Organizing rules you can ignore

Organizing rules abound, and some of them make a lot of sense. One of my favorites is one that Erin stresses in her new book: “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

But other rules are more like folklore and can be ignored or replaced with better versions.

Only touch it once

If you followed this rule exactly, it would imply that you needed to pay a bill as soon as you opened the envelope it came in. You would need to scan, file, or shred the bill right then, too. But it’s perfectly fine to place the bill wherever you put bills to be paid, and batch process it with others during some future planned bill-paying time.

Similarly, if you’re straightening up a room, you don’t need to take each misplaced item to its proper home when you first pick it up. Rather, it makes more sense to accumulate all the items that need to be moved to other rooms and then do one trip to put them all away.

The main idea here is to avoid picking something up, like a paper in your in-box, and putting it back without doing anything. Instead, determine the next thing you need to do related to that paper. For example, a bill that looks wrong might mean you need to check your files or make a call, so you’d note that next step and place the bill wherever it needs to go (in a to-do file of some sort, perhaps) to make sure you follow through.

If you haven’t used something in six months (or twelve months), get rid of it

If it’s been awhile since you’ve used something, it’s certainly worth thinking about why. You may well decide it’s something you no longer need or want.

But sometimes there are good reasons to keep things that haven’t been used for a year or more. Maybe you’ve put an activity or hobby on hold for family reasons (a new baby, for example) or business reasons, but you have every intention of resuming that activity or hobby in the foreseeable future.

Or maybe you have something that only gets used for specific occasions, such as formalwear. If you haven’t attended a formal event in a year or more, that doesn’t mean you should necessarily get rid of the tux or the gown that you adore.

Any rule that just doesn’t work for you

I totally agree with the time management advice that says it’s important to make time for sleep. This advice is often packaged with rules about sleep hygiene:

  • Keep the same sleep schedule every day
  • Don’t read or view a screen right before bed
  • Keep the bedroom totally dark

I trust the medical professionals who suggest these rules, and I’m sure they work well for many people. But I ignore all of them, and I sleep just fine. As always, you need to figure out what works for you, which may involve breaking an organizing rule — even one that’s generally good advice.

11 Comments for “Organizing rules you can ignore”

  1. posted by Kuri on

    One reason why the 6 month rule doesn’t work for me: as a resident in a northern climate with wide variation in weather, I need a small seasonal wardrobe. If I de-clutter in October and followed that rule, I would throw out all my toques, mittens and winter boots just before I need them again!

  2. posted by Elle on

    Thank you! Those rules always seemed silly to me and I have ignored them, but always wanted someone to “call them out.” Thanks for doing so.

  3. posted by Turtlemom on

    No unclutter “rules” will work for me. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis that involves pain and severe fatigue. This is the end of February, and I still have about 25% of the Christmas decorations to put away. I only got them out and up because a friend came over and did most of it for me! I have a room full of projects – some begun, others to-be-done when I am well enough. But I don’t know exactly when that will be. My current project is out and set up on the dining room table. If I put it away between uses, I might not have the energy to both set it up again AND to work on the project.
    Part of my propensity to clutter resides in my ADD, and the added fact that “if I can’t see something it “doesn’t exist.” I’d never get the bills paid if I didn’t keep them out. A “bill box” was tried, and I just “didn’t see it,” so bills didn’t get paid. I’m doing better now because I use a billing service through my bank. All but a few of the bills can be set up there, and I only have to “deal” with about 4 individual bills a month. I find the computer is keeping me less cluttered.
    But then there are those Christmas decorations that need re-packing and re-storing…

  4. posted by Carol C on

    Thank you, Jeri, for calling out the sleep rules. They don’t fit my style but then I feel guilty. Releasing all guilt right now. Thanks!

  5. posted by G. on

    @Turtlemom – is your friend available to put decorations away? If not, it sounds like it might be time to rethink them, as it sounds like they are weighing on your mind now. Not to eliminate them, but cut back to what you can handle getting out and putting away yourself. If your friend is only interested in the fun part of decorating…… I think I’ll not say anything more on that subject. As to leaving projects out for fear of not getting them back out – I do that too, and don’e have the reasons of RA or ADD.

  6. posted by Sheri N. on

    I completely agree with tossing out the the sleep hygiene! I usually can’t stay awake past 9 p.m. so I go to bed. And also I read a few pages of my book while I’m in bed. The cue to turn off the light is when my book is hitting me in the nose! And keeping my room completely dark is a load of bunk! If I did that I wouldn’t be able to see the “boogie Man” or find the bathroom in the middle of the night!

  7. posted by Bud on

    I haven’t used my wife in six months and she basically is just taking up space, can I get rid of her?

  8. posted by Susan on

    Most sleep hygiene rules don’t seem to apply to me. I guess we’re all different. If I’m on my computer at night, I don’t even put it away until morning. I’ll usually just turn it off and close it and leave it next to me in the bed! (It doesn’t seem to need a pillow, though.) :p I just don’t get the “bed for only sleep and sex” rule. I use my bed for both of those, but I’ve also been known to eat meals in bed, read in bed, watch a movie in bed, knit in bed, and do exercises on my bed. (There are actually a few bed aerobics videos on YouTube for this!)

  9. posted by Megan @ Prioritized Living on

    Totally agree that “touch it once” can make life MORE complicated!

    They key is making sure you 1) designate a block of time in your schedule to deal with the task/item and similar tasks/items all at once and 2) have a place for the items to live until you arrive at that point in time. Maybe bills go in a file folder, recipes to try go in a binder, downstairs stuff that needs to go upstairs goes into a basket, etc.

  10. posted by Marie on

    The sleep hygiene rules always make me laugh. Who is getting up and going to bed at the same time every day? They must have perfect jobs, and robots instead of children.

    I also find the six-month throw-away rule ridiculous. According to that, I should throw out my fire extinguishers, my wedding album, and my social security card.

  11. posted by lAURA on

    I have a 2 year-old who is in bed at 8:20-8:30 pm every day. And it’s not a robot. We have been working on his routines since he was 6 months old.
    My husband & I are in bed every day around 9:40 and we are up at 6:00 am.
    I think we do not have perfect jobs, but we try hard to make our schedule a priority. It’s all about priorities.

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