Keeping your small home organized is the result of practicing three habits. I call these habits:
- No Thank You
- Thank You
- There You Go
Let’s look at each one in more detail.
Habit 1: “No Thank You!”
Don’t buy it.
At my son’s preschool, parents took turns serving as classroom helper. On my first day helping, one of the children tried to hand the teacher something – a toy? A used tissue? I can’t remember, but it doesn’t matter. The teacher held her hands up, shook her head side-to-side, and kindly said, “No thank you! You can put that over there if you’re done with it.” And the kid did. Mind. Blown. And the coolest thing in my view? No Thank You doesn’t just work with children! It works with stuff too.
When it comes to organizing, No Thank You means being picky about the items you acquire. Notice I said ‘acquire’ and not ‘buy.’ I want you to learn to be picky about the free stuff too. This is because money is only one of your three household budgets. You have a limited budget of space and time, too. Stuff impacts all three:
- Acquiring an item costs you money if you pay to buy it or move it. It costs you time to find it, and maybe more time to move it into your home.
- Owning an item costs you space (which of course, you pay for).
- Taking care of an item costs you time and money –cleaning, repairing, etc.
- Getting rid of an item costs you time to figure out where to send it and time to move it there. It may also cost you money.
Protect your three budgets. If acquiring an item is going to stress any one of them, say, “No thank you!” Not only will you have less stuff to organize, but you’ll have more time, money, and space to spend on the rest of your life.
Besides your budgets, know your Essentials List and your Wish List. Your Essentials List identifies necessary items by functional requirements. “A winter coat in my current size before next winter” might be on your Essentials List. Your Wish List identifies necessary items that meet more than functional requirements. “A winter coat that I love wearing” goes on your Wish List. Your Wish List also identifies items you would value that are not functional. If “A pair of vintage roller skates” thrills you, it goes on your Wish List. Know these lists well. If an item isn’t on either, learn to say, “No thank you.”
Even if you need it or want it – do you have to own it? What if you borrowed it or rented it instead?
- Borrowing obviously saves money. Since you won’t have the item for long, it will save you space. It can even save you time. It’s less of a commitment, so you might spend less time looking and comparing products. You’ll spend less time figuring out how to get rid of it when you’re done with it too!
- Renting has all the same benefits as borrowing, except sometimes for money. It isn’t always cheaper to rent something. But sometimes it is! How often will you use this item? Do you have to pay for more space if you own it?
If you’re not positive that you’ll use it more than once, or you won’t use it at least once a year, say, “No thank you!” to owning, and “Yes, please!” to borrowing or renting instead.
If you need a little more motivation, remember that No Thank You isn’t just thrifty and polite… it’s good for the planet! You’ll consume fewer natural resources, including fossil fuels, every time you say, “No thank you!” But because you’ll be saying “No thank you!” to things you neither need nor love, or only saying “No thank you!” to ownership, you won’t feel deprived. Win-win.
One other note – when fulfilling your Essentials List, try to find useful items that you love. It will cost you less in the long run and, as noted above, buying once is better for Earth than buying twice. But if push comes to shove, just be practical. Go with second best, or even “acceptable.” I strongly recommend shopping the secondhand markets if you’re not already. With so many marketplaces online, it might be as convenient as buying new. A lot of them also make it easy for you to resell the items when you’re done, so it is almost like renting.
Habit 2: “Thank you!”
Don’t Keep It.
The Thank You habit covers letting go and taking care. As with No Thank You, this habit is good for your household budgets (time, space, money), and often good for the planet.
First, your life is not static. If you have children, they are visibly changing all the time. But even grown-ups change – our responsibilities, our circumstances, our tastes, our goals. Therefore, the items that we need and want in our homes will change too. For example – it would be wonderful if I still used the winter coat that I bought at age 22. Good for my time and money budgets, and good for Earth! But the reality is I wear a larger size now, so that coat is in somebody else’s closet. Not mine. I changed, so I let it go and found one that works for who I am today.
I urge you to embrace the flow of items in and out of your life. If it helps, try to think of yourself more as a caretaker than an owner. Legally, something might be yours. But it’s only yours for now. Using the same item for a long time is wonderful. But if you’re not using it, or if owning it doesn’t bring you pleasure, then it is more than clutter – it’s a burden. Lighten your load and let it go! It will improve your space budget. Depending on the item, it could also improve your money budget.
I love Marie Kondo’s practice of expressing gratitude to each item as you let it go. I follow it, I recommend it to you, and it’s why I call this habit Thank You. “Thank you for helping my mom tell me she loves me.” “Thank you for helping me learn that I don’t like knitting.” “Thank you for keeping my child warm this winter.”
The second aspect of Thank You is taking care – showing gratitude for the item while you own it. For this reason, we’ll talk about repairing and maintaining durable goods. You’ll spend less time and money purging and shopping, and less space storing items in disrepair. When you do let go, more items will be suitable for a second owner, rather than bound for the landfill. Even so, sometimes you will be the person to wear an item out beyond repair. For these cases, you’ll know if an item can be recycled or if it’s truly time for the trash.
Habit 3: “There You Go”
Every item in its proper place.
We’re finally here! There You Go covers the physical organizing of your stuff in your space. Throughout this blog, I’ll give you specific ideas for different categories and rooms, but there is only one rule of thumb:
Horizontal space is for living. Let it get a little messy. Vertical space is for storage. Keep it tidy.
That’s it! Your kitchen table might be covered with breakfast dishes. Your living room is an evolving blanket fort. Your desk is strewn with papers. Yet you can see everything in your pantry. Your clothing and coat closets help you get out the door in the morning. And you never struggle to find a pencil or a pair of batteries when you need one. You’re organized!
That’s my approach to small home organizing. Keep reading my blog to see No Thank You, Thank You, and There You Go in action. I hope it will help you stop fighting with stuff and get on with enjoying your life!
Kaloumi Small Home Organizing is based in Chicago. If you live in Chicago and would like help organizing your small home, please contact me.