How to organize anything and keep it that way*

GTD, pomodoro, flylady, Marie Kondo, feng shui… I read so much about organization – books, blogs, tips, pinterest, lists, life hacks – there’s no time left to put away the damn laundry.


How to organize the closet, get the kids’ rooms in order, file paperwork, finish projects on time… GTD, pomodoro, flylady, Marie Kondo, feng shui… I read so much about organization – books, blogs, tips, pinterest, lists, life hacks – there’s no time left to put away the damn laundry.

Organizing advice can be served up warm and homey or business and efficiency ordered “to-go.” There’s the goody two-shoes homemaker and the cross-fit suck-it-up-and-trash-it coach. Spiritual. Minimalist. Esoteric. Fun! Take your pick, there is an organizational genre out there, waiting to help YOU defy the second law of thermodynamics.

Hmm… now that I think about it, seems like this genre could use some…decluttering.

Ok, let’s have a go at it (and if I get carried away and toss out something worth keeping, please do let me know):

A (neatly) categorized list summarizing the main approaches to getting organized:

  • Connecting it a higher purpose: Like touching everything you own to see if it sparks joy. Seriously, KonMari?
  • Holier than thou: As in “I own less than 100 things but I read books and am more enlightened than you can ever hope to be.” (lol)
  • Authoritarian: Just.Do.It. Feeling rebelious already, not for me this one.
  • Rational: Engineer your life through scientific management principles to be a more productive automat (see Taylorism). It’s about Getting Things Done (I find the brain dump part is helpful but I don’t care for the flowchart).
  • Motivational: Insight into the behaviors and emotions behind the mess: what is holding us back and how we can move forward. Go flylady.

Note to self: idea for bestseller: CHARM©. Mix and match according to your Jungian MBTI

Another thing is, no matter the genre, the organizational structure is basically the same (although Part 2 below is sometimes omitted, most often on TV shows, dooming the whole effort to failure over time). Getting organized and staying that way is all about applying the different approaches above to this structure:

Part 1: Organize it

  1. Look at what it is you want to organize
  2. Look at the space it should fit in
  3. Do the math: Do you need more space or less stuff? (hint: less stuff)
  4. Get rid of the extra stuff (or rarely make more space*)
  5. Organize what is left in an appealing way

Part 2: Keep it that way

  1. Stop buying/bringing in so much stuff
  2. When new stuff comes in, get rid of the same amount of old stuff (or rarely make more space*)
  3. Plan periodic reviews to get rid of stuff
  4. Stay motivated

* Like when you have kids

Some notes:
In Part 1, Step 4 (Getting rid of stuff) is the hard one. It makes us anxious. We self-identify with our stuff and its emotional baggage. I can toss your ratty sweatshirt in a second… but my ratty sweatshirt is much harder to let go. Put it in the “maybe” pile, I’ll decide next round. This is where tips and tricks for letting go of stuff come in (“do you love it?” “does it have a purpose?” “does it spark joy?”).

Step 5 (Organizining in an appealing way) can be fun, just don’t go overboard on organizing accessories. Plus you’ll have overflow if you didn’t handle Step 4 so well.

Part 2 is all about keeping it up. Typical tips for Step 1 (Stop buying/bringing in stuff) are: set a number you need and stick with it; buy less but good quality; take good care of the stuff you have; don’t go shopping so often; and most importantly, don’t take other people’s stuff!

You’ll usually put off Part 2 Step 2 (getting rid of something old when something new comes in), so you need Step 3 (periodic reviews) to keep up your newfound organization. Try setting up a recurring appointment in your calendar so you won’t forget. Finally, you need Step 4 (motivation) because you’ll get bored. So make it a game, thank your stuff as you say goodbye (seriously, KonMari?), make it transcendental. Whatever works for you.

That’s all there is to it. It works for your closet, your garage, your purse, your social calendar… The methodology is easy; overcoming the psychological barriers and staying motivated is trickier.

Now for something really fun: George Carlin on “Why is it that other people’s stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”

* A semi-informed meta analysis of organizational structure and theories applied to everyday life

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