← Back to All Columns


The Golden Rule of Organizing Maintenance

The conversation goes something like this:

“Hon, where’re my glasses?”

“On the table next to the phone under the magazine you were reading.”

“Oh. Yeah. Where’s the Phillips screwdriver?”

“On the washer where you left it after you put up the outlet cover.”

“Oh. Yeah. Have you seen my travel mug?”

Not every member of your family is going to be motivated to put things back where they belong, and after you’ve installed some new organizing systems, it might be even more of a challenge to get them into the habit.

My husband, who has never been a fan of the laundry basket, gave up on it completely when I went to three bins to separate delicates, whites and colors. The more-organized partner needs to be either willing to both install and maintain the systems or devise something so logical and simple that even a chimp might manage to get his banana peels into the proper receptacle.

Label. Many clients don’t want to label because it can look a little tacky in a summer-camp, back-to-school kind of way. But in most instances, and with a Brother PT Touch labeler, labels look clean and provide guidance to those getting to know your systems (spouse, kids, cleaning lady, guests). You won’t need them for obvious things — if there is a stack of dinner plates in the cupboard and your daughter needs to put away one, she is not going to need a label to figure out where it goes. But for shelves housing lots of miscellaneous items, such as in a laundry room, garage, media center or storage closet, labels are sanity savers.

Go with the flow. Don’t fight a natural inclination in a family member. If they always put an item — the remote, eyeglasses, hairbrush, shoes — in a certain place, try to find a way to make that spot THE SPOT for that item in an aesthetically pleasing way. For example, I hate to see dirty shoes inside the front door. But that is where my husband comes in and takes them off. So I’m designing a wooden bench that he can slide them under. I like to put my pj’s in a drawer, he likes his stuffed under his pillow. As long as it’s consistent and tidy, it can work.

I have friends who stock up on inexpensive reading glasses and have a pair at every potential reading site in the house; by the phone, near lamps, on bedside tables. Same with scissors. It’s great to have a pair in every room of the house. Having multiples is a natural way to flow with the way we live and relieves a lot of stress and time wasted with searching for often-used, relatively inexpensive items.

Compromises are part of organizing a household so that everyone’s styles are honored. I often compromise on what I see as an ideal organizing solution to allow my clients to find what works for them. But I insist that once you find a place for something, the key to organizing is to put it back consistently. It’s the only way you will trust your system and begin to relax.

Furthermore, when you put something back, make sure it is ready for its next use. A soiled sweater shouldn’t be put back in the closet until it’s been cleaned. An empty Sigg bottle can’t go back in the car or by the treadmill until it’s been refilled. Same with travel mugs — bring them in, wash them, and return them to the car for the next trip to Peet’s.

It sounds painfully simple, but it is amazingly effective. There is no better organizing tip I can give than to Put Things Back Where They Belong. And if you can get your husband to put his dirty socks in the hamper, you’re my hero.