You’ve sorted every sock, found a home for the ever-invasive mail, and wrangled the kids’ artwork into a system that works. It’s such a great feeling to reclaim your space! A week later, you find today’s art masterpiece stacked with the laundry and the socks choosing new partners before your eyes. Once you’ve achieved some level of organization, how do you maintain it? Sometimes maintaining organization is as difficult, or more difficult, than getting organized in the first place. We believe that with a plan, you can keep your maintenance on track and still have time for the next organizational task on your list. Here are our top 5 places to focus your energy so that you can continue to love those newly-organized spaces.
1) “M” is for Maintenance. Start by outlaying a bit of energy to those areas that you’ve already invested in. After all, you’ve worked to sort, donate, and create a system, so be sure that you keep up with the method you’ve put in place. Think about the tasks you’ve recently accomplished. Did you find homes for every item on your kitchen countertops? If so, then vow to end each day with items in their place. If other family members or care givers don’t know where things go, label the shelves for the blender, toaster, and slow cooker. The easier it is for everyone to understand the expectations, the better the system works and the less time and energy it will take to maintain it.
Another example: perhaps you’ve implemented a new shoe storage system. Great! Hang a sign or place another type of reminder nearby so that everyone in the house puts their shoes on the shelves as they remove them. If the kids just inherited some neatly-labeled Lego totes, make sure they clean up before bed or after a play session. Make it fun. Set a timer, race each other, or challenge them to get it picked up before you can get the laundry changed (a win-win!).
Along the way, ask yourself if the system is still working. As you add new items, discard or donate others. If you must keep everything (be honest here), then make sure to up-size the basket or tote accordingly. When things start to overflow, we tend to give up.
Keeping things in order requires the same kind of maintenance as your cars or major appliances. We understand that this maintenance is easier in some areas than others. Offices, kitchens, kids’ rooms, and garages commonly require more energy than other spaces. Don’t worry, you’ve got this! Add an additional 15 minutes into your weekly plan and recruit help when needed—before the area tumbles all the way back to square one. Remind yourself how far you’ve come. It’s worth it to maintain it!
2) Tackle the nagging tasks. Often this is a simple thing, like putting shoes back on the rack or taking the newspaper to the recycling. What is it that consistently nags at you when you see it out of place? Is it losing your keys? The mail piling up? The cat food spilling onto the ground? Each of these “small” things can add up to big stress. So before you let it overwhelm you, take a few minutes to complete the tasks and flush them from your “to do” list. Perhaps keep a running list on the counter or the refrigerator and then attack those chores while you wait for your toddler to put on his shoes or while dinner simmers.
When you keep incurring the same piles, think about how you can put a system in place that works better for you. If the mail pile haunts you, try placing a recycling bin near the spot where you tend to drop it. Hang a rack near the front door or use a cute basket to catch errant keys. Perhaps you need to add a rug beneath the cat bowl or get a larger bowl to avoid overflow. Vow to stop repeatedly fighting the same battle, and confront it with a solution instead.
Most importantly, think about your habits and choose a system that works for you. Installing a hanging rack in the laundry room isn’t going to help if you generally fold clothes while watching T.V. in the living room. Bottles and cans will continue to stack up in the kitchen if your receptacle is outside or in the garage. In other words, place the system where the action happens rather than trying to break the habit.
3) Put away items in the “Hold” basket. It’s always best to put items in their proper place after use. But let’s be real. Life doesn’t always work that way. For items that don’t quite make it all the way home, have an area designated to catch them. This hold area is temporary. Make sure it is emptied regularly. The reason that it is useful is that it keeps you from getting items almost home and creating a mess for later. For example, if you’ve recently revamped the system for your gift wrap, then make sure you separate items and place them in the correct spots. This only takes a few minutes longer than just throwing the pile into the gift wrap area. Those few minutes, however, will save you an hour later if you have to re-sort and organize the area again. It also saves you time when you’re looking for a bow or a piece of tissue paper. But, if you’re running out the door and don’t have a few minutes to put gift bags away properly, place the items in the hold basket until you have a time to sort and store them. Then set yourself a goal of emptying the basket each day or a few times each week.
4) Attack the most-used spaces in your life. Where do you spend most of your time? Is it in the kitchen? The car? Your office? Whatever space eats up the majority of time should be tended to like a garden. Remove garbage and travel mugs from your car. Make a stop at a donation drop-site to void the bag from your back seat. Respond to the memos on your desk. Take out the compost. Whatever tasks you accomplish as you close up shop for the day will feed your attitude, energy, and productivity when the new day dawns. With practice, these actions will become habits. Until then, leave reminders. Place a post-it note in the car reminding you to take trash with you, or put a colorful message on your bathroom mirror that encourages you to place cosmetics back in their spot.
5)Remember the areas where you relax. Now that you’ve put items back in their place and checked the others clogging your mental to do list, spend a few minutes focusing on the place where you relax. This might be a reading nook, a living room, a bedroom, or a home gym. Whatever that space is to you, give it a bit of your energy and it will repay you ten times over. Remove the clothes stacked on the treadmill. Move the to-be-folded laundry off your bed. Light a candle in the living room. Remember that being organized gives you a chance to relax in the spaces you create.
Organization is an ongoing process. Many people think that once everything has a spot, it will be smooth sailing ahead. In reality it doesn’t quite work that way. More items continuously come into the space, the size and shape of things in your space change, and if you have kids and/or pets you may have a constant stream of tiny wrecking balls working against you.
Don’t let this idea cause you to throw your hands into the air in defeat! We believe in you. To keep your space organized and relaxed, stay focused on the most productive and important tasks. And remember to give yourself a pat on the back each time you can still park your car in the garage, or fit all those glasses into their designated space.