Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Law of Diminishing Returns.....and other ideas to streamline your home

You know how when something comes naturally to you, you think everyone is good at it??

Or is that just me??

I have been organized since I was born, I am pretty sure.

I cannot remember a time when I didn't love order, tidiness, and cute organizers.

I've literally owned (and actually used) a day planner since elementary school.

In college, I cleaned out and washed my car every week.  It didn't even need it, but I just love(d) a clean car.

My dad joked about this recently when he saw my car and said, "wow, you've really let yourself go."  Because he knows who I once was.

Four kids has relaxed me a ton.  My house definitely isn't as tidy as I would prefer.  If you came over in the middle of the day, you would never guess I love a clean home.  I actually don't mind my kids and their friends destroying my house.  Messy is more fun, but I still get annoyed when it's too unkempt for too long.

Even though my house is often in disarray, I still keep it mostly organized.  My love language is organization.  There is SO much more to life than a clean home, but I find that I enjoy life way more when my house is put together.

However, I know this is not everyone's personality.  
The time I spend rearranging my kitchen to make it more efficient is time others spend creating art, reading, inventing, dreaming, cooking, knitting, talking with a know, things that actually add value to life.  

Even still, based on the number of TV shows, books, and blogs on the subject, our culture seems obsessed with organization.  

{On a sidenote: Part of me cringes that we live in such a way that it takes more stuff to organize the stuff we already have.  It seems excessive, yet I am as guilty as anyone.  Even as I've pared down our belongings, I find I still have a lot of stuff.  And that stuff requires attention.
If I've painted the picture that I am some sort of minimalist, I definitely am not.  We have a lot of possessions.  I just don't keep anything unnecessary.}  

My whole point is to say that even though we're a culture obsessed with organization, I think it's important to own who you are and not apologize for it.

If you love to keep an organized home, go for it.
But if that isn't important to you, stop buying plastic bins and a label's just not you.

So the most important step in organizing your home is to evaluate your personality.  You will only keep up with what suits your style.  A system is only effective if utilized.  Which is why I am not really a fan of systems.  I like easy, so if something doesn't make my life easier, I won't use it.
No matter how many cute chore charts I create, my chore system ends up being, "I said clean your room, so do it.  And, no, you don't get paid to do a job that is expected as a member of our family."  It's just what works.

Because of my obsession with organization, my friends and family are sometimes victims of my ridiculousness.  Which is my original, original point: I've learned that not everyone loves to organize as much as me.  When helping other people bring order to their spaces, I tend to give the same guidance over and over.

One day I would love to turn this into a profitable business, but for now, I offer my advice to you for free :).

Consider the law of diminishing returns.  I don't even know if I am using the term accurately, but it's my favorite so I will overuse it anyway.  Getting rid of your stuff is the easiest way to organize.  If there's less stuff, there's less mess.  However, people really don't like giving their stuff away.
The biggest obstacle people face in this is the value of the item.  This is the thing: the money has already been spent.  No matter if you hold onto the item for ten more years or give it away today, the money is gone.  You will never recoup your loss, but now you're spending more money (or energy) to keep the item.  Just because an item is valuable doesn't mean it has value to you....and it could be costing you something important (time with your kids, freedom from stress of a constant mess, etc.)

When deciding what stays and what goes, I ask "Which do you need more: the real estate or the item?"  
In my sister's NYC apartment, the answer would almost always be real estate.
In my parents' enormous house, probably the item would win.
When we lived in a bigger house, I was inclined to keep more.  Now that we have no basement and little storage, everything unnecessary goes.
No matter the size of your house, I would still argue donating unused items is always the best choice.  If you can't find an item when you need it, it does no good to own it.  
The place I find this applies most is to kitchens, closets, and bathrooms.
Those spaces usually have the most finite space with the most amount of [mostly] necessary stuff.

While I always err on the side of parting with an item, if you're not as ridiculous as me, consider which you need more: the item or the real estate.

Stop buying plastic bins.  When organizing a home, the temptation is to buy lots of cute little organizers.  Believe me: in the aisles of Target, the call my name.  I understand.  But just stop.  Save your money and start using what you already have.  I find it gratifying to find a new use for an item I already have (because, as it has been established, I have issues).
While I am fine to buy an item that functions exactly as I need it to, resist the temptation to buy lots of baskets and bins for storage.

Some examples to get you thinking:
- you probably already have an assortment of bins and baskets from previous attempts to organize.  Find those and empty some probably haven't used what's in there anyway :).
- my pens and pencils are in little tins that I bought for my kids' school supplies but they didn't function well for their stuff
- a lot of my kids' books are in beverage tins.  If I need them for a party, I can easily empty them out.
- I use decorative bowls and plates as decor, in my living room (once again, if I need them for a party, they're easy to grab).  It's a double bonus that I gain the storage space they would normally take up.  It is my belief that anything beautiful should be displayed, even if it's out of the ordinary.....which brings me to my next point......

Store stuff where it's functional, not necessarily where it is "supposed" to go.
We get so caught up in how we are supposed to use our spaces that we forget to consider what's actually best.
My little boys have two closets in their room.  Their clothes barely take up any space.  So, I store Brett's dress clothes (he rarely wears them) and our winter clothes (we barely need them) in their second closet.  This keeps our closet from getting overly full.
My kids' shoes are all in the garage (in a cute bin, I won't lie).  They only need them outside of the home, so while closets are typically where shoes go, the garage makes much more sense for my family.

Looking critically at each of your spaces is an important step.  If it's functioning well, leave it be.  If it just isn't working for you, identify what needs to change.....and change it, even if it's outside of the box.
If you live in a large house, keeping kids toothbrushes in the kitchen might make much more sense to streamline to your morning routine.  Hanging coats by the door might work better than in the coat closet.  When I lived in the cold, I used a (on-the-door) shoe holder for gloves and hats.
Little tweaks can make a huge difference to the efficiency of your day.  An efficient day makes for more time to snuggle your babies, read to your kids, hang out with your husband, or catch up on some trashy TV.  

This post is getting extremely long.  Since I love this so much, I could write forever about it, but I will stop now.  I truly love consulting with people to brainstorm ways to improve their spaces.  So if you want ideas about a specific area of your house, I would love to volunteer my time....whether in person or over e-mail.  I definitely don't have all of the answers, but I do love to help! Feel free to ask if you need inspiration.

What's your favorite trick to organizing your spaces??  

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