12 September 2008

Organising article

Here's that article that I wrote that I promised to post. I hope it's at least a little helpful!


Who here has piles … we all have them, admit it! I’m not talking about haemorrhoids, I mean piles of stuff – stuff we don’t really even use or like (which I’ll get to later) as well as piles of stuff that we use all the time. Do you sometimes find that the two types of stuff gets mixed up? It’s unsettling, frustrating and burdening to have stuff everywhere – your good things get lost among your useless things, and searching for important things becomes a mission in frustration and futility.

Some people are just born organised and happily categorise and contain all their stuff – but if you’re not one of these lucky individuals, there is hope. I aim to share some simple steps and tips for creating a house of order, so you can be blessed by the peace that will result. Trust me when I say you will love the freedom that comes from de-cluttering, the satisfaction that comes from being able to find what you need and the relief that comes with having a place to put things when you tidy up. You’ll also love the extra time this results in.

You cannot organise clutter. I’ll repeat that, because it’s important – you cannot organise clutter. The only way to be organised is to reduce your stuff. Don’t kid yourself that more storage space or a bigger house will do the job; if you tend to collect clutter I can guarantee you that you will collect more to fill the extra space and you will be right back where you started, or actually worse off. Besides, more stuff equals more stuff to clean and to clean around! So hopefully you can see that you need to de-clutter (perhaps you’ve known that for years) but you might be overwhelmed or confused at how to start and follow through.

First, get rid of your guilt. As women we tend to feel guilty about everything … are you saving things because they were given to you, or you spent too much on them, and feel you have to keep them even though they bring you no joy, or serve no purpose? I want you to love being in your home and find it a haven of peace and happiness and the only way to achieve this is to be surrounded by things that either serve you well or bring you joy or both.

This is key! If it doesn’t do something, and do it well, get rid of it. If it doesn’t make you feel happy when you look at it, get rid of it.

Gifts: We love to say, “It’s the thought that counts” when giving or receiving gifts. Keep that in mind when you are faced with an unwanted or unloved gift that you feel obliged to keep. The thought behind it remains, even if the item doesn’t – and a greater gift to you would be the freedom from clutter.

Duplicate items: if you have more than one of an item, consider getting rid of one or more of them. Do you really need eight vases, or will one or two do the job? Do you really need eleven tablecloths when you only get them out on high days and holidays? Reduce the number of items and you’ll have less to store. Be creative and simplify – for instance, barring throwing-up type illnesses you shouldn’t need six sheets per bed, only two or three at most. One on the bed and one or two spare. Lift the mattress and place your loosely folded sheet onto the bed base and drop the mattress back onto it – each sheet is stored exactly where you’ll need it and you’ve freed up a shelf or two in your linen cupboard. (Thanks to FlyLady for that tip.)

Things that have served their time: Maybe you absolutely adored that outfit, or that ornament or whatever. You were so happy when you brought it into your home and it made you smile each time you saw, wore or used it. Maybe you played that board game every second night for six months … but if you no longer do, or can’t fit into the outfit, or have moved home and have no place for the beautiful ornament, then why are you keeping it? “One day, maybe” is not a promise, it’s a sentence tying you to clutter!

Please raise your hand if you have, in your wardrobe, clothes that are too small for you (this doesn’t apply if you are pregnant!) Okay, now raise your hand if you are keeping clothes that are too big for you. Why do we do this? If you are keeping too-big clothes, you are giving yourself permission to fill them – do you really want to gain the weight you lost? And I don’t know about you, but if I do lose the weight I’ve gained and can again fit into those 2-sizes-smaller clothes, I don’t want to wear my old stuff, I want to treat myself to some trendy new items! Get rid of the clothes you don’t wear. Even if it fits beautifully, if you haven’t worn it in two years, or if you don’t feel beautiful and attractive when you wear it – purge!

How: Right, all instruction so far has been to get rid of things, we’ll talk about how to do this.

For valuable items – eBay is a good way of gaining some money as you declutter. There are even companies who handle your eBaying for you, taking a cut of the profits. Craig's List is another way to sell unwanted goods.

For clothes – it’s not always convenient to trek down to the charity shop but it’s easy enough to put out a bag of clothes with your recycling (first check if your council handles clothes).

For everything else – Freecycle is an email list which you join for your area where you can offer up anything you don’t want, from bric-a-brac to clothes to household goods to outdoor items. Whoever wants it can claim it and come and collect it. You can also find yourself some goodies but try not to replace old clutter with new! Things I’ve claimed include a couple of dressing up outfits for Daniel, an activity centre for Noah (which I later sold on eBay once he was done with it), a lovely big mirror and a strimmer.

Once you have de-cluttered, you are still left with needed and wanted things, obviously. The key to order in your home is to organise them. Getting back to your piles, you may think that would include elaborate systems to store and categorise and label your goodies, but it’s as simple as containing your piles and creating a permanent home for them.

I am a basket case, I’ll be the first to admit; I am obsessed with them. I love wicker or wooden or chrome baskets on display (for instance, on open shelving) and plastic baskets for inside drawers and cupboards. I have currently functioning around 18 plastic tubs, 48 plastic baskets and 28 wicker baskets. My drawers are organised – which doesn’t mean that you will open them and find ironed and perfectly folded underwear, it means that when you open the drawer you will find plastic baskets with underwear chucked in. But because each type of item (for instance knickers, socks, bras, etc) is each piled into its own basket, the drawer has order and I can instantly find anything I need to. It’s that simple. It’s a doable middle ground between utter chaos and anal retentive perfection.

Once you have contained your piles, you need to find a home for the container. Try to be logical and efficient, by placing things where you will need them – your bedding near the beds, toys where your children play (no use storing them in their bedrooms if they play downstairs during the day), etc. One time where duplication of items is logical rather than clutter is when you have storage space for them and it saves you time and effort, for instance keeping duplicate cleaning goodies in your bathroom in a cabinet or in your linen closet as well as in the kitchen. And we’ll get to cleaning later.

Baskets also serve the purpose of more efficiently using space. If you have a deep cupboard, for instance the 60cm deep kitchen base units that are standard, you might often lose items at the back of the cupboard and forget them, or find yourself kneeling on the floor rummaging to find things. By placing a long shallow plastic basket on the shelf it can act as a drawer which you can pull forward, affording you easy access to the items as well as containing them.

Baskets come into their own with laundry – when you are sorting out clean clothes, place each person’s laundry into a different plastic basket which is easy to then carry to the relevant bedroom, which older children and teenagers can do themselves. Have an extra basket for odd socks; if all odd socks go to the same place they should eventually find their mates. If they haven’t after a few months, toss them – it’s unlikely that the mate will turn up.

I want to introduce you to FlyLady. She is an woman who has become a phenomenon. You sign up for her emails and she keeps you on track by “Flywashing” you – creating a new way of thinking. FLY stands for Finally Loving Yourself and that’s what she wants you to do. The daily emails include reminders (e.g. to move your laundry to the next stage, start thinking about what’s for tea, etc), essays (which are motivational and loving) and testimonials (which are very motivating). Some of her philosophies include:

No martyrdom
Stop being a martyr. Take care of your home because you deserve it, not because it’s your burden in life. By setting the example you’ll find that others follow it – but why will your family want to be joining in with housework if it seems like torture?

Baby steps and simplify
You are never behind, and you are not expected to be perfect. To quote FlyLady, “Housework done imperfectly still blesses your family.” It is so liberating to get the message that you are enough, your efforts are worth something and you don’t have to do it perfectly. Anything you do is better than nothing, just do what you can.

Keep things simple and you won’t get overwhelmed. Instead of a fancy cleaning product for every different surface in your house, keep one or two multi-purpose products. I like window cleaner for everything!

Routines, zones and missions
She is very big on routines for creating order. Your evening routine may look like mine, which includes laying out the next day’s clothes, checking what’s for dinner and taking relevant food out of the freezer to defrost in the fridge, checking the calendar, tidying the kitchen and clearing off my hotspots (which are areas in your home that gather clutter – like a forest fire is started by one spark, the chaos in your home is started with a little dumping. Keep your hotspot clear and you will limit chaos).

Every week there is a different zone and each day there is a different mission. For instance, the zone might be the kitchen and tomorrow’s mission might be to clear out all the festering old things in your fridge. Set your timer for 15 minutes and stop when it goes off. That’s it!

15 minutes
You can do anything for 15 minutes except whine. I’ll get to the 15 minute thing a little later.

Only 15 minutes from company-ready
If you follow the routines and missions set out, your home will always be close to company-ready – all it will take is a maximum of 15 minutes to be ready for an unexpected visitor.

Dress to shoes
I scoffed at her instruction to dress fully, including hair and make-up done and shoes on. But what a difference wearing shoes makes – it ensures your legs and feet are less tired because you have correct support, and sends the message to your brain that you are on the go, not lounging around. Put your slippers on and how do you feel? You feel like it’s time to relax. Try the shoe thing, you’ll see a difference to your energy levels.

Do it now
It has to be done – do it right away and then it’s over. If you spill something, wipe it up right away – it will be quicker and easier than trying to clean up a dried-on stain and your home won’t get out of control.

I will confess that I no longer follow FlyLady, but I do still apply most of her philosophies and it does make a difference.

Organising our time
We need to organise our time as well as our things. Some homemakers spend too much time on housework. This is also wasteful of time - their time could be better spent with family and friends and serving others.

It takes less time to do our work around the house if our things are organised, but if you don't organise your time correctly you can still find yourself flitting from one task to the next and never really accomplishing anything. We need to prioritise – sure, your house needs cleaning, but there are other things that need doing too, like church callings, socialising, studying, etc.

15-minutes – breaking the day up into 15 minute slots keeps you moving, keeps you focused and ensures that you fit in time for everything. It also reduces stress because you only have to think of that activity – everything else will have its slot. You’ll be amazed at what you can do in 15 minutes – you’ll probably find yourself working faster to “beat the clock” so that you don’t have to waste another 15 minute slot later on the same bit of housework.

Sometimes it’s just worth it to either pay someone else to do it, or invest in labour or time saving devices. I love my Roomba, which is a robotic vacuum cleaner that cleans my floors better than I can with a regular broom or vacuum cleaner. I love that it is vacuuming my kitchen while I am packing away laundry – two jobs done at once. It’s not even about labour saving, it’s about the value of your time and what you fit into it. We’re all busy – for me personally, having Tesco deliver my groceries for £4.99 is worth it! I spend less money (fewer impulse buys), I spend less time and it fits into my life conveniently. Likewise, I couldn’t live without my dishwasher and I love my slow cooker!

I hope that some of these tips are helpful. Pace yourself and remember that if you are burdened by clutter, it has taken years to reach this point - don't expect to get rid of it overnight. Be honest with yourself and examine why you want to keep things, and work through it. To avoid growing your clutter stash, try getting rid of one thing every time you bring a new item into the house. To reduce your clutter stash, try getting rid of two things each time you bring one new item in. You'll get there in the end.

All text © Jennifer Morris

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