10 Organizing Basic Principles

Why don’t I know how to organize?

During sessions with clients I often hear them say to me, “Anne, I feel like I should know how to organize.  Why do other people know how and I don’t?”  A simple and often complete answer is, “You don’t know what you don’t know because you haven’t been taught.” Organizing is not a trait you are born with, it is a skill that is learned.

When I work with clients, I pay attention to “teachable moments” so they can learn organizing skills and maintain the work we do together.  Here are a few of the Organizing Basics I cover:

  1. The one in-one out Principle:  When something new comes into your home, something must leave.
  2. Before you buy Principle:  Before you buy an item, decide where it will “live” in your home.  If you don’t know, don’t buy.  Go home, look around and if you can find a place for the item then you can buy it. Otherwise, you pass on the purchase.
  3. Containers Principle:  Buy containers only when you know what will go in them.  Containers are often purchased to “solve an organizing problem” only to create more clutter because the owner doesn’t know what to do with them.
  4. Label Principle:  Label shelves, containers, drawers, etc.  So you know where to put away something, and more importantly so others you share your home with will know where to put away something.  A label can be words, pictures, or a combination of both.
  5. Move Box Principle:  Choose an area to organize and stick with that area.  If you find something that belongs in another area of your home, don’t move it until you are finished organizing the space you started in.  Otherwise, you spend too much time moving from room-to-room relocating stuff, and you lose focus on your original task.  Place items to move to another area in a box marked “move.”  When you are finished with your task, then you can walk around your home and put away the stuff in the “move box.”
  6. Prioritize Principle:  Keeping everything makes nothing important.  Decide what is truly important in your life, and that will help you focus on what to keep and honor.
  7. Be Decisive Principle:   Clutter is caused by deferred decisions.  Don’t wait to make a decision about where something belongs, decide immediately and put it there.  Return it to its “home” whenever it wanders away.
  8. Set a limit Principle:   Set a limit on how many of something you are going to keep.  For example, magazines.  Decide to keep one year’s worth of each subscription that you will refer to and recycle the rest.  Another example; set a limit on the amount of space you are allocating to a collection.
  9. Paper Principle:  Ask yourself, “Can I get this information somewhere else, such as the internet or the library?”  If you can easily access the information somewhere else, you don’t need to keep the piece of paper—toss it!  Only 20% of what you file for reference you will actually refer to.  File wisely!
  10. Maintenance Principle:  Organizing is not a one-time “clean sweep” event.  Create and follow a maintenance plan for all the areas of your life and home.  You can do all the grouping, reducing, and organizing you want, but if you don’t learn the skills and follow a plan, you will backslide.

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