Organizing from Another Culture

As I read January’s Real Simple, it was interesting to see what different “journalists, pundits, and thought leaders” had to say regarding the idea and possibility of work-life balance.  The part that caught my attention most was what Jennifer Senior said – which was essentially to consider the question from a bigger perspective, to consider that some people are struggling so much they can’t even think about work-life balance as well as some cultures, like ours, where we feel entitled to be happy.  Most of us know that our values and goals are a reflection of our life experiences and personality, which means that someone living across the world likely has different values and goals.  It also means they approach things differently – whether just slightly or more dramatically.  And I’ve just returned from a month in Japan – partly drooling over organizing supplies (partly since I didn’t spend the month perusing supplies!) – and found the differences in the stores between the U.S. and Japan fascinating.

Walking through stores, in general, I was overwhelmed with the choices displayed for me to touch, to test out, to buy – and we think we have tons of choices available to us.  Depending on the area I was walking through, I could quickly feel so overloaded with the selection that all I wanted to do was leave!  I also noticed that I became more selective about which stores I would even enter – I shared one store that elicited a contradictory response from my last visit in Temptations of Purchasing.

It’s more challenging for me to resist stores offering office supplies.  I desperately miss the days when we had independent stores around offering alternative colors in writing pens and pads of paper.  And if we were lucky, the store had several pens for you to test out – experimenting with how this and that one wrote – before buying anything.  In Japan, almost every individual pen being sold could be tested, in one store – all three rows of them – with paper stretched on each row from one end to the other on a ledge.  Oh the colors, the selection of point sizes, the brands (some quite familiar), and even erasable pens – and each of these did not limit the others, so the colors were offered in each of the point sizes and the erasable pens had many colors to choose from.

Pens in multiple colors and sizes

The pens that came home with me!

I wish I’d had more time to explore the supplies they offered for paper.  The color choices, the sizes, and binding options were just the obvious variations.   Not surprisingly there is a focus on functionality – so there were many options for small and portable staplers, hole punches, scissors, cases for writing utensils, and more and I picked up some of these to add to my workbag.

I didn’t see any Container Stores – either in brand or exclusively dedicated to – yet almost every store offered some containers.  One store obviously carried many options that I explored – amazed at the both the options and the lack of options.  Huh, you might thinking, isn’t that contradiction?  At least in the store I spent the most time in, it’s focus on home overall, with furniture, kitchen and bath accessories, storage and container options – there was limited color or material options.  The color choices were neutral – clear, black, white, and neutral (tan, wood, wicker) and the materials were natural (wood, wicker), plastic, or metal.  Yet, within that “limited” selection the choices offered amazing personalization.  Each section of containers revealed that the sizes – however variable – were designed to all work together, if you wanted (or needed) it to.  The color selection also meant that it’s versatile – it will go with any décor, any colors – and choosing the container for your situation isn’t going to be limited by a clashing color.

The wood containers offered the option of purchasing a lid – where this lid was functional as a tray as well.  You could stack these containers both with and without the lid – and the edges all nested just a bit so any stack of containers was stable as well as perfectly (unavoidably) aligned.  I loved the thought that went into the design – as well as the options, however “limited,” that offered ways to save money i.e. avoid buying or even just having unnecessary lids, as well as maintaining the stacking option even if you wanted or needed lids.

In this same store I discovered this section filled with clear plastic containers – smaller, filled with various things.  It took me a little while to realize that there were only a certain number of the larger sizes – which you purchased independently of “contents.”  Yes, these containers had contents in the traditional sense where the store was illustrating some ideas for using these containers.  The “contents” I’m referencing are the options for how to configure the space inside the larger sizes – as you could turn one into a jewelry box, or a box of sunglasses with sections if you wanted, a display case for a collection, or any number of options.  These pieces mostly clear, with the exception of some jewelry holders covered in fabric, and offered complete visibility for your things – no way to forget what you put in that container – you can see it.  Essentially you’re designing the storage – within limits – for your things simply.

I found myself admiring – deeply appreciating the thought-out details – and wishing I needed containers, so I could use these!  I also ranted a bit – amazed we don’t have containers with the level of design that was offered – and thinking of various clients with their various storage needs, if only they could touch and test these out.

It turns out that I didn’t capture many of these – at least the ones that stand out most in my memory, though I have some other pictures to share illustrating the options and versatility offered, as well as how they display it within furniture.

Display of furniture and containers

The display shows some of the furniture and containers they sell

Finding a display of almost exclusively ShotNote paper options surprised me – I wrote a review not long ago and had looked into the paper options they offered.  This is the rack displaying them:

display of Ampad's ShotNote products

The Ampad ShotNote display rack

This is part of the wall I glimpsed as we walked outside the store – tempting me to come in and investigate more – and where I found all the containers I talk about here:

Wall of Containers

Part of the wall tempting me in – with glimpses of more on both sides

Over-the- door display with various options – which reminded me of the organizing idea I’d read not long before of cutting part of a (closet rod) hanging shoe bag and using it for other items and in other locations around the house.  They offered that as well, though I didn’t manage to get a picture.  Yet the focus continues to be on how to maximize functionality for the person – ways to customize the tools for your situation and needs.

Over the door storage options

One set-up possibility for over-the-door hanging options

The sign illustrating some options for the over-the-door storage and similar wall storage offerings:

details on over-the-door system

Options for the over-the-door and wall hanging system

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