Organizing Pitfall #6- Focusing on Storage, Rather than Retrieval

As I said to a recent new client over the phone, “It’s the difference between putting everything into its home versus sweeping it all into a shopping bag and stuffing it into the closet.” 

“Are you sure you haven’t been to my house before?” She replied laughing. 

We’ve seen it often enough that I know the difference, and I can hear what’s implied even on the first phone call. If in one minute you’re telling me how your flat surfaces are covered with clutter and the next minute saying, “But, I can usually get everything picked up in a half hour.” Then, it’s likely your standard version of “picking up” is focused more on storage than retrieval.

In other words, you get everything unnecessary, cluttered, extraneous, or messy hidden away (a.k.a. stored) before your guests come over. But, in a couple days or weeks when you’re wondering what happened to that phone bill and why they are threatening to turn your service off… at that point you really have no idea which bag in the bottom of which closet it might have vanished into. 

To some degree I’m painting a dramatic picture, but I’ve seen it come true several different times with clients. That is why we’re highlighting this organizing pitfall, but it has several less dire expressions as well.

Perhaps one of these feels familiar: 

  •  Buying a bunch of bins at your local organizing store to “Get Organized,” then tossing the stuff in the bottom of the closet, top of the desk, or around your kitchen pantry into the bins. Six weeks later you can’t find anything and are rooting around all those new bins in frustration. 
  • Packing up the items from your kid’s bedroom when they go to college and putting it all in the basement willy-nilly and unlabeled… (had my first run-in with a collection of porn magazines at a client’s house due to this one back in the day… fortunately we could both laugh it off rather than feel awkward.) 
  • Sweeping a bunch of little stuff into the kitchen “junk” drawer, then struggling to find the scissors a few weeks later amidst all the confusion. 

Stashing stuff just to make things “look” better is commonly mistaken for getting organized, and in fact it’s connected to one of the most common organizing myths: “If I buy pretty organizing bins, then I will be more organized.” Unfortunately, it’s not true… not because we don’t love pretty bins. After all, we’re organizers. But, there has to be a logic, a system, a methodology behind where things go and what goes in to the bins in order to have the system become sustainable.

In other words, you have to know how to retrieve the things you need when you need them. Otherwise, all you’ve done is create pretty places to hide things from yourself. 

As we teach in our 8 Steps to Organizing Success, buying the bins is more than half-way through the process (Step 5)… first you have to make sense of what you already have before buying anything new. Then, each bin or container can be assigned a specific purpose to hold a particular set of things and live in an assigned location. That’s what makes your system reliable and sets you up to be able to retrieve things easily and consistently

So, the next time you find yourself about to sweep something into one of your stash zones… pause. Ask yourself, where does this really belong? Where are its friends? Then, relocate the item accordingly. Perhaps it has a home, but you were feeling too lazy to take it there, or perhaps it doesn’t have a home yet, but if you could collect it with some similar items, then one could be created. Either way, this one question is my secret weapon to avoiding the “stashing” habit around our home. 

Image: JessicaGale/

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