First off, thank you to everyone who helped vote for my book title! I appreciate that so much!
And now, let me sing you the song of my people.
Overwrought outlines and bins of like-food stuffs,
Folded up undies and socks, that’s the good stuff.
Cute little dishes to hold both my rings,
These are a few of my favorite things!
When the world sucks, when my plot’s stuck, when I’m feeling bad,
I simply remember my neat line of jeans, and then I don’t feel so bad!
Oh yes, my friends! I just nerded out so hard I went full Julie Andrews on organizing shit. I love it. It truly makes me happy to think about what I use and how, and then make it so that it’s harder for me to make a mess than it is to put things in their proper home. It’s such a relief to look around and see only the things I like seeing. No, I’m not perfect about it, but when I want to have a perfectly ordered house, it’s achievable with minimal effort. So, in honor of the new year and the series that stormed the internet, here are my tips for organizing.
Tackle one area at a time.
Whether it’s the kitchen or the filing cabinet, don’t try to do both at once. If you’re easily overwhelmed, maybe focus on upper cabinets or one drawer at a time. I don’t know about you, but things seem so much easier to me when I pretend that I really only have one task to accomplish before I’ll be happy.
Honestly consider how you actually use that area, and what you’d like to do in that area.
This is about you. I know TV has us believing that no one should ever see a shoe in the house or a pile of junk mail on the table, but there’s no use giving ourselves anxiety conditions about it. I have shoes, die mad about it. Be honest, are you really going to take your shoes off in the garage every day? Will you make it to your bedroom closet? If not, just accept that where your shoes are now is where they live, and plan for that. This applies to all things. Do you cook but not bake? Do you mostly eat prepared food? Do you host a lot or not at all? Would you do things differently if you had the space, or not really? Really visualize both your own habits and your desired outcome–this will help you figure out where things go (and maybe even what you don’t hang onto) later.
Take everything out.
Yes, everything, even the thing you know will definitely go there. Stuff likes to hide behind or under the things we actually like, and you must outwit it.
Put aside everything you know to be useful or find to be beautiful.
Sort documents into like piles. Sort kitchen implements into things that work together–likely you’ve never used the hand mixer and your wok at the same time, so maybe they don’t have to stay together. If you can, do the sorting in stages: things you use almost daily, things you use weekly or monthly, things you use once a year etc. This will help you decide how accessible they need to be. Your everyday makeup should be right at hand, while your costume makeup can maybe live somewhere else.
Whenever possible, find ways to display the things you find to be beautiful. It doesn’t matter if the beauty is sentimental or physical. Got a pretty bowl from your great aunt? A recipe written in your mother’s hand? A whimsical toilet plunger? Have ’em where you can see ’em, or at least enjoy them when you want. It might well free up space, and will certainly make your home feel more like you.
Consider if the other things have value to you.
If the emotion you associate with it is duty, guilt, or frustration, consider maybe now’s the time to free yourself. You should not feel compelled to do anything in your own home. Of course, that’s not always practical, but if you don’t love it and don’t use it, now’s a good time to reevalute what it means to you.
Organize by purpose.
I like to make stations: baking station, shoe station, mail station. In this way, all my everyday dishes have homes within arm’s reach of the dishwasher, when I put the mail somewhere it doesn’t look like I’m making a squirrel’s nest, and I don’t need to run a mile to prepare a batch of cookies going back and forth between where ingredients, tools, and servingware is. I also try to keep the things I use most in the most accessible places and leave the black holes to the stuff I don’t need often. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Everything needs a home.
This isn’t about throwing stuff away, it’s about having a system that allows you to maximize your peace of mind and time. So, if you have a small kitchen and an abiding fondness for various machines, you might need to think of another way of housing all of them. Again, be honest with yourself. There’s no rule that linen cabinets can’t have games or espresso machines, if you have more of those than sheets. I like to check Pinterest for interesting ideas for storing things. It absolutely pays off to invest a bit in cabinet-depth bins, pretty storage boxes, drawer organizers and so on. I know this isn’t always something we can do immediately, but even origami paper boxes and dollar store bins can really make life easier. It is worth a few bucks to keep you from being pinned under a closet avalanche. Your happiness is worth a few bucks.
So, whatever you keep, make sure it has a place it can go, and that that home is conducive to the way you live your life. For example, I got a couple baskets to house our scarves and winter wear. I knew that if we had to open a drawer or fight with a cupboard, the scarves would never go to their home, and would instead live on the backs of chairs. Fancy schmancy furniture or sorting tools will help you none at all if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle.
It’s okay not to be sure right now.
You can keep anything you want. For me, if I’m not sure I’m ready to get rid of something, I put it in a box or a bag out of sight (the attic or under my bed, usually!) If I find I miss it or need it within six months, it needs a home. If I don’t need it in six months, I reevaluate my feelings for it. For clothing, which I find difficult, I turn things inside out. If when I go to change over my clothing for the next season it’s still inside out, I usually take that as a hint and put it in the “leaving the house” pile.
It’s your home.
Chances are you’re not booking a photo shoot for your house this week. Likely there are a few things in it that have seen better days. Undoubtedly some days you won’t be as tidy as others. This is all okay. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone else. It’s your life. It’s your house. Whatever says cozy to you is probably right. Don’t let people or magazines badger you into things that cause you distress. There isn’t a right way to keep house. It should be safe, it should make you happy, and it should serve your life. Whatever that means to you is exactly how it ought to be.
Find good homes for the things you don’t want.
I think a lot of the guilt is from the image of all your stuff in a trash heap. Some things do have to be junked, but probably not most. Charities, schools, prisons, churches, thrift shops and stores like ReStore are all great places to start if you just want to get rid of things. Tag or yard sales, craigslist or other online merchant websites and friends are also great ways to make a few bucks or know that your beloved things are going to help someone. If I find I have a lot of things I can’t really use in a timely fashion, I like to make gifts to surprise friends with. Then I get the joy of knowing I’ve done something for people I like and the joy of not having it around anymore. Be creative! Repurposing items, making unusual displays, upcycling…there’s a million ways to make sure our things are appreciated that don’t involve them moldering on a shelf, in a drawer or on a heap.
There you go! It’s maybe not as simple as “does it spark joy,” but for me, focusing on the useful and the beautiful, and then finding ways to do good with the things that don’t fit those categories has been a huge help in creating a homey home. Good luck for all you de-clutterers! For me, I’m going to keep weaving a story from the plot points I know to be important and find to be evocative, one chapter at a time.