Organizing Pitfall #3: Skipping Labels on your Final System

You’ve spent hours sorting through your stuff, weeding out the items you no longer want or need, and coming up with the perfect storage system. It’s time to celebrate, right? WAIT! One of the most common steps that I see clients miss (or want to skip) is labeling their new system.

“I’ll remember,” they say, or “I don’t want to look at all those labels all the time.” In my early years of organizing, I generally chose not to fight for it when clients were resistant to adding labels. But, frequently what I saw was that the systems that didn’t get labelled (even temporarily) didn’t last as long. 
Here are some reasons why: 

1. Labels remind you of your decisions.

Yes, you’ll remember for a few hours, days, or even weeks that this container is for the hats and that one is for the mittens, but will you still remember that in a couple months? What about next winter? Why make your brain work harder for something that could be so easy? When you’re setting up a new system you’ve changed your physical world and will as a result be changing your habits, that’s not easy or natural for most of us. So, labels become a way to remind us easily of the decision and changes that we’ve made. Our brains can relax and just look for the word (or picture) of what we want. Sometime even temporary labels can be an acceptable alternative.

For instance, I once helped a client completely reorganize her kitchen. They had been there for 10 years and suddenly the plates (and many other things) were some place different than ever before. So, obviously we weren’t going to put big, permanent labels on the outside of their beautiful cabinets, but we put up Post-it notes with the categories of items contained in each cabinet which allowed her, and her family to recalibrate to the new locations of things. During that time she even had a dinner party, and she kept the labels up, and said that it was great because guest could help more with the preparation and clean-up since they knew where to find things or put them away. After about a month or so, they finally felt adjusted and took the post-its down. 

2. Labels get everyone on the same page.

 Often, while you might ask for family input, setting up a new system is one person’s project, but if you live with multiple people in your space (family members, roommates, co-workers), then if this is shared space all of those people will be interacting with your system. You are much more likely to get their help in maintaining the system, if the system is clear in the first place. After all, if they weren’t along for the decision-making ride with you when you clarified your categories and assigned their homes, then it may not be obvious to them that this category is “canned goods” vs. “beans,” and they belong on this space in the pantry. Or this empty section of shelf is for printer paper (but we’re waiting for the new order of paper to arrive.) People will end up putting stuff where it’s convenient or easy rather than where you want items to go, not because they’re trying to make things difficult for you but because they don’t know any differently.

That’s where labels can help. If the shelves and bins are labelled with the categories of items that they store, then folks may at least pause with the cereal box to look for its proper home rather than just sticking it on the canned goods shelf. Labels reinforce the system, not just for you but for everyone who shares the space, and they empower others to assist in keeping things organized. 

3. Labels can be pretty.

 If these highly functional reasons aren’t enough for you, then perhaps you need a visual enticement? If you do a search on Pinterest for “labels”, then you’ll come up with a whole world of free, printable labels that are elegant, pretty, or snazzy options to add beauty and drama to your storage systems and spaces. Take a look at a few snapshots of my quick Pinterest search shown above, just to give you an idea :). 

4. Labels let you know if your system needs tweaking.

  If that item in your hand belongs in the pantry, but it’s not obvious where it goes. Then, that’s a good sign that your needs have shifted or not been fully refined, and you might want to take a few minutes to re-evaluate and tweak your system. I’ve even occasionally had clients choose a spot for “homeless items” to land in the short term so that we can see review them all together later and consider what system tweaks would make the most sense, either large or small.
You could even have a specific bin or shelf for “homeless items” that both you and your family members can use. Seeing what lands there will give you a good sense of what items truly are homeless or places where your family is unclear about the system. Maybe the item your daughter put there does have a home, but she wasn’t aware of it or couldn’t figure out where is was. This gives you a chance to educate, add labels, or reconsider your language to make distinctions clearer. 
Hopefully, these four reasons have given you a clear idea of what labeling should be considered an essential step in completing your organizing process. Set yourself up for success and your system up for sustainability: ADD LABELS!

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