Put things away, right away

The advice “put things away, right away” seems so basic it feels almost ridiculous to share it on Unclutterer. We all know the benefits of spending a few seconds to put something away as soon as we’ve finished using it. So why is it this advice is often so hard to follow?

My assumption is that there are two reasons. First, human beings will almost always choose the path of least resistance. It’s just how we’re wired. Putting a book back on a shelf is easy. Placing it on the coffee table is even easier. We choose the easiest option, even when it’s to our detriment.

Second, we have a limited amount of self-control each day. Think of self-control like a pitcher of water you drink from throughout the day. At some point, the pitcher is empty, usually in the evenings. You’ve made tough decisions and focused all day and by the time you get home you’re just done. It’s so easy to just plop the book down when you’re tired.

I’ve come to a compromise with the temptation to not put things away: the “outbox.” I’ve put one by the end table at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor, and another near the door to the basement. The idea is simple: If you’ve got something that needs to go upstairs, put it in the basket by the table. Likewise, if something needs to go downstairs, put it in that outbox. (Don’t put these boxes ON the stairs, though, as you want to be safe.) At some point, when the container is full but before it’s overflowing, you transport it and put everything away at once.

It’s not perfect — ideally, I’d just put the things away — but it’s also a decent solution if you’re truly exhausted and putting things straight away isn’t going to happen: items are neatly organized, out of the way and ready to travel to their final destination.

8 Comments for “Put things away, right away”

  1. posted by MixinItaly on

    A wise and practical idea is to make things easier to put away than they are to take out. This makes all the difference in the world!
    If there is empty space on the bookshelf, or your receipts have a small box you toss them into under the table, it’s easier to put them in their place instead of leaving them out. But dresser drawers that are full and do not close do not make you want to put stuff away in them because it’s a struggle. So you avoid it.
    At the same time, when you are looking for something specific, like when you need an aspirin or that perfect colour nail polish, you can shuffle through the medicine cabinet to retrieve it because you know it’s there. You can dig through your shoes to find that pair you need today. If there is a complicated system to put them back, you won’t. But even if you toss your shoes in the “shoe area” at the bottom of your closet, they are still put away, whether the pile is unsightly or not.
    This works wonders for me!

  2. posted by MixinItaly on

    A wise and practical idea is to make things easier to put away than they are to take out. This makes all the difference in the world!
    If there is empty space on the bookshelf, or your receipts have a small box you toss them into under the table, it’s easier to put them in their place instead of leaving them out. But dresser drawers that are full and do not close do not make you want to put stuff away in them because it’s a struggle. So you avoid it.
    At the same time, when you are looking for something specific, like when you need an aspirin or that perfect colour nail polish, you can shuffle through the medicine cabinet to retrieve it because you know it’s there. You can dig through your shoes to find that pair you need today. If there is a complicated system to put them back, you won’t. But even if you toss your shoes in the “shoe area” at the bottom of your closet, they are still put away, whether the pile is unsightly or not.
    This works wonders for me!

  3. posted by Ab on

    I do something similar to Outbox. I get it into the room where it is supposed to go (one level and hallway configuration which makes this easy). When I am in the room, I look around to see what needs to be put away while I’m there.

  4. posted by Larry Feeney on

    I’ve used this system for years and it can be quite efficient. But one wrinkle: the “rule” is that the next person going up or down the stairs takes whatever is in the outbox. They either put it away directly or, if it’s someone else’s “stuff” and they don’t know where it goes they put it in that person’s space for them to deal with. Often going up or downstairs takes the majority of the time for properly putting something away so using this system makes for fewer trips up and down and saves time overall.

  5. posted by SkiptheBS on

    I was taught to “think like you’re blind”. This is a good organizing philosophy, although my nail polish still isn’t organized by color and my tool apron contents never seem to stay where I put them. I’m tempted to get a label maker for both.

  6. posted by Pat on

    I have found that the best way to get myself (and others) to put things away is to have clean surfaces to start. If there are no papers on the kitchen counters, people hesitate to leave papers there. if the only things on the bathroom vanity are a holder for toothbrushes and toothpaste and a dispenser for paper cups, they are more careful about leaving grooming aids out instead of putting them in the medicine cabinet or a drawer. It may take awhile to get those surfaces clear in the first place, but it really does pay off!

  7. posted by Megan @ Prioritized Living on

    Love this! This tip can produce surprisingly large-scale results. If you drop an item where it doesn’t belong, a few things happen. First, having started a drop-zone, it makes it that much easier to pile on the next item! Second, instead of putting that item down in the right spot when you initially had it in your hand, you have to make a conscious choice at a later date to pick that thing up again and put it where it truly belongs. Third, you start to go blind to the clutter after a while; you stop seeing that thing as something out of place and it becomes part of the background of your home. I always apply this rule to mail when I bring it in . . . if it’s not something I need to keep or file, it goes right into the recycling. Otherwise, I’d have junk mail lying all over the place!

  8. posted by Susan on

    Uncluttering went a long way towards me putting stuff away immediately, since I hardly own anything anymore. I got rid of my bedroom dresser and store my few remaining clothes in built-ins in my hallway – super easy to open up as I’m passing by. Since I pretty much KonMari’d down to the bone, the only things left really to put away are clothes and books.

    Agree with the comment that if you have clear horizontal surfaces to begin with (or get rid of the horizontal surfaces you don’t need, like end tables, coffee tables, dressers, shelving), you’ll be way ahead of the game. 🙂

    I love these posts – keep them coming!

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