Steps Up, Not Stones Across

It’s not uncommon for clients to ask us to work our organizing magic in several rooms in their home—in one day. Our magic doesn’t come from jumping from one stepping-stone to the next, across the house. It comes from building steps and climbing up to the next level.

Organizing challenges are often presented to me as just needing to toss some stuff, then put the remaining items into a magic system to stay organized. It’s as if we could jump from one organizing challenge in one room to the next challenge in the next room, like stepping stones, until we will cross the stream and arrive at the other side to an organized home.

The problem with this vision, starts with the fact that clutter is not simply garbage. Clutter is excess stuff that comes from postponed decisions.  It may be perfectly good or even valuable, but just getting in your way now. Because clutter is more complex than garbage, it requires steps that are more complex.

Step 1: Create space to work. It’s hard to clear a mess IN a mess. Starting with the garage? Get it all out on the driveway. Start by just separating the “definite keeps” from the “need to review.”

Step 2: Establish exit zones. Since the excess stuff needs to go to different places beside the garbage can, provide clearly marked boxes for “donate,” “sell,” “reassign,” etc.

Step 3: Sort by category. Context drives decisions. It’s much easier to make decisions on what tools to keep if you see ALL the tools are together. So before purging, sort like with like.

Step 4: Set reasonable limitations. If everything’s important, then nothing’s important. By seeing like with like, you can see just how much space each category is taking up. If you don’t like what you see, now is the time to make adjustments.

Step 5: Establish dedicated zones. Now that you have things down to a manageable quantity, you can make the best decisions about where things should go and the best containers to keep you organized. If this has traditionally been your first step in getting organized, go back to the first step on this list.

The point here is, if you are jumping from one organizing challenge, that is bugging you, to the next, they probably won’t be solved with any satisfaction, because they are most likely attached to other unseen challenges. The solution you may need for an organizing challenge in your kitchen, for example, may actually be found in your basement. In each of these steps I have listed, you can build on the previous one. In this way you can step up to truly sustainable organizing systems.