June 11, 2015

Everything in Its Place - 7 Organizing Basics

I'm a sucker for a well organized drawer. Boxes with labels make my heart sing. Bags with pockets, bottles, jars...oh, my. And don't even get me started on a neat and tidy closet. I love being organized.

Everything in Its Place -  7 Organizing Basics - www.lysandrajames.com
My writing nook with the desk my husband upcycled from an old piano. Isn't it pretty?
I admit I'm a little weird like that.

Creating order out of chaos gives me a high only replicated by writing. Which, if you think about it, is essentially the same thing. Taking pens, notebooks, toys, and linens (or ideas and random thoughts) and putting them into a logical and cohesive structure is addicting. It's a wonderful feeling knowing I can tell my thirteen-year-old son exactly where to find a roll of packing tape and he will be able to go to the correct drawer in the office to get it. Most of the time. He is, after all, a teenage boy and sometimes struggles to see things right in front of his face. (Love you, sweetie! But you know it's true.)

I've been trying to teach my boys how to organize themselves since I have a sneaking suspicion their future wives would look at me funny if I show up at their doorsteps to rearrange my sons' sock drawers. Crazy Mother-in-Law of the Year Award goes to...me!

I think I've been successful in demonstrating the basics by being a good example as we've settled into our new home. My boys have been more hands-on through this experience, so I hope some of it is rubbing off. It boils down to seven key ideas.

1. Declutter.

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The biggest hurdle to getting organized is having too much stuff. Seriously, do you really need the last three years of The Reader's Digest or five ice cream scoops? How about all those clothes you never wear that you've stuffed in the back of the closet? 

If you haven't used it in the past year or you don't love it, get rid of it. I used to be guilty of keeping things "just in case" I may need it. Bits of ribbon, outdated fabric, jeans that don't fit, empty pickle jars, recipes I wrote down but never used, old school worksheets, extra kitchen utensils and appliances, and so much more. Before we sold our last house, I took an honest inventory of everything we had. Most of my hoarding centered around crafts I abandoned or tried once and gave up. I focused my hobbies into three I love and/or used most - crochet, bead jewelry, and sewing - and separated the tools and materials needed for those three activities. Everything else was sold or donated.

I also went through my wardrobe and created a cool weather capsule wardrobe - one where each piece was a deliberate addition and coordinated with nearly everything else in the wardrobe to create dozens of outfits with minimal clothing items (google "capsule wardrobe" and be amazed). Everything else was donated or put into storage for warmer weather.

Once all that extra clutter was removed, my home immediately felt cleaner and more inviting. Not only that, but I felt free from the guilt of all those unfinished projects. Getting dressed was easier and less stressful with my limited options. When I decluttered my home, it was as if I decluttered my emotional state as well.

2. Designate zones.

Everything in Its Place -  7 Organizing Basics - www.lysandrajames.com

If you were to walk into a grocery store only to find cat food in the same aisle as the cookies and motor oil, you'd probably walk right back out without buying a single thing. The chaos would be too overwhelming. How would you know where to find beef jerky? Or bread?

It's reassuring to know in most stores, the cat food would be down the pet aisle, the cookies either in the bakery or down the same aisle as the crackers, and the motor oil would be in the automotive section. I can go to my local Walmart and tell you the general area of the store you can find almost everything. Lightbulbs? In the hardware section. Legos? Toys.

Why should your home be any different?

By designating zones, you create a sense of what belongs where. My boys know to look for pencils and paper in the office. Sewing needles and yarn are in my crafting corner. Movies and video games are in the family room by the tv. Broom and dustpan belong in the cleaning supply closet. Coats, backpacks, and shoes go in the mudroom. 

Zones don't need to be an entire room. A corner, closet, a piece of furniture, or even a drawer can be a zone. My writing nook is a 6' x 8' corner on the far end of my master bedroom. It's not big, but all things related to my writing are stuffed in there - a desk, filing cabinet, books on writing, notebooks, laptop, certificates and awards, and more.

3. A place for everything.

Everything in Its Place -  7 Organizing Basics - www.lysandrajames.com
This really is one of the drawers in my crafting corner.

Everything in your home needs a home of its own otherwise it floats around and creates clutter. For the longest time, our incoming mail and school paper didn't have a designated spot to go and often piled up on the kitchen counter. Bills would be lost, birthday parties forgotten, and a load of "needing to be shredded" items would spill onto the ground. It wasn't until recently that I put together a file box to give all those poor papers a home. Not only did it clear off my counters so I had a place to prepare delicious goodies, but I'm now able to find last month's water bill without a problem.

Look around. What homeless items often float around your house? Grocery bags? Kids' shoes? Keys? Find them a home!

4. Like items with like items...mostly.

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You're not going to keep your shoes with the bleach. Or pencils with your chopsticks. By keeping like items together, it's easier to find what you're looking for.

Pens with pencils, toy cars with trucks and trains, scissors with hole punches. If something has a similar purpose as another item, keep them together. My kitchen drawer, pictured above, contains only utensils I use while cooking at my stovetop. Everything else has a home elsewhere.

There is an exception to this rule: keep items close to where you'll use them. In my house, there are four pencil cups - each containing pencils, pens, scissors, and a ruler. One is on my desk in my writing nook, two in our office (one on each desk), and one in the kitchen. I don't want to have to go all the way to the office to grab a pencil to jot down a shopping list or to brainstorm my next blog post. However, all the rest of the office supplies - including extra writing utensils and such - are stored together in the office.

5. Contain.

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Close your eyes and imagine your junk drawer. I know you have one. Almost everyone does. It's the place where all miscellaneous bits of string, screws, scissors, and scraps of paper hide, waiting to jump out and bite the next person daring to search for a working pen. Or how about your linen closet with the semi-folded pillowcases and fitted sheets leaning precariously, threatening to avalanche if someone breathes the wrong way?

The best solution to both of these problems is to contain. Baskets, boxes, jars, trays, bags, cups, and drawers are excellent options. In my drawers, I often have baskets to separate different items. Pancake turners are separated from wooden utensils and tongs. Pencils are separated from pencil sharpeners and erasers. Open wire baskets keep my washcloths and hand towels from mingling. Bandages and other first aid items are in a plastic tote. Extra toiletries reside in plastic drawers in my linen closet. Even my remotes are in baskets to keep them from scattering across the room.

You don't have to spend a fortune at a fancy department store to get quality containers. The dollar store is a fantastic place to get matching containers for cheap. You can also scour thrift stores and yard sales for pretty baskets or trays. Or reuse containers like pickle jars and shipping boxes.

6. Label.

Everything in Its Place -  7 Organizing Basics - www.lysandrajames.com
Why, yes, I do think I'm clever showing a label labeled "labels".

The only way my kids know where to look for that elusive packing tape so I can repair their well-loved books or board game boxes (again) is because I labeled every single drawer in my office. Everything is listed and easy to read. It's also more likely they'll put things away correctly when they can see where it goes.

Labels don't have to be fancy to work. I like using address labels for most things. Fast, easy, and convenient. I've also gotten somewhat creative with my labeling, using things like badge holders tied on with string and index cards held in place with clear tape.

Not everything needs to be labeled. At least, not visibly. If it's obvious your shoes belong in a basket and your clothes in the hamper, odd are you don't need to post a label there.

7. Create systems.

Everything in Its Place -  7 Organizing Basics - www.lysandrajames.com

If you've read any of my recent posts, you should have seen this one coming. Seriously.

Even the best organizational system doesn't last long if you don't have systems in place to maintain it. My lovely little file box would sit empty if I didn't have a system to take care of the mail as soon as it enters the house. Pencils and crayons would be strewn about every room if we didn't have a system to in place to put them away after each use. Clean clothes would pile up in the corner of the room, dishes would teeter in stacks by the sink, and new purchases would clutter up every available surface without systems in place to take care of them.

Three systems you should have in place include paperwork management (to be addressed in a future post), a cleaning schedule, and clutter avoidance. Clutter avoidance merely means to either know exactly where an item will go before you bring it home OR make a rule that for every item that comes into your home, one item will go. It also means using the "one touch rule". Always put something away in the correct place the first time. Don't set it aside to take care of later, because later never seems to come.

The takeaway...

Organizing doesn't come naturally to everyone. Like most things, it's a learned skill. But by understanding the basics, it becomes easier. It also doesn't happen overnight. It's taken me years to discover my organizing preferences and what works for me and my family, so don't get discouraged. Just keep trying. It will happen for you, too.

And maybe someday, even my organizationally-challenged boys will be able to gaze blissfully into a perfectly organized linen closet and feel assured I'm not on my way to knock it into shape.

(Dear future daughters-in-law, whomever you may be - I'm really not that crazy. Well...usually.)

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