Everything in its place with MOOP

MOOP is an acronym I learned recently, from an essay by Tarin Towers, which immediately caught my attention because of its organizing implications. She wrote:

MOOP is a term coined by hikers and other ecology-minded people who use phrases like “pack it in, pack it out” and “leave no trace.” It stands for Matter Out of Place. In a state park, it might refer to a bottle cap on a forest floor, a cigarette butt on a footpath, a tent peg neglected when the tent got packed up. In a house, it might be a wet towel on a bedroom floor, a coffee mug on top of the TV.

This is a wonderfully useful term for organizing, since it encompasses two key concepts:

  • Everything has a place where it belongs
  • To stay organized, you need to ensure things get put back in those defined places

I had my own experience with MOOP a few weeks ago. My main credit card usually lives in a specific slot in my wallet, but I had pulled it out and put it in my jeans pocket one day when I wanted to make an online donation. But I didn’t put it back in my wallet right away, and somehow it fell out of that pocket. It took me two days to find the card, hidden under a sofa cushion. I knew it was in my house somewhere, so there was no financial risk, but it was still frustrating.

So how do you avoid MOOP? By doing the boring task of ongoing maintenance.

Organizing expert Peter Walsh offered the following advice in the Los Angeles Times:

Eliminate the word “later” from your vocabulary, as in, “I’ll put this away later, I’ll fold this later….” The way to stop clutter from accumulating is to accept the fact that now is the new later.

The Asian Efficiency website uses the term “clear to neutral” to describe all post-activity work, such as cleaning the dishes after a meal and putting supplies away after a craft project. Besides eliminating MOOP, this clear-to-neutral process makes it easier to do the next activity — prepare the next meal, do the next craft project — because everything is ready to go.

However, it may not always be practical to put everything away immediately, although certain things (keys, credit cards, leftover food, etc.) should certainly be dealt with promptly. But if the laundry sits for a day or the suitcase doesn’t get unpacked as soon as you return from a trip, it’s probably not as serious. And it usually makes sense to accumulate donations when you realize some things are “out of place” by being in your home or office at all. (You can think of the donation bag or box as the short-term “place” for such things.)

If you can’t put everything in its place immediately, consider what your plan will be. Will you (and your other family members) spend 15 minutes every night putting things away? Will you do a major cleanup on the weekend? When will you do that trip to drop off donations?

Here’s wishing everyone a MOOP-free (or almost MOOP-free) 2016!

7 Comments for “Everything in its place with MOOP”

  1. posted by Ms Hanson on

    Do It Now and Put It Away rescued me from the genteel squalor of my childhood home. Seldom do I undertake major cleaning tasks because Maintenance does most of it.

  2. posted by SC on

    Every time we go hiking, I take shopping bags with me. Virtually every trail, I come out with a full bag. Very sad.

    I’ve been trying hard to CTN after dinner every night. It’s frustrating either way. Either I spend time cleaning up after dinner, which means I spend less time with the kids before bed, or I wait until they are in bed losing my “alone” time, or I wait until the next day and it messes with dinner prep the next day. SIgh…

  3. posted by EB0220 on

    I totally sympathize, SC. I’ve had some luck with having my older child (3) help clear the table, load the dishwasher, etc. And the younger one (1) likes to sweep. They usually slow the process down, but at least I can clean up and spend time with them.

  4. posted by Penelope on

    My organisational mantra equivalent of ‘clear to neutral’ is ‘zero all dials’.

  5. posted by laura m. on

    I keep things picked up and put away, because of so many moves before retirement (related to his job) knowing to keep things in order and uncluttering rooms several times a year. Oldest of younger siblings I vowed not to raise kids, knowing kids create clutter. Being the oldest, I kept the clutter picked up like toys, clothes, shoes and games, etc. I spent today cleaning out stuff in the garage and organizing. This prevents buying duplicates.

  6. posted by TootsNYC on

    I used to use the term “erase the evidence.”

    And I’ve also realized that when you put something down to do it later, you are delegating to Future You. And Future You may not enjoy having to do something at the time YOU set. It’s kinda rude, to just dump your work on someone else, without regard for what other things might be going on in their lives at the time something finally becomes crucial to do. Even if it’s Future You you’re delegating to–it’s rude.

  7. posted by TootsNYC on

    SC: Maybe those kids need to be part of the “clear to neutral” effort. Unless they’re under 2, they can help, and it can be time together as well.

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