Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Organizing Essentials: Two simple, yet elusive, rules of organization

There are a plethora of mantras to help us get organized, such as "like with like" and "put it where you use it."  While both of those examples are critical principles in creating effective systems, they are not the foundation of organization.  When it comes to organizing physical objects, these two rules are the basis for getting and staying organized:

1.  A single home for everything, and
2.  Complete the task and put it back.

All other rules or mantras help us to either create or maintain these two rules.

A single home for everything
We often make getting organized more complicated than necessary.  We have habits, but maybe not effective ones.  For instance, we don't put our keys, work bag, or dog leashes in the same place.  So we frequently search for them instead of heading out the door for work or getting Fido outside in time.  Regardless of the item, if everything has a place to call home, we will know where to look for it.  I included "single" for a reason - the more places an item can be, the harder it is to look for it, hence our ability to make things more complicated.  True, there might be a few logical places for a thing to call home, but we must select one and stick with it.   If we find that another location better serves our purpose, then by all means, relocate, but that place now becomes the new solitary home for the item.  The best place to start is by finding single homes for items used or misplaced on a daily basis.  Once you reap the benefits of this rule, you will gladly extend it to other areas.

We have his/hers decorative bowls that sit on our countertop to house our keys and glasses.  Whether your home is 'pretty' or not, the main goal is that it is functional - so get creative!

Complete the task, put it back
The ability to stay organized hinges on this principle.  When we are finished using something, we should consider the whole task incomplete until everything is returned to its designated home.  For example, we fail to hang our clothes after multiple exhaustive "finding the right outfit" sessions and our once organized wardrobe never returns to its former glory.  We use the screwdriver to tighten the door hinges but leave it inside the closet instead of returning it to the toolbox.  What happens when someone else needs it?  We've all been there.  Sometimes we are tired and just want to go to bed, or we say we will get to it later or various other reasons.  This rule is probably the hardest to turn into habit, which is why staying organized seems to be so elusive.

This rule operates differently when we create a 'productive' mess - such as the ones we make while working on a project.  The task is completing said project, so we might not want to constantly return and retrieve items as it disrupts work flow. However, there are generally a few pause points encountered while completing a project; it is at those times when this rule is invoked. Most of us do not like to return to a mess, so during those pauses, it makes sense to put everything back so we can start again without stressing about finding things.

Mother knows best - or at least what's best for her sanity...

Excuses, excuses
Sure, someone could say, "Clothing has multiple locations - the closet, the hamper, the laundry room - so I can't stick to that rule all the time."  My response is two-fold:  1) dirty clothing does not belongs in the hamper not the closet, and 2) washing clothes is a task that is only completed when all items are returned to their designated home, such as a closet. Now some busy folks may retort that they do not have time to fold and put all clothes back. Trust me, I've been there.  However, in those cases, it's best not to ignore the rules but to reconsider our current systems to make sure we are maximizing our efforts and maintaining our sanity.  In this instance, maybe folding is overrated and you can be efficient without it. Remember, neatness is not a requirement for organization. Regardless of your system, be encouraged to fight against our natural tendency to find excuses and have the courage to take action against disorganization!

So if you did nothing else but practice these two rules, you could call yourself organized.  Try it out and let me know it works for you!

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