The Importance Of Organization

January 20th, 2010 - filed under: Furthermore » Inspiration

IMG_1267My Closet: ‘like items’ grouped into boxes; clothes coordinated by color.

You know, it’s really hard to save the world if you can’t even find your keys. And believe it or not, sometimes the ‘Socially Conscious’ part is a whole lot easier than the ‘Totally Fabulous’ side of things.

But just like I didn’t always suffer from Hyper-Productivity Disorder™, I wasn’t always compulsively organized either. I had to teach myself to think systematically. In college I would take sloppy notes in lecture, scrambling to get down every essential piece of information. Then, each and every night, I would re-copy all my notes, in perfect script, color coded. It took hours, but it forced organization as a habit. These are learned behaviors, see, and that means anybody can adopt them.

After college Damian and I somehow managed to buy HQ. That was over 2 years ago, and our time since then has been spent renovating the place. We do all the work ourselves while maintaining full employment, which means 1) our living space is constantly under some degree of construction, and 2) home improvement is tailored around our jobs, thus relegated to nights and weekends. Projects tend to take a *long* time.

So, what’s the key to a smooth operation? Of course – organization!

IMG_2467Believe it or not, this is spread is meticulously arranged.

There have been times when our entire kitchen is emptied and under drop cloths, the cabinet contents laid out, exposed, on makeshift plywood picnic tables. Another few months where I kept half my clothes, and did half my dressing, in a separate room from the bedroom. And yet another 6-month period where we slept in our bed . . . in the living room. That was interesting when guests were over.

The bottom line is that maintaining order matters: for your sanity, for your sense of balance, and most importantly to enable you to do what you need to do. I never could have made home-cooked meals through a kitchen remodel, without sticking to strict system. And I’d never succeed at running a website if I didn’t plan everything ten steps ahead. Orderliness can turn farce into the best adventure. I’ll always think back fondly on the summer we ‘camped in the dining room’.


IMG_1265The hall closet is utterly uncluttered.

With the new year and new intentions on the brain, I’ve had a lot of readers asking for advice on practicing positivity and living a more mindful, fulfilling life. Let me tell you this: methodology is step one to getting everything on track. And careful organization isn’t reserved exclusively for the ‘big stuff’ like home improvement or education or activism. These principals apply to day-to-day living. They’ll free up tons of time, and allow you to put your energy (physical *and* emotional energy) where it really matters. Here’s three easy steps to get you started.

1) Keep a clean house. Everything, I mean everything, should have a place. Know what goes where, and make sure it gets there. Notice how your anxiety decreases when your surrounding are aesthetically pleasing (ie clean). We’re sensitive to these things, so don’t let it get out of control!

2) Make lists. I’m a notorious list-maker (another consciously learned behavior). I write a daily to-do list, lists of goals for each week, and long-term lists for a number of subjects (like ‘baby stuff to research’, or ‘upcoming posts on Bonzai’). I keep these in a notebook that comes with me everywhere (I like a looseleaf 3-ring binder ’cause it’s easy to shuffle stuff around, but your mileage may vary. Many are fond of the brand Moleskine) Try this, it will seriously change your life.

3) Have a vision. Sleeping in the living room would have been embarrassing and tragic if I didn’t have the image of our beautiful new bedroom to hold in my mind’s eye. Painstakingly copying notes would have been achingly tedious, were I not so damned determined to maintain my 4.0. Having these overarching plans will offer comfort when things get crazy, and ground you when you’re caught up in the chaos of life’s minutia. So dream big (no, bigger!), and then let that vision guide you.

And what about you, my dears? What are your methods for controlling the madness?

  • Tenise Rae

    I also keep a very organized closet. It’s not necessarily organized by color but by type. Pants, tanks, shirts, sweaters, dresses…and so on. All my drawers and cupboards are perfectly organized. I’m very anal about my organization. I have several lists…always. I always kept a clean house until I had my daughter. Heheh. I just can’t seem to keep up these days. She’s 18 mos old and on the go all the time. As I go through the house cleaning or tidying up she’s right behind me undoing everything I just did. Sometimes it feels like I can’t even function properly without having my house in order. Nonetheless, I’ve learned to be okay with it (still a work in progress) and continue to try and be as organized as I can.
    Organization and order is a must in my life. :D

  • Allison

    Great post! I have been struggling with something along these lines. My bf and I used to have a system where I did laundry and he did dishes. After a year we decided to trade jobs. Now he does the laundry and I’m finding my life is more…confusing? because my system is no longer in place for my clothes. My closet is set up with work clothes on the left, tee shirts, jeans and then jackets. Long pants get folded over and shorts get hung from clips. He hangs long pants from clips or folds over shorts depending on what hanger he grabs first. He does the same thing with my sock drawer. The result is that I can never find anything (especially in the dark at 6 am when I am getting dressed) and this leads me to have some stress. I really like organization but he seems to have not a care in the world for whether or not things are neat and tidy. Does Damien like to keep things organized as well? Do you guys plan where things go together?

    Thanks Sayward!

  • Lily

    I like to be very organized as well. My parents tried to teach me, but back then I didn’t really understand or care. After living on my own for a while, suddenly the rule of ‘put it away when you’re finished’ took on a whole new meaning. In the last year, with a 2 year old and a full time job, it has even greater importance. Thankfully a lot of our home was organized before, and a lot of my systems and methods were learned when it wasn’t so imperative to my sanity. The main issue now is maintenance, adjusting, and following through (so that stuff doesn’t pile up while we sit on the couch, lol).

    I wrote a bit about organizing here:

  • Laura O

    As long as my kitchen is clean and dishes get washed, I am usually okay with everything else!

  • EroSan

    @Allison: uhh yeah, not to sound like I’m making excuses on behalf of all men, but…

    That “excessively” organizing thing involving aesthetics, is mostly a girl thing. At least me, I happen to see an order in “chaos” (in my chaos anyways) but most of the things that seem out of place have a good practical reason for being “out of place”.

    But that only applies to men-in-the-wild I guess, because now that I live with my GF, her almost-OCD-like behavior of everything on its place and everything MUST be clean and neat has kind of started to take roots in me.

    I would ask why does he orders your clothes the way he does, he might have a reason… Although, I do the same thing and my reasoning is to save time when hanging the clothes in the closet. I know where I hung them, so I don’t need to order them by color/size/type/brand.

    Have him understand that you have trouble finding your clothes, and suggest a simple yet practical organizing scheme (pants on the left, blouses on the right)… Or just switch tasks again :)

  • Salekdarling

    My method…well there isn’t one! i managed to make it through college being very disorganized. I’m VERY scatterbrained. I am going to try a To do list to get started on my spring cleaning. :-)

  • Melisa

    Another timely post, Miss Sayward! I’m struggling to rein in chaos and get organized. It’s hard starting with a cluttered house and mind. Any further tips would be much appreciated. :)

  • Cassie

    same here, i’d love further tips! …having moved in months ago, i still have no idea where anything is, and my boyfriend is completely useless.

  • Amber

    Where did you get all those great boxes?

  • Annelise

    This is something my husband and I are working hard on. We recently moved to a very small space, which meant breaking our packrat ways, and working hard on organizing. We got our kitchen perfect, now we’re working on the rest of the house.

    It’s so true – it’s a conscious decision. Instead of blaming it on being a messy person and acting like you’re helpless in the situation, you have to decide that you do not want to live that way and take steps to make it happen.

    Our next home purchase will be some of those cute boxes! They’re so nice, and are great of organization.

  • Lily

    I really agree, Annelise. It’s a conscious decision, even daily. Do I put this thing where it actually belongs, or leave it to clutter up the counter? Do I fold the laundry now, or when I can’t find any of my clothes?

    Something that helps me is a 1-2x per day quick tidy up, usually in the afternoon and before bed, because it helps to keep on top of everything.

  • Annelise

    Lily, that’s a good idea. We’re going to start doing that as well, because it’s easy to let little things slip by, even if you’re being mindful.

    Another thing that will help us a lot when we get in the habit is washing dishes when we use them. We have no dishwasher, and not a lot of counter space, so leaving them till later ends up with a huge, daunting pile at the end of the day, clogs up your counter space. I think trying this may help people in a similar situation to ours.

  • Courtney

    All of your boxes remind me of my closet. I grab empty copy paper boxes whenever I can from work and use them for storage at home. It has helped so much. Now if I can just put things away when I’m done with them, this place will be clean and organized!

  • Sayward

    @ Tenise Rae – You sound a lot like me! And I wonder how organized I’ll be able to be once my son comes, hmmm. But every little effort counts, as I’m sure you know. It can mean the difference between relaxation and anxiety for me!

    @ Allison – Damian is like a lot of people – he didn’t think he cared much for organization or keeping things super clean, until he started experiencing it. It’s been a process and he’s not as meticulous as me for sure, but every time we get the livingroom good and spotless, he comments about how great it feels. He sort of let me designate where things go (because it mattered more to me) and he’s good about putting things back. If he can’t remember where something goes, say in the kitchen, he leaves it (in a designated place) on the counter. It’s a system that works well for us. He recognizes that orderliness is more important to me and I recognize that it’s less important to him and we both respect that. But, it’s also becoming more important to him the longer we co-habitate.

    As far as your situation, what if he did all the laundry and folded it up, but left it neatly folded in the laundry bin for you to put away? That way he would do the majority of the work (like the deal says) but then you would get to put the clothes away how you like? Would that be a decent compromise?

    @ Lily – Yes, maintenance is SO key! Especially, it sound like form other commenters, with a young child. I’m taking notes! =D

    Yeah, even slacking for a day or two can throw a huge wrench into things. That’s the most difficult part for me. I’ll let things slide for 2 days and then be totally depressed at the accumulated mess, haha. That’s just mostly since the bed rest keeps me more immobile than I’d like.

    But yes, maintenance and follow through is excellent advice! Also, GREAT little article! Everyone should read this!!

    @ Laura O – My kitchen is my big one too, and the room that’s most likely to be sparkling at any given time. It’s totally ‘my domain’, haha. Damian has full reign of the garage, so we’re even. =)

    @ Ero San – I’m not sure I agree with you. i know just as many ‘perfectionist’ men as I know ‘slovenly’ women.

    I also think that ‘order in chaos’ is still order! I’m not suggesting that everyone put all their stuff in pretty white boxes. That’s just the example of what I do, but everyone should do what works for them. I definitely have friends who’s desks look like Staples (the store) threw up all over them, but they’re *organized* in the mind of the worker, and that’s what matters, ya know? As long as things are clean, the system is irrelevant.

    @ Salekdarling – A to-do list is the best place to start. Luck! =)

    @ Melisa – Well, I think you said it yourself, starting from a place of clutter is just awful. I’m ALL about what I call ‘paring down’. This goes for all aspects of life, from clothes in the closet to kick knacks around the house to overbooking a schedule. I like to be able to see everything clearly, so I only have as many clothes as I can easily display and I only have as many social obligations as I can calmly keep in mind. This really helps me, and it sounds like you could use a good dose of ‘de-cluttering’. Maybe spend one day the next few weekends, going through stuff and preparing to make a nice big donation to your favorite charity shoppe. Starting with a freshly emptied, clean slate, will go a long way!

    Also, as Lily said, maintaining the daily order and following through with intentions (where stuff goes, how often dishes get done, etc) is critical.

    Good luck!

    Cassie – I’d offer the same advice as above. If clutter is less of an issue to you, I’d focus more on making a cleaning schedule (or at least an idea of the general cleanliness you and your boyfriend wish to maintain), and then *sticking to it*!

    @ Amber – They’re Ikea boxes, but you can sometimes find them on Craigslist/at garage sales!

    @ Annelise – I used to be a packrat too. It’s hard, but letting go of all that stuff was the beginning of my turnaround. Now I barely hold on to anything. I like it SIMPLE! =D

    @ Courtney – That’s a great idea to use empty copy paper boxes. Even just plain file boxes can be so expensive!