Keeping Things Close to Where You Use Them is Not Always the Right Answer

You’ve probably heard that you should keep things close to where you use them.  I’m even fond of this idea.  It makes sense.  Doesn’t it?

It only makes sense it some circumstances.

I was using this principle in one of our closets.  I had my medications on a shelf.  When I refilled my pill containers, I did it close to this closet, so they were handy.  Recently we pulled everything out of the closet and as I handled all the various items, I started thinking.  This closet actually held many different things, as closets are wont to do.  There were movies, memorabilia, craft supplies, a handful of books, repair projects, and various other odds and ends.  Of course, as time moved along, I started keeping other odds and ends in there too.

The thing was that I only accessed the medications periodically.  The pill containers are refilled twice a month.  This closet is almost prime real estate in our home.  So many things could go somewhere else and be just as accessible.  I’d set it all up when we moved in, approaching a decade ago, and it made sense.  I was storing the items close to where I used them.

This is one case where keeping something close to where I used it was not the best use of the space as well as it was breaking one of the other guiding principles – keep like things together.  It makes better use of our space and easier to find things by keeping like items together.  We have a linen closet opposite the bathroom, where many items are kept since our bathroom is tiny.  Now my medications have moved in there, on a higher shelf since I access them only periodically.

One of the reasons that organizing principles are only guidelines is that you cannot necessarily follow them all, they can contradict each other.  Then you need to make a choice about which one makes more sense for you – the user.  In this case, the idea of keeping things together now seems better, though it didn’t start out that way.

We need to consider the space too.  In my case, the closet was so handy that I was keeping lots of different things there.  They got crowded, yet I could still get what I needed when I needed it.  It was convenient.  I could argue that I started using it for so much just because it was handy.  Yet, if it’s so convenient, then I wanted to use it for the things that really mattered.  I don’t want filing cabinets in my living room even if I do handle all mail and even do my pre-filing sorting here.  This becomes even more important the smaller the space you have (a post coming soon on small spaces).

Although keeping things close to where you do them makes sense, questions that often get forgotten are – how often are you doing it and how elaborate is it?  If it’s something you can easily pick up in one hand, you can simply pick it up and move it to another space without difficulty.  I would cringe at the idea of someone lugging load after load of supplies to do something in another room.

It deserves it’s own post, but also things change, so what worked at one point does not necessarily continue to work.  We need to be able to look at things with fresh eyes and see where we can improve how we’re using things and where we keep them.  Don’t be afraid to break those organizing principles, it’s probably inevitable anyway!

Contagious Clutter

Have you ever heard of kipple?  “When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you to go bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up there is twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.” Philip K. Dick in his book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which was made into the movie Blade Runner) said this.  Sometimes I feel like this is not some futuristic possibility, but the reality we all face today.

It’s not independent of our behavior though. When I was in my first apartment, I would often need to spend a day or more picking it up and cleaning to be ready for my dad to visit. (See, I wasn’t always an organized person!)  I’d plan that it’d never get that bad again, yet in that tiny studio apartment, one area would slowly start to collect clutter.  Before I knew it, the other areas would be infected with other clutter.

Some of that was that there was nowhere in there that you could not see the rest of the space.  When just a little bit of clutter starts to accumulate and you let it sit there, you are less likely to avoid dropping more clutter around.  Just the sight of a little clutter lowers your response to adding to it.  “It’s just a little more – and I’ll deal with it quickly later.”

And so it starts.

On some level this is unavoidable.  We all have the pending stuff we’re trying to deal with – it can’t get put away completely yet, so you set it off to the side.

Do you then see the piles begin to build up?  Whether it is from yourself or others in your home, it’s human nature to get a little “lazy” about adding to the piles.  Some of the most organized people I know struggle with this phenomenon – and often they berate themselves for it.

The multiplying kipple can be that much worse for those who share their home, with a spouse, children, even a roommate!  We all organize and manage our things differently, these differences can lure us into allowing the clutter to accumulate before our eyes and before we recognize it.

It comes down to maintainence.  I’ve accepted that a certain number of piles will appear over the course of a week – though the sizes vary.  What matters is what I do about it and what I tell my clients to do – make time weekly or even daily to deal with it.  I also make a point to evaluate what is getting piled – What types of things are there?  Do they have a home?  Do they need a home?  Am I frustrated with the things (and therefore not dealing with them)? Is there a better way?

Do I wish that there were never any piles?  YES!  We are not perfect, and at least according to Philip K. Dick, kipple is unavoidable.  Therefore, I’m determined to limit the kipple and encourage others to keep their own kipple under manageable levels.  ☺  Good Luck – don’t look away for too long since it does multiply when you’re not looking!

One of My Favorite Things – Containers

My husband knows me well – he used to bring home containers of various types for me.  You see, other than media, one of my favorite things is containers.  I ooh and aah over them, drooling.  They come in many different sizes and shapes, then there’s the material they’re made out of and if they’re drawers or boxes.  How I long to take them home with me!  There’s no denying how useful and helpful they can be.

My husband has also stopped bringing home those containers for me.  We’ve run out of space and use for them – at least for the time being.  This certainly doesn’t stop me from yearning to pick more up.  Every so often I’ll still get more, like that time I went to the thrift store – I got a basket and a cute little elephant that just had to come home with me.

What we need to do is make sure that we know specifically what we need and only then purchase those things.  I talk generally about when to buy things in a previous blog, True Purchasing Power.  When it comes to containers and other organizing supplies though, we often buy first.  It almost seems counter-intuitive to buy containers late in the process of getting organized.  Yet this is exactly what you need to do.

An extreme example is getting a file cabinet.  You see all these piles of papers around and just “know” that you’ll need a 4-drawer filing cabinet.  You go out and get it and even have a place to put it.  Then you start going through all those papers – and discover that most do not need to be filed.  You actually only needed a 2-drawer filing cabinet.  You could have saved yourself money by waiting.

We tend to fill the available space – so if you have a 4-drawer cabinet but don’t really require it, you’ll probably end up putting stuff in there – whether you keep unnecessary papers or you drop random things in there later.  This applies to any of our spaces, therefore buying what you need becomes even more important and will help avoid things getting inadvertently cluttered.  As an aside, many organizers claim that we ahould not have more than one 2-drawer file cabinet for papers.

As you begin to get organized, you’ll see that it changes many things.  It’s great to start with some ideas of how you want things to be and look after you’ve finished.  Yet, as you work through various things, your ideas begin to change.  You have the freedom to decide that you want to move something to another room – not just furniture but also what activities you’ll focus on.  Then those containers might not work as well.

If you avoid getting containers before you get organized, you are free to figure out how and where you’ll keep things without being limited by the container you’ve already purchased and without any guilt!  In this day and age, you have such a plethora of choices of not only container, but also how to store things – like the ottoman that doubles as file storage (as long as you don’t mind the price!) – so waiting until you know precisely what you need to handle and where you want it to go is critical.

Feel free to drool over all the nifty stuff out there for organizing, yet resist the temptation to buy any of it until you know how you will use it and that it will actually work for your needs.  I certainly continue to salivate and contemplate whether I could use those organizing supplies.

Stop Inadvertent Multitasking

We’ve all done it.  We may not even really been aware that we’re doing it.  Or we might be aware, yet keep doing it, unsure of how to stop.

Are you wondering what I’m referring to?

We have a box, drawer, or some container filled with random stuff and we decide it’s time to deal with it.  We reach in and pull something out – sometimes we even shuffle the stuff around first, reaching for something “easy.” We look at it.

At this point, one of two things often happen after we look at that chosen item –
1. We put that very thing we pulled out – back into the container or next to us with no clear intention for it or
2. We hold that item in one hand while we use the other hand to shuffle items in that container, looking for something else to deal with

This can lead to putting the item down just to get it out of our hands, yet not where it needs to go and easy to forget where it ended up.

This is a hard habit to break; it’s frequently unconscious so we’re not even aware when we’re doing it.  Which just takes me back to the idea of trying to “be in the moment” while you’re working.  We can all work to catch ourselves when we’re doing it and stop.  Then we make efforts to avoid continuing those behaviors.

Shuffling items just makes more work for you.  You will have to try to deal with the items over and over again.  It will make it feel that much more tedious, and it is already probably a tedious task!  Then the idea of multi-tasking – it takes time for our brain to switch from processing one thing to another and one study says we lose 20-40% of our productivity when we do.

Ideally you want to just grab the first item, regardless of what it is.  If you grab something that is supposed to be easy, make sure you then follow the steps too.  Look at it and decide what you want to do with it.  Unfortunately some things are challenging and you might be unsure what you want to do with it.  Putting it back in the container does not actually solve the dilemma; it just reminds you that you feel stuck about what to do with that item.

This is a great place to use the O.H.I.O. principle I’ve talked about before.  Handle the item only once – by making a decision about the item: loose category or place it belongs.  Therefore you aim to make a decision about each item you handle and deal with it, even if it means putting it into another pile!

One way to handle these “loose” items is to have multiple containers to sort into, and then when you are finished with that area you can see what needs a specific home.  Yet, it requires making decisions – both in the moment of picking it up and categorizing it and then later figuring out where it needs to live.

As usual, I think there are times for “pending” items.  For instance with papers, many people believe that there needs to be a minimum of 3-5 papers before it’s worth making a designated file for an item.  You cannot always know whether you have enough of a thing to make a special place for them until you can see everything you are dealing with.

It’s not easy to stop these unconscious habits, yet it serves us well if we can – whether we stop it entirely or just improve how frequently we slip into it.  It’d make your life so much simpler and the more you can practice this, the easier it becomes each time you need to handle a similar task.

Make It Fun

Is fun missing from your life?  I know I feel sometimes that life has become more drudgery than anything else.  And the truth is that you need to find ways to bring real fun back into your life.  Although I might be able to help inspire you to find some fun in general, right now, I want to talk about bringing a little fun to the various things that we need to do in our homes.  If we can make our chores less tedious, we’ll be more likely to get them done.

I encourage you to brainstorm your own ideas for making things more fun.  Therefore, to help get those creative juices flowing, I’ll share some of the ideas I’ve used and ones that have worked for others.  Use them for yourself if they interest you.

I’ve mentioned before that I am not an avid cleaner.  I also record TV shows to watch at a later point, often enjoying the ability to fast-forward through commercials. I now use those commercials as a perfect time to get some vacuuming done.  I look up periodically to see when the show starts again.  That is my cue to stop for the moment.  I then use that time to move things either out of the way, or back into place.  Our rooms are small, so the whole room is easily vacuumed within two commercial breaks.  It doesn’t necessarily make it fun, but it does help it feel less tedious.  It also stops the task from feeling overwhelming; I work at it for a limited amount of time and then stop for while.

Teamwork is a great way to make tasks more fun – even having company can help tasks feel more fun.  This can work in several different ways – from the actually doing the work with someone else to simply working in the same area on different tasks.  Another way to apply this idea is to have a phone buddy.  Before starting anything, you talk on the phone, sharing what you’re each going to tackle and agree on a time to call back.  You then hang up and begin your tasks.  You can imagine what they are doing and can look forward to talking later.  The key here is that if one of you doesn’t actually work on those tasks, you wait to talk.

I often play music while working on the various things around the house.  I’ve heard back from clients that this has helped them as well.  (It of course varies depending on the person.)  Going through papers are one of the most tedious tasks, and surprisingly draining.  One woman found that if she had music playing, she could sort papers for longer periods of time as it made it more enjoyable.  As my music tastes are quite eclectic, I vary the type of music – considering my mood as well as my task.

Be sure to have different tools for bringing fun to your tasks, so that our fun things don’t become routine!  Then it’s not fun anymore.  Mix it up, have alternatives, and explore what works for you.

Of course, anytime we can make our tasks enjoyable, the more likely we are to get them done and feel good about it.  I hope you will find ways to make your tasks fun – let your creative juices flow in finding ways that work for you. The holidays are here, and if we can employ ways to make the things we do more fun, it can only help us enjoy the holidays even more.

Tweaking Systems for Yourself

Is there a “right” way to organize something?  If you’ve been reading my blog for any time, you’ll know that my answer to that is a passionate NO!  The most important question is whether it actually works for you.  If you and the people who need to use it are successful, that is all that matters.  Often it is challenging to find the systems that will work for you.  Goodness knows there are so many “solutions” offered – from books to the Internet, maybe even your mother!

As people promote their solutions, it frequently falls into two categories: the direct outlining of a “do it this way” approach or the more vague “figure out how to do it your way.”  Of the two, I’m certainly more of a fan of the later, though this can leave the person searching for those solutions feeling no better off than when they started looking.

Yet we can use those “do it this way” approaches as a place to start.  If there is one that draws you – for its simplicity or its logic, whatever it might be, begin thinking about how this would apply in your situation.  Then alter it to fit you and your situation better.  One of the keys to doing this is to keep it as simple as possible.  The more complex we make things, the more likely they are to break down.

I was working with a woman who had found a system for paperwork – break everything down into five categories.  I’ll admit this was one system that I’d never heard of and the categories suggested did not completely make sense to me. In my mind I saw a fair amount of possibility of overlap and hence potential trouble in retrieving papers.

Yet the question is not whether this system made sense to me (never mind that I was unfamiliar with it!), it was about whether it worked for that individual.  When I talked about setting up filing systems, I’ve been a fan of having some broad categories.  What those specific categories are can vary from person to person. If you liked four of those five broad categories, go with only those four.  Or even change the fifth to something entirely different that applies to you.

I mention FlyLady to clients sometimes. They come back and talk to me about this or that part of it.  They find parts irrelevant or even dislike parts.  When we are looking at ways of handling things, from cleaning the house to getting organized, we need to feel like we can follow our own path.  FlyLady stresses many different aspects of things: from shining your sink to wearing your shoes to routines for parts of your day.  If some don’t make sense for you, ignore them or alter them to mesh with your life.

As you search for the solutions to your organizational challenges, make sure first and foremost that you don’t overwhelm yourself searching through all that’s out there!  You could do that for a long time while getting no closer to your own solutions.  Next, embrace the idea that you take those specific solutions others’ promote and change them to fit you.  There is truly no one right way of being organized and tweak systems until they work for you.

No ONE Right Approach

Occasionally when I go to a new client’s home, after I’ve walked in and seen what they are struggling with, that they ask me to tell them what to do. This is perfectly understandable; they’re frequently frustrated. They have tried to find a solution and have only called me because they’ve gotten overwhelmed and need that answer. Yet this is not the way I work. I cannot tell someone what the solution is; what I can do it talk about the options. In organizing, there are so many different ways of doing things.

I was trying to think of a comparison – one idea I came up with was the way we choose to handle our money. A good financial advisor is not going to tell you to invest in a high-risk stock without talking to you about your personality. My dad talks about how when he started investing, he got obsessed with checking the status – often several times a day. It became apparent to him that this was not the way he wanted to spend his energy. Nevertheless, there are many people who are comfortable investing without the need to check it compulsively.

Just like organizing – there are a variety of approaches to staying organized. It depends on your personality, your style. If you can find what you need, when you need it – it doesn’t matter how it’s done. Here are some examples:

  • I think I’ve mentioned it before; I worked with a woman who used accordion folders for all her paperwork – the monthly one, with numbered slots for each day, which she used for the current month’s bills. Then once the month was finished, she moved the relevant things to a yearly folder with monthly tabs.
  • A client had researched different ways of organizing papers and found one suggestion to break everything into 5 categories, and put your papers into one of those categories.
  • In organizing media, you can subdivide into genres. I knew one woman who broke her CD’s into genres while others just alphabetize everything. And others who just throw everything onto the shelving.
  • When I was working with a woman who needed periodic breaks when we were together, I started organizing her books during that time. As I presented different ideas about how it could be done, she loved the idea of little organization of them. The idea of going to one of the shelves and being surprised by what she found captured her imagination. She eventually decided to have some minimal organization since she was inadvertently buying duplicate books, so we broke her books by authors (not even including genre). This way she could easily see what she had by author and avoid getting those second copies.
  • Organizing your closet by style of clothes – work, casual, and eveningwear – is another example. While others group by type – long sleeved, short sleeved, long dresses, short dresses, etc.

The list could on and on – I could have even expanded the examples within the specific item being dealt with; yet it all comes down to finding a way that makes sense to you. You need to be able to maintain it; you have to like it – it needs to fit your personality. It might be easier if there were ONE way to organize things, yet we’re all too different. Finding the system that works for you personally is the only way to make a difference in the long run. Discover the system that makes sense to you.

Those Deep Cabinet Shelves

I should expect it at this point, when I go into another house, to see more badly designed cabinets. Somehow, I am still shocked at these “spacious” cabinets that are barely functional. How can anyone think these are useful? Or functional? Then what do you do when you are stuck with them? I wish there were better answers, though here are some ideas.

There are many shapes and varieties of these weirdly designed cabinets. I’m not sure if there is one that I dislike more than another. What I am talking about today is specifically those deep shelves.

Those deep shelves boggle my mind, how can that back area be functional? Then in many kitchens, there is a half shelf above in the back! I think I get the idea of it, but it’s typically the lower shelves and then even more inconvenient. Here is a picture of my own kitchen, with this exact set-up. It functions, though is not great – as you can see from the stacks in front as well as some precarious balancing (that remarkably does not fall!). For us it works because the things in that back half, both on the shelf and below it, are things we rarely use. Therefore, if it’s an option, put things used less frequently behind those things you do use.

There are companies that allow those shelves to pull out. I worked with one woman whose lower kitchen cabinets had those for the upper shelf. She had not been pulling them out. This ended up adding to the disorder, and after rearranging she agreed to practice pulling them out. The last time we talked about it, it was working well. Yet this is something we don’t always consider, pulling out a sliding shelf is more work. Not necessarily a ton of work, but it is a bit of a shift, our behavior has to change to accommodate this new feature. If you do not uses the feature, it can add to the mess.

Back to the idea of putting less used items in the back, can work in a linen closet or other such deep shelving, though sometimes with more difficulty. I have another picture from my own home, where some of the shelves are deeper than is truly useful. Some of the shelves you cannot see are being redone. One of the things we’ve done is to stack things two deep – on the left are the towels and washcloths. We work from the front, and when those stacks are empty, what is behind them are easily accessible. This is also a place where less used items live farther back.

Another way to work with deep shelving is to use containers. Here we used them to help with two issues, the high shelving as well as the deep. There are two containers; each has a grouping of items, typically used together. She can grab the lip of one and pull it down, use the items, in this case cleaning supplies, and when she’s done, put the container back up. On a different shelf, we used containers behind, they were used infrequently, but were used together, so she could clear a path for the container to come out, use it, and return it, with minimal chaos. This works best if the frequently used items in front are larger, so when you need to access the containers in back there are less items to move.

You might have noticed that much of coping with less than ideal shelving focuses on storing less used items farther back. The real dilemma occurs when there is so little space that those back areas are important for frequent use. Some people use the idea of staggered tools, so the items in back are higher, and this can work, though I think of all the wasted space under those gadgets. As is so often the case, much depends on your own personal setup and preferences.

Prepared for an Emergency

September is National Preparedness Month.  This was apparently started by FEMA, though I am more aware of it as something that NAPO promotes.  I was fortunate to attend a webinar last year on this very subject and there is another one being held later this month, hosted by our local NAPO chapter.

Being prepared can be a scary thing.  We are preparing for the worst.  It is something easy to avoid, putting off since it can be uncomfortable to tackle.  Not unlike writing a will!  Yet, getting those important papers in order, finding a safe place to keep them is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and our loved ones for that potential emergency situation.

I was just commenting to a client the other day that it was wonderful she had all the important papers together and knew right where they were.  Her comment to me was that she’d probably not even remember to grab them on her way out the door.  We went on to talk about the idea of having photocopies with her and the originals in a safe deposit box.  She did not completely give herself credit for having those things altogether.

The first step is to gather the important things in one place – make a kit.  This is more than gathering just those important papers together, it is also the supplies you might need.  Living in the Midwest, though certainly not limited to here, as the season change and the cold sets in, I look at the car supplies.  I am talking about the blankets and snack bars that will live in the trunk until the weather warms up again.  I know this one hazard and am taking steps to be safe if something would happen.

Yet, this is not the only thing to be prepared for, as we have the potential for flooding and tornadoes.  If we are faced with needing to leave the house fast, we need to have supplies with us when we go.  This is why it is a good idea to have a kit ready to go, or almost all ready, then we can grab it as we head out.

The second step is to make a plan.  This means that every member of the family knows the person to contact in case of emergency and how to find each other.  The last thing you want when dealing with some emergency is to not know whether everyone is safe or how you will find each other.

The last step is to be informed.  This also means confronting your fears, finding out what risks there might be that you are unaware of – apparently there is a place in California known as “Tornado Alley.”  I lived in California for a total of 12 years and just recently found this out!

It can be hard to prepare for an emergency.  We all want to think that it will not happen to us.  It is certainly not something that demands our attention.  If we don’t do it, nothing bad is necessarily going to happen to us.  On the other hand, if we do it, we can rest easy that it was handled the best possible and reduce the stress from the event itself.  Now, I need to go find a backpack to set aside for the water and a whistle to put into our kit.

Organizing the Closet – Clothes, Jackets, and Accessories Oh My

A little while back, I talked about pulling everything out of a small space as you work on it.  This applies to that entire closet of clothes – whether the front hall closet with the jackets or your bedroom closet.  Dealing with clothes in general can be a challenge, who really wants to face those things we no longer fit into, or the things we bought with the best of intentions yet still have the tags hanging off them?  Imagine though, opening the closet next week and seeing only things that fit and you actually wear.  It makes life so much simpler and even happier!

Choose the closet you will dig into.  Open the door, reach in, and pull out an item.  Look at it and decide whether it’s something you want to keep.  Hopefully you’ll already have some containers ready for trash and donating – and you can put it into one of those right now if you’re not keeping it.  If you are keeping it, set it aside, into a pile of the things you want to keep.

Reach into the closet again and pull out the next item.  Make a decision of where it will go.  Continue this with each item in the closet.  I’d start with the hanging items and clear the entire rod.  Then move onto any other items living in the closet.  Pick it up and decide whether you are keeping it or letting it move on.

You might see that you’re avoiding certain items, you see it, but you repeatedly grab something else.  There is no problem doing that, as long as you deal with it by the end.  The idea is that the entire closet will be empty at one point.  This is a great time to clean it – vacuum the floor and wipe any shelving down.

If you have the space, you could make piles of similar types of clothes with the ones you’ve decided to keep.  One of the guiding principles of organizing is to keep like things together.  Now, you can see if you have 8 black sweaters that meet the same need.  Or 9 black pants.  Or whatever.

As you pick up each item to put it back into the closet, evaluate it again.  Yes, again.  Consider whether you’re making up reasons to keep it.  If you’re simply attached, but never wear it, make a special box where you keep those precious items.  I don’t believe you have to part with everything, but keep the space in the closet for things that you use regularly.

If you’re like most people, you’ll find some random things from emptying out your closet.  Some of these might end up with those other odds and ends from drawers and shelves.  As you examine the various items figure out where the really need to be kept – storing them close to where you use them.  I’ll address those odds and ends in a future post.  For the time being, put away what you can.  Find a place to store those things that are pending.

When you pull everything out of the closet before you are done, you’ll have to look at everything.  It’s too easy to skip things when you just pull things out willy-nilly!  It’s simple to avoid those items we dread unless we aim to get everything out before we’re done.

Dig in and have fun! Enjoy the happiness of going to your closet and only finding what you enjoy wearing, since it fits and you like it.