3 Organizing Rules You May Not Need to Follow from simplify101.com

I often encounter people who feel guilty about not following familiar organizing rules. “I know I should be doing X,” they tell me. Or “I just need to stop doing Y.”

But organizing is a personal process. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It’s perfectly fine to adapt, challenge, or even break the rules if they don’t make sense for you. And some so-called rules are really myths. It can be liberating to realize you don’t need to follow those!

Here are three rules you’ve probably heard, along with some reasons to question them.

Avoid single-use items

I actually like this rule a lot, and often advise people to follow it. In general, it’s a good idea to seek out items that can do double (or triple or quadruple) duty, to save money, space, and time. The kitchen is a great place to apply this rule. You can save tons of room and make your cooking easier if you limit the number of pots or knives you keep on hand, for instance.

But some single-use items earn their keep. A coffee maker is a common example. It all depends on how you use your kitchen and what you like to cook. If you only serve coffee to guests, it might be better to put the coffee maker in storage. If you’re a gourmet cook, you probably do need a big variety of knives.

In my own kitchen, I recently made room for an expensive popover pan. Yes, I could bake popovers in a muffin tin. But I love my special pan, and the beautiful tall popovers it makes! That pan only does one thing, but it does it very well, and it gives me a lot of pleasure. So it’s welcome in my kitchen!

Get rid of it if you haven’t used it in a year

Let’s turn to the clothes closet for this rule. I like this advice too (although I might vary the time period). Still, there are times it doesn’t apply.

If you haven’t worn a T shirt or sweater in a year, I’d probably recommend that you donate it and enjoy the extra breathing room in your closet. But I wouldn’t necessarily advise you to get rid of formal wear or dressy shoes. They’re expensive. They’re often in classic styles that age well. So holding on to them till your next party or wedding can be a good idea.

I also keep my hiking clothes, even though I rarely use them, as well as a few running clothes I infrequently need. I know many people who keep outgrown baby clothes (and other items) because they’re planning to have more children in a couple of years.

Again, it’s a personal choice, and of course it depends on your available space. But sometimes it really is OK to hold on to things that you don’t use much.

Touch it once

For this one, let’s head to the office and consider paper. Often when I tell people that I’m an organizer, they mention their failure to follow this so-called rule. People feel sheepish or even flat-out guilty about this one. But “touch it once” (also sometimes called OHIO—“only handle it once”) is more of a myth than a useful rule.

It’s not the number of times you handle a piece of paper that matters, but whether you have a plan. Let’s say you open your mail, find a bill, put it in a to-do file or other container, pay the bill later, and then file or shred it. You’re touching that paper several times. But each touch has a purpose. Your system ensures that the bill gets paid. It works.

What you don’t want to do: throw that paper in a pile, then periodically rifle through—handling the paper again and again—without making a decision or taking any action. See the difference? In this case, those multiple touches have not moved you closer to your goal (a decision or action). That’s the kind of repeated handling you want to avoid.

As always, when you’re getting organized, you have to do what works for you. It’s good to know the rules, and most of the time, it’s good to follow them. But it’s also important to know when you can take your own route to organization.

I’d love to know: What organizing rules do you disagree with, ignore, or break? How have you adapted rules so that they work for you?


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Nancy Vorsanger loves how her organized home makes her family’s life easier. She opened her own organizing business to help other families get—and stay—organized, with practical, no-fuss strategies tailored to their own needs and lifestyles. Nancy also loves coffee, word games, blogs, her husband, and her children—not in that order. She lives in central New Jersey.

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