Feeling overwhelmed by clutter and can't find anything? Julie Morgenstern's SPACE system remains the best way I know to get organised and keep your possessions under control.
I first encountered Morgenstern's book Organizing From The Inside Out back in 2000, and it's been my bible for keeping stuff organised ever since. There's far more going on in the book than can be sensibly summarised in a single post, but there's two key elements worth examining if you're feeling overwhelmed by clutter. The first is Morgenstern's SPACE system, which I've summarised below — a useful means of keeping any attempt to organise your personal space on track, whether you're trying to clear up your cubicle or tame the junk-filled spare bedroom.
Equally important is a simple but useful insight Morgenstern offers: any organisational scheme needs to be based around what you already do. There's no value in adopting a prescriptive system someone else has set up, because it probably won't make sense to you and you'll ditch it for being too difficult.
A simple example: if you like to dump your keys as soon as you enter the house (as I do), there's no point putting a key rack in the kitchen, even if that seems like the "logical" place. Similarly, if you tend to end up working on bills at the kitchen table, it makes more sense to keep files in there rather than forcing yourself to use a study because "kitchens are for cooking". You can't always adapt existing habits in this way, but the more you do, the more likely you'll be to stick with staying organised.
The SPACE approach
Morgenstern's other useful insight is a five-step procedure for organising any area, which she summarises as SPACE (standing for Sort, Purge, Assign, Containerise, and Equalise). That might sound oh-too-cute and convenient, but it's a really useful methodology. Here's the key stages in the order you should carry them out:
Sort: Going through everything in a given room and grouping it according to categories that make sense to you — which is why the previous point about identifying your own preferences is so important. Resist the urge to return items that you think belong in another room straight away; put them in a dedicated box and return them at the end of the process, or you'll be endlessly distracted.
Purge: Getting rid of items in each category that are broken, useless, superseded or otherwise irrelevant. Morgenstern is a firm advocate of the "if you haven't used recently, ditch it" school of thought, but this is another area where your own personal judgement becomes important. That said, if you fail to purge anything during a cleanup, you'll probably find it harder to keep everything organised.
Assign: With purged and sorted groups of items, you can assign each group a permanent home (which won't necessarily be in the room where you've done the sorting) — again making use of your own preferences and existing habits, and bearing in mind any space restrictions. Ideally, this should involve saying "this goes in this item of furniture/area", rather than just in a particular room.
Containerise: Minimising clutter means having somewhere to put stuff away, and that's where storage containers (whether that's a new bookshelf or a container to keep batteries in) become important. However, it's always better to hold off on buying (or recycling from what you've already got) until you've done the first three stages, reinforcing the point we made recently that you shouldn't shop for organising gear until you know what's there to organise. Having dedicated locations for everything also makes it easier to put everything away, which is the next critical stage.
Equalise: The final key to staying clutter-free is dedicating time every day (or every week for less frequently used rooms) to equalise: returning everything to its home. If you've been thorough with the previous stages, this shouldn't be time consuming. Morgenstern advocates revisiting the clutter-clearing process every six to 12 months to make sure that equalising doesn't take too long.
If you want to take a room-by-room approach to organising your house and your life, Organizing From The Inside Out is definitely worth tracking down, as it has detailed hints on how to apply the system in common home and workplace areas. We've also run plenty of clutter-clearing tips here at Lifehacker. Got your own organisational secrets for tackling clutter? Share them in the comments.
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