use garment dividers
  • Label shelves
  • Turn hangers backward each time you remove clothing to wear
  • Store your shoes in clear shoe boxes
  • Add a photo of each pair of shoes to the outside of each shoe box
  • Keep a donation bin on the closet floor

Each of these steps is very helpful, but you may not be able to keep up with all of them consistently. Instead, select the things you know you can do easily and routinely, and gradually add (or swap out) other techniques as necessary.

As you test out your next organizing strategy, remember that it needs to fit you and the way you think. If it has too many moving parts and isn’t flexible enough to suit your lifestyle, don’t be afraid to make a few changes.

10 Comments for “When to ignore organizing advice”

  1. posted by Jasi on

    Good point. Everyone has different levels of organization in their household. I see some of these posts online and they look like far too much work so that you don’t see labels on your laundry detergent. It’s nice to have pretty things but baskets for baskets seems a little unnecessary for most of us.

  2. posted by Dusty on

    I always seem to get caught up in complex organization and it take me all day at the expense of not getting other stuff done with that time! I have this same large bin that I can never find anything in, so I will organize it a couple of times a year. It never helps and it takes at least a few hours!

  3. posted by neuro on

    I agree. So much of the uncluttering advice is focused on rules that would never work for me, like suggesting you throw out things you haven’t used in X time. The best advice I have ever seen is to see how things match your priorities in life.

  4. posted by [email protected] on

    I so agree! My daughter-in-law and I both wrote posts on my site about being unconventional with organization. The bottom line is that you have to do what works for you! And sometimes that means going against conventional advice. The great thing about organizing is that there’s not just one right way. I love that!

  5. posted by Whitney on

    I think this particularly applies to the one-in-one-out rule. There are plenty of times that this just doesn’t make sense. Bring in a Christmas tree, throw out the coffee table? Get a crib for the new baby, donate your older child’s bed or your dresser? Not to mention that I don’t have time to search my bookcase for something to give away every time I’m given a new book. Larger decluttering efforts less often work better for me.

  6. posted by Kate on

    I also think people can get hung up on the distinction between “pretty” and “organized.” For instance, I don’t have a satin ribbon tied around my guest sheets, or adorable printed-up labels on things in my bathroom linen closet. Nobody’s going to open the door and gasp with aesthetic pleasure!

    But I know what’s there, everything has a place, and it’s functional.

    I don’t think the goal of getting organized should be that one’s home is going to look like The Container Store catalog. And if it did, I would argue that that person might have enough time to take up an activity that would be more fulfilling and enriching.

  7. posted by ChrisD on

    But maybe some people might make a hobby of making their home look like a catalogue. 🙂
    I often find that it is almost difficult to find a craft project that won’t make clutter. For example I enjoy embroidery, but now I have filled up my walls, filled up the walls of my friends and nobody I know wants cushions. So a project to make stuff that you then use, even if it’s not necessary, can be quite nice.
    It’s true that if you try a method that is not right for you, you’ll have to put some thought into what IS right. Sometimes you really need to discuss things, have your friends come up with ideas, explain why that idea won’t work, adjust the idea, think of more problems, then after some time the perfect answer will descend on you, but only after thinking through the wrong methods.

  8. posted by Gilly on

    On one of those TV shows where a team goes in and declutters and organizes, there was a guy who dropped his clothes all over the bedroom.

    The solution? They re-did his closet with a closet system of hanging rods and shelves. Then they gave him a hamper with a lid, that just barely fit under one of the shelves.

    Even as I was watching the show, I knew the guy wasn’t going to use that hamper. Think about the steps necessary to put just one piece of clothing in there, remembering that most of it has to be done one-handed, because one hand will be holding the clothing:

    Open closet door.
    Pull hamper out from under shelf.
    Lift lid.
    Put clothing in.
    Close lid.
    Shove hamper back under shelf.
    Close closet door.

    A lidless hamper would have been better. A lower, wider, lidless hamper that didn’t need to be pulled out would have been better still.

    I don’t even have a hamper. I keep a laundry basket on the closet floor. Open closet door, release clothing from hand over basket to let gravity do most of the work, close door.

    I am constantly working to make it easier to put stuff away. The more steps, the less likely things will go back to their “homes.” I spend what seems like waaaaay too much time thinking about easier ways to store things, but when I come up with the right solution it makes day to day life so much easier. And my house looks so much neater.

    The things I use the most are front and center and take just one or two steps to put away.

  9. posted by JC on

    It’s true. You do have to work at being incluttered, but you will only do the work if the system is one that will work for you.

    I met with several cabinet maker/kitchen designers before hiring one to build the cabinets in our new home. Three of them never made it past the first interview because 1) I insisted on disrupting the magic “triangle” with a center island, 2) I refused to incorporate specialized cabinets/sinks/drawer inserts that I didn’t want or need, and 3) I have no upper cabinets on two of the three walls (the beam and window lines of the open floor plan visually flow from the living room through the dining room into the kitchen without breaking up.)

    The basket of neatly stacked newspapers next to the wood stove isn’t ideal, but it works so much better than the mess that was in the bottom of the pantry closet where they were completely “out-of-sight”.

  10. posted by Grace on

    What relief to hear that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I hate paper and it has taken over my house. I even have my Christmas decorations out from last Christmas!! My live tree stayed up until August!!! UGH!!!

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