Bursts of Organizing

Plenty of people approach organizing projects with the mindset that setting aside a big chunk of time is the way to go.  This can be the stereotypical idea of not starting to clean out the garage or basement until you have a weekend to dedicate to working on it.  Maybe it’s even a reason to procrastinate, “Oh, I don’t have enough time to work on this – look at my weekends, they each have things that are more important.”

It can also be the internal “shoulds” of having the time to spend on organizing projects –  “I should be spending at least 6 hours a day organizing my stuff, I don’t have that much else to do…”

First, one of the ways we all end up with too much stuff is that we haven’t embraced the process of purging as part of our life.  When purging happens only when you’ve found an available weekend to clean out the garage (or wherever) – the stuff will pile up again.  Is this how you want things to function going forward?  I’d encourage you to incorporate the purging and hence the organizing process into your life in order to avoid a weekend of cleaning out any space.

Organizing is never truly finished; rather it’s part of life.  Even when you’re attentive to getting things out, stuff can accumulate.  Have I shared how my husband and I found 3 sets of mixing bowls in our cupboards a couple years ago?  3 sets!  Somehow things slip through, or multiply behind our backs – and I had no idea there were 3 sets using up our valuable cupboard space (even a couple years later I’m confounded by it!).

Second, when you’re tackling a space over a weekend, you could be heading yourself into a state of overwhelm.  Getting overwhelmed has potential consequences – serious ones even!  In your goal of cleaning out the garage, you might reach the state of being overwhelmed as everything is strewn about for sorting – and when walking away is not a feasible option.   When it might be possible to walk away, the stuff is there, now less contained and probably gnawing at you to get back to it.

You might get through everything and then find yourself resistant to any other projects that involve sorting and purging – it becomes overwhelming to consider another big project.  What people often discount about any organizing – whatever the size – is how much energy it can take.  If you’re working alone, physical energy is probably required.  Yet, I’m talking about mental energy – the decisions required for every item.  Often each item is more than 1 decision – since once you’ve decided to keep it – the first decision, where are you going to keep it? What other items do you have like it?  How will you know where and how to find it when you need it?  And any number of other decisions for each and every item.  This can be extremely draining – and please don’t discount how much or how normal!

No matter what the size of the project – whether you want to get the whole house organized or just that linen closet – it can be done in small steps.  The basement can be approached in small chunks of time rather than waiting for a whole weekend.  When you break things down – whatever the size – you want to make sure you keep the things you’ve sorted distinct from the things you have yet to sort.  It can also help to keep things tidy – it’s common for things to get more chaotic before they get better – so containing the stuff in order to keep things and spaces accessible as well as avoid being overwhelmed just by entering.

If it’s not obvious, I don’t recommend the weekend room tackle!  There are more reasons I find it counterproductive, though I’ve certainly met and worked with people who take this approach.  As long as it works for them, that’s what matters; though I expect they are still in the minority.  Regardless, when you’re working in a space, sorting, organizing, and purging it needs your attention.  So, in the other extreme, I would be cautious about starting an organizing project when you might have to run out of the house in 5 minutes – unless you have a plan!  Bursts of organizing can be any amount of time – theoretically – you get to decide for yourself.  What amount of time works well for you?

Making the Most of a Storage Unit

Traditionally people going through relocation’s, marriage, divorce, inheritances, and other life transitions would use storage units for short periods of time.  Now, storage units are also used long term – a way to keep things we don’t want in our homes or those things don’t fit in our homes.  There’s no doubt these self-storage units provide a beneficial service – I used one for relocating challenges many years ago and expect I might again when its time for home staging.  So whether you currently have a storage unit or will need one in the future, the way you use the space can make the difference between simplifying and complicating things for yourself.

The best approach you can take for your storage unit is to set it up in ways that will both maximize the space as well as providing you with easy access to all the contents.  Essentially you want the ability to get to any content within 10 minutes whether you’re planning on ignoring it until you’re ready to empty it or if you’ll need to be in and out of it periodically.   Of course, if you end up needing to get at something before you empty the storage unit and you’ve organized the contents, you can get what you need with little hassle.  Also, when you set it up with this easy access to each thing, you’re simplifying the process for when you empty it – as the mover’s or yourself can make the most of loading the car or truck.  Overall it means simplifying – a little planning and organizing can save you time as well as money.

Ok then, how do you set up a storage unit with this in mind?

First, to keep access for all the contents, you make aisles.  You’re leaving space for you (or whoever) to move among the contents as well as allowing some space for shifting or rearranging if needed. There’s no right way to make the aisles – it doesn’t have to be from the door to the back wall – consider the dimensions of the unit and the things you’re storing.

Can you touch each box without having to move other things?  It doesn’t have to be set up this way, though it will make things easiest if you end up needing access to some of the contents and will facilitate your handling the things in there.  You can identify the box/bin/container you need to get access to – without digging and moving things only to discover it wasn’t behind that box after all.

In keeping with making the most of the space and making aisles, each container needs only one access point – so other than the items along the walls – you can make 2 rows of your stuff between each aisle.  The only things you’d need to move if you need access to one container would be any boxes on top of the needed container.   The aisles also provide an easy place to put those boxes you’re moving in order to get access to the container you need.

Second, as you’re looking at the space available – even if you already have a full unit – pay attention to the vertical space.  Not unlike a small living space, one way to make the most of small spaces is to maximize the area between the floor and the ceiling.  How you will use this space depends on different factors:

  • how much stuff you actually have or that needs to be stored in the space
  • whether the items for the storage unit will stack well (or can be stored to make most of vertical space like Persian rugs and grandfather clocks)
    • half full boxes will end up leaning or even falling when stacked on top of each other
    • furniture can help make the space more functional, especially shelving (though that doesn’t mean you should buy them!)
  • what are the things and the categories of things you’re storing (or planning on storing)?
  • safety and accessibility
    • I don’t recommend (most of the time) stacking things higher than is comfortable for retrieving and replacing – as that can become a safety hazard and negatively impact our willingness to get at the things stored

Third, keeping categories of things together.  If you’ve got books in storage, get them all together.  Clothes, kitchen things, storage/organizing containers, holiday decor, whatever broad grouping of similar things being kept together will help you if you need to find something and when you’re moving the containers out of the storage unit – since you’d probably prefer the books don’t inadvertently crush the box of memorabilia while they’re in transit.  Broad categories are often all you need, though there can be further detailed grouping when it’s appropriate.

If you’re storing things you want to go through over time, having the categories will also simplify that process – having like items together will make it easier for you to make decisions.  You can focus on one type of thing (avoiding switching between types of things) and know what else you have – which will help preserve your energy and maximize making decisions about each item within the category.

It’s helpful to make sure you know where the various categories are located within the storage unit – for locating what you need, for when it’s time to empty the unit, for sorting, purging and further organizing, and for anything else.  You can label the containers – with a magic marker, attaching labels to the containers, or even to make a diagram mapping the locations of your categories (so you know the front half of the row along the left wall are where your books are located).

When you have a storage unit – whatever the reason – making the most of the space is important.  Even if you already have a filled storage unit, with some time and effort you can rearrange things, making things easier in moving forward.  You’re paying money to save and protect your things.  These are 3 important aspects for maximizing the space and more importantly, keeping things as easy as possible for you: 1) access with aisles, 2) maximize vertical space, and 3) categorize and group contents together.    With these three pieces you can keep your things, your storage unit and using the space (for accessing or for filling and then emptying) as simple as possible.


Aside:  If you’re renting a storage unit for an undefined amount of time – a life transition – without a real deadline, consider setting a deadline for yourself, choosing your own time frame (and it’s good to be generous).  It can be an out-of-sight out-of mind cost, where it becomes easier to keep paying the fee for the storage unit than to face the plethora of decisions inside!

Beauty and Function

Considering our vision of what we want our space to feel like and express, how critical is beauty in your environment?  All of us have things that we find beautiful.  This is part of what we want to surround ourselves with and these things often inspire us.  Or at least we hope they will.  It might even be a criterion that is high on your list of importance – wanting your space to be beautiful – although it’s not important for everyone.  The work you do in your home – organizing, cleaning, purging, decorating, repairs, etc. – are at least somewhat about making your space also your home.  It can be important to decide when aesthetics are the highest priority for your time and energy.

As I’ve talked about before, beauty – in the eye of the beholder – can be one of the criteria for whether to keep things in your space or if it’s time to let something move on to be appreciated by someone else.  One of the other primary criteria is whether something is useful.  If something serves a function in your life – that is important.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  William Morris

Recently, I’ve found that professional organizers frequently use this quote as a guiding principle and I talk more about this in Useful & Beautiful.

Notice which comes first – useful and then beauty – this is about priorities.  Those parts and pieces of things in our life that keep us moving forward are most important.  If we try to dismiss how useful something is, often we end up with more complications.  Similarly, making things attractive does not translate into things being useful.  It’s potentially a sad truth that creating a space and system that function well for you might be “unattractive” – according to your criteria.

Yet, what is most important?  Is having a space that is perfectly beautiful yet is more effort to use effectively something you’d choose?  If you’d choose beauty over function, I’d be curious to know what that desire is about for you.  Consider times past when the living room might only be used when guests are visiting – that space requires little more function and can easily be beautified.  When we’re actively using a space, the function of it might mean that it’s less beautiful – at least in the traditional sense.

How do you value the effort needed to use your things?  Consider the differences between things that have been simplified and streamlined for function compared to things where it’s harder to use, requiring more effort and time.  It can be tempting to focus on the aesthetics and decide you’ll just make it work – somehow.  We try to convince ourselves that if it’s just beautiful, we’ll be motivated to expend the extra effort and time to work around less functionality.

A caveat – this talk about beauty in a space will depend on how you define beauty.  Each of us can have a different opinion about what things detract from beauty in a space.  Just as your vision of beauty might not match other people – a challenge when your partner has their vision and it’s quite different.  If they’re unconcerned with the aesthetics of the space, then the way beauty is defined – by either of you – won’t be an issue.

I’d encourage you to make it functional first (often this process takes time) – create a way that it supports you so things are simplified – and once you understand what aspects you need, you can look for ways to beautify it.   Personally (which is to say that I don’t put this on my clients), I think about the beautifying process at the end – as the icing on the cake – the fun and final steps in creating systems, a sign of succeeding in the bigger goal of making things functional.

By postponing the beautifying of your space – you can learn your tendencies and make accommodations for them that directly connect with beautifying.  It’s likely that wherever you spend most of your time in your home has “not beautiful” evidence of you.  Yet, you’re living in this space and functioning, so it’s not surprising.  Once you’ve ruled out some other reasons things collect in places – like it not having a home, requires too much time and effort to get it back to its home, etc. – it might be that you simply need to have a space for these things.  Creating a space for these things hanging around could mean a decorative (and functional, of course) container or piece of furniture – at least when your priority is on aesthetics.

Being more concerned about beauty over function can be another part of why we lose things.  When someone is most concerned about getting things looking pretty, the decisions about where to put everything else can be rushed.  Even when you take your time making decisions about where to put things away, your options for storing things are based on beauty – getting it out of sight.

Remember, when you make function the highest priority, you can then probably find ways to beautify it.   It can be surprisingly easy to focus on things that are “easy” – rather than on what is most important – whether that’s this function and beauty idea or something else.  Beauty can feel easier, whereas trying to figure out function for yourself and space can feel daunting.  Consider finding one small area that you know needs an improvement in function – focus on just that for now.  As I say over and over – experiment, set up something new and try it for a while and see what happens.  There can also be beauty in the experimenting with function. 😉

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


What if you tried to organize a space only to realize that it wasn’t working?  And you re-organize it and again find it wasn’t working?  And again, repeating the steps over and over again.  Would you then tell yourself that you’re not good at organizing?  Have you ever thought about how you label yourself?  The times that we encounter repeated struggles can be daunting and it might lead us to decide our capabilities – and not in a realistic or positive way.

Would you think me less of a professional organizer if you knew that scenario above was from my home and life?  Early last month I realized that I needed to divide a category I’d created in my craft closet – that it was creating unnecessary chaos.  That opened the door to how several parts were not working – there was clutter collecting again.  There had been some great progress with the degree of clutter compared to the past – yet there were still problems.

I’m certainly not proud of the repeated problems I’ve had with the space.  It has been extremely frustrating and amazingly overwhelming – some of which I talked about almost 2 years ago in Overwhelmed? ? – and I’m grateful that these recent changes don’t feel overwhelming, though they are frustrating sometimes!  My experiences also illustrate that simply having a neat system does not magically make things organized or more importantly stay organized.

How easy it could be to decide that I’m not capable of organizing – consider that in over 10 years that I’ve played with the closet, it’s always broken down.  There’s more than a decade of “evidence” that I can’t organize, isn’t there?  Yet, it is focused on that closet.  If you’ve read my blog for a while you know that there have been other spaces needing re-organizing – that spaces simply stop working sometimes.  More signs that organizing isn’t in my skill set, right?  Proof, at least if we consider only those examples.

The way we interpret our experiences can have a huge impact on what we do or don’t do.  If you tell yourself that you are just no good at organizing, you’re probably going to avoid trying to do it and focus on all the “proof” that backs up your interpretation.  What would happen if you searched for all the evidence that was the opposite of your interpretation (and not minimize or discount them)?

As much as the repeated failure of the organizing inside the craft room closet is hard to accept, I can also see that each time I re-do things in there I make improvements – both in how things are arranged and in how long the organization is maintained.  I recognize that my continuing struggles are centered on that specific area.

It’s remarkably easy to discount our successes – it seems like we all do it in some way or context.  Likewise, we all falter and struggle sometimes.  It might feel that we’re more prone to challenges than other people.  What do you tell yourself?  Do you see any possibility for finding your way through your challenges?

I keep chipping away at that craft room closet – riding the ebb and flow of emotions – from overwhelmed, to frustrated, to excited, to apathetic, to embarrassment, to any number of other reactions.  I recognize that it is simply feelings – they will pass or at least subside and don’t necessarily reflect the reality.  My interpretation is that I’ve struggled to find all the solutions I need for this space and stuff at the same time – that it is evidence that there are times we need to go through the process of discovering our answers, however long that process might take.  (My post, Organizing Art & Craft Supplies, talks about some solutions.)

Therefore, the way we interpret our own challenges can define how we progress through them.  Professional organizers exist because people struggle with getting organized – there’s nothing wrong with facing that challenge with help.  Yet, if you tell yourself that you’re just lousy with organization, what happens when the organizer leaves and you’re left to maintain the organization?

Put a limit on your critical interpretations – in what way are you challenged, specifically?  How are you successful, even in the midst of that struggle?  Can you see that there’s a way for you to develop the skills?  When the ongoing challenges in a particular area tempt you to you give up, how will you interpret both the continuing struggle and your inclination to throw up your hands and walk away?  You probably know generally what I would say – find an explanation that supports you and your strengths from the reality rather than any biases.

Temptations of Purchasing

About a month ago I became aware of the large increase of catalogs arriving.  “Aha, it’s that time of year again.”  From this point, I can have any number of reactions – from apathy to curiosity, sometimes I even feel annoyed.  Of course, their job is to convince you to spend your money with them – at this time of year, with their offers of saving money and finding the perfect gift.  Yet it’s not just this holiday time that we’re surrounded with offers – their hope of being tempting.

How do you think about the approaches and offers all around you?  Do you consider the strategies they’re using?  Do you know what and when you are more prone to giving into the temptation?

If only it were simple to have set rules for making intentional purchases and avoid collecting clutter.  Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some strategies for doing both of these things – yet, with all the variables, they’re not likely to be foolproof.  The more we understand our own dynamic – the factors that impact our buying more things – the easier it will be to catch ourselves.

There are times that the idea of an item being scarce can be a challenge for me – “uh oh, I absolutely love that, it’s on sale which means it might be going out of stock (or is less expensive), so I should just get it.”  Once I became aware of how this situation of an apparent scarcity (or “good” deal) can lead me to impulsive purchasing, I can now catch myself most of the time from buying into the perception of scarcity.  I realized that it was more important to me to be able to take the time to process and evaluate buying items, then that if it was in fact not available (if I even went back to get it) it was “just not meant to be.”  This is one of my strategies – in response to one of the marketing strategies that can entice me.

For me with the idea of scarcity, it only applies to some things.  When it is in the clearance area of a store, I practice skepticism about why something has made it there.  Yet I learned that the hard way – I picked up too many things over the years that were flimsy.  Just because something is marked down doesn’t mean it’s really a savings to buy – if the item is poor quality, it won’t work or last long anyway – so it’s a waste of your time and money.

The marketing aspects that can tempt me are not necessarily the same ones that lure you – just like the approach we take to handle it will be different.  If we don’t pay attention – learn from our experiences – we will spend money we don’t need to and have that much more excess stuff around making more work for us.

It’s not just as simple as the marketing – the things retailers are advertising and trying to tempt us with.  We also have an internal sense of when something is too much – whether it would match anyone else’s view or not.  So, consider if you later regret how much you spent on x, y, z, etc.  Do you need to adjust your internal sense or apply it only within certain limits?

Then there’s also how our personality, mood, and feelings influence how we buy or not buy as well.  For me, it also affects my tolerance for shopping at all – sometimes the last thing I have any desire to do is walk into a store unless I have an immediate need.  Then there are other times that I want to look around and explore.  Once I even said, “I want to go into the “clutter” store.”  Then I chuckled – both at the desire to go into the store that seemed cluttered and how I labeled it – automatically.  Here’s the window that somehow drew me in – and after going in, I admired a few things, considered if anything wanted to come home with me, and left happy – exploring and not purchasing.


cluttered store front full of items

The “clutter” store I wanted to go into.

We all have opportunities to buy things we don’t need and end up not using or appreciating those things.  And more than the opportunities, we all spend on our money on these things – at least sometimes.  This isn’t about how much money you do or don’t have – since you can collect clutter at dollar stores just as easily as higher end boutiques and the excess stuff still requires your attention, at some point.  We can choose to consider the things influencing our purchasing and explore how we can do that in ways that are truly supportive of our life.

Our Feelings & Our Organizing

I recently talked about how our minds are the most important tool for our organizing efforts in Our Minds & Our Organizing – how when we use it clearly we can figure out the solutions for our unique situation.  And of course our mind handles more than the logical data in our lives – it’s processing our emotions.  Our thoughts and feelings interact and intermingle influencing our actions and behaviors and when we improve our awareness then our choices will support our life and goals.

The feelings we have can inspire us to make changes – “this space feels cluttered,” “I’m so frustrated at how I’m managing my time,” and “I get so anxious when I have to deal with paperwork.”  As we recognize the feelings we’re having, we can then start the process of finding a way to change things and feel better – at least ideally.

Those same feelings can prompt avoidance and discouragement – where we cannot conceive that there is hope for things to be any different – hopeless, another feeling.  It can be challenging to withstand the influence of our feelings – shirking tasks we feel we’re not good at or can’t succeed with, procrastinating things since “what’s the point?” and giving ourselves all sorts of messages that support reasons that we cannot change things.  Yet if you examined those things logically, without the negative beliefs, would the evidence show your “complete incompetence” or just that you are not perfect and might need support, skills building, or practice?

These feelings can also trigger action to resolve the annoyance quickly – more of a reaction to your feelings.  Just like when interacting with people and someone blindsides you – it can be hard not to just react (whatever that looks like for you: snapping, yelling, apologizing, withdrawing) and realize later how things could have been handled better.  Similarly with our organizing, it can be easy to react to our organizing and tasks annoyances with our emotions.  Therefore, do we jump in and do anything to relieve the discomfort?  Or do we take some time to consider how to move things forward and make sure we’re not making more work or more complications for ourselves down the road?  If we’re busy reacting to our feelings of unhappiness, without evaluating our approach with the logic our mind can offer – it could be counter-productive.

We can draw an analogy to a typical junk drawer – it can be easy to just drop in all the random things we don’t or can’t deal with right now and it becomes the jumble where it’s hard to find anything.  The thing about a junk drawer is that it’s small and so what goes in and how much it can hold limits the degree of chaos you’ll have to deal with eventually.  Yet when we’re plagued with the need to fix that thing that’s bugging us, it’s often not as small and limited as a junk drawer.  That’s when the temptation to throw everything into the closet or a bin/bag/box, or rent a storage locker can lure us into thinking this is the best option.  And it might be the best option – the key is to consider your motivation, the logic of doing it, and then approach the stuff in a way that will minimize frustration and maximize getting your goals accomplished.

You can see that our emotions can have a tremendous effect on our efforts – whatever those efforts might be – both in a positive as well as a detrimental way.  These feelings can drive us – hurrying us to get through them – after all, when emotions are uncomfortable, why would anyone want to hang out with those unpleasant feelings?  It can be tricky to distinguish between our thoughts and feelings since there is such interplay between them.  Yet when we examine things from a logical point of view – looking for the evidence that supports and rejects our ideas – we can make the most of our emotions for inspiring change.  Ideally we’re using both our minds and feelings to develop the systems that will help us simplify and accomplish what we want.

Our Minds & Our Organizing

I think we are all doing more – we have more to track and stay on top of – than in past generations.  I don’t claim to know whether we’re saying ‘yes’ to more things or if there’s more to do.  Whatever the reason, it can mean that it’s easier to get overwhelmed and for things to simply not get done.  I could probably write a whole post about saying ‘no’ to things – even those that we put on ourselves – yet this isn’t what this entry is about.  When we have what feels like endless things we need to track and accomplish, organizing can be one of those pieces that feels less important.  Although if we know where things are and where they go, we can be more successful with all the other things we’re trying to handle.

When you decide organizing is important and will benefit you – it doesn’t happen magically.  (If only it was that simple! :))  The way we think and process interacts with our organizing efforts – in all ways, the decisions we make in choosing what, where, why, and how we put our things and then both in creating new systems as well as in maintaining what you’ve set up.  Our minds are critical to the process – and they can fool us.  How so, you ask?

Have you noticed that you can set aside the time, energy, and focus for organizing and then after you’ve done all the work realized that it’s not as logical as you’d thought?  I’m not sure how many people see this – that the way we think can end up creating some additional challenges to our efforts.

First, there’s more than one “logical” system we could create for ourselves considering the way we work.  If you’ve ever tried to categorize things, you’ve probably encountered those items that fit in more than one place and then have to choose one – and then, most importantly, remember which place you chose – and all at some unknown future point.  Filing is an example of specific example – what to call this or that file and then finding where you decided to put those specific papers.  Sometimes the fact that things can be misplaced even with thoughtful and logical decisions can be upsetting for people – potentially to the point of avoiding making decisions on systems.

One way to help you track your systems is to make a list or a map – keep it relatively simple.  I have a list of each file name and which drawer it’s in and then one of those files has lists of the boxes in storage and what the rough contents are so if I need to find a specific thing I can reference my file and go directly to the box it’s in.  I recently made a map of a dresser for a client – where each box, labeled with a short description of the contents (mostly 1-3 words), represents a drawer in the dresser.  Whatever you can do to help your mind focus on the things that really matter is what’s important.

example of a map for the contents of a dresser

An example of a “map” to identify where things are stored

Second, we might be impatient to find our solutions.  The level of frustration at how chaotic things feel – whether that’s searching for things or how many things we’re dealing with – can tempt us into rushing into setting up something – anything.  And then we change our minds – and set up something else.  Maybe we do this over and over and over again – and avoid sticking with any one system long enough to find out how it does help us.  Just because something doesn’t work immediately does not translate into its being useless.  It’s too easy to discount the importance of our habits – that it takes time, energy, and most importantly effort to shift them.  Do you remember the process of learning to ride a bike?  It took time and practice.  Therefore, make a decision – hopefully thought out – and stick with it for a while, working on being consistent with it.

In our search for answers – the way to make things easier – the thought of spending time thinking can be objectionable.  “What, you mean, I have to not act, let the crummy system/space continue?  And sit still and think?”  Well, mostly yes (you don’t have to sit still ;-)) – if we avoid considering how this or that did or didn’t work, all the various pieces of it; we’re going to keep jumping randomly from one idea and system to another.  Meanwhile, life isn’t going to be simplified and finding things that work for you are likely to elude you – defeating the purpose of trying to make things easier.

Although it might feel counter-productive to evaluate your systems – “a waste of time” – taking the time to do this will save you time, energy, and effort in the long run.  And when it appears that a system has broken down – take the time to re-evaluate things.  You might discover that something else – not the system – has changed.  There are plenty of times that things can become fully functional with some tweaks here and there, whether they are new to you or established yet fluctuating systems – and not require an overhaul, i.e. more time, energy, and effort from you, unnecessarily.

The benefits of being organized are innumerable – the reduction of stress and worry (at least in the organizing area) is priceless.  It would be hard to argue that it’s not valuable – though there are certainly times that it isn’t high on the priority list.  It requires we spend our valuable time and energy on it – all the more reason to not rush into it.  And ideally we’re going to approach our organizing efforts with our mind focused and relatively clear.  It’s your best asset for discovering the systems that will enable you to simplify and focus on all those other things you’re handling.  Therefore, use your mind to choose a system to try, set it up mindfully, and then stick with it for a while – and of course evaluate how it’s working or not for you.

Review – Containers


  • a way to keep like items together
  • can maximize space
  • can increase accessibility
  • useful for smaller items of similar category


  • not a guaranteed solution for organizing struggles
  • contents within can “disappear”
  • can become more work to access and replace in its space


Here’s another somewhat nontraditional review – since it’s on containers in general, not a specific container.  When I talk about containers I am referring to any object that has the ability to keep things grouped together.  This means that a drawer, a filing cabinet, a bin, a bag, a basket, and so on are all containers – even your purse, if you use one.  We all use some containers under this definition although how useful the containers we use will depend on who we are and how we use them.  There are times that using containers can make things more challenging – even if you want to use them.  With this broad definition of a container, you might consider when and how they work for you and when they’re actually counter-productive.

In many ways the world seems to assume that we all need containers – we’re “weird”, maybe “wrong” if we don’t want to or can’t use containers.  The filing cabinet is a great example – many people believe they have to use a filing cabinet – “it’s what it is designed for.”  This is one of the fallacies of containers – even when they are designed for a specific purpose it doesn’t make them function for everyone.  Then it’s time to consider other options for keeping items contained.  You can create systems for containing that doesn’t require containers.

Figuring out when and where containers will help you is the most important thing – for if they only complicate your process, that’s defeating the point.  Therefore let’s cover a few situations that can make containers more useful.

  1. Are there things that seem to get “lost” frequently?  Small items in a bigger drawer can be one of these things getting lost.  This can be a time to consider a container of some sort to keep those smaller items together and accessible.  This is when it’s time to consider if you simply need a bin – in this example, something without a top to provide visibility and is easy to use – or if another solution needs to be found.

    Pantry drawer showing containers

    Here’s one of my pantry drawers – using containers to corral smaller items together

  2. Are there areas that are harder for you to use – spaces that are less accessible for you?  If you are shorter, high shelves can be a challenge to use – although if you put less frequently used items into a container, it provides easier access.  As a short person, the lip of a container means that you can slide the things you need out without the hassle of getting the step stool.  And it’s not just the lip of a container – it’s the handle, lid, whatever – having the items contained means you have access to hard to reach areas and the things you store there.  This can apply equally to deeper areas and low areas if it’s a challenge to bend or sit on the floor – containers offer easier access to get and move the things to a more convenient area while you need the contents.  The key to making this work is to limit the weight of the containers in the hard to access areas.

    Tall closet showing containers

    Both these shelves are hard for me to reach – yet by putting like items into containers, I can grab the handle, loop, edge to get easy access. This applies even to that box above.

  3. Do you need (or want) to maximize the tall and/or deep shelves?A cabinet shelf – one of any style stand-alone shelf – can help make the most of tall shelves in closets and then you use containers on top and bottom of these, as they’re useful for you.  One of the challenges of tall and deep shelves and using the cabinet shelf without containers is that loose things can topple off and things can disappear behind things – so the combination of tall and deep shelves and using containers means that you can make the most of the space.  You can also stack containers in these spaces, though that can make it harder to get to all of them and then possible resistance to returning them to their spot. Containers used in the front of these types of closets can then be easily moved when you need access to the items further back, which hopefully are need infrequently.

    Stand alone shelf in a tall and deep closet shelf

    Here’s a stand-alone shelf in one of our tall and deep closet shelves – where the containers on top and below provide greater storage. There are containers behind on both levels as well – helping to make the most of the space.

With all the variations of containers available to us, it is worth evaluating what features will assist you in getting and staying organized when a container is called for.

  • What size do you need?

Remember, wait to get a container until you have gathered and sorted all the like items you want to store together.  By doing this, you will know your specific needs.  It’s worth considering if the amount of items is typical too – are you likely to pick up more things that would need to be stored there too?  Do you actually have more than you’d like to store normally, so in the future a smaller container would make more sense?

  • What is the container made of?

With all the options out there, we’re virtually unlimited in our choices – plastic, canvas, wicker and woven materials, metal, and so on.  Yet, there are more than preferences for the material involved.  For instance, wicker and other woven type containers can snag things unless they’re lined.  Some people want to avoid using plastic, though that often means the contents aren’t visible from the side.  Are solid sides important?

  • Will you forget what’s inside if it’s not transparent?

Some people are quite visual – if you can’t see it, it’s like it doesn’t exist.  Sometimes this means that labels aren’t enough, so being able to see the contents becomes critical to the system working.  Other people, who are visual in a different way, come to strongly associate a particular container with specific contents – where the orange bin is autumn decorations.

  • Does it need a top or will the top just get in the way (or get lost)?

Lids can be important when we are stacking containers on top of each other, or if you will need to tip the container and not have the contents spill out.  They can help keep dust and dirt out of the contents too.  Other times, it makes more sense to have open containers – it’s easier to put things in and pull things out.  Inside a drawer is a prime place to avoid lids – you can see and access the contents easily.

  • Is there a shape that will work better for the stuff or the space?

Most of the time, a square or rectangular container is going to help maximize your spaces – since most spaces are designed with right angles.  Yet, is this container going into such a space?  If it’s a decorative hamper that you’re going to put in the corner of your living room to hold your yarn – it doesn’t need to have right angles for the space or the contents.

  • How much does it matter if it has a place for a label or is challenging to label?

One of the challenges with containers is the ability to label – or rather the inability to label them.  Many adhesives don’t attach securely to canvas, metals, wicker and woven materials and so on.  There are containers designed with a built in label while the bulk of them don’t provide this feature.  Figuring out how valuable this is for your situation is important.  Of course there are alternatives for hard to label containers – I’ve gotten attached to binder clips holding the label – as they can work with most containers.

Despite the perception that containers should work for everyone and are the solution for organizing challenges – it doesn’t make it true.  We need to consider our situation, the space, and how we work.  As much as I love containers, they do not function equally well for me – it depends on different factors.  This means that to discover what will work for us, in whatever context, we need to evaluate our needs.  Containers certainly help us contain our belongings, yet they are not the only way for us to keep our items together.

Going Shopping – In Your Home

We all have more things in our home than what we are currently using.  We might even have a lot of things collected – things we bought when we couldn’t find the other ones and/or things we bought in bulk or when it was on sale.  Our spaces might be significantly limited – so there’s only room for a few things close by where we use them.  I am asked regularly whether I think people should get rid of these duplicates – “don’t I need to purge the excess stuff?”

Some people think that most things in excess are the very things to pass along – donate, recycle, even throw away.  You’ve probably heard “experts” talking about how if you have clothes that don’t fit, get rid of them.  If you have 10 bottles of shampoo – donate them to a shelter or something.  The bottom line of the thinking seems to be to remove all those unnecessary things and free up the space in your home.

With much of what I talk about – I believe that there are no absolute answers for people.  Yes, you can create more space by donating the clothes that do not fit.  Yet, what are the factors that motivate you to keep those same clothes?  Considering your own situation means that the solutions fit your life.  Remember, there is no one right answer.

Therefore, consider that all those things you have “extra” of are the things that you can go shopping for – right in your home.  And you won’t have to buy them – again.

This idea is familiar with those who have a root cellar – or simply keep some of their food in the basement.  Yes, it can function as a food supply in case of an emergency, yet it is also hopefully food that you move upstairs when you run out of that particular item and then replenishing the supply.  We can apply this idea to other things that we have more than what we’re actively using right now.

The key is to make it relatively easy to find what you’ll need – it is about making it more like going shopping.  What are the broad categories of things you have?  If you have beauty products – shampoos, toothpaste, lotion – get these all together.  Initially it can be the general group of bathroom items and then you can make sure each division is together.  That way when you run out of shampoo, you go to the place where the extras are and pick up another bottle to resupply your shower.

If you have more than one size of clothes, consider what it is like to grab one of them not knowing if it will fit you.  Like with anything you are keeping “extra” of, getting them sorted can make all the difference down the road.  Get all the clothes that are one size down from where you are right now and keep them together.  Under the bed bins can be great for this – it keeps the clothes out of the way, maximizing your usable space, and allowing them to be accessible when you need them.  Where you store clothes that don’t currently fit isn’t as important as keeping them out of your usable space and having groupings for each size.  Then when it’s time to dig into another size – hopefully smaller – you know that what is there are all things that will fit you.  You get a “new” wardrobe without spending any more money – all by going shopping in your own home.

Many of us already do this to a lesser degree, we have an extra shampoo and whatever – so we don’t have to rush to the store if we run out or forget to pick it up at the store.  When we pull out that duplicate item to use, we add it to the list for the next shopping trip.  Even when we don’t pick up another – whether the store is temporarily out or we simply forget despite the list – there’s enough time to get that thing on the next shopping trip before we’ll need it.

It feels less like shopping when you have only the single duplicate, yet it’s about using what you already have.  If the things you have are things you are going to use eventually – then why not set things up so you can access and use them with minimal effort?  The key is to make sure they are things you will use – want to use – and part with those things you won’t use.

We can apply this idea to various things:

  • any consumables i.e. food, cleaning products, beauty products, paper products, etc.
  • clothing
  • a supply of possible gifts
  • the décor you don’t have room for right now but want to switch out periodically or are simply not ready to part with

As you can see it is not necessarily about having to get rid of the things you are not currently using, it is about making sure you can use and appreciate the things you do have – even if it’s at some future point.  Sometimes it even feels fun to “go shopping” in your home and rediscover the treasures you are now ready to use – some people have compared it to Christmas or a birthday, you have all these gifts you’d not quite remembered.  This can happen even as you sort the things – preparing them for future use.  If you will use those extra things in the future, you can create the systems to make it easy to find and then use them – to go shopping in your own home.