Wednesday, February 25, 2015


When I write about organizing with STYLE, I'm talking about personal and organizational styles (lower case), along with the plan that underlies them: STYLE in all caps. 

Last week, I talked more about successes (the first letter in the acronym), and small steps (the second letter). Before going any further, I wanted to share the rest of the STYLE acronym:

Start with successes
Take small steps   
Yes, it has a home!
Let it go
Easy upkeep

Before we're through, we'll tackle all of these steps -- mostly in order -- but since organization is a process, sometimes we move forward and sometimes, we revisit the early parts of the process because they really are the foundation for everything else. Small steps and successes of any size build confidence and help us to remember that by selecting tools and processes that match our "default settings," we can build a system that works. Each small step is one step closer to that eventual goal of a sustainable organizational plan.

This week, I want to connect one of our strategies from last week (Don't put it down, put it away!) to a key organizational concept -- the one embodied by the letter Y in STYLE -- Yes, it has a home.

Open, rolling containers that can be stashed
out of sight are an easy access choice for
many of the styles and can be used for
this activity or for storage.
(This one is from The Container Store).
When it comes to getting organized, home is simply where an item belongs. Books have homes on bookshelves. Shoes may have a home on the floor of the closet. Pots and pans find homes in kitchen drawers, or hanging from racks over a kitchen island.

Very often, clutter develops because items lack homes. Consequently, things are left lying out (I need to see it or drop and run) or improperly stashed away (I know I put it somewhere, cram and jam), because we don't know where to put them. Sometimes, an overload of stuff (I love stuff) or a dearth of time (I love to be busy) compounds the problem.

Let's look a little more closely at our strategies from last week. Give it Five! is a clutter-clearing strategy. Don’t put it down, put it away! is a clutter prevention strategy. They can be used separately or together, as in this week's task, which focuses on building the skill of Don’t put it down, put it away!

To get started, find a medium-sized container that can be used as a clutter catcher. Set it on the floor of a closet or out of the way in a room where clutter prevails. 

Then for the next several days (or until the container is full, whichever you prefer), every time you're finished with something, follow this routine: 
  1. Look at the item in your hand.
  2. Ask yourself, “Does this item have a home?”
  3. If it has a home, put it there.
  4. If it does not have a home, drop it in the designated container.
At the end of the trial period, go through the contents of the container and sort them into three categories:
  • Truly homeless items
  • Items you could not put away (space was too full, out of reach, etc.)
  • Items you could have put away but didn't
Decide which category to tackle first. (If you're using the Give it Five! strategy to do this task, you may not get through a single category in one sitting). Each category has a solution, but some are simpler than others. 

Multi-purpose storage items with lids
that lift off like this one, or are hinged
like the one at the bottom of this post
allow many of the styles to put things
away easily but still look neat.
(This ottoman is from

Truly homeless items need homes. This sounds easy enough, but in an overstuffed room or one with an organizational system that isn't working, it can be challenging to put things "away." If you can immediately locate logical homes for the homeless items, put them there. If you can't find a logical home for the item and you want to keep it, put it back into the container. (If you don't want to keep it, get rid of it right away if at all possible). If you can, corral all similar homeless items (perhaps into containers of their own, one for each category of homeless item) so that you don't have to re-sort later.

For items that could not be put away, see if you can figure out why this is the case. Do these items have homes that are out of reach, overstuffed or simply inconvenient? Can out of reach or inconveniently placed storage be relocated, or does it need to be replaced by something more useful? If the problem is an overstuffed home, consider making that space your next Give it Five! task.

Once again, we're looking for patterns -- this time with respect to the kinds of organizational tools that go unused. Are there perfectly serviceable drawers or shelves sitting empty, or, conversely, overstuffed? Do you need to dig under the bed or get out the stepladder to access the home for the items in the container? If so, consider replacing them with containers and systems you'll actually use. I'll talk more about container choices in next week's post. For now, return any of the items you want to keep to the collection container -- unless you're ready right now to create space for them "where they belong."

For items that could have been put away but weren't, resist the urge to chastise yourself, and explore the possibility that this was a decision based on style rather than laziness. Once again, you're looking for the "why." 

  • I love stuff organizers often resist putting things away because they enjoy looking at them while I need to see it organizers are afraid that out of sight will also mean out of mind. 
  • I like to be busy and drop and run people often lack time to put things away properly. For these folks and their I know I put it somewhere counterparts, dropping the item into the container was actually a victory in itself, and perhaps evidence that the right container can help build better habits. 
  • Cram and jammers? They're walking a very fine line between "could have but didn't" and "couldn't have stuffed one more thing into the available space." Again, take a moment to savor a small victory. An item that landed in the designated container instead of an overstuffed space is an item that has been spared wrinkles, tears and crumpling. This time.

When it comes to sorting this bin and creating new homes, make sure to find and honor natural stopping points. If you want to make progress without getting overwhelmed, consider setting a timer for a length of time you think you can stick to or plan to tackle one of the above categories and then take stock before moving on. And be prepared to stop after one category. Better to end on a feeling of success than a feeling of frustration. The former leaves you anxious to pick up where you left off, while the latter leaves you dreading tackling what remains.

As always, focus on successes. What things have been put where they belong? Do these items have anything in common? Are they important enough to you that you're motivated to put them where they belong? Or, is there a similarity among the containers or systems you're using to store these things? In both of these cases, you've found a style clue. Leave what's working alone and focus on changing the things that aren't working, perhaps by replicating the systems and containers that you actually use.

Share your successes -- of any size -- by leaving me a comment below.

The trick to using these kinds of containers
well is designating what belongs inside.
Otherwise, they run the risk of becoming
fancy clutter catchers, which is a good
temporary solution, but not a good
long-term plan.
(This storage bench is from

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