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Boundaries and Limits

Why does a drawer full of office supplies or kitchen utensils work so much better when it’s organized with plastic drawer dividers? Most of us would never keep our silverware in a jumble in a drawer — can you imagine trying to set the table each night and having to sift through a jangling tangle to find the dinner forks? We have silverware trays that keep the forks, knives and spoons neatly stacked and separated. But for some reason, similar organizers haven’t been a standard in other parts of the home and office.

Containers separate things and set boundaries between them. Like a child’s divided dinner plate, built so that the peas don’t touch the potatoes, dividers in an office supply drawer keep pens, scissors, tape, stamps and other things from becoming a mixed up, stress-creating mess.

Containers also set limits — once you fill a container, you can decide if it’s OK to grow a bit (and get a bigger container) or that it’s time to let a few things go and keep to your allotted space.

Boundaries are important throughout the home in order to stay organized. Obviously, in relationships some boundaries need to be set so that individuals are not interrupted and distracted during designated work and task times. It is especially difficult for my clients with young children to make progress with their organizing goals because of constant interruptions, but sometimes a demanding spouse or employer is the worst offender. Often the key to getting a house in order is some serious family discussions about goals, expectations and boundaries.

In regards to clutter, within each room boundaries come into play. In organizing parlance we talk about zones, areas where certain activities take place and their corresponding accoutrements are stored. Each zone needs fairly firm boundaries in order to be effective, meaning remain organized.

 A client recently told me that according to the Montessori Method, children should have items like books and toys to occupy them available in every room of the house. I think this could work well clutter-wise as long as the children’s things in each room are limited to a designated zone with well-articulated boundaries. 

For example, in a home office, the children’s items could be given two low shelves in the bookcase, but should not be allowed to trickle out into desk drawers and designated work spaces. Or in a living room, the children’s things could be concealed in a coffee table with drawers but not take over the entire space.

Another client had boundary and limit issues with books. Since she had never designated a book zone, books had taken over the linen closet, dresser drawers, the floors of the bedroom closet and even the storage cupboards in the bathroom. We purchased two bookcases and she agreed to keep the books limited to them. As we worked together, she found it fairly easy to purge the collection until it fit comfortably in the bookcases, which finally freed-up the bathroom storage for bathroom items and the linen closet for linens.

Setting boundaries and limits for our family members or colleagues is often very difficult. When it comes to our stuff, setting boundaries and limits may just be a matter of finding the right container. A little communication, a little Container Store; a little therapy, a little Target. Little by little, we create a house in order.