How To “Banish the Blob”

Do you ever look around your home or office and see “the blob”: stuff everywhere? Possessions strewn about can be unsettling and counterproductive; needed items get lost, belongings get accidentally damaged/thrown away, and you just feel like you don’t have your act together.

With a little planning, you can easily begin to keep “the blob” at bay. The key is establishing 3 zones:

First, designate a “work zone” where you will do your day-to-day business.  This is often a desk, a home office or perhaps the dining room table. Now you need to do two things: ORGANIZE and MAINTAIN. Take the time to find a place for all of the regularly used items in this zone (“a place for everything”), and then commit to putting things away at least once a day (“everything in its place”). For example, if you pay bills from this location, you need a place for unpaid bills, filing space for receipts/statements, a drawer to hold stamps & pens, and a trash can for empty envelopes. Think through every function you want to perform at this location, and designate storage locations for all of the supplies you need. If you can’t organize it in your mind, you certainly can’t organize it in real time!

Second, set aside an area to be your “temporary hold” for random belongings. A mudroom is ideal, but even a bench or closet can do the trick. The key is that this is the one place where you put stuff that you don’t know what to do with immediately. Make sure you have a space that is big enough and has boundaries… I like a big bin or basket. A once a week cleaning out of this location is critical to keeping the clutter under control. This isn’t a permanent home, just a temporary place to put things down until you can get to them later. This is NOT a space for paperwork (for tips on paperwork, see previous article).

Lastly, define a “sanctuary” for yourself. This should be a place in the house where you can have a reliably ordered space. This space is “off limits” to messy family members, as it should be a place where you can sit and relax, leave a project or favorite reading material, and just “get away from it all”. This could be a chair in the living room, a corner of a bedroom, or even a niche in the attic/basement. Hold yourself accountable to keep this space beautiful, and consider adding a visual touch that you love (a piece of artwork, a soft throw, a favorite photo, a TV turned to ESPN). Remind yourself how much you enjoy walking into this calming atmosphere, and give yourself the gift of keeping it just as you like it.

Now you should have places in your home to work, “catch”, and relax. The next step is to provide similar spaces for those with whom you share either work or living space.

For work… help kids get an area for homework with a designated storage location for calculators, rulers, notebook paper and pencils. Older children need a space for a computer, charging locations for electronics, and storage space for textbooks. In the bathroom, make sure everyone has a place to keep toiletries, hang towels, hang the hair dryer, etc. Same goes for clothing – every article of clothing has a place to live. In playrooms, designate spaces for each kind of toy. For a work environment, make a list of all of the tools needed in any given week and then find a spot to keep all of them. Remember to designate a staging area (see previous article), and a place for calendars. If you can’t find a “home” for your belongings, you probably have too much stuff for your space, and you should consider getting rid of some things.

For temporary storage… give each family member a “hold” basket or bin (labeled with a name) into which anything found strewn about gets put. This helps avert the familiar question “Have you seen my….?” If you have seen it, it is in the bin.  Periodically (e.g. once a week, or whenever the bin is full) require that the baskets be sorted and object put away or disposed of.

For relaxing… see if you can find a way for each person to have a “sanctuary” of his/her own. We all have different definitions of “tidy”, so let each person have some control here. Small children may want to be able to leave certain toys out. Teenagers may want to leave their clothes on the floor. Adults often have different styles (some like everything “in”, some like everything “out”). In the common spaces, we show respect by keeping things picked up, in private spaces we can keep things as we want, within reason. Of course, younger children will need guidelines (e.g. every two weeks you pick up your room), but these things can be negotiated in a way that is age appropriate.

Always remember that we live and work in spaces that are organic and ever-changing, so at any given moment, things may get a little out of control, and this is ok. We don’t live in showrooms! However, by focusing on establishing and maintaining these three zones, you will find that any space can be both functional and inspiring.