I guess if I’m totally honest, these are just important principles for everyone, productive or not. But there is a certain amount of leisure and complexity that you can invoke and achieve in your organizing as a child-free person that becomes rather difficult (level: impossible) with kids. Or with kids of a certain age, at least.
Mine are at that age when parenting is involved and consuming for all the hours in all the day.
But enough about my life.
Let’s talk about yours, and how you can organize it better. Specifically, let’s talk about how you can spend less time trying to become organized and more time benefiting from organization. I love browsing the Container Store as much as the next compulsive purchaser of boxes and bins, but at the end of the day I want those boxes and bins to make my life more organized, by which I mean make my life easier.
So let’s start with the number-one principle.
Clutter Is Your Enemy
The crap that accumulates when you accumulate children is, truly, beyond words. We dedicate entire rooms (we call them “nurseries”) to the stuff required for the care of a human who, initially, takes up less space than my laptop.
Baby-stuff is an industry, and it wants to sell you everything. Every parent you know is an expert, and they want to share their insightful list of must-have items. Each new stage of parenting is, well, new, which leaves you susceptible to sales pitches and well-intentioned advice.
Go with your gut, and remember that a human’s essential needs were described by Maslow in the 1950s, and his description remains fairly accurate. We need safety, shelter, warmth, clothing, food. We need love. We need to belong and feel valuable. As we grow, we need other things, too, like knowledge and beauty and fulfillment.
The action point here is simple: ruthlessly cull what is not needed or loved, which is every single thing you don’t regularly use. There are exceptions; keep all those sentimental-value items like that baby book you never finished and the tiny ring box full of baby teeth in their own special places. Box them up and put them away, or set them out on display in a designated place. But don’t let them to migrate through your daily life and clutter up your active living space.
Anything without sentimental value has to earn its place in your life. If it’s not benefiting you, your partner, or your child(ren) on a regular basis, why is it there? What does it give you in return for all the work of maintaining, moving, cleaning, storing, and caring for it?
When your kids are old enough, get them involved in culling their own possessions. Materialism is learned. Simplifying and minimizing can also be learned, if taught. Learn yourself, first, or at least try to: it can be a slow process. Feel the benefits. Then teach your kids the freedom of only keeping and caring for what you actually use and love.
Too Little Is As Bad As Too Much
Now I’m going to give opposing advice so that you can say I’m inconsistent, throw these principles out, and do what you want anyway.
But here’s the truth: what you do regularly use and love has earned its place in your life. Sometimes, having too little is more inconvenient and disorganized than having a lot.
Anything that, when absent, could cause a volcano-like catastrophe in your home life should be bought and stored in duplicate. Why the heck not? Get twenty extra pacifiers. Stock a drawer with batteries. Quit running out of essential daily-use items like toilet paper, shampoo, dish soap, and Oreos. I mean laundry detergent. You have shelf space now that you’ve culled your possessions to what you actually use and love. Eliminate catastrophes by buying ahead of time, so you never run out. This is not hoarding if you actually need and use what you buy.
There’s a convenience factor, as well. When I say convenience, I mean easy. When I say easy, I mean that if you’re going to use a broom downstairs a few times a week, and you’re going to also sweep upstairs once or twice a week, buy two brooms. Hang one upstairs and one downstairs.
If you regularly use items in more than one location, and if it’s financially feasible, buy duplicates and store them as close as possible to the places where you use them.
Life will become easier.
Every Item Deserves a Home
Now, since you’ve a) culled down to stuff you actually use and love and b) bought extras of some things, be nice to your stuff and give it its own special place. Give it a home. Give it a name, too, if you want, but that’s less important.
If you’re going to do only one thing to get organized, make it this thing. Decide where each item goes. Say it out loud. “Here, Mop, this is where you go!” Then think about how you can make it work best. “Mop, I am going to put a hook on the wall so you can hang here instead of leaning against the wall and falling over.”
Make the space better. Hang the mop up. Every single time you use the mop, put it back. “Mop, you’re back in your place now!” You don’t have to talk to your household cleaning tools (although who wouldn’t want to be friendly to a mop), but there’s a benefit: small humans lurking nearby will hear you. Will see you. Will understand that the mop always goes in this place. Likewise, the batteries go in this drawer. The towels stay on this shelf until we use them, then they hang on these hooks (not on the floor).
You don’t have to turn your life into an inane children’s show, but you can talk about what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, and guess what? Your child(ren) will learn, whether they want to or not. Environmental immersion is effective. Which brings me to my next important principle…
Repetition Is Your Ally
You already know why, but just in case you missed it in that mop story, here it is again: repeating things makes them stick in the brain. Repeating the principles and methods and rules of your organization is how you help everyone in your house learn them. If all this organizational stuff stays in your brain only, you will get to do all the organizational work. Alone.
So share your knowledge with the world, or, more specifically, with your world: the people who share your home, who are also capable (mostly) of putting things away, cleaning things up, learning routines, and so on.
Build Simple, Complete Systems
There are two key words in that sentence. No, three. Three keywords. Basically the whole sentence.
Simple: a complex sentence is harder to learn, harder to maintain, and much, much harder to teach to a small child or, really, to anyone who isn’t the system builder.
Complete: an incomplete system is just more clutter. If it’s not complete, it’s not usable. It’s not beneficial. It’s just crazy-making.
System: we’ve gone over systems before, so if you want to brush up, check those posts out. In short, systems are magic you can do for yourself. Do the magic.
Organization Serves a Purpose; It Is Not a Purpose
Being organized is neat-o. Being organized is calming. Gretchin Rubin says that, “Outer order contributes to inner calm.” I agree, though I realize that this is maybe more true for some of us than others. My husband, for example, can calmly and intensely focus on a project while the kids enact tribal dances on the furniture, the oven lights on fire, the doorbell rings, and the contents of approximately 70 board games are spread across the floor.
But that’s him, and he’s cool like that. I’m not.
I like things to be where they’re supposed to be, and when they are, my life is easier. I like it when my kids know what we have and where we keep it, so they can access it, use it, and put it away independently. (Except for the Sharpies. Those I hide.)
The point of organization, however, is not to be organized; it’s to make life better and easier, to free us up from taking care of stuff and enable us to use our stuff, our space, and our time with our people. Being organized is about being free to focus on life. If that means browsing the Container Store on a Sunday afternoon, go for it. Maybe it means taking a nap or watching a movie or going for a walk instead of scrambling to find the supplies, outfits, and papers you need for Monday morning.
That’s the gist of it, for me: if being organized reduces the stress in my life and lessens the effort required to keep our little family fed, warm, and clothed as we hurtle toward the next adventure, I’m for it. Are you? Yes?
Well, then, this club is formed.
Discover the 1 Lifehack of Highly Successful People
This one lifehack led to the biggest breakthrough of my career. People like Steve Jobs and Oprah have used it to catapult their success, and now you can too.