Becoming Organized Part Four: Developing Systems and Routines

Welcome to the fourth installment of my series "Becoming Organized" Over the past several weeks we have looked at:

  1. Assigning and discovering each space's primary function and purpose
  2. Developing a plan of attack  
  3. Decluttering, cleaning and organizing spaces

Now we enter the next phase of becoming organized: developing organizational systems and routines for your home and life. 

Definition of storage

  1. 1a :  space or a place for storing b :  an amount stored c :  memory 4

  2. 2a :  the act of storing :  the state of being stored; especially :  the safekeeping of goods in a depository (such as a warehouse)b :  the price charged for keeping goods in a storehouse

  3. 3:  the production by means of electric energy of chemical reactions that when allowed to reverse themselves generate electricity again without serious loss

I love this definition of 'Storage', especially the "safekeeping of goods in a depository" because doesn't it feel like we're doing that sometimes!? Although we aren't dealing with a warehouse or storehouse, we need to treat some items in our home to their own storage area or home. Today it's time to identify those areas that need storage systems that will help accomplish daily tasks and develop routines to fit each system. 

Organizational systems are incredibly easy to come by. You can look at any major store and find storage solutions of every conceivable shape and size. The problem with these systems that they can become (sometimes) too specific. There are specifically sized storage systems that only fit a certain measurement. That means that that specific storage container can only ever be used in that space. That makes me ask myself: is the price is worth it? If the product is only usable in one specific area, to me, it becomes completely inefficient and not cost-effective. When looking around your home at areas that need additional storage solutions, ask yourself what creative ways you could use existing systems around your home that are no longer serving their purpose? In my previous post "Pressing the Reset Button" I go into depth on creative storage solutions, so take a quick look here to see if you find some inspiration during this process. 

Identify, Research and Build

After you have gone through the decluttering, cleaning and organizing process you have undoubtedly stumbled across some problem areas in your home: areas that seem to continually attract clutter even though you have worked extremely hard to rid yourself of excess. This is completely normal! All this means is there is no system in place to develop positive organizing routines and habits- thereby allowing objects and clutter to accumulate. Everyone has these areas of their home, even me! From piles of laundry to piles of mail, I promise you there is a solution and the first step is identifying the problem, then looking for a storage solution and then building a routine to help you succeed. 

This process can be broken down into three steps: 

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Research a solution
  3. Implement a routine and build the habit

That's it! Three easy steps you can take to attacking problem areas in your home and life and finalize your organizational process.  

Some common household storage system problems:

Mail - A common issue with most people is the problem of mail. Mail comes in, and then may become piled on a kitchen table, desk, island or other frequently used surface. This is a fantastic opportunity to identify a storage system that will work for you and your family to contain and organize incoming and outgoing mail and assign it a home

Solution: Where is the mail piling up in your home? My bet is it's in a high-traffic area like a kitchen or hallway table. What if we added a small box or container for all incoming mail? So, the first thing you would do when you enter your home is to place that mail in the assigned box. Then we will develop the habit of going through, opening, discarding, filing each piece of mail in that box on assigned days.  

Gifts - The subject of gifts, especially children's gifts, comes up quite a bit in conversation with people I talk with. Well-meaning family and friends shower babies and kids with presents from the day they're born until they hit about 16 years old. That's 16 years of physical objects. That's a lot. The problem for parents is figuring out what to do with these amazing presents? Besides asking people to donate or give to a charity, inevitably you will accumulate quite a collection. 

Solution: There are many solutions to gifts, but I stand by my two rules: one in, one out, and slow celebrations!  

One in, one out means that when my baby girl receives a gift from someone, it will replace another toy, book or piece of clothing that we currently have. Don't get me wrong here - I don't go throwing out her beloved doll because someone else just gave her a doll! I simply remove something that has become unused or outgrown. This way she (usually!) has the same number of items on an ongoing basis. 

Slow celebrations I stole from my friend Lena! (Thanks Lena btw!) When Amelia has a birthday or any other kind of celebration where there are gifts, we open them over a week or two week time period. Instead of opening everything at once, she can enjoy opening a gift every night for a week or two!  

Children's toys - I've spoken to many parents about the problem of children's toys. By this point in my series, you have (hopefully!) assigned a primary room for toys and children's activities, and in some cases a secondary room, decluttered those areas, cleaned and organized everything back into their proper place. But what happens when you notice your little one consistently leaving a toy in a certain area in another space? 

Solution: One way to help with this bleed-over is to assign a basket in that space where your child can get used to placing the toy when they are finished using it. Depending on how old they are, this is a great time to introduce ownership of their items to them! Have them empty the basket at the end of each day so their toys always end up in their proper places. You may need to do this until they are old enough to understand this process, but don't give up! Build emptying this basket into your evening routine so when you hit the hay you will know that everything is where it should be. 

Dirty Clothing - I received an email a long time ago from a reader who had a problem with clothes being left on a  chair in her master bedroom. At the end of the day, both she and her husband would place dirty or semi-soiled clothing on the chair instead of the laundry hamper in the hall. This is a common problem for many people and one that may need several solutions.

Solution: Develop a clearly labeled laundry system. In our home I have a two section hamper located in our closet. I have made labels (and laminated them of course!) "Whites" and "Colour" and hung those labels above each section of the hamper. Clearly marking where dirty clothing must go helps tremendously with reducing the risk of clothing accumulating in an unassigned space.

Remove the offending storage area: My solution to the situation above after implementing the hamper solution, was to completely remove the chair in which this reader ended up storing soiled clothing. Completely removing that piece of furniture meant they had two options: 1) dirty clothing on the floor or 2) dirty clothing placed where it should be placed: in the hamper. Of course, neither this husband nor wife wanted to see dirty clothing on the floor so it forced them to use the hamper, and solved this problem.  

Keys, sunglasses and wallets - What's the first thing you do when you enter your home? You drop everything that is in your hand: keys, sunglasses, wallets, mail etc. onto the first place you see. You may end up with a hallway table cluttered with everything from those items to loose change, nails, pens and pencils. 

Solution: Like our solution with mail, try assigning a beautiful bowl, container, box etc to hold these incoming items. Search for something in your home that will serve as a home for all of these things and then develop the routine of automatically placing them in their correct places when you walk through your door. 

Look through your home and see where you need to implement systems to help it run to its fullest potential. In our home there are systems for dirty clothing, incoming mail, sunglasses and keys, dishes, toys.. literally everything. The more systems you create within your home the more organized and automatic everything will run.  

Definition of routine

  1. 1a :  a regular course of procedure (if resort to legal action becomes a campus routine — J. A. Perkins) b :  habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure (the routine of factory work)

  2. 2:  a reiterated speech or formula the old “After you” routine — Ray Russell

  3. 3:  a worked-out part (as of an entertainment or sports contest) that may be often repeated a dance routineespecially :  a theatrical number

  4. 4:  a sequence of computer instructions for performing a particular task

Developing Routines and Habits

After you have gone through your home and identified and implemented storage systems and solutions for problem areas, it is time to build the routines that will help you build positive organizational habits for those areas. I love the above definition "A habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure" because that's exactly what we're aiming to do here: making a habit into a mechanical procedure. 

Developing routines will mean that you have to be 100% present in those activities for approximately 66 days. Research has shown that it takes a minimum of 66 days to build a habit, and building the habit of routine is no different. For one month you need to consciously think to yourself: 

"Keys go in this spot, sunglasses go here, mail goes here" every time you walk into your home.  

"It's 7:00AM, make bed, shower, open blinds, make breakfast" every morning. 

"It's 8:00PM, empty toy basket, put dishes away, wipe kitchen, prepare coffee for tomorrow" every evening. 

Each of these are examples of routines you can set, or will have set, for your day to help it run efficiently and smoothly.  

Over time, these routines will become more and more automatic and you will notice yourself having to consciously think of them less and less. You will get faster and faster at performing them as they become second nature. Sometimes you may be exhausted and want to skip a routine and in these instances I urge you to push through that feeling! The continued persistence of performing these routines will ultimately pay off in spades. Keep at it and you will see your life become more and more efficient and enjoyable!

Developing systems and routines in your home may seem like an unnecessary step sometimes, but I can assure you it is an extremely important part in creating a truly organized life. Without your own unique storage systems and specific routines your home and life may slip back into feeling chaotic and disorganized.  

Yours in routine,