by Susan McCarthy
Everyday Practice: Return things where they belong and you'll never lose anything.
If you’ve recently been in a preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school classroom, you probably noticed lots of well-labeled, uncovered bins. (And if you haven’t, Google images of classrooms and you’ll see what I mean.) However, it’s neither the labels nor the bins that are keeping things organized. Those items are simply tools for giving items a place.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “a place for everything and everything in its place,” as the key to organizing your home (workplace, car, purse, really any space). The difficult part is figuring out where you want to store everything in your house. The answer is – where you’d go looking for an item when you need it. And please note that this isn’t intended to be as flippant as it sounds.
This is annoyingly simplistic, but this is what organizing is – storing items where you want to find them, finding and using them, and then returning them to their space. If you can’t find your checkbook or the tape measure, then they weren’t returned to their place.
And, if you aren’t sure where that place should be, then deciding that is the first thing you should do (well, second; the first thing you need to do is find the missing item).
The reason three-year-old children can clean up a classroom after playtime is that there are bins (spaces) designated for the different toys – one for cars, one for play food, another for puppets, one for blocks, and so on. Everything has its place.
(Do three-year-old children put everything away perfectly? No. But it doesn’t really matter that the play food eggplant got put away with the cars?)
Where to Store Items
I’ve read articles where the writer mocks this organizing technique by talking about cleaning out their junk drawer and rolling their eyes at the idea of having to find a place for a single cough drop, a couple of elastic bands, and a handful of pens.
This technique isn’t about storing a single pen but about knowing where to find a pen when you need it.
Think of each shelf, drawer, and bin in your home as a container for a specific group of items. Yes, you may have three shelves in that kitchen cabinet – look at them as three unique-yet-interrelated spaces. For example, if this is your cabinet for bowls and plates, place plates on the bottom shelf, bowls on the second shelf and serving pieces on the top shelf.
Where you keep items depends on the space you have available, how often you use something, and what works for you.
Store Items Based on the Space You Have
Growing up, I always heard my mother complain that if we had a bigger house then things would be more organized. I now realize that, no, that wouldn’t have happened. If my parents had more space, they would have filled that extra space – it just would have taken more time.
You can fill a drawer or shelf or cabinet to maximum capacity so there’s no wiggle room, but that isn’t organized. I’d consider such a space overwhelming and stress-inducing.
If you don’t have the space you wish you had, consider what you can declutter. Next, contemplate moving a group of items to a different area in your home where you may have more space. Finally, look to vertical storage – a pegboard that will allow you to hang items on a wall or a shoe rack that will move shoes from a large area of your floor to a smaller footprint (couldn’t resist the pun).
Store Items Based on How Often You Use Something
Keep items close to where you are going to use them. Something used daily get priority over something you use once month. And, if you use something once a year (or one month of the year), it can get stored someplace less convenient for retrieval.
Store Items Based on What Works for You
I have an odd-shaped cabinet in a corner of my kitchen that has a ridiculously narrow door considering the large size of the space – I stack muffin tins here because they fit in front of the door.
My cookie sheets and cooling racks are tucked into the drawer beneath the oven, and the couple of cake pans that I have are tucked on a high shelf above where the 8”x8” and 9”x13” baking pans sit. Organizing books will suggesting keeping like things together and so my baking supplies should probably be in the same cabinet, but that doesn’t work for the space I have or how I use the items.
In a different space, I’d likely store these items another way. And, if I stopped using my various sized muffin tins on a regular basis (mini, two standard, jumbo, and popover), these things might get arranged differently – or selectively decluttered.
If you give an item or group of items a home and it doesn’t work out (not putting the items away will be a clue), that’s an opportunity to decide where the better place may be. Yes, it might be annoying to realize that you need to switch some items around. It’s more annoying to lose track of items that you need now or end up spending money on something you already own (but can’t find).
Remember, You Still Need to Start by Decluttering
Trying to organize an area that you haven’t yet decluttered makes organizing frustrating.
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