Top 10 Golden Rules of Storage

Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, August 2007


A couple weeks ago Real Simple magazine contacted me, requesting my top 3 clutter control tips in the home office and kitchen.  Now I have nothing against Real Simple and I have no problem giving away my best tips, but I realized I simply didn’t have what they were looking for:  two sentence tricks that are room-specific.  I have found it far more helpful to offer a few good general rules that you can apply to every room in your home or office.  What follows is a list of ten such rules that relate to storage.  Many of them may be familiar by now, but hopefully there will be some new nuggets. Oh and if I’ve missed  anything here then by all means pick up the latest issue of Real Simple!

1. Store Vertically.  Clear surfaces are even more important for staying organized than for looking organized.  Clear surfaces make processing paper and other items infinitely easier.  Therefore, you should always avoid storage on horizontal surfaces like desks and tables.  To make the best use of your space, assign as much of your storage as possible to shelves, drawers, and other vertical positions.

2. Reveal Don’t Conceal.  Items that aren’t seen tend to go unused and when items go unused they tend to accumulate.  Avoid hiding things away in solid-colored boxes.  If it is your intention not to use a hidden item, then it is a good opportunity to ask why you are keeping it.  Clear boxes and clear drawers make it much easier to stay organized.  Never use flat drawers to store files and notes.  A single sheet of paper can be as much of a concealer as a locked safe.

3. Use Dedicated Spaces.  There are practical reasons why it makes sense to store like with like.  First, it allows you to see just how much stuff you really have.  If, for example, you have unread reading material scattered throughout your home, you probably have given yourself an unrealistic reading burden.  If, on the other hand, you put your reading material together, in one place, it becomes much easier to make decisions.  Perhaps, if you relieve yourself of last month’s newspapers and last year’s newsletters,  you can read that great new book before it becomes a movie.  Second, dedicated spaces provide homes for everything and facilitates sorting.

4. Room to Grow.  Dedicated spaces are not enough if they are too small.  Be honest with your needs and leave a generous allowance, especially for the things you need the most.  However, once that room for growth has been filled – STOP!  If you now have so many socks that you can’t close your sock drawer, toss some of the older ones, maybe the ones with the holes you’re never going to sew!  Otherwise your socks will encroach on other dedicated areas.  If you have created a generous room to grow, you don’t need those old socks.

5. Store Near Use. The best place to assign a dedicated area is nearest to the area the stored item will be used.  I am often in households where dishes are stored directly over the dish drain, which makes sense; but the printer ink and paper are stored in a closet across the room from the printer.  What’s the difference? Keep the paper and printer toner in the unit, under the printer and you’ll save time and facilitate inventory management

6. Showroom / Warehouse.  In all likelihood, you won’t have the room to store a box of printer paper under the printer, but you will be able to store a small, manageable sampling, much like you might find on a showroom floor.  It makes sense to distinguish between those items you need in minimum quantities at your fingertips and a back-up supply you can keep more remotely, like a warehouse.

7. Flip Your Lid.  Beware of too many enclosures.  It doesn’t take much to provide a barrier.  Are you more likely to take your socks off, get up, walk across the room, open the closet door, lift the lid of the laundry hamper, and place them in there, or are you more likely to toss your socks into a nearby, open hamper, like shooting a basket?  When it’s fun it gets done.  Tear down those walls.

8. Retrieving, Not Hiding. When you store something, you should think in terms of “How am I going to find this?” and not “How can I make this go away?”  Again, if you are simply stowing something so you don’t have to look at it, it’s a good time to ask yourself if you really need it.  This is particularly true with filing.  Don’t clog up your file cabinet with junk you never want to see again.  Instead, ask yourself, is this document an important record from the past, a tax-related statement for the present, or information for the future.  Any of these qualify for accessible user-friendly files. Toss the rest, or at least store them more remotely.

9.  Let Your Needs Decide Your Container.  Many is the time a client will empty a box of junk and then ask me “Now, what should I use this box for?”  The whole point of getting organized is to prioritize and take control of your life.  If you are a slave to your containers, you’re off to a bad start.  Instead, start with your goals and priorities.  What are the most important things that are missing in your life? This will make decision making much easier.  Typical Example:  You dump your collection of floppy disks because you realize that not only has your software has been completely updated years ago, but you don’t even have a floppy disk drive any more!  Toss or give away the floppy disk box, but DON’T invent an inappropriate use for it, unless you have honestly prioritized your organizing needs first.

10. Use Circulation Depots.  I am not a proponent of the popular organizing practice of “only touch an item once.”  That works fine for something like junk mail, but for most things you need a safe depot to place an item until you can get to it.  A perfect example of a circulation depot is the laundry hamper.  It is natural for most of us to wear an item and then toss it in the hamper.  When you can find some time to do laundry, you go to the hamper.  To stay organized you need similar systems throughout your living and working environment.  If you can establish circulation, you prevent accumulation.  Here’s another important circulation depot:  a front door table.  Establish an area by your front door where you put things to go outside the home, look for things before you step out, and place outside items when you return.  Ever have that nagging feeling you’re forgetting something when you leave your home, only to find yourself at the grocery store without your shopping list?  By dedicating a depot for all these exit items- -coupons, borrowed items, car keys, sunglasses, cell phone, etc.-You have only ONE place to look when you have this nagging feeling.  Remember, if it’s not circulating it’s probably accumulating.

Of course the best guideline for storage is Less is More.  The less stuff you have, the less stuff you have to store, clean, and worry about.  The less stuff you have to worry about the more you can focus  on what matters most.

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