kid-sorterWhen speaking of people, “the right sort” tends to have a very nasty usage, but when speaking of excess stuff,  “the right sort” is the best way to get some really good organizing started.

Typically, when one resolves to organize a cluttered basement or home office, there is a tendency to throw out not enough of what needs to go, too much of what shouldn’t go, and put the keepers into systems that won’t last.  All of this can be solved by good sorting practices.

The right tools.
Don’t rush out and buy plastic bins that may be too small or too big for your needs.  A ten-pack of banker boxes, however, can be used and reused many times during the sorting and because they are lidded, they can be stacked to open up work space during the sort.  Some gallon and quart size Ziploc bags are great for smaller categories and subcategories.  Finally, make temporary labels with Post-It’s and markers to keep it all straight.

General to specific.
Start by sorting with very general categories—office supplies, décor, keepsakes, clothes, loose paper—and sort very quickly.  You will address each category one at a time later, so don’t over-think it at this stage, just sort fast and generally. When you’ve got a lot of stuff to process, momentum is important to get you through it all.  So don’t dawdle on details!

Room to work.
As you sort, focus on carving out enough room to work.  Start by clearing off one wall to collect all the items you have sorted.  Then move toward the opposite wall to collect all the items you review and keep.  Clear room near the door to collect the trash, sell, and donates that are headed out.  Also, keep an “elsewhere” box by the door too collect items that need to go to other parts of your house.  If you don’t establish these clear zones, you’ll be surprised how quickly you can get confused about what’s already been decided and what hasn’t been decided.

Context drives decisions.
The reason it is always makes sense to start large organizing projects with the right sort is because it makes purging much easier.  With your stuff sorted, you are able to see it in context, which makes decisions significantly easier.  When you focus on just office supplies, for example, you are not distracted by other categories and you can see just how many empty binders you have, and will be easier to assign some to the donate bin.

Big categories last.
As you are sorting, the largest category will become obvious.  The biggest category, typically paper or clothes, will seem most urgent but resist and save it for last.  Clearing off the smaller categories first will give you the focus AND space you need for the biggest category.  Big categories require room for several subcategories.  If it’s clothes, for example, these might include donate, give to, keep-summer, keep-winter, laundry, dry clean, and tailor.

Quantity dictates systems.
Only after you have sorted and purged all the items in your room, will you be clear on the quantity you are keeping and NOW is the time to determine what plastic bins and other organizing systems you need to STAY organized.

During the sorting process, you will undoubtedly come across items that you will find very easy to assign or purge, but unless it is something you can do faster than dropping them in the sorting boxes, hold off.  If it easy to assign or purge now, it will be even easier to do so when you are reviewing sorted categories.