Five uncluttering and organizing tasks you can do every day

The following are five simple things you can do every day to stay on top of your clutter-free home.

Make the bed

When my sisters and I were young, and our clothes or hair were a mess, my mother would tell us, “You look like an unmade bed.” Aside from looking messy, a bed piled with sheets and blankets is no fun to get into at night. It is, however, inviting to the dog, who will gladly deposit his fur on your sheets. Spending the three minutes it takes to make the bed will make things easier on the eyes and more pleasant at night, all while foiling the dog. You can always air out your sheets while you shower, and make the bed afterward if you’re worried about your sheets getting stagnate.

Do a load of laundry

Laundry can pile up very quickly. Miss a day and it feels like you’ve got a mountain on your hands. I’ve taken to putting a load in each morning and moving from washer to drier after work and folding it after dinner. It only takes a few minutes, and it keeps me from wasting an entire Saturday afternoon on conquering Mount Laundry.

Process the mail and papers

What piles up faster than laundry? The incessant onslaught of mail, papers, permission slips, advertisements, and so on that enter my home. Instead of piling it up in a heap, deal with it immediately (if possible). Keep a trash can, recycling bin, shredder, pen, and physical inbox in a convenient location to your main entrance so you get rid of the junk and trash immediately, and get the important paperwork identified and processed.

Prepare for tomorrow

If you adopt only one suggestion from this list, let it be this one. Each evening I ask, “What’s needed for tomorrow?” Kids lunches, umbrellas because it’s supposed to rain, gas in the car, permission form signed, what everyone is going to wear, etc. This allows me to avoid the last-minute scramble to do these things in the morning, teaches the kids to do the same, and lets me enjoy my evening knowing that nothing is going to blow up in the morning (probably).

Create an errands list

Let’s say on Monday you realize that the TV remote needs batteries, you’re almost out of toothpaste, and the car’s state inspection is due in 10 days. These all need to be taken care of, but they’re exactly the type of thing that will slip through the cracks of your memory if you don’t capture this information and get it on your to-do list or calendar. Have a reliable, simple way to collect these things — an app, a dry erase board on the refrigerator, whatever — that you can review. Then, the next time you’re in the car, you’ll know exactly where you need to go.

Staying on top of these things is easy. Just take on a few simple new habits and you’ll notice your life moving in a smoother manner.

Ask Unclutterer: Donating vs. freecycling

Reader Happy Mum asked the following question in the comment section of my prior post, The power of 15-30 minutes per day:

What are considerations re: offering via freecycle vs. donating to charity shop?

For those unfamiliar with freecycle groups, they are local online communities whose members offer things to each other, for free.

Happy Mum, while you got many good responses from other readers, I thought I’d share a list of questions to ask yourself when making the donate-vs.-freecycle decision.

Which method is most meaningful to you?

I’m often donating on behalf of clients, some of whom are interested in the tax credit for making a donation. Some are happy to support the charity running the thrift store, too. But others prefer knowing their items are going to someone who can use the item, right now, and they enjoy seeing the thank you notes from freecyclers who get their items.

What is convenient?

I happen to have a good freecycle group in my neighborhood. (I’m biased, since I’m one of the group owners.) I also have a charity thrift shop very close by, with hours that work well for me. There’s also another charity that does curbside pickups of donations every month or two. But not everyone will have all these choices, and sometimes picking the easiest method is the best.

Is it worth a little extra effort to donate to a specific charity?

There’s a group in my area called Be a Dear and Donate a Brassiere, where the bras it collects go to women in homeless shelters. I keep a donation bag going and drop it off when I happen to be driving near a drop-off site. My neighborhood also has an annual charity book sale on Labor Day weekend and accepts donations throughout August, so if it’s getting close to August I might set aside books to be donated there. Another example: If you have a functional but unused activity tracker, you might like to send it off to RecycleHealth.

What items does the charity shop take?

Mine will not take toys, electrical items, large furniture, etc. But it’s a great place to donate clothing and kitchen items such as glassware and serving pieces.

What items go well on freecycle?

This will be location-dependent, but I know that craft items, non-fiction books, and pet supplies are some of the things that go quickly on my group. Women’s clothes can be challenging to freecycle due to fit issues, so I almost always donate those.

Freecycle can be useful for getting rid of things most thrift stores won’t take. For example, my own group has recently found new homes for moving boxes, amaryllis bulbs, cans of coconut water, a frozen turkey, and a console (missing the back panel) with a non-functioning tube radio and a record player. Freecycle is also good for getting rid of bulky items that are hard to move (and often not accepted at charity stores), such as file cabinets and exercise equipment.

To find your local freecycle group, simply do an online search for the word freecyle and the name of your city. Freecycle.org lists many groups, but some excellent freecycle groups chose not to be part of this network. For local giveaway alternatives, you can also look into Nextdoor or the free section of craigslist. In the U.K., you might look at Freegle. And in some neighborhoods, just putting something at the curb with a “free” sign is a good way to give things away.

Organize a home recycling station

When I deliver our recyclables to the town transfer station, I must root through my bins. I’d like to just dump them in the proper receptacles, but the kids sometimes put glass in the paper, or plastic in the glass, and so on. The sorting was annoying enough that it inspired me to create a home recycling center that worked for all the members of my family and consistently remained organized and uncluttered.

Getting started

If you’re interested in doing the same, the first thing to consider is if your county/city/recycling service supports single-stream recycling (also called “single-sort” recycling). If so, things will be quite easy for you, as you’ll need only two bins: one for recyclables and one for trash. If not, you’ll need as many bins as types of materials you’ll need to sort.

Where will the recycling be stored?

Your answer to this question will depend on your home. Do you want your recycle bins hidden away or can they be in plain sight? Tucking them away reduces visual clutter, but they’re more convenient when in the open. If you dislike the look of your bins or if you only need that one (you lucky, single-streamers!), then find a spot that’s away, like a pantry, enclosed porch, or garage. Just ensure that the location isn’t too inconveniently placed or the temptation to toss that plastic bottle into the trash will be larger. Also, if you choose a garage, porch, or other semi-outdoor location, ensure that critters cannot get at your bins.

At home, I opted for multiple white bins in the kitchen. We have the floor space for it, the bins look nice as long as they’re clean, and they’re terribly convenient in the kitchen.

Clearly mark each bin

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a crucial step. At first I tried keeping bins in a particular order: paper, glass, metal, and plastic. People forgot which was which. Next, I wrote labels on the lids with permanent marker in big, unmistakeable block letters. That’s been much more effective.

Effective, but not the prettiest solution. Fortunately there are many ways to improve the aesthetics. The Open IDEO has several great suggestions if you want to check out more attractive options.

Keep the area clean

A messy recycling center is like an irresistible party invitation for ants and other pests. Thoroughly rinse all containers for recycling before storing them, and occasionally clean out the bins themselves (I hit them with the hose as needed). If for some reason you miss a week’s pick up/drop off, either find a spot to keep what didn’t get picked up until next time (like a shed) or find an alternate drop-off site.

Lastly, line your bins. Your town might have guidelines for this, or even special liner bags that must be used. I just use brown paper bags from the grocery store. They keep mess out of my bins themselves, they’re free, and recyclable.

With a little time and attention, you can have a home recycle center that works. It’s relatively inexpensive and will save you time sorting.

The power of 15-30 minutes per day

Do you find yourself procrastinating about items on your to-do list? Do you keep meaning to do some uncluttering, but never seem to get around to it?

I’ve recently begun a new approach to tackling this kind of thing, and it’s working well for me. Instead of trying to get everything done at once, I’m taking the slow and steady approach.

Every day, I do one small task that I’ve been procrastinating about completing.

One day I began the refund process for an expensive item that has been recalled. For some reason I had put this off for nine months! And although I feared it might be complicated, it was actually very easy, taking only about five minutes.

Another day I went to my primary care doctor’s website and asked the questions I need answers to before arranging some routine tests. This took about 10 minutes in total, because I needed to look up some information.

And on a third day I just went through a bunch of papers that had accumulated when I was dealing with my hip replacement. (I’m doing really well now.)

Every day, I see if I can find three items to offer to my freecycle group or take to my local thrift store.

My garage isn’t a disaster area by any means, but I wanted to use its storage space better. So I’m going through the garage and carefully evaluating everything I have stored out there. A lot of it makes sense: my toolbox, spare stuff (paper towels, toilet paper, cat food, and light bulbs), a small number of holiday items, etc. But I’m also finding things I definitely do not need: six dishpans (intended for sorting papers, but never used for that), an unused car trunk organizer, two hula-hoops, etc.

My freecycle group allows three offer messages per day, so I decided to look for at least three things per day that I no longer need. And it’s working very nicely. I don’t get overwhelmed with the task, and I’ve created storage space for things I do want to keep that I had no good space for before.

Several times a week, I spend 30-60 minutes helping a friend with her uncluttering efforts.

My friend’s husband died some months ago, and he was quite a packrat — so there’s a lot to go through. Although my friend wants to unclutter her home, the effort can sometimes seem overwhelming. So I’m spending a little bit of time with her as many days as I can to help keep the momentum going. Other people are helping her, too, and there’s substantial progress being made. It’s wonderful when we uncover something that had been missing for years!

This is not to say I won’t ever do any hours-long efforts, as those work well for me at times, too. But for now, doing a little bit every day has helped get me unstuck.

The least glamorous part of organizing

A significant uncluttering and organizing project can be exhilarating. You can see huge progress, and things that bothered you for a long time can find solutions.

But then there’s the ongoing maintenance: putting the toys back in place, dealing with the mail, etc. I don’t know anyone who enjoys this part of the organizing process, but it’s critical. Sadly, there is no magical organizing fairy who can complete the maintenance work with a wave of her wand. Given that, the following are some suggestions for tackling maintenance activities.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Getting behind on maintenance happens to everyone I know at times, including myself and other fellow organizers.

Minimize the amount of maintenance required

If dealing with mail is overwhelming, you might invest some time in getting off mailing lists so there won’t be as much incoming mail. You can also look into going paperless for bank statements, bills, etc.

Reconsider who is doing the maintenance work

If you share your household with a spouse, domestic partner, children, or roommates, look at how the maintenance work is divided and see if there might be a better way to split up that work.

And if your budget accommodates it, consider paying someone to do certain tasks that are time-consuming or especially annoying.

Make the maintenance easier

Sometimes little adjustments, such as adding (or repositioning) a wastebasket, recycling bin, or laundry hamper can make a big difference. Using hooks instead of hangers can make it easier for some people to put away their coats, bathrobes, and such.

If your closets and other storage spaces are already quite full, minimizing new purchases (or instituting a one-in, one-out rule) will make it easier to ensure everything has an appropriate storage space, so it’s easy to put things away.

Determine what schedule works best for you

Do you do best with a short amount of maintenance work daily, or a larger chunk of time once/week — or some other schedule? Experiment and find a routine that feels comfortable for you.

Create holding places for items in between maintenance sessions

An inbox for mail, receipts, and other scraps of paper will keep them from being misplaced until you go through them to toss/recycle, shred, scan, or file. Maybe you’ll want a bin for things left laying around the living room (or other spaces) until your next scheduled time for putting all those things away.

Plan for ongoing uncluttering, too

Even if you’ve done a complete uncluttering exercise, it’s worth revisiting your possessions periodically. Children outgrow clothes and toys. Adults find their interests change. And almost everyone makes a few purchases that don’t work out, resulting in items that should be returned, donated, etc.

Look for ways to make maintenance time more pleasant

Having good tools (a shredder that doesn’t jam, nice clothes hangers, etc.) will make the work less annoying. A pleasant workspace for handling the paperwork can make a big difference, too. Some people enjoy listening to music as they do the work. Others give themselves mini-rewards after the work gets done.

Getting rid of someone else’s stuff

Last week an article by Nicole Hong in the Wall Street Journal focused on cargo shorts: their fans and their detractors. I don’t have any strong opinions about cargo shorts, but I did have an opinion about the following anecdote:

Dane Hansen, who operates a small steel business in Pleasant Grove, Utah, says that throughout his 11-year marriage, 15 pairs of cargo shorts have slowly disappeared from his closet. On the occasions when he has confronted his wife about the missing shorts, she will either admit to throwing them away or deflect confrontation by saying things like, “Honey, you just need a little help.”

Mr. Hansen, 35 years old, is now down to one pair of cargo shorts, and he guards them closely. He has hidden them in small closet nooks where his wife can’t find them. …

Mr. Hansen’s wife, Ashleigh Hansen, said she sneaks her husband’s cargo shorts off to Goodwill when he’s not around. Mrs. Hansen, 30, no longer throws them out at home because her husband has found them in the trash and fished them out.

I have no problem with someone discretely disposing of anything that is theirs, including gifts from a spouse or partner. But getting rid of another person’s items? That’s generally a horrible idea.

There are some specific circumstances when it’s okay to toss or donate another person’s possessions, including the following:

  • When that other person has given you explicit permission to do so. For example, sometimes one spouse will accept, or even appreciate, having the other manage his or her wardrobe. Or an elderly parent might appreciate some help with uncluttering — perhaps giving you general guidelines but otherwise allowing you to decide what stays and what goes.
  • When the other person is a child who is too young to make such decisions. But even children as young as three can be involved in an uncluttering effort, and parents are sometimes surprised at how much their children are willing to discard.
  • When you have the legal authority to make decisions for someone who can no longer make decisions for himself or herself.

But in general, it’s disrespectful to get rid of another person’s belongings, and it can build up resentment and distrust that have a wide range of negative repercussions. What can you do instead? The following are some suggestions:

  • Have a discussion about the items in question, where each party listens respectfully to the other person’s position. There’s always a chance that if you calmly explain why you’d like something to be discarded you can convince the other person to go along with you. Or maybe, when you fully understand why someone wants to keep something that you want to discard, you’ll change your mind and decide it’s fine to have it stay.
  • Reach a compromise. Maybe he keeps the cargo shorts but agrees not to wear them when the two of you go out together. If there’s a disputed item of décor, maybe it can be displayed in a spot in the home where you rarely go.
  • Agree on boundaries, where anything can be kept as long as it fits within a designated space: a dresser drawer, a storage box, a shelf in the garage, a basket for stuffed animals, etc.
  • Bring in a professional organizer. An impartial third party with recognized expertise can ask questions and make suggestions while avoiding the emotional landmines that can be triggered when a spouse or partner makes suggestions.

Is a garage sale right for you?

I’m seeing a lot of garage sale signs in my neighborhood lately. If you have things you’d like to move along to new homes, is running a garage sale a good idea?

The answer to that question will vary from person to person. The first consideration is whether or not you can even have one, logistically. If you live in a condominium complex, for example, there are likely to be regulations about such sales. Some cities have laws about garage sales, too.

But if there are no such issues, the following are some things to consider.

The upside of garage sales

The obvious advantage of a garage sale is that you make some money. And unlike some other ways of selling, like eBay, you don’t need to worry about shipping things after a sale. Yes, you could also donate your items and take a tax deduction for the fair market value (assuming you’re filing U.S. taxes). But if you don’t itemize your deductions, you won’t get any financial benefit from making the donation.

Knowing you are having the sale might inspire some additional uncluttering. Some children get into selling their old toys, especially if they get to keep the profits or if the profits are being donated to a good cause that is meaningful to them.

Some people really enjoy the social side of garage sales. They can be a fun way to get to know your neighbors better. But if you’re an introvert, the social side may be a drawback rather than a benefit.

The downside of garage sales

One of the largest downsides I see is that people set aside things for a garage sale and then never have one, so the unwanted items continue to take up space in the house. Even if you do have the sale, you’ll have things accumulating until the sale date, rather than leaving your home immediately as they could if chose to donate instead of sell (or chose another sales method that got individual items out of your home more quickly).

Another significant downside is that a garage sale is a lot of work. Successful garage sales usually involve a lot of preparation (making signs, placing ads, getting permits if needed, determining pricing, figuring out how to best display the items) as well as continual work on the day of the sale. And there’s post-sale work, too: taking down those signs and disposing of anything that didn’t sell.

And while you can certainly make money through a garage sale, it may be less than you expected. Garage sale shoppers are looking for bargains and will often haggle over your prices, even if you thought they were very low already. That haggling can be especially stressful if the item in question is sentimental in some way. Another consideration: If you have bad weather, you might get fewer shoppers and make much less money than expected.

To avoid garage sale regrets, you might want to estimate your probable profits, using realistic estimates on what is likely to sell and at what prices. (Visiting other garage sales in your area could help with this.) Then you can decide if you feel that amount of money is worth the time and effort the sale will require. Some people are fine with making as little as $50 or so from a sale, while others would want to make much more.

If you do decide to have a garage sale, Geralin Thomas has a lot of good advice for running it successfully.

Uncluttered tips for back-to-school shopping

Whether your child’s school year begins today or not for another month, August is when local and national retailers have their back-to-school deals. Before taking advantage of potential savings, there are a few best practices to follow before hitting your favorite supply store.

First and foremost, check the list of required supplies issued by the school/your child’s teacher. Often you’ll be able to find a list of suggested supplies on your school’s website, or perhaps a flyer was sent through the mail. Make sure you’ve got that in hand before you buy things you don’t need, or miss others you do.

Next, shop in your home before hitting the store. Are there any supplies lingering around your house that you can use: pencils, pens, notebooks and so on that meet the required items? If so, gather them up and keep them in a designated spot so they’ll be easily found when your child needs them.

Take this home “shopping” opportunity to round-up all the school supplies you have and put them into a single location. Your child will likely need a fully stocked homework station this year, so get that organized now. If you have significantly more items than your child could possibly use or supplies that are no longer age appropriate — I’m looking at you, large crayons — donate them to the school for classes where they are still needed.

If you have time, do your research on pricing. Gather flyers, compare prices online, and collect coupons (digital or not) that will save you a few bucks.

As much as your kid might fight it, it is a good idea to take him/her with you on any clothing and/or shoe buying trips. Having your kid present will ensure you get clothes and shoes that actually fit (or are a tiny bit too big, as is my buying custom for school wear) so you’re not having to make multiple trips to a store to return ill-fitting items.

Finally, don’t stress if you can’t get that last item by the first day (no sense in cluttering up your mental health, too). It’s very unlikely that the one item you have yet to acquire will be used on the very first day of school. Simply have it for your kid on the second day or the third. Two weeks into the school year you’ll be so swamped with activities, neither your child nor your child’s teacher will even remember you sent Elmer’s Glue on the second day of school.

Getting motivated to unclutter and organize

Starting and completing an organizing project can be hard — it takes time and continued focus on your goals. Some people get motivated when their frustrations become overwhelming. They are tired of not being able to find things, of feeling embarrassed by their homes, etc.

Sometimes people find their motivation in something they’ve read. Although organizers often find a collection of unused organizing books on people’s bookshelves, sometimes reading just the right book (Erin’s latest book, Marie Kondo’s book, etc.) at the right time can provide the inspiration needed.

Other people get motivated by images of organized spaces they see in magazines or on Pinterest. While these photos are often unrealistic — I’ve never met anyone whose home looks as picture-perfect as those shown in magazines — they can still inspire some people to imagine what their homes might look like and start taking steps in that direction.

For other people, the best way to stay motivated is to have a deadline. That can be a self-imposed deadline or one that comes from others: the IRS, family members, etc. I’ve seen people who had talked about getting organized for years, with no success, who became successful once they had deadlines they had to meet.

The following are some deadlines I’ve seen work for people:

  • I’m going to adopt, and the agency is coming to do a home visit.
  • My parents are coming to visit, and I want my home to look good when they get here.
  • I need to file my tax returns, so I have to get my papers organized.
  • My boss gave me a month to get more organized.
  • I’m replacing my broken garage door in a few weeks, and I have to clear out my packed garage before then.
  • I’m moving in a month, and I can’t take everything with me.
  • I’m going to be getting a roommate, so I need to unclutter the room she will be renting from me.
  • I’ve made an appointment for next month with someone who may want to buy some of my stuff.
  • I’ve told the storage facility that I plan to give up one of my three units next month.
  • I committed to my therapist/coach that I’d get going on this project before our next visit.
  • I want to participate in our neighborhood garage sale.
  • I promised my sister-in-law that I would send her the clothes my kids have outgrown, because they’ll be just the right sizes for her kids.

Note that if you are setting your own deadline, you can make sure it’s a realistic one for you. If you have multiple storage lockers, you can set a deadline for clearing out one of them at a time. You can set deadlines that are a month out, not next week.

And finally, many people are motivated by seeing progress. If you can find something that motivates you to begin the uncluttering and organizing process, you may find it easier to stay motivated to continue.

What you might want to store in your car’s glove compartment

Your car’s glove compartment, also called the glove box or “glovie,” was initially invented to store the driver’s gloves, as you’ve probably guessed. Years ago, when cars were new and open to the air, drivers wore gloves to keep their hands clean and to prevent them from going numb with cold.

Today most people don’t wear driving gloves and those compartments have evolved to include locks, internal lights, and special compartments for things like manuals and pens. Fancier models are even temperature controlled. One thing they all have in common is the tendency to collect junk, like hair bands, receipts, ketchup packets, and used Starbucks gift cards. These spaces are useful storage compartments, though, so if you use them what would be efficient to have in your glove compartment?

Crucial items

The most obvious answer is proof of auto insurance and your current registration. Protect these crucial documents by keeping them in a protective plastic sleeve. Not only will they be safe from the ketchup, they’ll be easy to find.

Also important is a list of crucial medication family members are taking. If you’re ever in a situation when you can’t convey this information to rescue workers, it’ll be important to have this stored somewhere. While you’re at it, you can store medical information on your phone, too.

Your owner’s manual and schedule of regular maintenance should also be in this space. Many people buy a car, acknowledge the manual’s existence, and then ignore it for the rest of their car’s life. However, when you want to reset the clock, connect a Bluetooth phone or figure out what that weird light means, you’ll be glad you have it. I also tick off when I get my scheduled maintenance done, so that there’s no question at the garage.

Less-crucial items

A pen and a pocket-sized notebook in the glove compartment can often come in handy. I also store a small pocket knife in the glove box. It’s great for opening packages at the post office and quick-fixes like tightening a screw or popping open your car’s fuse panel.

A small flashlight is also a good idea of something to store if you have the space in your glove box. The Coast HP1 Focusing 190 Lumen LED Flashlight is hands-down my favorite portable flashlight. It’s small, durable, water resistant, and produces a bright light with no dark spots.

I also keep some travel wet wipes in the car’s glove box. The first time you spill gas on your hands while filling up your tank, you’ll be very glad they’re there.

Finally, if you really want to keep things like hair bands or fast food napkins in your glove box, find an organized way to do so. A small zip-top bag or plastic container can keep these items from cluttering up the space.

Toss the junk and keep only useful items in your glove box for happy motoring.

Avoiding uncluttering regrets

Are you afraid that if you get rid of something you’ll find a use for it the next day? Douglas Adams and John Lloyd created a word that relates to this:

Nottage is the collective name for things which you find a use for immediately after you’ve thrown them away.

For instance, your greenhouse has been cluttered up for years with a huge piece of cardboard and great fronds of gardening string. You at last decide to clear all this stuff out, and you burn it. Within twenty-four hours you will urgently need to wrap a large parcel, and suddenly remember that luckily in your greenhouse there is some cardb…

But in reality, with all the clients I’ve worked with, I’ve never seen this happen. What sometimes happens is more like Josh Barro’s experience, which he wrote about on Twitter:

About a year after adopting Marie Kondo’s advice about throwing things away, today’s the first time I’m annoyed I don’t have something.

Of course, Kondo says if you discover you really do need something you threw out, you can buy another. So I ordered it from Amazon.

(It’s a book that’s not very interesting but is suddenly relevant for a story I’m working on.)

The following are some specific strategies you can use to ensure you don’t wind up with unclutterer’s remorse:

Treat easily replaceable items differently than others

Barro could easily replace the book he discarded. If I ever regret getting rid of my kitchen thermometer, I could easily get another one, inexpensively. I could even just borrow one from someone, if I had a one-time need.

But other items are less easily replaced. They may be handmade items, sentimental items from long ago, or expensive items where a replacement doesn’t easily fit into your budget. For these items, you’ll want to be more thoughtful about your discards. Be sure you’re making your decision when you’re at your best, not when you’ve been making a lot of other decisions and may be hitting decision fatigue. With sentimental items, you may want to take a photo of them before letting them go.

Respect your emotions

If the thought of getting rid of something brings you to tears, you probably aren’t ready to get rid of it, even if your logical side says to let it go.

Consider uncluttering in phases

Although Marie Kondo will tell you to do all your uncluttering in a single pass (all the books, all the clothes, etc.), you may find it’s easier to unclutter the easy, obvious things first: clothes that itch or never did fit quite right, for example. Then after you’ve built up your uncluttering muscles, and you’ve had time to appreciate the benefits of that first pass, you can go and do a second pass — tackling the things that you weren’t ready to deal with the first time through.

What does it mean to be organized?

I’ve read many good definitions of what “organized” looks like, but I recently came across one from organizer Matt Baier, which read in part:

My definition of organizing is “taking the less important stuff out of the way, so that you can get to the most important stuff.”

To me, organizing isn’t effective, if there isn’t a process of prioritization. … Furthermore, I believe subtraction always has to be part of the process. By saying “out of the way,” I don’t mean just discard and donate, but also sell, store, and archive. You can still keep things, but when you free up the most space for just the most important items, it is easiest to STAY organized. Of course, taking the less important things out of the way, must be done in such a way, that you can always TRUST that you can find what you want, when you want it, in storage and archives too.

This definition really resonated with me because of my own situation this past month. I had hip replacement surgery, and I knew I’d have a lot of movement restrictions when I came home. So I really needed to put this definition of organizing into practice.

Since I wouldn’t be able to bend down very far, I needed to prioritize what sat on my counters, within easy reach. So down came the food processor, since cooking just wasn’t going to happen for a while, and up came the paper plates for serving the Chinese food I could get delivered. In the closet that serves as my pantry, down came the staples for cooking (tomato sauce and such) and up came things like the bran cereal.

Because of my movement limitations, I wound up working with a home services agency to get someone to come in weekly to do light housekeeping and laundry, and to run errands for me. Fortunately, my garage storage is organized, so I was able to tell her just where to find things like a new toothbrush.

And yes, there was definitely some subtraction. One example: I knew I needed to find a place to stash the Bosu balance trainer which took up valuable floor space I would need when using a walker. I certainly wouldn’t be using the Bosu for a while! But then it dawned on me that this was a piece of equipment I probably wouldn’t want to use at all in the future (for fear of losing my balance and coming down in a way that damaged my new hip) and I gave it away on freecycle.

The prioritization process also applied to my to-do list. I considered what things had to be done pre-surgery and was comfortable deferring everything else.

Of course, Matt’s advice about prioritization works for everyday situations, too. There were many things I didn’t need to change, because my prior organizing efforts meant the most important things were already identified and readily accessible. But one side benefit of preparing for surgery was taking some time to re-evaluate what was important, and making some changes that will benefit me even after I’m fully recovered from the surgery.