What follows is an excerpt from my best-selling book “The Circulation Solution: The Ultimate Organizing Approach For Lasting Clutter Relief.” This excerpt is from the “Circulation in the Exit” chapter. In it, I mention that there are two parts to organizing: getting organized and staying organized. This addresses the exit door and the donation depot for staying organized.

Exit Plan for Staying Organized

So you’ve had a massive purge. You’ve gotten rid of a LOT of stuff, which has been getting in your way, by tossing, donating, selling, and giving away. Phew, that feels GOOD! It feels good until the thought hits you, “Hey, how do I keep all this stuff from coming back? How do I maintain lasting clutter relief?”

It is important to be aware of exit zones, not only in the getting organized stage, but also in the staying organized stage. I addressed this briefly in Chapter 2 on the subject of recycling. Recycling is an activity that needs to happen several times a day, so it needs to be broken up into two collection stages: transport stage and pickup stage.

You need a very convenient transport bin in you kitchen to drop every empty can, bottle, and package into several times a day. That transport bin needs to be emptied once or twice a week into a bigger bin that is stored more remotely for weekly pickup by your local service. This is a perfect example of circulation in manageable, reliable stages. Here are some more.

Exit door

Just inside your front door there is usually some sort of surface. Maybe it’s a small table, ledge, or shelf between eye-level and waist-level, which is perfect for collecting small items that are heading out the door. If there’s not, there should be. I say front door, but it should be whatever door you most typically exit from. For some of us, that may be the door between the kitchen and the garage. What’s important is that this space should be dedicated to collecting items you want to make a point of remembering to bring and nothing else!

“Nothing else” may sound strict, but it goes back to the notion of limitations breed freedom. Setting this limitation with this small surface by the door will allow you the freedom to stay organized, where it really matters. This spot near the exit door is prime real estate when trying to stay organized, so it mustn’t be squandered on tchotchkes, stray clothing, and incoming mail. All of that stuff can and should go elsewhere. Items that you need to make a point of remembering to bring, however, really demand a highly visible spot near the exit door.

What contributes most to making this spot visible is keeping a limited number of items there. The more stuff that piles up, the less likely you are to bring it with you. We’ve all had that moment of standing at the front door when we are wondering, “Now what am I forgetting?” When you get into the habit of always putting items that you must remember to take in this dedicated zone then all you have to do is look at it and realize, “Oh yeah, the overdue library book!” Instant relief.

Some “bring” items like a cell phone, sunglasses, pocketbook, and keys may need to take up more of a permanent residence in this exit zone, but temporary items like that library book should look less comfortable. You might want the other items to look more neatly stowed, but it’s better if the library book sticks out like a sore thumb. If it’s the only item cocked at an angle, maybe even hanging over the edge, then it’s much more likely to grab your attention and compel you to action, and that’s the whole point. Remember, the Circulation Solution is all about movement. You want to give this library book the very best odds of moving out. You are creating the most manageable, reliable steps toward progress.

Donation Depot

While it is important to establish a clear zone for donations when you are getting organized, it is also important to dedicate an area for collecting donations, in the effort to stay organized. I keep a donation shelf in my garage because it is close to my car’s trunk. If I know I will be passing by my local charity, I’m not hesitating with thoughts of “I think I’ve got some clothes to donate upstairs, but forget it! I don’t have the time to go back and get them now.” Instead, I just look at that bag of clothes I’ve been gradually collecting over the weeks and months and grab it. Done!

How do I ensure that these individual items of clothing get to my donation depot reliably? I place them on my exit door spot. Then I can’t stand the sight of them piled up as I leave, so I make a point of grabbing them and dropping them in a donation bag kept in a storage area near the car. In the best interests of time, I wait for a bag or two to fill up before dropping them off. Again, this happens in manageable, reliable stages.

As I said at the beginning of this chapter, we’re very good at bringing new items into our homes. When you find yourself cursing your closet because there’s no room for your new coat, ask yourself if there’s an item or two that you never wear anymore, which you could donate. If so, you have a clear plan to send it on its way.

This is similar to the “one in/one out” organizing rule you may have heard of. The difference is that I don’t believe it is realistic to take the time to choose one article of unwanted clothing every time you buy a new article of clothing and then donate it. Habits that are not manageable and reliable tend not to happen and the Circulation Solution is all about realistic solutions.

We know that even after a major purge our possessions will continue to evolve into items that no longer serve us well. Therefore, it only makes sense to establish a plan with a series of manageable, reliable stages. One day you may pull a couple of uninspiring T-shirts from your drawer, but on another day you may want to go through half your closet. Whatever the case, you have a consistent plan in place that makes it as easy as possible to circulate these items out in manageable, reliable stages. This is what is missing in every disorganized home I have ever been in.

Since writing this passage, I have only become more of an advocate for the donation depot. We have come to accept that every garage has a trash bin and a recycling bin. I believe that a donation depot should be just as indispensable in a garage.

The photo above shows my exit door. I have a galley kitchen, with these two convenient ledges at the end, near the door. They are absolutely dedicated spaces, just as I described. The one closest to the door is the “leaving ledge.” Nothing goes there unless it is heading out the door. In this case, there is a book that I need to return. Next stage: my car. The other ledge is the “landing ledge.” It is strictly dedicated to items that need to circulate deeper into my home. Usually they only stay there long enough for me to get my coat off. I was using this green Time Timer in the kitchen, but now it returns to my home office.

Do you have plans for circulation like this in your home? If so, I’d love to hear them. If not, we’d love to help. Call me at 203.253.8414 for a free consultation today!