Friday, October 5, 2012

The Science and Discipline of Putting Things Away

A big part of disorganization happens when things don’t get put away when they should. 
·      Unrinsed dishes piled in the sink
·      Food sitting on the counters
·      Papers stacked in piles instead of filed
·      Backpacks and coats thrown on the couch or the floor
·      Shoes and socks under the desk
·      Magazines and books scattered about
·      CDs and DVDs without their covers piled next to their players
·      Toys spread over the floor
·      Tools scattered on the garage floor
·      Laundry still in the dryer, sitting in baskets, or scattered around the floor
·      Towels draped over the bed or lying on the bathroom floor
·      Couch pillows scattered around the living room
When I read through the above list, I can see the chaos in my mind’s eye.  If this chaos is your reality, it may help to learn about the science and discipline of putting things away.

The Science of putting things away

Putting things away is partially a science.  This means there are principles to learn about and ways to set up your space so that you can do it efficiently and painlessly.  Putting things away creates optimal conditions for efficient, joyous living—clear space to work in and clear mental space to think in.  If you hate to put things away, the solution is not to leave everything out, but to find easy ways of putting things away so that everything seems instantly accessible. 

Principle #1--There has to be a home for everything.  Having a home for everything makes it so that you know instantly where to look for it, instead of having to check 15 places it could be.  Checking 15 places takes a lot of time and frustration.  If you knew your keys belonged in your purse, then you would only have to check your purse instead of checking the desk, your coat pocket, your pants pocket, the kitchen table, the kitchen counter, under the living room chairs, under cushions, etc.

 If you don’t have enough homes for things, you have to either get rid of some of your things so it fits in the space you have, or you have to spend money to buy storage for it.  Don’t be too cheap to spend money on appropriate storage containers if that’s what you really need; you’ll do yourself a favor in the long run.

Principle #2--Make homes for your stuff so it is fast and easy to put things away.  If it really does take 15 minutes to put away everything, then there is something wrong with how and where the storage is.  You make it hard for yourself to put things away if:
·      You have to use a stepladder
·      You have to put things away at the bottom of a stack
·      You have to walk back and forth several times between your work site and the storage site
·      You have to put things away in a container inside a container inside a container…
·      You have to move things out of the way first
The more often something is used, the faster and easier it should be to put away. Try to make it easier to put away than it was to get it out.

Here are some examples of this principle:
·      My dishes are kept in a cupboard that is right next to the dishwasher so I don’t have to walk across the kitchen with every armload of clean dishes. 
·      I position my clothes dresser near my closet so I don’t have to walk too much back and forth between them when getting dressed. 
·      Our movies are stored near our TV. 
·      Our office supplies are in our desk and nearby are our filing cabinets and shredder. 
·      Our computer cords and supplies are near our computers, which are also on our desk. 
·      I have piano music stored next to my piano. 
·      This also goes for supplies and tools we use for our talents and hobbies. 

If you make it fast and easy to clean up, then switching between tasks will also become fast and easy.  You’ll spend less time preparing or cleaning up and more time doing what you love.

The discipline of putting things away

Just like you go home from work or school at the end of the day, your stuff should be put back in its home after you have used it.  The fewer exceptions are made to this rule, the more organized your house will be.  It’s that simple.  Now, while the principle of putting things away after you are done using them is simple, the discipline comes as you put things away over and over again, day in and day out. 

How do you get over feeling like putting things away is a bother?  Time yourself to see how long it takes to clean up after yourself.  You may find that it doesn’t take as long as you fear it will.  You may find it takes 45 seconds when you expected it to take 10 minutes!  

What if you have a project that takes a number of days to complete?   Put everything away at the end of each day.  Give yourself a "clean slate" to start with tomorrow.  If this seems to take too long, then you need to rework what “home” is for those things so it is easier. 

They say it takes 21 days to build a habit, and there are plenty of chances to practice putting things away.  When putting things away becomes a habit, it will feel easier to do and you won’t have to think about it and struggle so much.

Do you need extra help with organizing and de-cluttering? Hire me! Go to for more information about my services! Did this article help you? Be sure to share it with your friends!


Scott said...

How about being able to finish the project you're on before more are expected of you. A big reason things get left behind or not put away is being redirected to another issue before you have time to complete what you're already doing.

Michaela Stephens said...

Scott, I understand this issue. It's a situation where we have to decide which is more important--the urgency of the interrupting redirection, or the task at hand. It takes judgment and discernment (and lots of experience) to figure this out. And what works in one situation, is not going to be best in another. At the end of the day, however, stuff still needs to get put away, or the chaos gets worse.