My husband and I got serious about organizing our home this time! Okay, I got serious, meaning I printed out worksheets and stuff. Jacob just went along with it, poor soul…
Applying Organizing from the Inside Out
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I read Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out and decided to apply her system to our home. She proposes three stages to the organizing process:
- Analyze: You (and anybody sharing the space) discuss the current state of your physical environment and what you’d like to get out of it;
- Strategize: You come up with a strategy for how you will use different areas of your home or office and then decide where things will be stored in each area; you also estimate how much time you will need for organizing each section of your home;
- Attack: You go through your stuff, decide what to keep, what to give away, and what to throw away; you organize the things you decide to keep; you also continue maintaining the system in the future.
I made a worksheet to fill out and follow when doing this in our own home. You can find the worksheet here, but I highly recommend reading the book before diving in. Julie Morgenstern includes so many practical tips that the system can be useful to anyone, including people with very different preferences and challenges.
Jacob and I liked the ‘Analyze’ portion. We answered the five questions (see worksheet above), which was useful because each of us had a different take on things. The most useful questions for us were, “What’s working?” and, “What’s not working?” I need to note that we were already fairly organized, so we didn’t need to sit down and think about our motivation and problems from scratch; we already knew why we like to be organized, and we just needed some tweaks. But it’s always good to revisit the motivation and the bigger goals in order to be on the same page.
Then, we moved on to the ‘Strategize’ portion. We found that we didn’t need to list all the areas in our house by activity, supplies, and storage units, as is suggested in the book. Most of our areas and storage units work well, so we just mentioned those. We focused on the areas that aren’t working well and how we’d like to change them. We explored our current habits, what’s not working, and how we can improve the situation.
For example, we have an issue with our ‘Home Information Center,” i.e., the place where stuff (mail, deliveries, etc.) comes in and where stuff needs to wait until it’s dealt with or stored. We have dedicated inboxes where we’re supposed to put the stuff that comes in, but the trouble is that we never look at those inboxes, so we also don’t put stuff in there. Instead, we just put mail and packages and stuff from other people on the dining table and on the counter, but things pile up quickly. We try to use the thing itself as a visual cue to remind us to deal with it, but the counter gets cluttered so quickly that it becomes impossible to remember what we were supposed to do with what.
As a solution, we decided to create dedicated inboxes as well as outboxes (one of each for Jacob and one of each for me) and place them on the counter (instead of on the shelf where the inboxes are now, making them more difficult to reach). We’re also going to establish a habit of going through the inboxes and outboxes at regular intervals, so stuff doesn’t get forgotten in there.
This is one example, but we tackled and problem solved for several such problematic areas in our home. I wrote down the solutions we had identified and any additional items we might need to buy to make these solutions possible.
I have to say we didn’t map out the space or rearrange the furniture as suggested in the book. We weren’t looking to make any of these changes, so for us that didn’t seem necessary.
We also didn’t estimate how long each organizing activity would take us. We’ve set aside a couple of blocks of time each week for organizing, so we’ll keep going until we’re done. Also, I like to set a Pomodoro timer to go off every 25 minutes when we’re organizing/decluttering: it forces us to take a little break, and it also reminds us of the time that has already passed.
Then, we went ahead, took the plunge, and started organizing things. We began with the living room as that’s our most clutter-attracting part of the house.
First, we took out our stuff from shelves, containers, etc. and looked at it. We started with the visible stuff: the stuff on the dining table and the counter or the stuff that didn’t have a place. That gave me an immediate feeling of progress because these are the things I’ve been wanting to be gone.
Next, we decided what we’d like to keep and what we’d like to discard (either give away or throw away). There were also some things we moved to storage in the basement.
3. Assign a home
For the things we wanted to keep, we assigned a home. We took convenience into account: how convenient is it to use this box on this shelf? How often do we use this and how important is it that it has such a prominent location in our living room? What would make this document collection easier to peruse?
Next, we identified which things should go into which containers. I’m not huge into containers; I know some people put everything in a separate container, but that seems like an overkill to me. Also, when you get more stuff of a certain type, then you have to get a new container… it’s a bit too much for me to have super specific containers for everything.
But we definitely use containers for some types of things, and we added a couple of boxes to group similar items and make them easier to reach and use.
We discussed what would be the best way for us to maintain our living room in the shape it was now and agreed on a weekly time to go through our stuff and get up to speed, if necessary. I can say much more on this topic, but I’ll keep it short for now.
And this was it for our living room! We have a system that suits our habits better now, so I’m hopeful that it will stick. Next up: the kitchen…
Image from Michael Basial (CC BY-NC 2.0)