Do these look like organized spaces?  Would you feel comfortable in them?  Or do they perhaps make you feel defeated, even turned off?

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I received a catalog the other day with the title “Home Organization Sale!” proudly emblazoned across the front.  It occurred to me as I looked at the monochromatic home office design on the cover (complete with the completely cordless computer set-up) that I have never organized a space for anyone that looked remotely like it.  But are those kinds of photos what organization should look like?

We read and hear so much (almost to the point of annoyance) that the images of women in magazines, catalogues and storefronts are photoshopped and completely unrealistic.  Most any commercial photos have been strategically enhanced to make us want what we don’t have.  Food photography is another great example (motor oil for syrup, white glue for milk – yum!).  We intellectually know these tricks to be true, and that we shouldn’t compare ourselves, our cooking, our lives to those images.

So here’s what I think. Now that it is a popular (and important) subject, the images that pop up in magazines and catalogues regarding “organization” are just as unrealistic, just as staged and perfected, and often just as unattainable as the images of women on covers of magazines.  We gaze upon them, and think the images represent what our homes and workspaces are supposed to look like, and we feel inadequate.

Is that what organization is really supposed to look like?  We give up before we even try, because we think that where we live has to measure up to impossible standards.  Throw in a few life events (illness, new job, a move), and the goals to become organized seem even more unattainable.

More Food for Thought

During my first Empowerment Session at the National Women’s Survivors Convention in August, I was demonstrating basic organization concepts for attendees by working on sorting and making decisions about items in a “junk drawer.”  The drawer in question was a winner from my “Most Cluttered Drawer Competition,” and I had not looked at any of the items prior to the session.

This drawer was full – FULL, mind you – of writing and drawing supplies.  Every kind of marker, highlighter, pen or pencil was represented, most many times over.  I was getting input from the ladies in the room, and at one point I picked up a lone blue crayon for consideration.  It was the only crayon in the drawer, and was clearly the type given out at restaurants to keep kids entertained (i.e., not a standard brand).  It was worn down at the tip, but the paper had not been pulled back for further use.  I was moving quickly, and as I picked it up to show the group I said, “Pitch?”  Most of the women nodded their heads.

Or so I thought.  A few moments after I placed it in the “Pitch” bag (I should note that even the pitched items were returned to their owners), I mentioned that the sorting I was doing was pretty much how I would handle the organizing, but that others might sort differently.  Immediately a lady in the back chimed in, “That’s right!  That crayon you just threw away – I could NEVER have done that!  That was a good crayon!”

Hmmm.  In my mind, the crayon was by itself (not part of a usable set), of inferior quality (my kids dislike those restaurant crayons – the colors are not vivid), and couldn’t readily be grouped with other items in the drawer.  It couldn’t have even been worth 2 cents.  But in that dear lady’s mind, it was something that still had use, something that she wouldn’t want to have to go out and replace should someone in her house want to use a blue crayon.  Her comment was just additional confirming evidence that organization must be personalized for the person using the items and space in question.  Both ways of handling the crayon are valid.  Organization is never one size fits all.

So What Does Organization Look Like?

Is it a perfect, color-coded closet?  Is it keeping anything that is still usable?  How do we all figure out what works best in any given situation?  That’s a tough one to answer in one article, but in my mind there are commonalities for all organizing projects:

1. Organization looks like finding what you need, when you need it.
2. Organization looks like a kitchen where the cook can grab a pan in one  hand and the oregano in the other without straining to reach.
3. Organization looks like medical records, insurance statements, test results, questions and appointments put together in one customized binder.
4. Organization looks like toy bins that are labeled and easy for a child to access (and put things away in!).
5. Organization looks like saving time, money and stress because you don’t shop to replace things you think you’ve lost.
6. Organization is keeping the things you use and love, and losing all the rest.

This Month’s Approachable Challenge

Choose one smallish spot in your home that you would like to make more efficient, such as a drawer or one shelf.  Dream a little about what it could look like, and how it should function.  Are items up too high, or too low?  Can they all be seen?

Spread them all out on a counter or tabletop and practice making some decisions about what you truly use and/or love.  Put like with like (could be by color, size, use – what works best for you?).

Once you’ve sorted the items, make some more decisions about their usefulness in that particular space.   Be sure that the space and the items in it work for you.  Put the things you want to keep in the space back, and box up the rest for donation or relocation.

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Sara S. Skillen is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, blogger, and the founder of SkillSet Organizing based in Nashville, TN. Specializing in situational disorganization, she offers highly individualized organizing and productivity solutions to help clients thrive in a distracting world. Sara is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), currently serves as the chair of NAPO’s Awards & Recognition Committee, a NAPO Ambassador for Tennessee, and is also an Evernote Certified Consultant. A former educator, musician and paralegal, she is also a wife, mother of two, Labrador Retriever-lover, and serial list-maker.

Read more about her at www.skillsetorganizing.com.

About The Author

Sara S. Skillen is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, blogger, and the founder of SkillSet Organizing based in Nashville, TN. Specializing in situational disorganization, she offers highly individualized organizing and productivity solutions to help clients thrive in a distracting world. Sara is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), currently serves as the chair of NAPO’s Awards & Recognition Committee, a NAPO Ambassador for Tennessee, and is also an Evernote Certified Consultant. A former educator, musician and paralegal, she is also a wife, mother of two, Labrador Retriever-lover, and serial list-maker. Read more about her at www.skillsetorganizing.com.

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