6 Essential Principles of Home Organization


What does it mean to "be organized?"  It's simple--you
should be able to easily find and lay hands on anything you need in your space within 1-5 minutes, depending on how big the space you live in is.  That leaves you some time in case you have to get a ladder to reach it... 😏  

Having read over 70 books on the topic of organization, whether general home, time management, paper clutter, or more specific categories like craft items, clothing, pantry items, etc., I can assure you that the principles for organized living are fairly consistent throughout all of them.  The individual authors may have their own acronyms for the processes they teach, and their approaches will reflect their own personalities, but in essence the principles are the same. However, I think we all know from experience, it's not uncommon to hear different presentations on the same material, and yet one particular version or explanation of it may "stick" and make better sense for you

Maybe you have read and/or bought various books on the home organizing / decluttering topic, and you say, "But....I've still got a mess--nothing has changed." And maybe you're thinking you should buy another one of those books.  I hate to say it, but you're probably not going to find anything new and magical in another book. The important element is choosing something you do understand from all that information and putting it into practice--consistently.  With that said, following is my take on basic organization / decluttering principles, and I hope it is helpful for you and your situation.

  1. Have a place for everything, and everything in its place.  
  2.  Live within your space budget.
  3.  Keep in your space only what is useful and beautiful.
  4. Eliminate what does not support your current lifestyle.
  5. Be proactive versus procrastinating.
  6. Develop genuine gratitude and contentment.

Let's take #1, Have a place for everything, and everything in its place.  

I know, it's probably something you've heard before, but--it's true.  Another way it could be said is, give everything you own a PLACE TO LIVE (an "address"), and make sure it gets back home when you're done with it. 

Think about it... if you went "back home" to a different address every time you left your house, nobody would be able to find you, either!  😉  So, let's say you have a home office, and you have a tape dispenser in that office.  The "office" is that tape dispenser's "address".  And maybe you also keep one in the kitchen because you find you need it there pretty often, too. Now, if you take the tape dispenser from your office desk to your bedroom (where you're wrapping a gift), because you can't find the one you usually keep in the kitchen (because you failed to put it back the last time you used it in some other place), then.....put it back in the office when you're done with it.  If you leave it in the bedroom, the next time you need it in the office it won't be there, and you're likely to have forgotten where you left it, and the surrounding clutter probably keeps you from seeing it, right?  Does this sound familiar??

Let's be clear here--organization does not mean you have only ONE of an item in your possession (unless you subscribe to a "minimalist" approach promoting that concept...I don't). A tape dispenser is a great example of an object that might be better repeated at various addresses around the house--office, craft room, children's desk/work spaces, kitchen drawer.  The important thing is that everyone knows exactly where that item is kept in its particular room, and everybody puts it back there after using it.  And you're probably saying, "Yeah...right...in a perfect world."  Okay, it is a learned and practiced behavior, but that's the principle that works when you follow it, just like your going back home to the same address every day after work, or shopping, or visiting someone, etc.  People know where to find you.

 #2  Live within your space budget.

Do you live in 400 square feet, or 4000 square feet?  Do you have an abundance of built-in closets and cabinets? Are the rooms in your house big or small?  You have what you have, and if you have an excess of possessions for the space they are supposed to be living in, you're going to have clutter, and the only way to change that is to decrease the volume of possessions. 

The budgeting metaphor makes good sense to me, in that if we live beyond our means, it creates some stress and chaos in life, which is what clutter does.  Paying for extra storage units is expensive. It's also surprising the amount of cash and out-of-date checks I've encountered working with clients, "lost money".   There's the outdated food that goes to waste, hidden in an overcrowded pantry. The duplicate tools and gadgets bought (again) because the one you know you have just can't be found...

Living within your space budget means an honest assessment of the square footage and storage options you have and carefully monitoring any new items that come into that space; applying the one-in-one-out practice, whether it's to replace a broken or worn-out object, or just because you'd like to have a new sweater; learning to turn down the freebies that you weren't looking for and don't need; and, of course, dealing with the clutter that's already built up, by editing things out that no longer have a use, please your tastes, suit your lifestyle, etc.

 #3  Keep in your space only what is useful and beautiful.

A certain fairly popular and famous organizing guru talks about keeping what "brings you joy". That's a harder criteria for me to base decluttering decisions on than "useful and/or beautiful".  Tape dispensers don't exactly give me joy, nor do so many other items that I keep in my home, but they stay because, well, I use them. The 80/20 rule is probably true in many (most?) homes, i.e., 80% of most household items could probably be discarded and never missed, the other 20% are the really necessary things that get used. But we keep many things simply because they are beautiful to us--they enrich our lives, beautify our spaces, produce great emotions and thoughts.  And that's what you want to keep.  As I posed the question in this post, "If this thing were lost or destroyed in a flood or fire, would you replace it...?", that's the kind of thing you want to edit from your space, making room for what you use and love.

 #4  Eliminate what does not support your current lifestyle.

This is a bit of an expansion on principle #3.  Many, many non-used and non-beautiful objects remain in the possession of some of my clients, still taking up valuable space... So often the objects are remnants of past hobbies, interests, and activities. There's a sentimental attraction to them and, occasionally, a true intent to return to using them.  But it seems it rarely happens.  If there are clothes and equipment in your closet from a previous lifestyle or activity that you no longer  pursue, get honest with yourself and just allow yourself to have "outgrown" it.  It's okay to let it go for the benefit of someone else who will use it, and to make room for what your life is now, and who/what you're moving toward as you grow and develop.

#5  Be proactive versus procrastinating

Let's return to that tape dispenser example. Here is a phrase that will put you in clutter mode in a heartbeat, and keep you there:  "Just for now..."  It was getting late in the evening when you were wrapping that present, and you just wanted to get showered and go to bed.  So you put that tape dispenser on the dresser with the scissors, the ribbon, and the unfinished card, and you said in your head, "Just for now..." 

But other scenarios go the same way. You can't make a decision about what to do with a particular piece of mail, so you set it on a stack of other old mail, "Just for now..."  You just got home from a trip, and you leave the suitcase in the middle or corner of the bedroom or bathroom floor, "Just for now..." but it sits there for a week and a half, dirty clothes and all. Just came in from grocery shopping, unpacked most of it but you don't feel like running to the other end of the house to put something in the laundry room, so you set it on the kitchen counter or floor, "Just for now...," and there it sits next week/month.

This is just one way the procrastination bug shows up in disorganized households.  It might manifest in a failure to finish a project, or to start it, to make a phone call that needs to be made, to wash the dishes, to put your clothes away when they come out of the dryer.  The list is endless.  Procrastination is not the same as being lazy, and it's important to figure out which is the culprit in your particular situation.  If the problem is procrastination versus laziness, there are ways to overcome it, based on its root cause(s).  Procrastination often is anxiety based. But that's too much for this post...

In contrast, being proactive means you stop the "just for now" mentality and start moving into "just do it!" Maybe that means you decide on only one clutter-enabling habit, such as putting away the groceries, and you decide you're not giving in to "just for now" in that area any more--you're going to put the groceries away, completely, every time. And you keep doing it until it becomes a habit--not beating yourself up when you don't follow through, but when you realize it, you take care of it--build that muscle! Or maybe you choose to start doing the dishes consistently, or putting away the laundry--consistently.  You didn't get into the cluttered state overnight, and you aren't going to be able to build organized habits in EVERY aspect of life at once, but you can start somewhere.  

Here's the principle in a nutshell:  When you're done with it, put it away; if it's empty, refill it; if it's dirty, clean it.  Stop telling yourself you don't have time. As my mother-in-law used to say to her kids, "You have time to do what you want to do." 😏 Ah, love moms!!

Just the other day a client and I started in on a project in an office area, and I immediately went for the snake pit of cords over in one corner of the room.  Client stopped for a moment and said something like, "I like the way you always go for the most difficult thing first...".  I chuckled and said, "Yep, I always eat first the thing on my plate that I like the least."  And she said, "Oh, yeah, that's like the 'Eat the Frog' concept..."  I'd never heard of it, but it's definitely how I tend to handle things, generally speaking.  Do the hard thing first and get 'er done! What a boost for your sense of accomplishment!!

Here's one of my all-time favorite TED talks about procrastination, partly because this guy is so unbelievably real with his audience! Maybe you can relate. And...it's just the ticket if you're trying to avoid decluttering that table top over there in the corner... 😆

And finally, 

#6  Develop genuine gratitude and contentment

Oh how important this is!  Lack of gratitude for, and discontentment with, what we have is a big old "sucker", it sucks the joy out of life. There are other things that do that, too, but in the context of disorganization and clutter, these two elements are critical.  

Advertising and marketing are terribly good at building discontentment, leading people to believe that if they just have the right product, the bigger, better, new, improved version of  Item X, somehow it will lead to happiness, a better life, a better you, acceptance, etc., etc. But experience shows, without a doubt, that the advertising isn't true, because the novelty wears off of everything with time. 

When we begin to practice, out loud, being thankful for what we have and deciding to be satisfied with the "thing" that truly meets our need, even though it's not the newest, "best", "improved" version, then the temptation to keep bringing more clutter into the home will drop. Personally, I find gratitude and contentment are based in a solid belief that God is the ultimate provider for all I need in life, and the assurance that He cares for me, He knows me profoundly and has my best interests at heart. This article captures some very practical points about living gratefully and in contentment. More to come on this topic...!

One rather probing organizing question is, "How much is really enough??" of a particular type of thing.  For example, how many microfiber cloths are really enough? How many tank tops are really enough?  How many sets of dishes do you really need?  

Those are the basic principles of organized living.  There's nothing very mysterious or glamorous here. When these principles are practiced, clutter drops and organization "happens".


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