I have been thinking a lot lately about personal organization. I have been battling stuff for many years now, and I think I am finally at a point that I have come to a sort of truce, an understanding about my stuff. I would love to have everything all neatly organized in some sort of master system like the photo above, but it ain’t going to happen. It’s not really the money factor, either. Because if I thought something like that neat and tidy cabinetry would make my life simple and organized, I would sell a kidney to get it done. I would create it out of cardboard or Ikea cabinets, I would find a way! And for years, I have thought that was the key. Just finding some sort of big thing to contain it all and contentment, here I come.
Well, I can tell you, it hasn’t happened. And is not likely to. Because those kinds of systems just don’t seem to fit someone like me. First off, I’d need like a whole entire house like that. Well, at least three big rooms I think. And all my stuff would not fit neatly into those kinds of boxes and files and all that. Some would, sure. But not all.
I’ve gone through years of downsizing… trust me, I was the Queen of hoarding stuff… supplies, crafts, clothes, anything! When I started to homeschool my children, I do believe in like 3 months short I had enough stuff for all 12 years and junior college for them! I loved to find and get and purchase and trade and get good deals on things. The term “spaving” is something we like to use around here… that means spending to save. Yeah. Kind of sad. There are some things that we still do like to spave with. Paper products… some pantry foods… business supplies. But I find that the savings don’t always amount to that much when you consider the extra space and the need to store these things until you need them. And then there is the waste factor. I find that we are a little more free and easy with something that we have a lot of. Like paper towels. Just seems that when we have one lonely roll, we are careful with it, but twenty four means we can just zip through those babies like nothing! So I am not totally convinced that spaving is really a good thing.
But, I digress. It’s more about coming to a sort of pinnacle about stuff. An “ah-Hah!” moment. And I think it’s finally hit me. Instead of trying to cram all my life stuff into premade and standard sized containers, like plastic totes and file cabinets and cabinets… I need to stop and really consider WHAT suits my grouping of stuff best. LIke what would serve it well, make it available, keep it safe and tidy and available for when I need it. By George, I think I finally hit on something huge! At least, it was to me!
So I am in the process now, of figuring out just what stuff I have in my life that I want to keep and wrangle. No more of this “only 100 items” or “must fit in this box” sort of commands and decrees. Because it doesn’t work well for me and it adds a level of doom and depression when I can’t meet these requirements.
I’m not making a lot of sense, perhaps and I wish I had a bunch of photos to describe in better detail my thoughts process. I will eventually, as I begin to work through this process. And, forgive me, but I’m not totally sure it will stick or that it will make sense to me in the end! But so far, it is. I will give you two examples.
First up. Personal Medicine.
After this whole past year’s adventure with surgery and such, I was left with a drawer full of prescription drugs and other pills and lotions and things. I hate to throw out useful stuff. I know there is an expiration on some drugs and I am careful about that but many are useful for a good year or so past their expiration date and you never know when you might need something in an emergency. However, all these huge bottles with three or four pills left were just overwhelming to me. And then just OTC stuff, it was in there too. So I gathered it all up and laid it out on my bed. I started first with throwing out anything that was very old. I then combined any duplicates. I condensed up three bottles of hand lotion. I sorted through fingernail clippers and such. I took all my current drugs and I put them into 3 x 3 inch plastic baggies. I peeled off the label from the bottles and put it on the baggies. I put away two older diabetes monitors in our bathroom storage because I am not using them anymore but hate to throw them out. Then I looked to see what size my grouping had become. And lo and behold, it was about the size of an old ipod case that I had! About 7 x 9 or so. I made a little pouch to fit all my baggies in neatly, and loaded that case up. It felt amazing! Now everything was organized, condensed, fit neatly into one little easy to carry bag. I had gained a whole huge nightstand drawer and top of the stand as well.
Now, here’s the kicker. This might not work for you. If you have young children around, I would not take medicine from child safe containers. But we don’t. And if we did have visitors, I could easily secure my simple pouch somewhere up high and away from where any visiting children might be. More than likely, I would doubt any visiting children would be messing around in my room when there are so many other things to get into trouble with, out back and such! But that’s not really what I am talking about here. It’s the gathering of like things, the sorting, the valuing, and then seeking the right “container” to control them. That is really what struck me as very unusual in my previous thought processes about stuff control.
I would like nothing more than to be free of these meds and things. But the fact remains, they are here for now and this way to control them really makes sense. It takes me away from this bit of anger every time I would open the drawer and search for stuff, to a happy smile that it’s all handy and ready. I even went and got one of those little weekly pill boxes and filled it up. They were a dollar at the local drug store and save me tons of aggravation over opening up all these containers every day.
I really think that personal organization really should be geared towards making you content, and pleased with the way your stuff can work for you and with you in your life.
Here is another example. My desk top. My working space. If I let it, it will clutter up like crazy in no time. Papers. pens, tech equipment, knick knacks, you name it, it seems to end up there. Now I am pretty good about keeping my important papers in one in-basket and I do have a small file cabinet that I am super careful about what goes in it. Only the most important papers are saved anymore. When I found that I was keeping manuals for lawn care equipment that I no longer even had, I knew that I had to be very brutal about what to keep. I rarely keep any manuals anymore because if you really need to know how to use that toaster’s fancy settings, there are manuals online. But my desktop just routinely gets out of hand. I had no less than five different baskets, bottles, boxes and little pen holder do dads on there. And they were all open, so no matter what happened, they would get dusty and the stuff in them would get pushed to the back and forgotten. It was not working. And the visual clutter was just too much for me. Not to mention our kitties knocking stuff over and aggravating me to no end.
So, I pulled it all out and on the top of the desk. I started to sort it and get rid of useless stuff. I condensed where I could, I found small containers for odds and ends, I used a few little baggies. When I was done, I had just enough important things to fit into a very small plastic box. Contained and protected. Now, if I need scissors or a sharpie, I just reach for the box and its there. Tape? Paper clip? Password book? Batteries for the mouse? All there. Visual clutter is cut by 75%. Kitties no longer can play with anything on there or knock it off. It’s so nice and tidy, I adore it. I have one little ceramic pen cup that I just have a personal attachment to, on the desk, and it’s perfect for ready pens. And I have one little area of a few personal knick knacks that make me smile. Contentment. Without any sort of rules or demands to make me crazy. If for some reason the little box fails to work, I will examine why, and either get a little larger box or adjust why I feel the need to have more stuff.
I am slowly going through all aspects of my life this way and dealing with stuff groupings. So far, it’s been amazing and so wonderful for me! I think I am finally on to something! It’s permission to have groups of things, as long as you keep them in their place and together. Stored in a way that makes sense for that group of things!!! Brilliant!!!
The French chefs have a term called mise en place. It means “putting in place”. It makes so much sense in a fancy kitchen, where you have all your ingredients ready and in place for the cooking process. You will not burn something while chopping another thing and hunting for some spice in the cupboard. You get it all out and prep it so that you can enjoy the cooking process. I believe you can apply that to your own personal organization. I can’t tell you how many times an afternoon available for crafting or a project turned into a nightmare because I could not find “this” or “that” and then began to search and get upset and then ruin the time available or be unable to continue because I could not find the needed element. I think that is at the root of the saying, “A place for everything and everything in it’s place.”
I have spent a good while lately in the hospital. 17 days total last year. That is a lot of time and a lot of time to observe and consider how they run day to day operation as well as emergency services in both the ambulance and the emergency rooms. I am certain that lives are saved because all the necessary materials, meds and tools are handy, in their place and ready to aid the doctors and nurses in critical times. Things are labeled, stocked properly, rotated, and watched over for shortages. I think you would cringe to be in an emergency room that was just piled up with stuff everywhere like a bad episode of Hoarders. Yet, so often we let our personal stuff end up like that. I’ve done it, I think everyone has.
I’m quite certain that I do not want to become that person that outlines every tool on their workshop pegboard so they can see when something is missing. That level of organization is probably not quite for me. It’s a bit much because deep down, I am a sort of gypsy personality, fly by the seat of my pants, live for the moment gal. That missing tool would probably make me miserable and I would have to go and find it no matter what. But if it was missing from a nice tidy box of like tools, I would be fine with that, until, of course, I needed it!
But I really see an advantage of grouping like items and then finding how best to store them. We spent several days last year, rounding up tools and project bits and pieces from around the farm. The girls groaned a bit, they were reluctant. I found it frustrating as we would find more and more things strewn about and then the cost of seeing duplicate of tools because we couldn’t find the original!!! Once we had everything cluttering up the screen porch, we began a several day sort of everything and found containers and labeled them. And when we were all done, we all felt very happy. Suddenly, we could find things! And we knew WHERE to put them away. It was labeled, right there for us. We could grab the plumbing tote and know that ALL our plumbing gear was in there. Handy, ready to fix that sink or whatever. It is wonderful. And guess what? It’s still in place and working good. Sure, the occasional hammer gets left out in a barn or the storage room gets a little untidy, but it takes just an hour or get it back and a few minutes to bring that hammer back and pop it in the tool bucket. It is contentment. It is control of our stuff that we use and need. And it saves time and aggravation. And best of all, all three of us can follow the system easily and maintain it. It works for us.
Now, this being said, I have a lot of stuff groupings to work on. I am no where near finished. I sat down and started a list of all the groupings of stuff that I have. And I took some basic notes as to how I might organize that group. Of course, your stuff will vary, but I will write out my stuff so you can see how I dealt with each group. And some ideas of how I will handle each grouping. (And they are in no arraignment of importance, I just sat down and started to look around and discover groups.)
Medicine – personal, daily needs and diabetic supplies.
Journals – old, current and unused new ones
Jewelry – smaller space, sort junk, create a daily wear, occasional wear and heirloom/special collection
Office Supplies – one case for daily and often use, another box for supplies for printers, labels etc.
Chargers and Cords – one place for all, and tagged so we know which is which easily.
A Current Craft Basket – something for what I am working on NOW? At least for smallish hand crafts?
My Sewing Machine Cabinet – sort out supplies, make better sense of them and store just what I use often.
Music – instruments, band stuff, memorabilia
Clothing – sort to active, daily wear, seasonal and occasional and decide whether to hang up or fold and store
Books – group by reference, personal fiction and magazines… thin herd of stuff that really was just okay or didn’t really warrant a second read.
Media – gather and consider individual groups for DVDs, home movies, CDs, computer back up, software and hardware.
Pet supplies & Meds
Pet Grooming Supplies
Farm Animal Needs
First Aid Stuff for Us
Kitchen – find places for daily, seasonal and heirloom groups. Make sure the pantry is in good order, have a small group for decorating like cakes and cookies, etc.
Glues, Tapes and Such
Now there are two big groups that really are huge and will probably require subgroups. One is paperwork and the other is crafts. What I did is to make a list of subgroups… like for example, in crafts. I sorted out the crafts that I like to do. Each section will probably be handled in a different manner, but they will definately get grouped together as best I can. And paperwork is the same. I made a list and I will probably go and get a handful of just plain boxes and begin to sort all the piles and such that I have all over. It will take a while. I am sure of this. But when it’s all done, it will feel fantastic. No more searching through totes and files and boxes to find all my genealogy paperwork. Or the animal pedigrees. Or even those few pesky manuals that I did save!
Now, I have started this program, this system and I have found that the areas done are really working out wonderfully. It’s encouraging me to continue and see it all through. At the very least, I will have sorted out and toss a bunch of stuff because when you start to sort and declutter, you just find stuff that makes you scratch your head in amazement of why you saved this in the first place. And I am very sure that it will feel good to be able to find all my crochet hooks or all the software to reload on a computer if it fails.
If any of this post’s babbling makes sense to you, please let me know with a comment below. Share with me your thoughts on this all. Is it just age? Does a person reach a point that they just want everything tidy and in place? I find myself really needing a calm, clean space to be able to create anymore. I used to be fine with areas that were all super stimulating, colorful and “creative” but now I find that to be distracting. I crave simplification. Yet I am finding it so hard to reach that point of real contentment. I wonder if I ever will. I wonder if it’s some sort of weird psychosis. I am a minimalist trapped in the body of a collector who is a recovering hoarder. It’s not exactly the best place to be in. I will let you all know how it continues on. This quest for the happy medium.Pin It