Last Friday our NAPO-CT chapter had a visit from the nice people at SCRRRA, who taught us a LOT about recycling. I also realized how much recycling has to do with organizing. And yes, it’s more than just the sorting.

The biggest revelation came from the list of things that can’t be recycled and WHY. For example, did you know that you actually do more harm than good, when you try to recycle your plastic shopping bags at home? It’s true. When they get mixed up with the single stream recycling, they just end up with the regular trash. They may also jam up the machinery. Also, the paper you shred at home, does not get recycled either.

It’s in the Capture

How can this be? It has to do with the capture issue. Plastic and paper can’t be recycled unless they are captured in a pure, manageable quantity. When you bring your plastic shopping bags to the supermarket collection however, they are baled with other plastic shopping bags and can be recycled. Similarly when you bring your paper to a shredding company, the shredding is captured in a bale.  This bale of pure shredded paper CAN be recycled. A good recycling rule of thumb might be “capture in a bale, never fail.”

Same with Organizing

By extension, when getting organizing, what you capture for your next stage matters too. The key to staying organized is a plan for movement, in a series of manageable, reliable steps. That’s what I call the circulation solution and it is the most vital part of staying organized.

Let’s take organizing and donating clothes for example. There is a huge difference between choosing to donate a shirt and its appropriate delivery. It all depends on whether the capture in the next stage is manageable and reliable. Are the clothes in bags, that you can carry to your car? And if so, are there more than will fit? Do they need special assignment to several different destinations? Do you have time for that?

Perfectly Disorganized

Perhaps the biggest culprit to making the capture manageable and reliable is perfectionism. Progress doesn’t happen if you don’t recognize all the necessary steps. But it also doesn’t happen if you create too many unnecessary steps. That’s because you’re trying to do things perfectly.

When getting organized it is important to look at the big picture. There are a lot of reasons to get organized, but what’s yours? Are you moving? Trying to create space for a home office? Need to create a baby’s room? Don’t try to apply the perfect treatment to every excess item in that space. If you do, you significantly compromise completion of  your top priority. If everything’s important, then nothing’s important.

The Small Stuff

Returning to recycling, the comparable example of this point would be lids and caps. You probably know these aren’t recyclable, but have you ever wondered why? It’s because they are too small and fall through the conveyor belt. When this happens, they join the regular trash in the automated sorting process. The perfectionist in you might say, ”Hey the cap is plastic, so it should be recycled too!” Again the issue is the capture.

If the caps can’t be captured with the other plastics, they can’t be recycled. If you can’t capture your organizing plans in manageable, reliable steps, then you are less likely to do them.

Recycling laws seem to change all the time. Consequently,  it can be incredibly frustrating trying to do right by the environment. We are still trying to figure out the most effective ways to recycle. But understanding how to prioritize first, can help ease that frustration. I would argue that the same is true with organizing.