by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Wherever I worked, I was always the person who organized the shelves, cabinets, closets, and so on. While my coworkers would marvel over the neatened spaces, things didn’t stay organized for long. Although, to me, it was obvious to return items where they were found, I realized few people seemed to think this way. So, I tried labels. Then bigger labels to indicate where something belonged.
A frustration was that things seemed to be put away mindlessly. A handful of empty manila folders would be dumped on top of a stack of blank notebooks … instead of the existing stack of manila folders. Why couldn’t people just put similar items together?
I now realize that grouping items isn’t obvious to everyone. I even noticed while teaching art classes that some kids would color coordinate the marker or craft thread supply and then gape as one of their classmates would shove a blue marker into a cup filled with yellow markers.
However, grouping similar items together really does make organizing easier. You do need to point out to other members of your home or place of work how items are organized. Repeatedly.
Why Give Items a Home?
The rule to getting and staying organized is to give every item in your home a designated location. You know, “a place for everything and everything in its place,” a technique that you probably use to some degree even if you are (or know) someone who has stuff strewn everywhere but can tell you exactly where an item is.
Someone “helpfully” organizing such a situation will send the owner of the items into a conniption fit because they no longer know where their items are since you’ve moved them in a way that makes more sense to you but not to them.
My mother could direct me exactly to where an item was in the house (with detailed directions that took her so long to convey that sometimes I’d lose track of what she was sending me after). And she lived in a hoarding situation.
While I’m not condoning the “stuff strewn everywhere method of organizing,” knowing where to find something saves you time and stress.
But, the idea of finding a place for everything in your home probably sounds intimidating. So, instead, think of groups of items as opposed to individual items.
Compare the Items You Own
When you decluttered, you may have gathered similar items so you could see what you owned and then compare the items (do you need 47 pairs of black yoga pants?).
You grouped items – mugs with mugs, tee shirts with tee shirts, pens with pens, cookbooks with cookbooks.
Not only is this a helpful way to declutter your belongings, but it’s useful for organizing as well. When you store the items, store them together.
To Subgroup or Not to Subgroup Items
How specific your groupings get really depends on how you use the items and how you’ll want to find/retrieve the items. For example, if you have certain tee shirts that you wear only to the gym chances are that you want to keep these shirts together – and someplace away from the tee shirts you’d wear while shopping or getting together with friends.
If you’re a crafter, you probably sort your paint, yarn, beads, markers, or cardstock by color. Whether that means warm/cool colors or pinks/reds/blues/yellows/etc. depends on how you use the items and the quantities you keep in your stash.
When organizing kids’ toys, you might separate cars from trains if your kids usually play with the groups of items at different times. Or, cars/trains/planes/boats might get stored together in a single bin if that’s the way your kids play with the items.
Should you sort your tee shirts by color? If that’s how you go looking for something to wear, then, yes, that would be useful; on the other hand, if you aren’t fussy, then organizing by color will be a waste of time. Which leads to -
Think about Using Items as Opposed to Storing Them
Instead of focusing on storing items where you think they should go, think about how you use the items. Although logic might suggest keeping baking pans together because they belong to a subcategory of pots and pans, mine live in three different locations in my kitchen.
Cookie sheets live in the drawer beneath my oven because I use them all the time (more for roasting vegetables than baking cookies nowadays); cake and loaf pans are used less frequently and sit on the top shelf of a cabinet; while the various muffin tins are propped in a divided rack in the large corner cabinet that has a ridiculously narrow door.
When I recently was put on a prescription drug that I’ll have to take for the rest of my life, I struggled to find a location where I could leave it and remember to take the pill. It got to the point where I kept it on the table where I ate, but I still forgot to take it, even though I was looking at the pill bottle!
I finally decided to keep it with the coffee, which I touch every morning. As a tactile/kinesthetic person who drinks coffee every morning, the fact that I had to move the bottles to reach the coffee prompted me to take the pills.
How Grouping Items Helps
Grouping items means that you don’t have to muddle through finding your black dress pants because you’ll know that you’ve grouped them with pants (or, perhaps, dress items).
Although you are finding a home for every item in your house, you are really finding a home for groups of items so you can find them when you need them. Grouping items can save you time and stress both when trying to decide how to store items as well as finding them when you need them.
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I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.