Remember that old saying “it’s just like riding a bike”? I have no idea who coined it, but it was meant to draw a comparison to activities that were deeply rooted in the muscle memory gained from lots of practice. The idea was that, if you practiced enough, riding your bike would become like second nature. If you practiced enough, you could train your body to ride with a lot less thought or effort. And if that bike sat rusty in the garage for 10 years, because you had put forth the effort to practice years before, the idea was that you could jump back on and ride away into the sunset as if only mere seconds had passed since your last pedal session.
People ask me a lot about the best ways to stay organized. Cleaning up and out seems to be the easy part, but now that the house is beautiful and everything is put away in its place, how do we keep it this way? Depending on how far removed your new organizing behavior is from your old habits, staying organized is going to take the same vigor and endurance as it took to learn to ride that bike years ago.
For example, if you always lose your keys around the house, and we implement a new process to hang them on a hook by the door when you enter, you will need to make the conscious effort to actually do it…every time. It takes practice, and more practice until eventually hanging the keys on the hook becomes second nature and engrained in your muscle memory. Suddenly hanging the keys on the hook will feel like an easy routine, and the process will no longer be a strain on your brain power and intention as you arrive home tired from work each night. The thing to remember is that there will be work involved. I unfortunately can’t wave a magic wand to “cure” us of our poor organizing habits and replace them with ones that work better for our lives. If I could, I would be the first to wave it over my own house!
There are a lot of schools of thought out there around best practices for forming habits and the importance of considering things like learning styles, motivators and goals. Developing new habits to stay organized will take time, support and accountability from family and friends, as well as a focused desire from whoever is embarking on this mission. I have lots of tricks up my sleeve to help move this process along for each client, but the overarching theme to remember is that practice makes perfect. You are going to have to conjure up the focus, intention and willpower to practice, but once mastered, your new habits really will be just like riding a bike!
Many of my customers mention areas that are used for storage in their homes, like garages, basements and closets, as the main contributors of stress and clutter to their lives. These areas are usually the places where we drop bins or items that we don’t know what to do with in the moment, and often have the good intention of getting back to them later “when we have the time.” Then life happens! As a result, a few temporarily stored items can turn into a mountain of stuff, ripe for avalanches and a lot of stress at the thought of getting them organized.
These areas usually require some grit and elbow grease to organize, regardless of whether I sort through them or the customer decides to tackle them solo. Physical exertion aside, the process itself can be quite simple of you follow these 7 basic steps:
If these steps are followed, anyone can tackle any space with enough determination and time. If the project feels too immense, break it into manageable chunks over several days or weeks, or buy a keg, invite your friends, and make a party of it!
I have always fantasized about a glamorous closet. Maybe one of those huge, custom built dreamers, with a fancy ottoman in the middle and a chandelier. I could sit there on my ottoman, sipping coffee in the morning and contemplating which of my 300 pairs of shoes I would wear. Sadly, I must make do for now with my humble walk-in, lined with wire shelving and a mismatched array of Ikea cubbies and plastic storage drawers. I don’t have 300 pair of shoes but am grateful to have a lot. My closet may not be ready for a magazine shoot any time soon, but it is organized, accessible and neat.
Regardless of which version of closet you own, I have found that every style can be perfectly organized with the right products. If you’ve read many of my other posts, you know that I don’t usually share details on the most expensive and lush products. Like most of you, I have had to get creative over the years. I have had to get very good at striking the perfect balance between, say Ethan Allen and Walmart. Here are 6 of my favorite must-have organizing products for any closet:
If you use the right storage systems and commit to keeping shoes off of the floor, you will find that it is very easy to maintain a well-organized and enjoyable space within your closet. Even if an ottoman won't fit, there will still be room to sip that cup of coffee in the morning while you decide what to wear!
There’s a place that I have been driving by since I was a teenager. It lies about ¾ of the way between my house and my parents’. It’s a cute log cabin that must contain the same inhabitants because I still see things hanging from the posts at the entrance to their driveway that have been there since I was in high school. I have no idea how much longer they will be there, but on those posts hang ‘Wizard of Oz’ style tin can figurines. Someone in their household has been making the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion out of recycled tin cans since almost before I can remember.
As I drove home from a family get-together this weekend and once again passed these now-iconic figures, it got me thinking about re-purposing in general. Most of us as Americans have way too much stuff. We have a lot of options and a lot of freedom to decide how and where we use all this stuff. We all have things in the basement, garage and other storage locations that we keep for one reason or another and can’t quite bring ourselves to get rid of. These items may not serve us in our current lives and might be items that we haven’t even taken out into the daylight for a year or more.
What if we look at these items differently? What if we ignore mainstream advice, forego simply offloading them, and instead reinvent a purpose for them, just like this very creative Wizard of Oz fan has apparently done with tin cans for decades? Yes, maybe we are talking about tin cans and what others see as garbage, but what if we apply the same creativity to certain belongings? If we think outside of the box, we might be able to come up with an infinite number of cool ideas to re-use or re-purpose memorable items, while still maintaining a neat and organized home. Maybe we can turn Grandpa’s old wash basin into a shelf? Maybe we can flip Grandma’s ugly Chinese vase upside down, glue a tray to the top, and make a great pedestal to show off that favorite collection of succulents? The list and limits to our creativity are endless, and we alone hold the key to our own ideas.
Before you decide to reluctantly toss something that feels kind of important, think about re-purposing it instead. Maybe there is no use or way to re-purpose. Maybe you really don’t care enough. In that case, get rid of it! I am the last person to encourage you to hang on to things that you do not use or need! Otherwise, think about it, ask friends, surf Pinterest, or do whatever you do to get creative inspiration. A personal, deeply meaningful way to re-purpose something of importance brings far greater enjoyment than continuing to keep it “hidden” in that old musty box in the basement.
Who has a junk drawer? Maybe it’s not a drawer, but a basket box or bin. You know what I’m talking about: that place in your house where you stash all junk that you don’t quite know what to do with in the moment; those weird items that don’t really go with anything else. Come on now. Be honest!
I am the first to tell you that I have 3 junk drawers in my house…yes…3! At any given time, there are office supplies, loose change, random photos, hand sanitizer refills and that orphan charger that nobody seems to own. These catch-all’s are great because the drawer can be…get this…closed! Everything gets dumped and hidden away just in time for the neighbors to drop by.
Here’s the catch… You’ve got to address this junk at some point or that great drawer concept doesn’t work. The damn thing won’t close! Add a reminder on your calendar once a month to open said drawer and sort through its contents. 2 of my junk drawers are in my kitchen, so I hang 3 different plastic shopping bags from the drawer pulls of the closest drawers. As I pull out each item, I throw it into one of the 3 bags.
One is for trash and items I can easily throw out. Things like those plastic end tabs from the popsicles that my kids cut off with the scissors from the junk drawer and simply let fall into the drawer instead of depositing them in the trash. Come on, I can’t be the only mom suffering from that one!
The second bag is for items that belong some where else. I use this one to temporarily stage the things that need to go back to places like the kids’ bedrooms, the playroom or the garage. Once filled, I walk through the house with my bag, depositing all contents back where they belong.
The third bag is for items that I feel are just fine right at home in my junk drawer. For example, it’s the first place I go to when I need a pen to write out (yes, I am a bit old school like that) my weekly grocery list. If I move the pens, it will really throw off my whole system. Some things are just better left alone.
The great thing about this plastic bag process is that they can be thrown out after you are done, and I personally get a little burst of adrenaline for reusing them before they hit the trash can. Laugh as you may, I am sure that if you give this process a try, you might feel the same thing!