Last month I wrote about strategies for engendering lasting behavioral change as a generic framework for achieving any resolution. This month we’ll look at some strategies that specifically govern physical space. Although many of the strategies that will be discussed here also apply to time management, I find that covering these two aspects of organizing separately leads to a better understanding of each of them. It’s a little like eating a meal with small bites versus big gulps. The former leads to better digestion and is an overall more pleasant experience!
Then there’s the whole subject of maintenance. Maintenance is the key to keeping your environment organized. When done well, maintenance evolves with changes in our lives. Maintenance is a big subject and also deserves separate coverage.
1) Zone areas for use. Sure, the kitchen is for cooking, the office is for working and the bedroom is for sleeping. Within each room dedicate certain areas to specific activities. For example, in your kitchen you have a food preparation area, a food storage area, a cleaning area, a baking area, and -- if your kitchen is like mine -- a homework area. The activity determines zone.
2) Everything needs a home. Items that don’t have homes end up here, end up there, and end up everywhere! Items should be stored according to the activity they support and frequency in which they are used. In other words, put items in their appropriate zone. For example, all the items that you need to pay bills can be kept together and bill paying will become a relatively easy task.
3) The frequency of use determines where in the zone an item should be stored. Map each zone with a target of concentric circles. The bull’s eye is at the main activity center. To illustrate, the bull’s eye of the kitchen’s cleaning zone is the sink. Items that are used frequently in a zone should be stored at the bull’s eye. The dish detergent and the dishrag may be kept at the sink in our example. Items that are needed often, but not everyday, can be stored in the zone that is in the next “concentric circle” of space. For example, the cabinet under the sink is in this circle of space. Infrequently used items can be stored farther away from the bull’s eye so they do not impair access to the items you use frequently – which may be the very back of the under sink cabinet.
4) Every item must pay “rent” by being useful or emotionally significant; otherwise they are “squatters.” If you don’t like an item in your environment, you will think of that dislike every time you look at it. Negative emotions exhaust your energy. Plus the disliked item distracts attention from the items you like and impairs access to useful items.
5) Label everything. By labeling a space you declare what belongs and – just as important – what does not belong. OK you don’t necessarily need to go crazy with the label maker, but at least put a mental label on things. For example, I label the dining room table as the place where we eat; therefore, the daily mail does not belong there. In this example, I would argue that the daily mail is “homeless” and needs a place of its own to be stored. Obviously, I would not slap a physical label on my dining room table. But I probably would put a physical label on a series of containers so I can distinguish the contents of one from another.
6) Functionality must come first and then consider form. An organizing tool might be really cute, but if it doesn’t work with the way you think and you live it is clutter. I do believe that it is important to find items that are aesthetically pleasing, but if you start the search at what is functional for your lifestyle it will be easier to find something that you like. Just like aesthetics, functionality is very individual.
These half-dozen rules of organizing are fairly general, and you can apply them when organizing any area. Undoubtedly there are tricks and tips that can help in specific areas, but you are now in a good position for realizing that resolution to become more organized.