stack of pretty turquoise storage boxes

Organizing Without Decluttering

Being stuck at home shoves the state of your house in your face. If there’s no rhyme or reason for where things go, the descent into chaos is swift and sure.

“A place for everything and everything in its place!” you decide, ready to order some beautiful storage online so you can Get Organized.

But wait. A place for everything and everything in its place doesn’t mean all your worldly goods should be ensconced in cute containers. You’re not trying to replicate The Container Store with its aisles of oh-so-appropriately colored storage solutions.

It’s The Container Store not The Get Organized Store. Cramming everything into boxes corrals stuff but it doesn’t organize it.

The most amazing storage containers in the world won’t help you get organized if you don’t declutter first.

A Sad Story

Dale called me in to organize their bathroom. It was a fairly small space  full of mouthwash and deodorant, soaps and medications. They had a vertical built in cupboard in their bathroom with five shelves and we emptied them all.

We gave the shelves a quick wipe and then tried to go through the mound of things we’d removed. Dale – not their real name – was hesitant to let much go and so probably 90% of what we’d taken out needed to go back for them to feel comfortable.

We began refilling the shelves when with a cry of excitement, Dale sped off to the home office and came back with three sets of desk storage containers. We coaxed the overflowing bathroom supplies into these trays and Dale beamed with happiness. “Look how organized it is!”

The plastic bins and trays were stuffed and it was still difficult to find anything but Dale was too busy digging out the label maker to be bothered with that.  Miles of pricey tape later, the bins were labeled, the bathroom was declared organized and Dale still couldn’t find anything easily or intuitively. It was organized but since it hadn’t been decluttered, the organization didn’t “take.”

Dale agreed to try it my way next time. We took out all the bins and trays and went through the tubes of toothpaste, the mouthwash, the endless supply of hotel soaps and shower caps.

“It’s hard to decide what to do with all this stuff,” they sighed as we tossed out old Q-tips and decided which brands of floss would never be used.

That’s why organizing is difficult. Making decisions is extremely hard work for our brains. It can feel easier to live in chaos than put our brains through that torture.

Decluttering Rules Make it Easier

The good news is, our brains can always learn something new and decision making is a skill. Practice makes progress, and once you’ve made a general rule for yourself, a fresh decision each time is no longer necessary.

When you’ve decided that hotel soaps are fun to bring home but too small to use, then your rules become (1) You don’t bring hotel soaps home any more, and (2) Any hotel soaps you come across go in a box to be donated. Once you’ve agreed to your rules, your brain sighs with relief because now it knows what to do when you see a hotel soap.

With their rules in place, the bathroom project went much faster and Dale has consistently been able to keep their bathroom organized and shipshape.

The next time you’re tempted to put off organizing a space yet again by hiding your stuff in plastic mausoleums, pull out your timer. Decluttering a little bit at a time will get you ready to put the icing on the cake and use those adorable containers.

What Rules Would Work for You?

Once you’ve thoroughly decluttered a space, ask yourself if you created any rules that could be applied throughout your house?

If your rule is that expired meds get kept for seven years max past the official expiration date – not something I endorse but these are your rules – then what other similar rules could you come up with?

How long before old newspapers have outstayed their welcome?

How about expired canned goods?

What’s your rule for how long you keep a book before you admit you just aren’t going to read it?

Your rules, your choices.



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