Tuesday, January 18, 2011

5 tips to innovate your organization


Organizing books will usually tell you the same things: make piles to give to charity, throw out, donate, or put away elsewhere. They will tell you to make a "home" for all your like items. That's nice but it doesn't really get the job done. What they often don't cover is what to get rid of: what to really, really rid yourself of, and why. Here are some of my tips to ruthless and rewarding organization:

1) Be willing to be ruthless.

Be willing to toss things not because you don't "like" them but, because they don't make you feel good, because they have a negative memory attached, because you don't actually use/wear them...or, even more, because you just don't want them. Being ruthless means being honest: are you really ever going to be a size 4 again? Are you ever going to hang up that piece of art?

Yes, being ruthless even means "sentimental" items...but that does not make you cold, callous, or unsentimental. If you are willing to only make space for sentimental and emotionally tied items you truly love then you will enjoy them and cherish them that much more. Don't let someone else's sentimental item become your clutter because you have guilt about donating it to charity or selling it (where someone else might actually get more enjoyment out of the item).

Once you've gone though everything, put it away, close the drawer or door and come back the next day. Go through everything again and be willing to be even more ruthless - do you truly love or need everything there? There is always one more thing you don't truly love.

If you aren't sure about something or can't quite part with it create a system to help you let it go. Create a section of your closet of "maybe" clothes, hang them all up, turn the hangers around so they are on the rod "wrong". Then try to wear all the items in a certain period of time (month/year). If you do wear the items determine at the end of the day if you want to keep it or let it go. At the end of the time limit whatever is left with a hanger the wrong way around (not worn) get rid of.

Do the same with kitchen items, books, toys etc: put them in a place and at the end of a month if you haven't used or looked for them get rid of them.

2) Give yourself limits and be strict about them

If you create rules about your space it can make organizing significantly easier. I don't mean the old "one item in one item out"adage (though I do suggest you consider it), nor do I mean "keep as many items as will fit in the drawer" (because we all know that means you'll just overfill the drawer).

My goal for my closet was the number 7. I realized afterward that number was a little low and it turned out that 10 was the right number. Which means no more than 10 dresses, 10 long sleeved t-shirts, 10 cardigans, even 10 pair of underwear. I realize for some people that is a completely shocking number (low or high)...which leads me to:

3) Be willing to be judged

I am completely aware that my 10 or less closet is shocking to some for it's low number of items, shocking to others for it's high number of items. I still aspire towards the 7 items, actually. I am willing to let anyone who likes judge me: it's my house, my space, and if my system works for me then that is what matters.

Minimalism is often prized and praised in architecture but how often do we discuss the architecture of what's in a drawer (not where it is, not how it's placed, what is actually IN the drawer). I love my new minimalist closet/house - I can't wait to get the rest of it done.

Ready to judge me some more?


This is what my Spoon/Spatula drawer looks like now...and we are a very food-centered family. Before? Overflowing. We had to fight with the utensils to get the drawer open. One ruthless, limit-strong clean out later: minimalist. These are the utensils I use, the ones I love, the only ones I am willing to give a home in my home. Even so I might get rid of one more spoon...

Before: I was the person who looked at a drawer with one spoon and thought "wow, where are your kitchen tools? You must be an awful cook"

Now: I know the tools don't make the meal. Judge me if you like for not having all the latest gadgets but guess who has a fast, easy clean-up at the end of a meal?

4) Value every item you own

If you don't value an item, don't keep it, don't buy it, don't bring it anywhere near your space. You spend too much money to share your life and space with anyone or anything you don't value.

Yes, I realize that you have to keep annoying things, like old taxes, but the value in items like that are that they are invaluable should you need them.

This means something much larger though. This means no buying things simply because they are a 'really good deal', not buying every single color of a shirt (unless you are positive you want to live, breathe and die in that shirt), and, even more, no taking things that are 'free' just because they are free.

Free is never free. Cheap is never cheap. The items that live in our houses we pay for: we pay to heat and cool them, we pay to clean them, we pay to have the trash from them hauled away, we pay for things to put them in to seem organized, we pay with our time when we spend even a moment with them (organizing and cleaning especially), and we pay emotionally for them - especially when cleaning takes us away from being with the people we want to be with or from pursuing the dreams and hobbies we want to pursue.

Likewise, be willing to invest in items you know you will truly love, enjoy, and use. If that means you have to save up instead of getting something cheap now remember, you are only creating space for things you value. Not everything you value has to cost more money so be thoughtful in your decision making process.

4b) If you are paying for it, value it

When we moved into our house all was fine and lovely. Then we got our first tax bill - it was no where near what we were expecting, but it was itemized. I sat down and scrutinized every detail. What were we paying for, what services were we not taking full advantage of? The most obvious one: the library.

So, we got in the car, went to the library and got out at least $250 worth of music, books, DVDs, and audio-books. We made our money back in one trip...but then we made it back again when we took literally hundreds of books to a book reseller. We have credit for decades, significantly more space, and we use every penny of a service we're paying for. Furthermore, at the end of the day every book that creates clutter has a home, and it isn't my home, I can give it away, drop it off, clean the clutter without a single regret that I wasted money or products.

5) If it takes up space, organize it.

If you spend time on it, it needs to be organized. Be ruthless with junk mail, give yourself limits about internet time, be willing to be judged for how you use or don't use your phone (or smartphone), value every file you keep on your computer. If "it" is taking up your time, physical/emotional/mental space, if it is keeping you from your family or hobbies, organize it. Do not let a pile of magazines on the kitchen table keep you from sitting down, face to face, and having a meal as a family.

Anything that takes up space in your home, in your drawers, or on your computer takes up a space in your mind, your vision, and your emotions: do you really want to waste time, emotions, or space on a bottle you kept simply because it might be useful again? Or would you rather be rid of it and leave more space for creativity?

And finally, a bonus tip and something to think on:

 Procrastination is clutter.


Brandi said...

Tricia, these are such great tips! I like to think I'm really good at organizing, but sometimes things get out of control even for me. I've said many of these things to myself before. It's hard to part with stuff, but once it's gone, it feels so good.

Melissa said...

This is great! I like the idea of going through your tax bill and making use of what you're already paying for.

Tara said...

I'm bookmarking this particular post. I purge like this frequently. It's the not re-acquiring that I struggle with. Particularly little items like a stapler, or a spare screw, or etc etc. It drives me NUTS to drive to the store because I need one screw. But in the meantime my kitchen drawer (you know the one) has 20 screws floating around in it because I might need them one day! Aghhh! Or spices. This is a good challenge for me. I try to actually do this type of process on each room in the house a couple times a year. You're inspiring me to do it again.

Now, could you inspire me to clean my windows too?

Anonymous said...

Like you and Sandie, I am purging! Tonight, we're gutting our closet. Why, oh why, do I need so many t-shirts? Why am I holding on to a belt I bought in Cancun when I was 18? It's the memory, not the item, that counts. Hum, I might have to blog about this as well! Great job Tricia!
:-) Lisa

Tricia said...

Some great tips there! I'm loving being ruthless at the moment. If I don't use it or it doesn't make me smile it goes.

I love 'procrastonation is clutter'. So true.

Annie said...

Wow, Food for thought. I have always thought of clutter as postponed decisions - postponing the keep or toss decision and the where should my belonging belong decision. Basically, clutter = procrastinating on being decisive.

Gold Party said...
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Ren- Lady Of The Arts said...

love this post- my utensil drawer is not as minimalist even after being 'ruthless' but this post remindes me of my Feng Shui post: http://ladyofthearts.blogspot.com/2010/11/this-much-i-know-is-true.html

Kris said...

I've just been procrastinating from studying & happily perusing your blog. I love it, btw! This article caught my eye and all I could think was, "I need you in my life!" Like here. Right now! Well, after my exam. If you'd ever like to come to TO and help me clean my closet/spare bedroom/basement I will repay you with a lovely place to stay, delicious food, & pet therapy. :)

kaly said...

Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I am a great organizer, but after 5 years of marriage, two little boys, and years and years of accepting "free" stuff from my Mother because she doesn't want it in her house, we have accumulated SO much STUFF. Some of it is useful, and I'm sure I can find a place for everything and possibly even use it once or twice, but I definitely don't LOVE everything, and you are totally on the nose when you say that one has to be ruthless. I will take your words to heart!
Thank you!