Organizing Pitfall #8- Micro-Organizing- Landing in the Weeds from the Beginning

One of my very first clients was this lovely, older woman. We’ll call her Evelyn for the sake of this story and to respect confidentiality. Evelyn was a retired teacher with a lot of crafty hobbies. Her primary passion was miniatures… imagine little scenes of rooms or gardens where an inch equals a foot. Her work was beautiful and such a joy to look at, but Evelyn had a problem.

What was once her “Craft room” her family now jokingly called her “crap room.” When I arrived, it was between knee and hip deep in stuff. Bags and boxes and bins of supplies were covering every surface and the entire floor. There was one path to walk in and grab things before retreating to actually work on projects elsewhere. And remember, Evelyn’s a miniaturist, so those bags were largely full of things about the size of your finger nail. 

So, after getting clear on Evelyn’s vision for the space, our next step was to start sorting out all that stuff. The challenge was that it would be really easy to get lost in the weeds of minis supplies. It was this organizing project that really taught me the dangers of micro-organizing (pun intended.) We would pick up a shoe box full of minis stuff, and it could include everything from mini hats, to clocks, to picture frames, to supplies for mini plants, to just ribbon, paints, and paper. If we focused on every teeny tiny little category from the beginning, then we both probably would have run mad from the craziness of it all. 

Therefore, we figured out how to chunk up, and we started by creating general categories that were workable for a first sort. Clothing, landscaping, furnishings, paint, paper, etc. We established and labeled sorting boxes for each global category and set to work. Now, I’ll admit it still took a good chunk of time… that’s still a lot of small stuff to sort, but honestly it was a really fun project. I loved working with Evelyn, and I learned a TON about her hobbies and crafty talents. 

But, here’s the core lesson… whether it’s craft supplies, your office, or a basement, before you start sorting identify the big, global categories of items that are in the space and focus there to start. For instance, in an office setting it might be: printing paper, writing tools, fasteners, files, computer-related, books, magazines/newsletters, etc. 

Once you sort everything into those major categories, then you can go back for a micro-sort and separate the highlighters, from the pens, from the pencils, from the sharpies, and so forth. But, if you try to start at that smaller level, then the number of sorting categories needed will be enormous, and you’ll probably get frustrated or go crazy really quickly.

If you’re struggling with how to chunk up for any particular item, then ask yourself these questions: 

  • What else is similar to this? 
  • And what would I call them as a group? 

I find that this is a type of thinking to which some people are genuinely not accustomed. That’s ok, it’s a skill that can be learned. And, it’s REALLY important to learn it if you want to make your organizing project go so much easier! 

Image: FidlerJan/

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